In Addition to Being Expensive and Useless, the Cuban Passport is Not Edible

With a useful life of only six years, the Cuban passport must be extended twice during that time. Henry Constantin stands next to his passport taped to a wall with a banana beside him. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, 12 December 2019 — Good art does not leave anyone impassive, especially if it mixes irreverence, mockery and everyday life, as demonstrated this December with the installation of a ripe banana stuck with adhesive tape to the wall at the Art Basel festival. The composition of the Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan not only attracted great attention but also sold for $ 120,000. A price that has made many internet users recreate the work in their homes with what they find most valuable or ridiculous.

This is how it came to be the turn of the Cuban passport, one of the most expensive on the planet, for which an emigrant must pay more than 450 dollars if they are obtaining it from within the United States. With a useful life of only six years, the document that proves that someone is a national of this Island must be extended twice during that time, which raises its price about 320 dollars more. Something that those who have posted photos of the blue booklet with the shield of the Republic taped to a wall have not failed to observe.

“Cattelan fell short. Poor people who believe that buying $ 120,000 a banana attached to a wall by an ’artist’ is the biggest scam,” the independent journalist Henry Constantín joked on his Facebook account. The reporter believes that it is worse to pay for a Cuban passport “that you cannot even eat, and that sometimes, as in my case, it is not useful for traveling* (or for anything else).” continue reading

“And now eat it to complete the artistic act,” said an internet user after reading Constantin’s text and alluding to the final destination of the banana in Art Basel, where a man tore the fruit from the wall and ate it to the surprise of some and rejoicing of others. Soon after, a gallery employee looked for another banana, took a new strip of duct tape and stuck it on the wall. Nothing had changed, just like with the Cuban passport.

 *Translator’s note: Cuban State Security has blocked Constantin from traveling outside Cuba.

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Eleven Activists and Independent Journalists Blocked From Leaving Cuba

Reporter Henry Constantin, third from right to left, was one of those who was not allowed to travel to the United States on Thursday. (Inalkis Rodríguez / La Hora de Cuba)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 October 2019 — On Thursday, Cuban authorities prohibited the departure of twelve political activists and independent journalists who had arrived at the international airport of Havana to take a flight to Miami.

They had all been invited to the Pasos de Cambio (Steps of Change) event, a meeting of Cuban civil society that will be held starting tomorrow at the Freedom Tower, in Miami. Luis Almagro, general secretary of the Organization of American States (OAS) is expected to attend as are several leaders of the Cuban exile.

According to the information transmitted to 14ymedio by the journalist from Camagüey Henry Constantín, this is the list of people who were not allowed to travel: Asunción Carrillo Hernández, Caridad Burunate and Yisabel Marrero Burunate, members of the Pedro Luis Boitel Party; José Díaz Silva and Lourdes Esquivel, of the Opponents for a New Republic party; Unpacu and Ladies in White activist María Josefa Acón; Adrián del Sol, son of Guillermo del Sol, who recently undertook a 55-day hunger strike to protest against arbitrary decisions of State Security to prohibit trips abroad from the Island; the cyber activist María de Lourdes Ayala Anazco; Leonardo Rodríguez Alonso, member of the Patmos Institute; the photographer Iris Mariño and Constantín Ferreiro himself, both from the media La Hora de Cuba.

Guillermo del Sol has been invited to the Miami event but was planning to travel on another flight. According to Constantin, “he seemed to be one of the two people who would not be banned from traveling, but when he learned that his son was still ’regulated’*, he said he was staying.” As this article was being written he was trying to convince the authorities that his presence at the event was important. The name of the other activist who was able to pass through the Immigration barrier has not been revealed so far.

At the airport there was a tense situation when the group decided to take a picture with everyone who was ’regulated’. “We watched as we were surrounded by a dozen State Security agents, some of them known to us, but happily there were no arrests,” says Constantin.

*Translator’s note: The Cuban government applies the term “regulated” to individuals who are prohibited from leaving the island.

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Harassment Against ‘La Hora de Cuba’ Magazine Continues

The editor of ’La hora de Cuba’ is the fourth woman on the team who has been barred from leaving the country. (Facebook / La Hora de Cuba)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 May 2019 — Cuban authorities prevented several collaborators of the magazine La Hora de Cuba, Inalkis Rodríguez, Iris Mariño and Sol García, from boarding a flight to attend an event in Trinidad and Tobago on the participation of women, to which they had been invited by the Simone de Beauvoir Leadership Institute.

Before leaving for the capital to take the flight, and so as to ensure they would “not make the trip in vain,” they passed through the Immigration office in Camagüey, Inalkis Rodríguez told 14ymedio in a telephone conversation.

“As soon as we said our names they explained that we were ‘regulated’ [the official euphemism for ‘banned from leaving the country’] and when we asked for more explanations they only added that it was “for reasons of public interest.”

In this case, as has happened in previous situations with other civil society activists or independent journalists, the immigration authorities did not explain what steps a person should take to appeal the so-called ‘regulation.’ “Ask the Prosecutor’s Office” was the response obtained by the La Hora de Cuba journalists.

Previously been banned from leaving the country were Isel Arango, the director of the magazine, as well as Henry Constantín, regional vice president for Cuba at the Inter-American Press Association (SIP), who, after two years of being banned from traveling abroad was allowed to leave the country a few weeks ago.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Stain of the Torches

Official government march yesterday, for the birth of José Martí. (MiguelDiazCanelB)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Camagüey, 29 January 2019 — I did not believe it, I could not believe that they were capable of such selfishness. Our unelected government began its annual torch march in Havana, one day after the tornado had passed.

It is not a march to pick up debris, nor to bring help to people who lost their belongings in the tornado (although they tried to apologize by promising that they will do it, not today, but the next day); it is not a march of solidarity and compassion with the Cubans who today are sleeping in anguish: it is a march of insensitive politicking. And it is not for José Martí, don’t try to deceive us, he would never have prioritized his birthday nor the cult to himself or any deceased caudillo (Fidel Castro) over the tribulations of his people. continue reading

The march serves to remind us that in Cuba politicking is still the priority of the higher-up officials, to the point that they prefer to maintain an expensive parade (how many official vehicles are currently burning the people’s fuel? how many security agents needed to protect the well-known, how much electricity used so there is light and sound for the choreography?, how many press teams are active to cover a ritual that, in the end, doesn’t even touch the edge of the heart of almost anyone in Cuba?).

A few kilometers from the march there are dozens, hundreds of families having a terrible time, without electricity, with injured relatives or destroyed property, surrounded by debris and shortages, and half of those with torches and the wasted resources would have helped them quite a bit. If not to recover their lost belongings, at least to have faith yes, which is the essential thing that people need to make it to the next day.

I admit that yesterday I had to keep quiet. Diaz-Canel immediately appeared in the affected areas, I do not know if it was heartfelt or because it is stipulated by his job responsibilities, God knows. But the image of a leader in pain seeing the suffering of his people did not last long.

Now he is posing among the scenes of the march, by obedience or insensibility, or maybe both; the unelected president with his also unelected boss, and the two freshly-bathed, recently having dined, with their unaffected homes, their happy families and their quiet smiles, because they lost nothing. It is true that, in the end, they do not owe anything to those people the tornado affected: none voted for them for president or anything else.

Let’s see if the people who are suffering find out about it, that Cubans are not worth much to those who are on top — and if they are worth it, it is not when they are in trouble, but when they march obediently — and hopefully they will make it clear in the circus-like referendum of February 24, with anything but the false Yes vote that many plan to mark on the ballot with the same inertia with which they marched today [on Monday] for Martí and the other one (Fidel), then go marching the following day for a visa or to cross a frontier.

If the tornado does not make those still in charge prioritize Cubans in their agenda, at least it will help us to give back to them the lack of importance they give us. Because at the end of a day of pain in so many Cuban homes, what the authorities have done in Havana is not a march. It’s a stain, and one that is not easy to erase.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

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Note from 14ymedio: This text was originally published in La Hora de Cuba. We reproduce it here with the permission of the author.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Third ‘La Hora De Cuba’ Editor Charged With Illegally Practicing Journalism In Camaguey

Iris María Mariño García (left) with Sol García Basulto (right). (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 January 2018 — Iris Mariño García, a journalist from La Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour), was charged on Monday with the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity” and is facing a sentence of up to one year in prison, the magazine’s director Henry Constantin told 14ymedio. Mariño is the third member of the editorial team of the independent publication to face prosecution.

On Sunday, Mariño received a verbal police summons at her home from an officer who told her to appear on Monday. The reporter presented herself to the First Police Unit in the city of Camagüey.

At the station, Captain Yanet Díaz informed Mariño of an accusation similar to that received received last year by Constantín himself, along with the reporter Sol García Basulto. The official, however, did not give her a copy. continue reading

“Supposedly someone is accusing her of having conducted an interview on the street, the same script they used with us,” says the director of La Hora de Cuba.

Mariño now faces the possibility that a judicial process will be opened against her, charging her with violating Article 149 of the Penal Code which makes it illegal for individuals to “perform acts proper to a profession which they are not properly authorized to exercise.”

The official did not specify which of Mariño’s articles will serve as evidence in a court but, Constantín reported, she mentioned “the interviews published in the magazine in a general manner and specifically the opinion polls which are published on the last page.”

The official reproached Mariño for engaging in journalism without authorization and warned her that they will meet “many more times.”  The reporter did not receive any information about possible precautionary measures that limit her freedom of movement.

Last year, following the accusation against Sol García and Henry Constantín, the Inter-American Press Association stated that the actions against the two journalists are contrary to international provisions that support “the right to seek, receive, and disseminate information and express opinions.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

IAPA Condemns Cuban State Security’s Threats Against ’14ymedio’ Journalist

Gustavo Mohme, president of the Inter-American Press Association. (Congress of the Republic of Peru / Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 January 2018 – Cuban State Security’s threats against Luz Escobar, a journalist with 14ymedio, were condemned on Tuesday in a statement by the Inter-American Press Association (SIP); the organizations said that the threats “show that restrictions and challenges continue to confront the exercise of freedom of the press” on the island, as they have since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.

“We are concerned that this new harassment of an independent journalist only reflects the government’s intolerance and lack of will,” the president of the IAPA, Gustavo Mohme, said in the note.

Last Monday, 14ymedio published an article in which it made known that Luz Escobar, who has been working for this medium since its founding in 2014, had been summoned in Havana by agents of the political police, who invited her to collaborate with the Government and thus “influence the editorial line” of this newspaper. continue reading

During the hour and twenty minute meeting, and before the professional had received and rejected the offer, the agents threatened to prevent her from leaving the country, said they would pressure her family members, and would accuse her in front of her neighbors of being a “counterrevolutionary.”

In a recent article framed as a letter to the journalist, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, openly stated her support for Luz Escobar. “They, without planning to, have given you the best argument to continue your career in journalism, because they have shown you that ‘up there’ nothing remains of respect for the citizen, for ethics, morality, sincerity, integrity… and much less for COURAGE. Of which you possess oceans,” she told the journalist.

The president of the IAPA has reiterated that what is happening in Cuba “continues to be a priority issue” for the organization he presides over. The statement also mentions another incident that occurred on January 11 in which the authorities detained journalists Sol García Basulto, Inalkis Rodríguez and Henry Constantín Ferreiro, members of the magazine La Hora de Cuba  in Camagüey.

IAPA continues to emphasize that this action by Cuban State Security against the journalists of La Hora de Cuba was due to the presence of President Raúl Castro in Camagüey, since he was visiting the city. ” Constantín Ferreiro and Garcia continue to be prohibited from leaving Camagüey, where they reside,” the statement reads, noting that they had been accused of the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity” because, according to the government, they have not been “duly authorized” to practice as journalists.

In its latest report on Cuba, the IAPA denounced that the lack of press freedom on the island worsened in 2017. The non-profit organization said that this was due to an increase in “the aggressions against independent journalists and even their relatives, and against users of social networks by police bodies” with the collaboration of the Ministry of Justice.

In the Human Rights Watch’s 2017 Annual Report published on Thursday, the organization notes that the Government of Cuba “detains, harasses and threatens independent reporters” among other serious violations of people’s rights and freedoms.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Camaguey Police Prohibit Sol Garcia and Henry Constantin From Exercising Journalism

Independent journalists Sol García Basulto and Henry Constantín Ferreiro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 May 2017 — Journalists Sol García Basulto and Henry Constantín were summoned Thursday to Camagüey’s Third Police Unit, where they were threatened with having their homes searched and the equipment they use to do their work confiscated if they do not stop “publishing on social networks and in independent magazines.”

An official, who identified himself as Lieutenant Francisco Pacheco, reproached the young people for continuing to work as journalists and issued each of them a warning.

The official also accused Constantin of buying “200 bags of cement and a bathing suit” which he transported “in a yellow Lada car from Najasa to the city of Camagüey.” However, Constantin categorically denies the accusation and insists that he has not left the city because he is under a “restriction of movement” measure. continue reading

On March 23, both reporters were charged with the alleged crime of “usurpation of legal capacity,” a charge that is still active, according to Constantin speaking to 14ymedio a few minutes before the meeting with the police on Thursday.

If the charge goes to trial, they could be tried under Article 149 of the Criminal Code, which punishes those who “perform acts of a profession for which they are not properly qualified.” They would then be subject to a prison sentence of between three months and one year.

The reporters are part of the editorial team of the independent magazine La Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour), which is distributed in digital format. In addition they collaborate with different independent media and García Basulto is a correspondent for 14ymedio in the province of Camagüey.

At the end of last year, Constantín was named regional vice president for Cuba for the Inter American Press Association (IAPA). Recently the reporter was not able to attend a conference in Los Angeles about the current situation of journalists on the Island, nor was he able to attend a later meeting of the IAPA in Guatemala, due to the restrictions of movement imposed on him by police authorities.

García Basulto was warned by the police again this Thursday, about her job of interviewing people and collecting information in public places. A task that she undertakes, according to the officers, to “misrepresent information and write against the government.” The police showed particular annoyance at an interview with the rapper Rapshela published in 14ymedio in March.

In November 2016, State Security prevented the 14ymedio correspondent from leaving her home in the days following the death of former President Fidel Castro, while the funeral procession transported his ashes to Santiago de Cuba.

At that time the young woman denounced the escalating repression against her, which began in December 2015 when she solicited opinions outside the Provincial Court of Camagüey where the trial was being held for the murder of musician Pedro Armando Junco, known as Mandy.

The IAPA believes that the accusations against the two journalists are contrary to international provisions that support “the right to seek, receive, disseminate information and express opinions.”

Legal Process Opens Against ‘14ymedio’ Reporter in Camagüey

The reporter Sol García Basulto has denounced the escalation of repression against her, which started in December 2015. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 March 2017 – This Wednesday the gates have begun to close around independent journalist Sol Garcia Basulto, who has been charged with the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity.” (In other words, “practicing journalism without a license.”) The correspondent for this newspaper in Camaguey is facing a sentence of between three months and a year of deprivation of liberty.

The accusation against Garcia Basulto coincides with that made against the regional vice-president of the Inter-American Press Association in Cuba, Henry Constantin. Both reporters are a part of the editorial team of the independent magazine La Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour), which is distributed in a digital format.

The young reporter was warned by the police about her work interviewing and gathering information in public spaces. A task that she engages in, according to the officials, to “misrepresent information and write against the government.” continue reading

If the process takes its course, the journalist could be tried under Article 149 of the Penal Code which punishes those who “perform independent acts of a profession for which they are not properly qualified.”

The police did not mention the names of the possible complainants, but warned Garcia Basulto that she was not “empowered” to undertake work as a reporter. The young woman is being investigated and cannot leave the country. Any travel outside her home province must be communicated ahead of time to the police.

Last November, State Security prevented the 14ymedio correspondent from leaving her house in the days after the death for former president Fidel Castro, while the funeral procession carried his ashes to Santiago de Cuba.

At that time, the young woman denounced the escalating repression against her, which started on 4 December 2015 when she tried to take some photos and collect opinions in front of Camaguey Provincial Court where the trial was being held for the murder of the musician Pedro Armando Junco, known as Mandy.

The Inter American Press Association warned this week about García Basulto possibly being charged with the same crime for which its vice president is being prosecuted. The entity considers that such accusations are contrary to international provisions that support “the right to seek, receive, disseminate information and express opinions.”

Police Accuse Journalist Henry Constantin Of “Usurpation Of Legal Capacity”

Cuban activist Henry Constantin. (Twitter)

14ymedio, Havana, 17 March 2017 – Journalist Henry Constantin, director of La Hora de Cuba (Cuba Hour) magazine and regional vice president of the Inter American Press Association (IAPA), was formally charged Friday with the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity,” he told 14ymedio.

Constantin received a subpoena for the third Police Station in the city of Camagüey where First Lieutenant Pacheco Seagnamillo informed him that he was accused of conducting interviews on the public right-of-way in which he “misrepresented reality.”

The police did not mention the names of potential complainants, but emphasized that he was not “empowered” to perform a reporter’s job. continue reading

The journalist could be prosecuted for violating Article 149 of the Penal Code which punishes whomever “performs acts of a profession for the exercise of which he is not properly qualified.” The sentence contemplates the “deprivation of liberty from three months to a year or a fine of 100 to 300 shares* or both.” The official told him that the independent journalist Sol García Basulto, correspondent of this newspaper, will also be prosecuted for the same crime.

In the next 60 days, Constantin will be subject to a precautionary measure yet to be detailed but at the moment he cannot leave the city. The reporter will not be able to attend an exhibition in Los Angeles, about the current situation of journalists on the island, nor the subsequent meeting of the IAPA in Guatemala.

Constantín was named last December as IAPA’s regional vice president for Cuba and pledged to spread “the reality of journalism” on the island. The organization has issued several press releases condemning the harassment and arrests of those who have been victims of attacks in recent weeks. It has urged the Cuban government to guarantee freedom of the press and expression throughout the country.

*Translator’s note: Cuban law sets fines based on “shares”; the value of a share is set separately and in this way can be changed, over time, without having to amend all of the laws that reference fines as a penalty.

Inter-American Press Association Names Henry Constantin Vice President for Cuba

Cuban activist and journalist Henry Constantin with an issue of Time Magazine covering Cuba. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 30 December 2016 — The Inter-American Press Association (IAPA) has named independent journalist Henry Constantín Ferreiro as regional vice president for Cuba. Director of the magazine La Hora de Cuba and a resident of the city of Camagüey, the reporter told 14ymedio that he intends to defend and spread “the reality of journalism” on the island from his new responsibility.

A few hours after the announcement, Constantín told this newspaper via phone that he received the news with a mixture of “surprise and pride” and said he was grateful to be part of an organization that “has engaged in numerous battles over the freedom of the press in the region.” continue reading

Born in 1984, Constantín is a contributor to several independent media, including the magazine Coexistence. He studied journalism for several semester as an undergraduate and also the specialty of film direction at the Higher Institute of Art (ISA).

The reporter feels that the journalism in Cuba is going through “a special moment” marked by “an increasing plurality, although still restrained by the government.” On the island there are “media that cover almost the entire political spectrum,” says the new vice president of the IAPA.

“In this new year we will have to defend the national press because although the context is new, the threats are the same and some of them are even growing,” Constantín points out.

Upon his appointment, the reporter will be responsible for reporting the violations of press freedom that occur in the country and for drafting the report that is published each semester by IAPA.

Previously, the vice president for Cuba was occupied by journalist and director of 14ymedio Yoani Sanchez, who assumed the responsibility in 2012.

Last November, Henry Constantín was detained at Customs at the Ignacio Agramonte International Airport in Camaguey, on his arrival from Miami. The dissident was taken to a police station where his mobile phone and his laptop were confiscated.

See also:

Of UMAP and Other Demons / Henry Constantin

Kidnapped Trip / Henry Constantin

The University / Henry Constantin

Constantin Answers in Diario de Cuba / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Police Confiscate Activist Henry Constantín’s Phone And Computer / 14ymedio

Cuban activist Henry Constantín. (Twitter)
Cuban activist Henry Constantín. (Twitter)

14ymedio biggerOn Sunday night, the activist Henry Constantín was detained at Customs at the Ignacio Agramonte International Airport of Camaguey, on his arrival from Miami. The dissident was taken to a police station where they confiscated his cellphone and laptop, according to what he told 14ymedio. The independent journalist was released around ten at night and says he will begin the legal process to recover his belongings.

Constantín arrived in Cuba around four in the afternoon on a American Airlines direct flight and was held at the airport until after eight o’clock at night. The officers of the General Customs of the Republic insisted on seizing their belongings to “review their content,” but the activist emphatically refused. continue reading

Constantín, who is the director of the literary magazine Time for Cuba, told them they could search the devices in his presence, but not out of sight. After four hours of waiting, Constantín was taken to a police station in the Montecarlo neighborhood.

At the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) unti, the soldiers took his “prints of all kinds,” he explained to this newspaper. The reporter refused to sign the record of the seizure of objects when the police told him that they would not give him a copy of the document.

After the Immigration Reform implemented by the Government in 2013, it has become a common practice to confiscate computers, video cameras and cellphones from activists arriving in the country.

When Will the Government of Cuba Have Normal Relations With the Cuban People? / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Henry Constantin, New York, 31 May 2016 — This video is mute. Like Josefina Vidal, an official from Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations (MINREX), and José Ramón Cabañas, Cuba’s ambassador to the United States, when I asked them questions that they did not expect, after their lecture on “normalization” at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) held in New York a few days ago:

  • Most Cubans believe that the real blockade is what “those up above” in Cuba maintain against the initiatives of the rest of us.
  • The normalization between Cuba and the United States is well advanced: Cubans receive with joy both the United States president as well as the simple tourist from the north. And they have privileged status when they arrive on the northern soil.
  • We Cubans want not only tourism or entertainment from the United States, but also to be its counterpart in politics, business, media, academics…
  • The biggest obstacle to normalization is that put in place by the Cuban government.
  • This occurs because the Cuban government does not have normal relations with its own people, neither asks nor listens to them, on this or any other subject.
  • And, finally: When will Government of Cuba have normal relations with the Cuban people?

They did not respond. They don’t know how. The “abnormal” is in effect.

At the end of the video I am standing against the conference room wall but content, because it is they who will be against the wall of the future, the day that more Cubans are encouraged to question them. And demand from them.

“Venezuela Is Worse Than Cuba” / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

Delsa Solórzano opposition lawmaker (c), with Mr. Angel Medina (r) and Richard Blanco (l) in the "Perspectives of the Opposition" forum in the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington DC, United States. (EFE)
Delsa Solórzano opposition lawmaker (c), with Mr. Angel Medina (r) and Richard Blanco (l) in the “Perspectives of the Opposition” forum in the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington DC, United States. (EFE)

14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Washington, 2 May 2016 — “There is nothing: No power, no water, no supplies in hospitals, there is no aspirin, no food, no security,” said Venezuelan Deputy Angel Medina in a debate on Venezuela organized last week by the Inter-American Dialogue Center of Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

“Venezuela is worse than Cuba,” added Delsa Solorzano, another of the six deputies from different parties grouped within the Democratic Unity Roundtable, which won an absolute majority in the last general elections but which does not control the executive power in Caracas. These parliamentarians are participating in a tour to seek solidarity for the release of political prisoners and for the desperate situation Venezuela is experiencing.
continue reading

“In one of the neighborhoods where we went to campaign, I visited fifty houses, and all of them I asked to look, first of all, in the refrigerator. All had empty fridges. One lady told me she had only a piece of sausage, and six children to feed, ‘How do I do that?’ she said,” recounted one of the deputies present.

“In some places the government has threatened people that if they sign for the recall [of Maduro], they will take away the things they received.” And people tell them, “But we don’t have anything, what are you going to take?” said another of the deputies present.

Included in this tour, undertaken by opponents of the Maduro government, is a meeting scheduled with Luis Almagro, Secretary General of the Organization of American States—who has also been critical of the anti-democratic stance of Maduro’s government—as well as a meeting with the Washington Post, which has published strong editorials against the Venezuelan government.

“We believe in diversity [of opinion] and in Venezuela we want diversity of opinion to no longer be a crime. Right now we have people who are political prisoners simply for writing a tweet,” said deputy Solorzano, who at the end of the event was very warmly by many of the Venezuelan émigrés present.

“Venezuela needs everything. Right now, if you can participate in donating medications that would be very good. And also, those of you who are bilingual, you can translate our messages to that more people can learn what we are experiencing and support us. This is very important,” commented Solorzano, who is also the vice-president of the Domestic Policy Committee of the National Assembly and a member of the opposition party A New Time, which receive the most votes in the last election.

“You have to stay united,” urged members of the audience, mostly made up of young professionals and students. “We are and we will be after the victory, it is not enough to win an election. We must rebuild Venezuela. We make decisions unanimously and discuss all our differences, but we always make it clear that we must act together.”

“But you have to have a strategy, what is your strategy?” protested a lady in the audience, to whom Delsa Solorzano responded, “We have a strategy, and every step that has been taken as been thought through very carefully. What we do not want to do is announce our strategy. And stay tuned, because in peace, without violence, in the coming months very good things are going to happen.”

Henry Constantin Arrested at the Airport on His Return From Lima / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Henry Constantin. (14ymedio)
Henry Constantin. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 26 November 2015 — Journalist and activist Henry Constantin, director of the magazine La hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour), a member of the editorial board of the magazine Convivencia (Coexistence) and collaborator with 14ymedio, was arrested at three in the afternoon on Thursday at customs in the José Martí Airport, as he himself reported via text message. “They demand my laptop. And magazine. I respectfully refuse. They do not let me talk,” he said in his text.

Constantin arrived in Havana from Lima, Peru, where he participated in the Conference of Investigative Journalism (COLPIN), along with Amarilis Cortina Rey, Ernesto Perez Chang, Ignacio Gonzalez Vidal and Armando Soler.

Later, Inalkis Rodriguez said by telephone from Camagüey that Constantin was taken to the Boyeros police station, near the airport. However, Constantin confirmed to this newspaper that moments before getting into the car that was to take him to the police station, he was told he could go. According to his account, he was able to handle the pressure and remained in possession of his laptop. He then headed to Camagüey.

Meanwhile, Ignacio Gonzalez, director of En Caliente Prensa Libre (In Hot Free Press), said that he was also separated for a “routine examination” in the words of Cuban Customs officials.

They searched all his luggage, but after a while let him leave without further consequences.

Camagüey’s San Juan Festival, Somewhere Between Fun and Indecency / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

The floats, pulled by tractors, in the festival of San Juan. (14ymedio)
The floats, pulled by tractors, in the festival of San Juan. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Henry Constantín,Camagüey, 28 June 2015 — Saint John the Baptist, or San Juan in Spanish, was a man who used river water to baptize those who wanted to purify themselves, yet he ended up decapitated for criticizing Galilee’s corrupt rulers. Ironically, now almost two thousand years later, San Juan’s feast day is celebrated in Camagüey with a public festival organized by the city’s authorities (some of whom are also corrupt), and with plenty of diluted “baptized” alcohol.

One of the San Juan Festival’s aims and outcomes is to defuse the bottled-up but growing discontent and dissent of the preceding year, and it accomplishes its goal with the joyful “decapitation” generated by alcohol, music, and parades. continue reading

The opening of my 2004 article about the San Juan Festival – a June tradition that always brings joy to the people of Camagüey – was a bit less critical. Nevertheless, it was censored and consequently not published in Adelante, the official newspaper. I was accused of promoting religion for mentioning San Juan in the opening sentence. Now is my chance to get even, although I must admit that there were not many differences between the festival of 2004 and 2015.

The government organizes everything – which is not much ­­­­– with the support of the self-employed, who are the real organizers of most of the entertainment

Just like back in 2004 – and as is the case in nearly all Cuban towns sponsoring public festivals – this year’s San Juan Festival started with the closure of specific streets and squares, where dozens of food and trinket stands, stages for musical performances, trailers carrying beer kegs, and carnival games were placed.

Floats, conga lines and dance troupes filed by in the early evening and after dusk. This year they were very colorful and rhythmical, although some of the musicians and dancers seemed off beat and to have a blank look on their faces. As always, the music and sale of food and beer went on until dawn. This was especially the case at the location where the great Cándido Fabré’s orchestra was performing.

Most students and State employees are grateful for the festival because the afternoons of the week of June 24th become de facto time off. Most people just leave their workplaces.

The government organizes everything – which is not much ­­­­– with the support of the self-employed, who are the real organizers of most of the entertainment, and who also provide what is consumed, transportation, and even the pubic restrooms. Yet our festival has its own peculiarities. We have San Pablo Street, historically and instinctively preferred by homosexuals, reserved for the street carnival.

Then there is Capdevila Street, which is synonymous with overwhelming vulgarity. We have a famous conga line, “The Commandos,” and the events start with a traditional inaugural in which the president of the local government delivers an official proclamation.

On the eve of San Juan’s Day, neighbors get together and make a large stew, which gets weaker every year, as do the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which are responsible for preparing the meal. This year, the CDR’s were so kind as to distribute rotting cattle bones to homes on several blocks.

At sunset, thousands of people pour out onto the streets, but most return home after taking a stroll or before the break of dawn. These are then followed by young people, groups of inebriated friends, and lovers. Walking on the streets where the festival takes place with a wallet or cellphone at that time of night is extremely dangerous.

Year after year, Camagüey’s San Juan Festival walks a very delicate tightrope between popular merriment and criminal bedlam.

Year after year, Camagüey’s San Juan Festival walks a very delicate tightrope between popular merriment and criminal bedlam. Rivers of pungent urine flow from the streets adjacent to the musical bands, from the beer kegs, and even from the walls of private homes. Later on it takes days to disinfect whole neighborhoods. Merry men and women of all ages hide in the dark to relieve their bladders, turning the simple acts of opening one’s front door or looking out the window into unpleasant surprises.

In the pre-dawn hours and in the areas reserved for dancing, it is not uncommon to see women in the crowd with their babies asleep in their strollers, accompanying their husbands who cling to their easily recognizable beer cans. No matter the time of day, the areas set aside for shopping and public consumption of beer are packed with minors, who with or without adult supervision witness and sometimes participate in all the rituals of adult nightlife: the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, public sex, lewdness, urination and defecation, and nighttime delinquency.

For some time now, Camagüey has been ravaged by violence, and the San Juan Festival only exacerbates the problem. Once festivities kick off on June 24th, the city’s residents start echoing the usual warnings: “Be careful out there!”; “Don’t go out at night!”; “Don’t ride your bike!”; “Make sure you lock the door!”; “Make sure to leave your money at home!”

According to older people, this year’s San Juan Festival was not as nice as those of yesteryear. Thousands of citizens of Camagüey stayed home, out of fear, indifference, or lack of money. Those who tried enjoying the festival did so despite the awful conditions caused by scarcity, stench, and danger. Still, the San Juan Festival is the only opportunity the people of Camagüey have in the whole year to forget about their gray lives, their limited hopes, and their bitter struggle for survival.

Translated by José Badué