14ymedio, Havana, 12 January 2017 — Police maintained a strong operation Thursday around the headquarters of the 1010 Academy in the neighborhood of Cerro, in Havana. Activists Joanna Columbié and Georlis Olazabal were arrested while trying to access the site to participate in a conference on constitutional law, said Eliécer Ávila, president of the independent Somos+ (We Are More) movement.
“Since early this morning they have the block surrounded and do not let anyone in or out of the house,” said Avila. “We had organized a talk with the attorney Wilfredo Vallin of the Cuban Law Associatio, but the police did not allow him to leave his home,” in La Vibora, he told 14ymedio .
Meanwhile, scientist Oscar Casanella denounced the arrest of the artist Tania Bruguera “on leaving Havana” when they were traveling in a vehicle with “two mattresses and rice” for the victims of Hurricane Matthew in the eastern part of the country.
In a telephone call, Casanella said the artist had been taken to the Cotorro police station in Havana. However, the officer of the guard there denied that Bruguera was there. “We do not have any Tanya here, the one we have is a Nancy,” the police officer said through the phone line.
This second consecutive day of arrests against activists takes place a few hours after the replacement of the recently deceased Interior Minister, Carlos Fernández Gondín, by Vice Admiral Julio César Gandarilla.
For the whole of 2016, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN) documented a total of 9,940 arbitrary arrests. A figure that “puts the Government of Cuba in first place in all of Latin America,” said the report of the independent organization.
Somos+, Joanna Columbié, 2 December 2016 — It has been announced on any number of occasions — much anticipated by many and feared by others — but the death of Fidel Castro is now a reality. Nothing can delay it and nothing can stop it.
However, there is something that lives on after his death which is a greater evil, the one that should have died: Castroism. It is that compulsive obsession that demands homage and submission to the ideas of a human being named Castro, whose legacy to this nation cannot easily be reconciled by history.
Fidel left behind separated families, weeping mothers, children lost in the Florida Straits, young migrants traversing mountains and towns throughout the world, political and ideological division, persecution, prisons, death, hypocrisy and a country that is plunging ever deeper into material and spiritual poverty. continue reading
Fidel intoxicated those who were hoping for a better future for Latin America, infecting them with “his communism.” He tried to pass on to posterity his totalitarian legacy of always trying to hold onto power. His struggle against “Yankee imperialism” left an open wound which even now remains impossible to close. He spoke of people’s rights when his own people have long lived without those rights.
All this is indisputable, but what then do you do with this experience? Where to look? Backwards or forward? Will we simply stand still, frozen in time in the present?
Fidel Castro has died, but Castroism has not. The Cuban people cannot live forever subject to his ideas, to his doctrines, to his opinions, to his image and his symbols. They have divided our nation for too long. We are living in the midst of a societal breakdown but he is no longer here to define the goals or to point way to reaching them.
As Fr. José Conrado said some time ago, “our people are languishing in the middle of a desert whose scarcest water is that of hope. We are at the edge of a spiritual precipice much more serious and profound than the material deprivations that overwhelm and oppress us daily. The vision of society that has been promoted as the panacea to all our problems, as a solution to our vices and the fulfillment of our dreams, has led us to this dead end, to this sad condition.”
This is a decisive juncture; let us not allow the opportunity to pass by. It is the moment for reconciliation and hope. Enough with hate and separation, enough with forgetting our identity as a nation, as Cubans, as brothers. We must reconcile our differences, listen to proposals and discover the value of dialogue as a source of those proposals. This is necessary if a new dawn is to rise among us. We must be ready to find solutions for the future of a homeland that belongs to us and that demands it of us.
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14ymedio, Joanna Columbie, Havana, 21 October 2016 – Ignacio Gonzalez is frequently seen in the streets of Havana with microphone in hand recording citizens’ reactions to a flood, a historic baseball game or the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States. Independent journalist and editor of the Hot Free Press (ECPL) agency, the young man aspires to continue excelling professionally and thinks that non-government media are experiencing a time of growth.
Recently Gonzalez spent 48 hours under arrest at a police station as a consequence of his work as a reporter, an arrest that is among the repressive acts carried out against independent journalism in recent months.
Columbie: How was Hot Free Press born?
Gonzalez: It comes from the idea that people are again gaining confidence in the independent press, which had lost a little due to government propaganda that says that it involves unqualified and mercenary journalists. We interview not only the regime’s opponents but also doctors, engineers, can collectors, mechanics, carpenters… people like that. continue reading
Columbie: You suffered an arrest recently. What happened?
Gonzalez: I was doing a report together with another colleague on a study of central Havana, and an operation began with a patrol car, five police officers and two agents from State Security. They took us to the fourth police unit and interrogated me in one of the offices. They made me undress and squat forwards and backwards in order to see if I had hidden any USB drives. I felt denigrated.
Then I was transferred to a police station on Zanja Street and later to the 10th of October, located on Acosta Avenue. I was detained for 48 hours, which had never happened to me, because they had always detained me between three and four hours.
Columbie. Were you accused of some crime or are you now subject to some investigative process?
Gonzalez. They told me that they had a file on me and that I am a counter-revolutionary. Although they assured me that my detention was not because of political problems, but because I was committing an illicit economic activity, since I had an agency where it was known that I paid workers and that I had no license to practice this activity nor was I accredited in the country. They also threatened me that my equipment could be seized. I did not sign nor will I sign any paper. There is no accusation as such, what I have is threats.
Columbie: Do you feel you are a “counter-revolutionary?”
Gonzalez: I told them that they were the counter-revolutionaries because they refuse progress and all kinds of democracy to our country. If they are going to put me in prison, they are going to have to do so also with thousands of Cubans who bravely and spontaneously make statements for our reports. Nor am I a mercenary. I work and get a salary for my work with my press outlet.
What they want with their threats is that I stop being an independent journalist and dedicate myself to taking photos for birthdays and quinceañeras [girls’ 15th birthday celebrations – a major coming-of-age milestone].
Columbie: How do you define yourself?
Gonzalez: I am neither an opponent nor a dissident; I am a person who practices journalism in favor of the truth. If the government does something positive, I do an interview or a report about that topic, but if it does something negative, I also bring it to light. If an opponent commits an act of corruption, I bring it to light, and if he is making a move in favor of the people, I do as well. That’s how journalism should be: impartial.
Columbie: Why do you believe that the repression against you has become more intense now?
Gonzalez: The increasing growth of independent journalism is upsetting them. We unofficial reporters have had the opportunity to attend courses, improve ourselves, and the government doesn’t tolerate it. This improvement, this professionalism that journalists are acquiring, even the audio-visual media which shows the whole world the news as it is, it is hard for them to tolerate. They are trying to accuse us of illegalities. It is a zero-tolerance policy towards the independent press.
In the case of Hot Free Press we are making reports almost of the same quality as Cuban television, but with the difference that we are not censored. We are reaching people; we have managed to make people feel a little more confident with the independent press, to give their statements. We have even found among members of the public that they say that if it’s not for national television, they say whatever they want. They are more disposed to make statements to independent outlets because they know that the national press belongs to the government and simply does not work.
Columbie: Are other non-governmental press agencies going through the same situation?
Gonzalez: I have not seen the same attitude with the rest of the new supposedly independent programs, like Bola 8 or Mi Havana TV. These just have a lot of nonsense. Supposedly they are being financed by the self-employed, but I work in this industry, and I know that the self-employed cannot pay for a production like these programs are showing. There are diverse locations and entry to places to which the independent press does not have access.
Columbie: How would you define the practice of the press in Cuba outside of the official sphere?
Gonzalez: Being an independent journalist here is like being a war correspondent.
14ymedio, Havana, 3 July 2016 – This Sunday several independent organizations are holding the first Cuban Youth Congress in the city of Santiago de Cuba, under heavy police pressure and after dozens of arrests. Among those arrested is the activist from the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) Amel Carlos Oliva, who was arrested last Thursday, according to sources from UNPACU.
Oliva’s family and friends told 14ymedio that they lost telephone contact with the dissident hours after he met in Havana with Eliecer Avila, president of the Movement Somos+ (We Are More), an organization also participating in the youth event. continue reading
Oliva returned from Washington the same day he was detained and, according to the leader of the UNPACU, Jose Daniel Ferrer, was “kidnapped by the repressive forces” as he traveled from the Cuban capital to the east.
Since Saturday some members of both organizations were also victims of arbitrary detention, while others were subject to strong police operations around their homes. However, a few managed to reach the Santiago headquarters of UNPACU, where the Congress is now taking place.
Joanna Columbié, a member of Somos+, was arrested on the outskirts of the meeting. She managed to report her arrest by telephone, seconds before being put in the police car. According to reports from the organizations involved in the Congress, more than a hundred activists have been arrested.
The wave of arrests on Sunday is the continuation of the dozens of arrests from the day before, when several members of UNPACU were violently arrested while protesting to demand the immediate release of Carlos Amel Oliva.
Somos+, Joanna Columbié, 24 May 2016 — The Cuban economic model, one that is imprecise, vague, and very particular to Cuba, does not manage to meet the needs of the Cuban people. The nominal wage does not come close to the actual salary that a Cuban citizen needs to cover their basic necessities and, in this respect as in many others, the Guidelines set forth in the previous Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba have failed to be implemented effectively; according to official figures, only 21% of the proposals have actually been carried out.
In Cuban president Raúl Castro’s own words, this whole process should be carried out “without haste but without pause,” however we should ask ourselves whether this phrase can ever be realistic for the Cuban people. Having to wait over 57 years for the promises made by Fidel Castro in his speech known as “History Will Absolve Me” to be put into effect puts this current wait into question. continue reading
It is not the first time that a similar process has been implemented in Cuba. Appearing to recognise the mistakes that have been made, necessary rectifications of mistakes and negative trends have been set out on more than one occasion, in each case with the apparent objective of distracting the population, making sure that their attention is diverted away from the serious economic and social situation that has plagued the country at various points in history.
And now Raúl is back at the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (known as the PCC) with the same discourse. Nothing has changed and in his speech he repeats this same fateful phrase that has led to many a frustrated hope for the people of Cuba and many a useless plan.
Part of the population hoped that this 7th Congress would bring change, change that has to happen sooner or later, but we did not think that it would come via a party that has lost its reason for being in this society, if it ever had one. Remaining in the same political confinement to which we are accustomed will not be a sufficient reason for the opposition movements in Cuba to walk step by step towards necessary change, even though the communists finish their congress in the same way it started: without haste and with many pauses.