Seven of Eleven Former Black Spring Prisoners Allowed to Travel for “Good Behavior” / 14ymedio

Martha Beatriz Roque leaving her appointment at the Immigration and Nationality office at Factor and Final Streets in Nuevo Vedado in Havana.(14ymedio)
Martha Beatriz Roque leaving her appointment at the Immigration and Nationality office at Factor and Final Streets in Nuevo Vedado in Havana.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 22 February 2016 — Former prisoners of the Black Spring Martha Beatriz Roque and Arnaldo Lauzurique received from the authorities “a unique opportunity to travel,” Roque informed 14ymedio this Monday, adding that today she will begin the paperwork to apply for a new passport.

On leaving the Immigration and Nationality Office, located at Factor and Final Streets in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood, Roque explained that Major Orestes Rodriguez Bello assured her that she will be able to return to the country without problems. He added that this was an exceptional measure because the beneficiaries “have displayed good behavior.” However, their status as beneficiaries of “parole” is maintained, and this is not a change in their criminal status. continue reading

Seven of the eleven former prisoners of the Black Spring who remain in Cuba have been summoned to the Immigration offices, presumably to regularize their situation and allow them to travel abroad before Barack Obama’s visit to the island. So far only two among them have had their appointments and the rest will do so throughout the morning and the afternoon.

In the citation they are summoned “to the section covering immigration and nationality to resolve their immigration status.” The document is signed by Maria Cristina Martinez Bello, according to a report from the dissident Martha Beatriz Roque to this newspaper.

In addition to Arnaldo Lauzurique and Martha Beatriz Roque, those cited so far include Oscar Elias Biscet, Hector Maseda, Jorge Olivera, Eduardo Diaz Fleitas and Félix Navarro.

Those not summoned to appear include Angel Moya, José Daniel Ferrer, Iván Hernández Carrillo and Librado Linares.

The eleven former prisoners of the Black Spring residing in Cuba have been prevented from leaving the country under the legal justification that they are “on parole,” a situation that has been widely condemned by international human rights organizations.

In March of 2003, the government ordered the arrest of 75 dissidents, including 29 independent journalists. They were sentenced to long prison terms. In 2010, after mediation through the Catholic Church, they were released in exchange for their departure to Spain, but the eleven remaining in Cuba did not want to leave the country.

Twenty Independent Communicators to Consult in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas

ndependent Journalism. Illustration from "Another Waves" website
Independent Journalism. From “Another Waves”

Luis Felipe Rojas, 1 February 2016 — This list is not intended to be a “Top Ten,” as is so common on internet publications. The list of names that follows carries the history of the men and women who believe in words and images as a tool of liberation.

The independent journalists that appear below do their work in Cuba under the microscope of the apparatus of repression that we know as State Security.

Most of them suffer arbitrary arrests, they have spent long years in prison, they are violently detained, vilified and — paradoxically — are non-persons in government media. In the case of Jorge Olivera Castillo, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison in the “2003 Black Spring,” but he continues, unrepentant, to do alternative journalism. continue reading

Another of those on the list is the blogger Yoani Sanchez who, among numerous international awards, holds the 2008 Ortega y Gasset Prize, given annual by the Spanish newspaper El Pais. Confirming her commitment to the journalism in which she believes, she founded the digital newspaper 14ymedio and 2014.

These are “ordinary” rank-and-file reporters, who get up each morning looking for news and accompany the victims of state bureaucracy — a way of doing journalism that has already gone on for three decades in the country, under the derision that arises from within the regime’s prisons.

I wanted to include here those who have specialized in the genre of opinion, thus helping to clarify what goes on within the country, but also preserving the sharp wit that has been missing for years in the journalism published on the island. The blame for this drought in opinion pieces is due to the jaws that are greased every morning in the offices of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Good health for free and uncensored journalism!

Here is the list:

Regina CoyulaBlog “La Mala Letra”. BBC Mundo. La Habana.

Iván García. Diario de Cuba. Martinoticias. Diario Las Américas. La Habana.

Augusto C. San MartínCubanet. La Habana.

Serafín Morán. Cubanet. La Habana.

Ricardo Sánchez T. Cubanet. Bayamo, Granma.

Miriam Celaya14yMedio. La Habana.

Alejandro Tur V. IWP. Cienfuegos.

Juan G. Febles. Dtor Semanario Primavera Digital. La Habana.

Yoani Sánchez. Directora Diario 14yMedio. La Habana.

Iván Hernández Carrillo. Twittero. @ivanlibre Matanzas.

Yuri Valle.  Reportero audiovisual. La Habana.

Jorge Olivera Castillo.   Columnista opinión. Cubanet. La Habana.

Luz Escobar. 14yMedio. La Habana.

Luis Cino A. PD. Cubanet. La Habana.

Roberto de J. Guerra P. Dtor Agenc. Hablemos Press. La Habana.

Ernesto Pérez ChangCubanet. La Habana.

María Matienzo. Diario de Cuba. La Habana.

Bernardo Arévalo P. ICLEP. Aguada de Pasajeros. Cienfuegos.

Roberto Quiñonez H. Cubanet. Guantánamo.

Alberto M. Castelló. Cubanet. Puerto Padre. Las Tunas.

Despite The Obstacles, The Point Is To Leave / Cubanet, Jorge Olivera Castillo

Terminal 3 of José Martí Airport in Havana (photo taken from Internet)
Terminal 3 of José Martí Airport in Havana (photo taken from Internet)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Jorge Olivera Castillo, 3 December 2015 – We Cubans do not understand closed borders or other measures that try to keep us from arriving at the border between the United States and Mexico with the intention of crossing it and taking advantage of the Cuban Adjustment Act.

Without any doubt we prefer to risk being stranded in some of the transit countries, or die in the attempt. rather then return to the country where we were born and which we have left as if we had seen a vision

The problem is that the journey is regularly paid for with the sale of our houses and everything within them and the savings of many years. In other words, return, forced or voluntary, would be to live literally in the open-air and without a penny in our pockets. continue reading

The efforts to continue the journey through inhospitable places in the Central American geography, until the desired destination is reached, can be explained not only in that there is no longer a home to return to, but also in the fears of facing the consequences, beyond the frowns of some and the apparent indulgences of others.

Let no one doubt that in the case of return, the members of the Party and the Communist Youth, along with the political police and their collaborators, permanent and rented, would be charged with with distributing the correctives with the usual punctuality.

However, this summary of misfortunes does not interest those who will continue planning, between insomnia and impatient, the day of the flight to Ecuador or Columbia. The point is to get away from where the hopes of a better life have been exhausted, from where it is announced, at least once an hour, that socialism with the fixes prescribed by the Politburo will continue forever with no expiration date.

In these times, our compatriots who remain faithful to the proposition of seeking shelter under the cloak of Uncle Sam, believe that there are more chances of success by land than by facing the currents of the Caribbean. Hence, the stubbornness to continue on that route, despite the obstacles that have been raised in some of the countries along the way to stop the flow of Cubans.

The truth is that no one knows how this exodus will end, an exodus that by the numbers is almost as massive as were those of 1965, 1980 and 1994. Meanwhile, the representatives of the island’s regime are determined to prove their innocence in the midst of the tragedy. These sinister characters, as always, blame the stampede on Washington, on the economic financial and commercial embargo that it has maintained since the beginning of the 1960s, and on its migration-favoring Cuban Adjustment Act.

In conclusion, for the sake of the objectivity missing in the official media, controlled by the single party, the grounds for a cyclical phenomenon that has repeated itself in Cuban history for the past 55 years should be noted: the disastrous centralization of the economy, the hijacking of fundamental freedoms by the State, and the impunity of the repressive forces in their determination to protect the status of the power elite who persist in flying, in their own way, the banner of Marxism-Leninism.

The Revolution and its Functional Illiterates / Diario de Cuba, Jorge Olivera Castillo

diariodecubalogoDiario de Cuba, Jorge Olivera Castillo, Havana, 23 April 2015 — According to a close friend, no fewer than half of the graduates of Cuban universities during the last 50 years, have been graduated in vain.”

Such an assertion might be considered distorted and extremist, but the reality outweighs the data that continue to have no place in the official press nor in the other spaces controlled by the State-Party.

From the start, what counted was massiveness. The only insurmountable barrier to higher education is ideological divergences. The slogan about the university being “only for revolutionaries” is kept as current as on the first day it was proclaimed from the platforms and acclaimed by the multitudes. continue reading

Intelligence and suitability became secondary factors to be considered during the university admissions process.

If we add to such follies the regression in teaching methodologies and the limitations in using new technologies, conclusions are easily reached that have nothing in common with the statistics that overstate successes and promote perspectives that are realized, only and exclusively, in the reports by the officials.

In this scenario it is normal for the diploma which documents a university graduation to often be a false trail.

At times, all it takes is a simple conversation to confirm ignorance about key topics in national history and other subjects that taught in junior high and high school.

There are cases in which abilities are limited to a subject studied and do not signify an excellent education.

The future consolidation of capitalism in Cuba is a prospect that generates little enthusiasm for many who display with ill-concealed pride their university degree.

In such a context it will be impossible to cover up the many gaps in knowledge.

What will dictate standards is competitiveness – not participation in acts of revolutionary reaffirmation and other contrivances that exemplify the culture of social parasitism and the institutionalization of fraud as a norm of citizenship in the struggle for survival.

It is a shame to have invested so many material and human resources for such poor results.

The collapse of the paradigms of Caribbean-style socialism is a phenomenon undergoing its final phase.

Among the ruins that exceed their figurative framework to showcase their leading role across the country are those of the Ministry of Education.

In this act of the tragedy, what stands out is the army of functional illiterates coming out of the classrooms of the Revolution.

One of the legacies of a project that failed and whose founders refuse to accept the verdict of history.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Ordeal of the Independent Journalist / Cubanet, Jorge Olivera Castillo

Ernesto Perez Chang, writer and journalist CubaNet (Internet photo)
Ernesto Perez Chang, writer and journalist CubaNet (Internet photo)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Jorge Olivera Castillo, Havana – The sensation that the Cuban regime is counting on a kind of blank check to carry out its abuses is increasingly apparent.

The monthly reports of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), which expose to the world the repressive actions of the political police against pro-democracy activists, are ignored by the majority of international organizations responsible for monitoring this topic, flashing past their computer screed and being archived as soon as they read the headlines.

It is logical, before the avalanche of events that anyone with a minimum of responsibility would classify as cruel, inhumane and degrading, without the intervention of censorship which contributes to its relevance. Month after month the arbitrary and violent arrests are repeated, the acts of repudiation that often include vandalism, and the drama of the political prisoners whose incarceration exposes them to a major dose of arbitrariness. The international interest in the face of these episodes is markedly declining, fortunately always with exceptions, which to some extent helps the issue from disappearing from some agendas.

A method within the scientific repression applied by the Ministry of the Interior in its effort to prevent the growth of protest movements, are its veiled threats, blackmail, and covert actions that end with the loss of a job, or the impediment to occupy a certain place, all lined up against the friends and family members of the “counterrevolutuionary.”

In this jurisdiction of State terrorism we now find the writer Ernesto Perez Chang who decided to inscribe himself on the roll of independent journalists. It is only the beginning of his ordeal. He knows it and assures that he will not go back on his decision. Something truly meritorious in the scenario that demands the complex and inexorable combination of talent and courage.

His work leaves no room for doubts. Along with his pedigree as an excellent storyteller, he has exhibited in his still short journey in the unofficial press, his gifts for reporting and background. Without pretensions of turning myself into the bird of ill omen, nor to assume pedagogical poses, I would suggest not underestimating the capacity of the common adversary to do him harm, with its lack of scruples and determination to take the most misconceived reprisals.

I say is with knowledge of the cause. In the blink of an eye, I was arrested on 18 March 2003 and one month later I was sentenced to 18 years in prison for writing outside the established lines. It is often alleged that times have changed, but the criminal nature of the Power has not. Prison may be used as a last resort corrective, but the manual of the G-2 political police agents overflows with “persuasive” tactics.

Before concluding I reiterate my support for a colleague who had the courage to jump the barriers of fear and censorship. It doesn’t matter when he did it, what matters is that we are sharing a necessary and enriching and spiritual experience. Hopefully other government writers will decide to take off their masks and start to publish in the pages available to them to write with objectivity and transparency. That have nothing to do with obeisance to illegitimate and excluding Powers.

“Recognizing changes does not mean we go along” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

José Daniel Ferrer, Felix Navarro, Hector Maseda, Jorge Olivera and Librado Linares
José Daniel Ferrer, Felix Navarro, Hector Maseda, Jorge Olivera and Librado Linares

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Havana, 19 March 2015 — Twelve years after the Black Spring, 14ymedio chats with some of the former political prisoners currently living on the Island. Two questions have been posed to those activists condemned in March 2003: one about their decision to stay in Cuba, and the other about how they see the country today.

José Daniel Ferrer

The whole time we were in prison, the Castro brothers’ regime did its best to pressure us, to force us to abandon the country. A few of us decided to say no, regardless of the circumstances. Today I am more convinced than ever that my having stayed is worth it. We are doing our modest bit to have a nation where there will never again be something like that spring of 2003, when so many compatriots paid with prison for attempting to exercise their most sacred rights.

“Today I am more convinced than ever that my having stayed is worth it”

Many things have changed, but they still maintain the repression, and sometimes increase it, against human rights activists and also against the people. Recognizing the changes doesn’t mean we go along, because what we don’t have is a prosperous and democratic Cuba. In the last days when I walked freely on the street, at the beginning of 2003, some people approached us and whispered in our ears, “I heard you,” referring to having heard us on some station like Radio Martí, one of the few media where they could learn about what the pro-democracy forces were doing.

Felix Navarro

Having stayed in Cuba after leaving prison is probably the best idea I’ve had in my entire life. continue reading

 On Saturday July 10, the day on which I spent my 57th birthday in prison, I received a call from Cardinal Ortega. He informed me that he was forming the third group of ex-prisoners and that I could leave together with my family. I thanked him for the gesture and the fact that the Church had always fought alongside the unprotected and against the injustices, but I would not abandon the country even if I had to serve the entire 25 years of my sentence. On 22 March he called me again and the next day they released me from prison. Along with José Daniel Ferrer, I was the last to get home.

Right now I’m on conditional release, on parole, but I am convinced that sooner or later they are going to allow me to travel normally like any other Cuban. In my case, I have no intention of traveling abroad as long as the president of Cuba is not a democratically elected member of civil society.

“I would not abandon the country even if I had to serve the entire 25 years of my sentence”

In my opinion, the country has changed, but for the worse. It is true that since the beginning of December of last year the political police have stopped repressing in the way they had been the expressions of peaceful struggle of the Ladies in White in Cardenas and Colon. Before that, every Sunday they prevented their walking down the street, they were beaten and insulted, put into vehicles and abandoned to their fate at whatever place. This doesn’t happen any more and we believe it is very helpful, but the repression continues in other ways, with police citations and surveillance.

Héctor Maseda

I was contacted three times by the Cardinal to leave for Spain and I said no. When they told me I could get out of prison on parole I refused, making my point that Raul Castro had announced months ago that we would all be released. I left prison against my will. In September 2014 I made a complaint to the People’s Power Provincial Court in the section for crimes against the security of the State and the Council of State for them to release me unconditionally. They responded that the court had determined that I would have to remain under control. I have no interest in leaving the country, this is my decision and I don’t have to explain it to anyone.

“I left prison against my will”

Some changes have occurred in our country, but I continue to insist that they are not fundamental. The government of Raul Castro maintains very rigid positions. The fact that relations with the United States are being reestablished is perhaps the most notable change, but behind this are the economic interests of the Cuban and American governments. In the case of Raul Castro, what he wants is to extend his dynasty in power, but I can’t see what the benefits are for the Cuban people.

Jorge Olivera

Just under five years ago I decided not to accept the offer to go into exile in Spain. I received a lot of criticism, but my closest friends, my wife and my family supported me in my decision. At one time I desired to leave Cuba, but one has a right to change and today I have no regrets. In the most difficult moment of the dilemma I chose to stay for many reasons, one of them is the trajectory of the independent press, where I worked with Habana Press since 1995, and also my convictions. After thinking about all aspects, I considered it better to stay here trying to open spaces for independent journalism, to bring our experience to the young people. I am here, happy, although it seems a contradiction in terms, because I am doing what I love and contributing with my modest efforts to a better country.

“The country has changed and will change again, perhaps not with the speed we want”

Life is dialectical and everything changes. Sometimes we do not notice because we are in the forest, but the world has changed and Cuba as well. The Cuba of 12 years ago was very different. Now, for example, events that no one expected have occurred, like the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. They have opened spaces that were unthinkable back then, there are people who don’t see it that way, people who think it is very little, others say nothing has changed. The country has changed and will change, perhaps not with the speed those of us on the pro-democratic route would like, but there have been changes. Our work is made visible with the existence of new technologies, Internet and cellphones; discreet but important spaces have opened up that have contributed in a greater or lesser way to improving our work, both in the political opposition and in the alternative civil society.

Librado Linares

When I had been in prison for about a year and a half in Combinado del Este in Havana, some officials from State Security interviewed me to find out my willingness to leave Cuba as a way to be released from prison. I told them flat out no, and their leader assured me I would serve the 20 years without any benefit. I decided to stay because of the commitment I have to the development of a dynamic of change that will do away with the Castros’ totalitarianism and produce a transition to democracy. On the other hand, I greatly identify with and have a great sense of belonging to Cuban culture, with its values, the people in the neighborhood, the climate, with las parrandas de Camajuaní. I can’t find this in any other country.

“We are more pluralistic, less monolithic”

Some experts in the areas of transition have said that there are four types of non-democratic regimes: totalitarian, post-totalitarian, sultanistic and totalitarian, but in the ‘90s a process of “de-totalitarian-ization” began and this has happened because of the pressure from the internal opposition and internationally and because of other reasons, including biological. The regime has been evolving toward post-totalitarianism and perhaps intends to move towards an authoritarian military regime.

They want to stay in power and that has led to allowing certain improvements in freedom of movement, they have facilitated aspects of the issue of ownership and non-state management of the economy, such as land leases and non-farm cooperatives. Despite the enormous repression, the opposition has been gaining spaces. We are more plural, less monolithic. People are forgetting their fear, breaking their chains and learning to speak up in public and to demand their rights.

Transition to Dictatorship Rhythm / Jorge Olivera Castillo

Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, Spanish Foreign Minister, believes that the European Common Position towards Cuba is correct, but can be more flexible

HAVANA, Cuba, March — Latin America and now the European Union approach the Cuban dictatorship without great demands. Respect for fundamental rights, as a requisite for closer relations with Havana passes to a more distant plane than previously.

The priority is to guarantee the survival of the regime as an assurance of political stability within the Island, and maybe to manage a soft landing towards some form of less authoritarian government. It is risky, at the very least, to say that the end point of this journey that is barely beginning is democracy with all its attributes.

Single-party socialism is not going to disappear from Cuba because of a civilian-military revolution. Neither does it appear that its end is associated with a negotiating table formed by people of the current regime, the Catholic Church and the opposition groups. If history grants the possibility of such a scenario, it would settle for when the heirs of the gerontocracy assume control at a time impossible to determine.

Whoever says to the contrary is, as they say, lost in the weeds. The weakness of the opposition, in a social climate where anarchy stopped being exceptional some time ago, is a reality that counts when the time comes to define policies. Of course they are not the only motivations, but there is no doubt that they have contributed to things flowing in favor of conservative pragmatism. continue reading

To this one would have to add the little importance of our country in the geopolitical order. Without great economic attractions or strategic relevance for the centers of world power, the topic of Cuba dissolves between indifference and the castlings of very specific interest. Nothing of commitments with respect to a political evolution that overcomes single party rule and the impossibility of exercising fundamental rights without conditions. That would come associated with the development of economic openness.

The only government that maintains a policy of confrontation is the United States, although of little benefit for advancing the pro-democracy agenda. The embargo increasingly loses effectiveness following a moderating trend that includes important sectors linked to the politics and economy of this nation.

At times it seems that the incidents of abuse perpetrated by the regime fall on deaf ears. Except for a few non-governmental organizations, the majority of governments remain impassive in the face of statistics about arbitrary arrests, acts of repudiation and prison sentences for political reasons.

Resignation would not be a good option facing the sequence of irrefutable facts, but also one has to be careful about romantic visions.

A deep reflection about the circumstances is necessary. The opposition and the members of alternative civil society that do not do it will fall by the wayside. One must insist on efforts to be more creative and to eliminate the recurrence of old errors that continue burdening the pro-democratic plans.

Cubanet, March 3, 2014, Jorge Olivera Castillo

Translated by mlk

To Dream in Cuba is to Dream of Escape / Jorge Olivera Castillo

balsero-solo-en-goma-1er-plano“If I die from drowning, I don’t care, if here I’m dead in life.”

HAVANA, Cuba — Although it is increasingly risky, crossing 90 miles on a raft continues to be the dream of the young people. My neighbor Alfredo confessed to me his determination to undertake a journey that could cost him his life. He already has the exact measurements of a raft, the paddles and a sail, parts with which, this summer, he will try his luck against the waters of the Straits of Florida.

“If I die from drowning, I don’t care,” he said, “completely, if here I’m dead in life. There are no changes or anything close to it. I live overcome by anxiety.”

As someone who is self-employed — at first — he had the illusion of achieving some goals, that he dreamed of for more than 20 years, but the reality was stronger than his dreams. The harassment from the State inspectors, being forced to engage in more than one illegality in order to make a profit, and the rising prices of raw materials on the black market, made it impossible for him to make and sell pizzas. continue reading

Despite the risky plan to get to the United States, thousands of young Cubans only dream of escape, like Alfredo. “It is impossible to live in peace. Between the fines and the chance that they will close your business for not complying with the established rules, you can’t get ahead. This could be fatal and you can end up in jail. So I will try to see if I can get to the Bahamas. I know it’s hard to get asylum, but maybe I’ll be happy. I’m determined, whatever happens,” Alfredo says, without listening to my advice to avoid such a dangerous solution.

In recent weeks, hundreds of the self-employed have surrendered their licenses because of so many problems in doing their work. Without wholesale markets and with the rampant corruption,  efforts to get ahead are in limbo. Young people just think about leaving the country.

But this exodus has grave consequences for the social and cultural order. With low birth rates and the constant migration of young people, the future of the island is bleak.

On the other hand, those who dream of leaving and don’t make it, sink into marginality. Alcoholism, suicides and endless uncivilized behaviors are the escape valves.

Alfredo is ready for the challenge. Will he reach his destination? Will it be returned to the Island after being caught on the open sea by U.S. Coast Guard? Will he die in the jaws of a shark?

Cubanet, 11 February 2014, Jorge Olivera Castillo

“Getting Drunk is the Only Way You Can Endure the Problems” / Jorge Olivera Castillo

HAVANA, CUBA – In Cuba, every year hundreds of people die from alcoholism. A recently published study on the issue of alcoholism in the Americas, in the magazine “Addiction,” says that the mortality indices affect mainly Cubans between 50 and 69 years of age.

The information, gathered by the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, is hugely useful in looking at a phenomenon that affects every social strata. The issue could be more dramatic and shown in the study, and also affect youth. It’s well known that alcohol consumption among young people is increasing.

A tour around any area of the capital, especially the neighborhoods in the outskirts, is sufficient to feel discouraged about a solution to the problem.

In addition to the ever increasing amount of alcohol consumed, there is also the constant decline in the quality of the product. There are many clandestine factories where adulterated alcoholic drinks are produced. Whatever drink comes out of these places is full of dirt and rust and it sells like hotcakes.

A good part of the market is supplied by these producers. Even the dollar stores take advantage of the illegal supply of rums and liquors, made with raw materials stolen from the state companies. continue reading

In addition to the painful deaths that result, the addicts who consume these low quality products can suffer long-term neurological and digestive damage over the long time. Assistance programs lack a systemic focus and only reach a tiny part of those affected.

The proliferation of poverty, the increasing spiral of traffic infractions, and the standardization of violent events associated with alcoholism are the affects, apparently irreversible, of a process of political, social and economic collapse.

“Getting drunk is the only way to endure the problems,” I hear from Roberto, a 60-year-old man, just before he takes a plastic bottle filled with cheap rum in a part where he gets together with other alcoholics.

The lack of housing, of fairly-paid work, and the absence of any perspective of the future, are some of the causes of this problem for the majority of Cubans who can’t live without alcohol.

“I have work, and what? My salary doesn’t support me. To live in a house that is on the verge of falling down with nine other people and without any hopes of anything,” says a woman called Marlen, who works as a cleaner at a Ministry of Transport company.

“Alcohol takes the weight off a little. I drink every day I can’t sleep without a swallow. My life is a dead-end with no exit,” she adds.

According to the report, Cuba appears along with Argentina, Canada, Costa Rice, Paraguay and the Unites States among the countries with the highest rates of addiction among the age-ranges cited at the beginning of the article.

This data never appears in the official press. Much less the number of deaths related to alcoholism, the numbers confined to asylums, and those who roam the streets like zombies.

Cubanet, 23 January 2014 | 

Independent Forum Parallel to CELAC is Being Blocked by State Security / Jorge Olivera Castillo

violencia-cuba-300x200HAVANA, Cuba – Around 9:00 last night two officials from State Security’s Department 21 presented themselves at my house to warn me that the Second Democratic Forum on International Relations and Human Rights (independent) would not be allowed to be held in Havana this coming 28 January.

The opposition forum is scheduled parallel to the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), to be held in the Cuban capital on the 28th and 29th, with the presence of heads of state and governments, as well as high level officials from the 33 member countries.

The meeting that the political police are trying to block has among its objectives to put into perspective the incompatibility of the one-party political system in Cuba with CELAC’S Special Statement for the Defense of Democracy.

One of the agreements made at the founding meeting of that organization, held in Caracas on December 3, 2011, says, and I quote:

“We agreed on a clause committing to promote, defend and protect the Rule of Law, democratic order, sovereignty of the people, Human Rights and fundamental freedoms, including among others the right to life, liberty and the security of the person, not subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, or to make them objects of summary and arbitrary executions or forced disappearances, and [to respect] freedom of opinion and expression.”

A brief review of what is stated here is enough to question the regime serving as a host for the summit. continue reading

The systematic arbitrary arrests, acts of repudiation and trials without the minimum procedural safeguards, against pro-democracy activists, express a behavior that contravenes international standards that guarantee the exercise of all the rights of citizens, regardless of the politics and ideologies of governments.

In addressing other points of gross human rights violations, we should highlight the appalling prison conditions and the chances of being detained without having broken the law. The offense of “pre-criminal social dangerousness” contemplates imprisonment without evidence. Dozens of opponents have gone to prison under this legal (?) provision.

Moreover, it is ironic that the Cuban government carries out many humanitarian actions in several Third World countries, sending health professionals to areas of extreme poverty, while engaged in inciting mobs to beat the Ladies in White in the street, forcing its citizens to work for about a dollar a day in state enterprises, and maintaining full prisons, where, incidentally, more than 80 political prisoners languish.

The worst of this nightmare is the impunity. There are no legal means for the protection of citizens. The life of an ordinary Cuban passes among the misery and repression. Alternatives to escape the suffocation are in reality to leave the country by any means or to risk one’s luck on the black market. To survive through honest work has become a utopia.

In over 50 years of Real Socialism, inefficiency, lawlessness, lack of control, apathy and state terrorism have been regularized

Pavel and Pedro, the two agents who visited me, were emphatic in their warnings.

What else can one expect from the executioners who sometimes present themselves as teachers of tolerance and decency?

I know the names they gave me are false but that’s not important. What is beyond question is their determination to prevent, by all means at their disposal, our meeting of 28 January.

Cubanet, 24 January 2014

Bastion 2013, A Little Game in a Make-Believe War / Jorge Olivera Castillo

HAVANA, Cuba, December, — The Bastion 2013 Strategic Exercises recently concluded with the so-called National Days of Defense. Headlines such as “The Heart of the Country Is Invulnerable,” “The Enemy Will Have No Peace,” “An Unbreakable Coastline” and others equally ridiculous could be read in the November 25 edition of the weekly Trabajadores.

They have once again taken the military paraphernalia out of storage to inflict an imaginary defeat on the enemy, which occasionally lands in the country with its phantom divisions.

As well as being something outside the bounds of common sense, fabricating external aggression at this point is increasingly useless. There have been so many combat preparations and invasion warnings that have proved pointless that almost no Cuban believes in the demagoguery that sustains them anymore.

Indifference and mockery are the routine reactions to these expenditures of human and material resources, which are not even successful at diverting attention from the serious social and economic problems that affect a wide segment of the population.

“They are shameless. Instead of investing money in important things, they waste it knowing full well that we will never see American troops in Cuba. It is a cliche they use for the sake of convenience. Essentially, it stems from a need to present an image of unity and strength. They know that the probability of a military confrontation between the two countries is very low, practically impossible,” says a former military official.

Very few citizens spend time on this sort of news. The most widely read items in the official press continue to be the television schedule and the sports page.

“I don’t waste my time on this nonsense. We have had enough of this war for subsistence. If the Americans ever come, I would be happy if they brought food and other stuff. With that they would win two out of three. The country is already in ruins, even without a missile having been fired from overseas,” says a retiree living in the capital.

After a series of virtual military battles throughout the country, Cubans are still confronting challenges brought on by difficult circumstances. Dealing with the bureaucracy, finding their way through the maze of the black market and struggling with high prices for essential consumer goods are some of their primary concerns. According to the vox popoli, however, efforts to keep us mired in poverty will be even more intense in 2014.

There is no shortage of reasons for such assumptions. The just completed Bastion 2013 is a bagatelle, a children’s game compared to the battles we have to face every day in the farmers’ market, with their heart-rending prices, or in the hard-currency stores, which are fully capable of destroying anyone’s patience.

Cubanet, 2 December 2013

The Opposition Needs Something More Than Courage / Jorge Olivera Castillo

HAVANA, Cuba , October, – I have heard more than once that the opposition is nothing more than a symbolic “testimonial,” which will fail to turn itself into an important political reference in the short and medium term.

Most significant are not so much the affirmations, as the people (Cubans and foreigners) who make them, many of them on the condition of anonymity and without knowledge of the subject .

It has not been easy to resist in the midst of so many difficulties, and even to advance agendas that would seem impossible in such adverse circumstances. However, despite the many mistakes committed in tactics and strategies, the government repression and the unending flow of leaders into exile, the Cuban opposition has a moderate margin of credibility.

To say that all the effort of more than three decades has been a failure, would be false. Along with the many setbacks, there are successes; not many, but they represent the moral fortitude and resilience of opposition groups.

Unfortunately, many of our initiatives attest to the courage and determination of the opponents, but failed to extend our struggle to a substantial part of the people. Nor is there unity among opponents. The egotism of some and their persistence in undertaking unrealistic and overly ambitious plans continue to damage our struggle.

The regime, despite its talent for repression, is recognized in international forums. The denunciations of flagrant violations of human rights, in addition to being ignored by the mainstream press, don’t receive attention from other governments or these forums.

The hundreds of arbitrary arrests every month, the increase in the numbers of political prisoners and the beatings of peaceful opponents in the public streets, pass before the eyes of the world without consequences for the dictatorship.

To move forward we must “professionalize” our struggle. We need the humility to recognize what we are lacking and our potential. If we don’t correct our tactics we will not achieve legitimacy for our aspirations.

With our divisions, our ambitious goals, and the discourse that clamors for external corrective measures, including military intervention, the opposition grows the vicious circle.

We must maintain our fundamental principles, but readjust our strategies, and look for new, more effective, methods.

Jorge Olivera Castillo,

From Cubanet, 23 October 2013

Facebook: Unknown to Most Cubans / Jorge Olivera Castillo

facemierdHAVANA, Cuba , October, – In the program “Passage to the Unknown” — Sunday nights on Cubavision — they aired a documentary that showed that young Cubans are last in line in the digital world.

Among surprised and crazy faces, the segment showed a young woman on the street gathering opinions about Facebook, a topic addressed in the program by the journalist Reinaldo Taladrid, and “specialists,” among whom appeared the defender of official censorship: Iroel Sánchez.

To the question: Do you know what Facebook is? The few successes came from tourists and foreign students studying on the island.

In my neighborhood, he threw out the the question: What is Twitter?

For Alexander, a young high school student, Facebook could be a character in an adventure film. Rolando, however, a forest engineer with 20 years experience, is convinced that it is something related to auto racing.

What a horror! It makes you want to cry, or something worse.With the delay in using such a tool as essential as Facebook, who’s going to believe in the development of Cuba.

That young Cubans don’t know the social network that brings together a billion people, in 70 languages, shows the digital and technological backwardness of our country.

Emerging countries such as Brazil, India, Indonesia and Mexico are among the biggest users of Facebook, which forces us to recognize that we are lagging behind the digital world. We are at the back of the line of modernity.

We are an island frozen in time! Meanwhile the government remains committed to the internal blockade to maintain its absolute power.

The regime is not only leaving us as its legacy a country in ruins. In addition to the collapse of ethical and moral values, they are leaving us mired in digital illiteracy, with the goal of keeping themselves in power.

Jorge Olivera Castillo

From Cubanet 10 October 2013

Farewell, My Friend / Jorge Olivera Castillo

Oscar Espinosa Chepe and his wife, Miriam Leyva
Oscar Espinosa Chepe and his wife, Miriam Leyva

HAVANA, Cuba , September, – Independent economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, according to the latest information received, has just died in Madrid.

A former liver disease was the trigger for his vital signs to irreversibly decline.

The trip to the Spanish capital in search of better medical care would not alter the outcome marked by fate. There, far from his homeland and in the company of his wife he has had to say goodbye to an increasingly unsettled world.

Points of views critical of the government that he expressed in hundreds of articles and pithy economic analyses, earned him harassment, smear campaigns, detentions, acts of repudiation and a stint in jail as part of the Group of 75.

Together we remember Cuba’s Guantanamo prison* in late April 2003 after being sentenced to long prison terms for our activities in favor of democracy. He had been sentenced to two decades in prison, and I to 18 years.

From the moment that, handcuffed and under heavy guard, we boarded the bus heading to Guantanamo, more than 900 kilometers east of the capital, His serious health problems were visible. Several times during the trip he required medical assistance. So much so that on arrival at the prison he had to be admitted to hospital ward for provincial inmates.

In the passageway we were barely able to exchange a few words. The Interior Ministry agents forbade us from speaking, but the difficulties in communicating with Chepe were notorious. His ill health made me think that he might come to a fatal ending before reaching the destination fixed by our executioners.

In the solitude of the isolation cell I was able to learn of his transfer to a hospital in the city of Santiago de Cuba a few days of arriving in Guantanamo. I learned later that, because of the severity of his ill health, the political police had decided to take him to a prison in the capital.

Even so,before they granted him parole for health reasons, he had to endure nearly 19 months in prison.

His recovery after returning home was short-lived. The serious impact of his incarceration left traces that contributed over time to accelerate his decline.

Unexpectedly I was also released for health reasons weeks after he left the hospital in Combinado del Este, Cuba ‘s largest prison located on the outskirts of Havana.

Remaining in my memory are sporadic conversations we had on various issues of our national reality.

I was privileged to enjoy his qualities as a host, I can also attest to his ability to take on, with responsibility and integrity, the challenges imposed by the circumstances, and his unwavering virtue in making no concession in what he believed was best for the future the country.

Among his best political qualities I should mention his moderation, his support for gradual changes, and his clarity in dismantling the fallacies of the regime which continues to articulate false statistics and empty rhetoric.

I do not want to fix in my neurons that he will return to Cuba as ashes. The image I have chosen to remember that that of the whole man who did not shy away from debate and who never waned in his convictions, those of that languid but undaunted old man who accompanied me on the bus that distributed us among various prisons in the Spring of 2003.

By Jorge Olivera Castillo —

*Translator’s note: Olivera Castillo is referring to the Cuban prison in Guantanamo province, not the one run by the United States.

From Cubanet, 23 September 2013

Sacrilege at the Protestdrome / Jorge Olivera Castillo

690075345_03af765542_z-300x215HAVANA, Cuba , September – The musician Robertico Carcassés crossed the line. According to his detractors, he chose the least appropriate time and place to ask for — in addition the release of the four Cuban spies and the end of the “blockade,” as dictated by the script of the show — free access to information, the ability to elect the country’s president by direct vote, the end of the internal blockade imposed by the Communists, and freedom for… “Maria.”*

He asked for all this while singing at a televised concert held a few days ago at the Anti-imperialist Bandstand — which people call the “Protestdrome” — the usual site of the anti-Yankee dance parties organized by the government. This time, the goal of the spectacle was to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the imprisonment of the spies-heroes and, of course, to once again demand that the Yankees release them.

Robertico immediately became an outcast. He was banned indefinitely from performing on  stages and in the media owned by the government; that is, all of them. The incident should be enough to shut the mouths of those who talk about a relaxation of censorship in Cuba. The spaces for self-expression, the topics discussed and what can or cannot be said, continue to be dictated by the official agenda.

Crossing the line when it comes time to criticize is still dangerous. The “new airs of freedom” are only symbolic; part of a plan of image improvement to create the illusion of an opening. Pure marketing.

Except for some intellectuals, writers, artists and academics, who now and again speak critically about the country’s problems, the majority prefers to entrench itself in silence.

Unfortunately, the criticisms of the few who dare never make it to television, radio or the printed newspapers, they remain only in books and specialized magazines that very few people read. They don’t circulate.

The other ways to disseminate these ephemeral ripples is the blogosphere, in a country where less the five percent of the population can access the Internet. Given the prevailing apathy and the impediments mentioned, the few critiques pass without pain or glory, without any major social impact.

For this and other reasons, it’s not coincidence that demands, in addition to being few, are timid, ambiguous, and generally accompanied by a petition against the “blockade” and do not mention the origin of our problems, nor those to blame, despite the fact that everyone knows who that is. They “play with the chain, but not with the monkey.”

Robertico Carcassés began his Via Crucis. Some members of Interactive, the group he directs with great success, immediately distanced themselves from what he said at the Anti-Imperialist Bandstand.

In an open letter he reaffirmed what he said in the concert. An undoubtedly brave gesture that puts his victimizers in an uncomfortable position.

With the exception of his request for the release of the five (four), I make public my support for the musician whom I already admired for his swing and piano playing, and whom I now admire even more for asking, on television, for the inalienable rights of all Cubans.


After writing this text, I learned that this Tuesday, after a meeting with functionaries from the Ministry of Culture, the punishment of Carcassés was lifted.

It seems that one of the craftsmen of the pardon was the influential Silvio Rodriguez, one of the artists most committed to the regime, who occasionally posts in his blog points of view contrary to the official line. The intervention in the matter of Violeta, daughter of that famous troubadour, due to the official reprimand received by her husband, Oliver Valdés, Interactive’s drummer, for mentioning in a program the punishment against Carcassés, may have been a catalyst for the unexpected outcome.

Has Carcassés privately recanted? Committed not to repeat the mistake? Who knows.

Now surely the perks-as-deterrent will come. Almost certainly he will get, without delay, permission to buy that car he’s been after for a long time. Perhaps even the usual, “What’s that you heard? I didn’t say a thing.”

Regardless of the speculation surrounding the incident and his motivations, the symbolic value of the event itself should be noted, the importance of the direct demands of the young, made for the first time on national television, in front of the cream of the communist hierarchy and, what’s more, on the most sacred of stages.

*Translator’s note: Robertico asked for the release of the “heroes… and Maria…” whose identity remains a mystery.

By Jorge Olivera Castillo:

From Cubanet

19 September 2013