Casa de las Americas Licks Its Wounds on Its 65th Anniversary and Longs for Its Influence in the Region

The top brass of the regime accompanies Abel Prieto on the anniversary of the institution / Casa de las Américas

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Izquierdo, Havana, April 27, 2024 — After 65 years operating as a kind of second ministry of culture, Casa de las Américas longs for the time when the institution was more powerful and influenced the cultural debates of the continent. On the eve of the anniversary, its president, cultural commissioner Abel Prieto, regrets the lack of “coherence” of the institution and assures that “the amount of crazy things full of lies” that are said about the Island’s regime do it “damage.”

Founded just four months after Fidel Castro’s arrival in Havana in 1959, Casa de las Américas emerged with a declared vocation: to take advantage of the intellectual enthusiasm caused by the “beards” to attract Latin American writers to the Island. The success was total. From promising young people like Ricardo Piglia to figures of the stature of Miguel Ángel Asturias, they passed through the institution or aspired to its literary prize.

Now, Prieto invokes the controversies that marked the first decades of Casa de las Américas, such as the emergence of the magazine Mundo Nuevo – emblem of the Latin American boom and under the direction, from 1966 to 1971, of the Uruguayan critic Emir Rodríguez Monegal – about which he states that it was “designed, built and launched as a counterweight to our magazine Casa de las Américas.” continue reading

Prieto invokes the controversies that marked the first decades of Casa de las Américas, such as the emergence of the magazine ’Mundo Nuevo’

The former Minister of Culture attributes to the United States multiple “traps”, “storms” and “manipulations” to sink the institution. He speaks with fury about the Rómulo Gallegos prize, saying “it is founded to oppose the Casa de las Américas prize,” although he does not mention that the regimes of Hugo Chávez and Castro ended up hijacking it. In 2000, invited to be on the jury for the Rómulo Gallegos prize, the novelist Roberto Bolaño denounced that the “chavista” methods of the organizers – who “designated” the politically convenient winner – were already identical to those of Havana in the 60s.

“The Casa always has an answer,” Granma celebrates in its interview with Prieto. The commissioner nods, but insists that everything in today’s world leans “to the right,” because “the Yankees have dedicated a lot of money” to preventing the cultural work of the Island. “At the center of all those controversies was the dispute over that area so important that is the intellectual field,” he says, and recalls that the institution always tried to be “at the center of those hurricanes.”

“At the center of all those controversies was the dispute over that so important area that is the intellectual field”

Prieto dedicated a long commentary to his predecessors, notably the founder of the Casa Haydée Santamaría, who “loved a lot, admired and lost” – he said, enigmatically, when announcing a book of tributes that he published this year – and whose suicide allowed Mariano Rodríguez to preside over the House until 1986. On that date, the poet Roberto Fernández Retamar assumed the position, until his death in 2019. After spending time as Raúl Castro’s “personal advisor,” and two long periods as Minister of Culture, Prieto took charge of the institution.

Boldly, the commissioner leaves his most daring statement for the end of his interview: “Many people say that the so-called Latin American boom, especially in the novel, has to do with the Cuban Revolution, firstly, and secondly, with the work of the Casa de las Américas.” Of those writers – whose progressive break with Havana was sonorous – however, he only mentions two: Gabriel García Márquez, Castro’s unconditional friend, and Julio Cortázar, whose criticisms of the Revolution were minimal and always in private correspondence.

In his personal account of the history of the institution, Prieto also did not mention the internal cultural controversies in which Casa de las Américas played a leading role. He did not allude to the fact that the magazine served to publish aggressive ideological libels – such as Calibán, from Retamar himself – against those who opposed the cultural vision of Havana and, on many occasions, personal attacks on authors that the regime disapproved of, such as Jorge Luis Borges.

Nor does it speak of the famous 1971 issue of the Casa magazine, in which the transcripts of the National Congress of Education and Culture appeared, with the authorities “locating” and “healing” homosexuals. Also appearing in the final pages of that issue, which served as a road map for what was known as the “Five Grey Years,” was the self-indictment of the poet Heberto Padilla, arrested by the State Security weeks before the publication.

The Casa building, next to the Havana Malecón, has long ceased to be a meeting and gathering center

The Casa building, next to the Havana Malecón, has long ceased to be a meeting and gathering center. Affected by multiple hurricanes and hard-pressed for a repair, the property ran out of steam as a cultural space in recent years. The most important event of the century that took place inside its walls was the one that happened in 2007 after the “Little War of Emails” was unleashed over the exaltation in the official media of former political commissioners of the “Five Grey Years.”

During weeks of exchanges by email, direct accusations of the Ministry of Culture and of Fidel Castro himself, dozens of intellectuals and artists lashed out against cultural policy on the Island. The official response was to convene a meeting at the Casa de las Américas to calm the tempers and stir up revolutionary spirits. The call left out the most critical figures in that controversy, and after it was over, the political police were brutal against the rebellious voices.

On its 65th birthday, the institution is still sheltered by the regime, whose top brass, headed by President Miguel Díaz-Canel, accompanied Prieto in the anniversary ceremony. The Casa de las Américas Awards were also given out this week. The “Latin American unity” award is the only one that Cuba pays in dollars.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Cuban Regime Erases ‘Barbarroja’ from State Security History

Manuel Piñeiro died in strange circumstances while preparing his autobiography

Comandante Manuel Piñeiro, known as ‘Barbarroja’ / La Pupila Asombrada

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Izquierdo, 26 March 2024, Havana — This Tuesday, not a single official newspaper alluded, in the eulogies dedicated to the anniversary of State Security, to its most famous founder, Commander Manuel Piñeiro, known as Barbarroja. On the other hand, there are many tributes to the “true heroes of silence” – such as centenarian Julio Camacho Aguilera and Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, two incombustibles – and reports of numerous awards to active agents in various provinces.

This was the case of a group of ten G2 officers in Sancti Spíritus who received medals for their work as “outstanding combatants” in surveillance at the local level. Of those decorated, only three colonels “with high responsibilities” in State Security allowed themselves to be photographed and identified. In a speech by Julio Jiménez, from the provincial bureau of the Communist Party, there were quotes from Fidel and Raúl Castro, in addition to Ramiro Valdés, but Piñeiro was also omitted.

Crossed out of official history and having died in suspicious circumstances – an alleged accident while driving his own car– in 1998, Fidel Castro’s spy chief also did not find his place in the delirious history of the regime’s counterintelligence published by Cubadebate and the official state newspaper Granma, which seeks its antecedents in none other than the War of Independence of 1895. Back then, a certain “agent Luis” received instructions from José Martí to develop “original methods” to outwit Spanish intelligence.

 Having the Military Leader leave the Sierra Maestra unharmed was “the most important mission” of a group of agents who, in the long run, constituted the Rebel Intelligence.

After multiple historical ramblings – which also turned Julio Antonio Mella and Carlos Baliño, among others, into spies – Cubadebate insists that State Security meant, in its origins, the security of one man: (Fidel) Castro. That the leader left the Sierra Maestra unharmed was “the most important mission” of a group of agents who, in the long run, constituted the Rebel Intelligence and its “peasant observation service,” in charge of interrogating guajiros (rural farmers) suspected of collaborating with Fulgencio Batista. continue reading

Although Barbarroja – who was part of the column led by Fidel Castro himself and then by his brother Raúl – had a leading role, before and after 1959, in the creation of Cuban espionage bodies, the regime’s role in the infiltration of Batista’s troops.

The Cubadebate text alludes to other “protagonists” of the State Security foundation, such as René de los Santos Ponce, Camilo Cienfuegos – to whom it attributes the dismantling of Batista’s espionage bodies – and Ramiro Valdés, Prime Minister of the Interior, of whom Piñeiro was vice minister.

The regime describes Havana’s Columbia Camp as an “idyllic residence surrounded by trees” where Castro’s spies set up their headquarters, later moved to the centrally located Fifth Avenue in the Miramar neighborhood of Havana, under the command of Colomé Ibarra.

After multiple historical ramblings, Cubadebate insists that State Security meant, in its origins, the security of one man: (Fidel) Castro 

In the eyes of Granma, the Army and State Security are “twin brothers” of the regime, “under the direct attention of Fidel and Raúl.” It asserts that 108 Cuban spies have died in the exercise of their profession and that thousands more have neutralized “terrorist plans” and “subversive activities” within the Island.

The writing concludes with a warning. State Security currently remains “vigilant”, especially on social networks and “especially” around young people. Infiltrators, alleges Granma, quoting Fidel Castro, “have the very bitter task of passing themselves off as counterrevolutionaries to serve the Revolution.”

This past February 8, Cuban Television very discreetly premiered a documentary by Rebeca Chávez dedicated to Piñeiro. The audiovisual piece, titled I’m Still Barbarroja, was not published – as is usual with the content of its programming – by the Educational Channel on YouTube.

Chávez, to whom Cuban counterintelligence has previously offered unpublished recordings (those of the self-incrimination of poet Heberto Padilla, for example), used fragments of an interview that Barbarroja gave to CNN in 1997, shortly before he died. The material describes Piñeiro’s role in the kidnapping of several US Marines – the so-called Anti-Aircraft Operation of 1958 – and alludes to the time he received training from the KGB, under the false name of Celestino Martínez, in the Soviet Union.

State Security continues “keeping a close watch” currently, above all on social networks and “especially” near young people.

Videos of the former head of the Departmento América of the Communist Party had not appeared on national television since 2023, when cultural commissioner Iroel Sánchez tried to rehabilitate him on his program La Pupila Asombrada for the 25th anniversary of his death. His biographical sketch published by the official encyclopedia Ecured – another Sánchez project – suggests that he stepped away from political life in 1997 to undertake “with great intensity and enthusiasm” an autobiography that has never been published.

The son of wealthy Galicians – his father was the manager of the Bacardí Rum Factory – he studied at Columbia University, in New York, and collaborated with Castro from the beginning of the July 26 Movement. Bloodthirsty during the trials against former officers of Batista’s Army, starting in the 1960s he took to sowing guerrilla movements throughout Latin America and Africa, devised from Havana.

He was close to senior officials of the German Stasi and the Soviet KGB, whose structure inspired the Cuban State Security. The official version of his death states that he “crashed into a tree while driving to his house, in the middle of an episode of diabetes.” The “loss of consciousness” occurred while he was returning from a reception at the Mexican Embassy in Havana, although Ecured omits the party, and insists that he had previously participated “in a tribute and commemoration” to the second Eastern Front.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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Converted Into a Company, the Propaganda Section of the Communist Party Sells ‘Stamps’ and Flags

The new status means more money and resources, in addition to brand-new printing machines

To make wholesale banners, the company has modern printers from the Japanese multinational Roland /  La Demajagua

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 13 April 2024 — The purpose is to “market the image of Cuba,” and the means are furnished by the Communist Party. Protected and paid for by the highest authority of the country, the Propaganda and Events business unit, with its main factory in Granma province, doesn’t disguise its objective: to supply the entire Cuban East with banners, flags, slogans and portraits of leaders.

Although it is still attached to the Central Committee, the eastern section of the former Propaganda Department has just been converted into a company. The new status means more money and resources, suggests La Demajagua, the provincial digital newspaper, which showcased the business in an elaborate report. Before the cameras, the brand-new company took out the artillery: modern printers from the Japanese multinational Roland, electric saws to create “awards and diplomas” for the leaders, giant posters, shirts, fence panels and dozens of “symbols.”

In the video published by the newspaper there was also a collection of “stamps” with the faces of Fidel and Raúl Castro

In the video published by the newspaper next to the report, there was also a collection of “stamps” – similar to those sold in Cuban churches – with the faces of Fidel and Raúl Castro, Miguel Díaz-Canel, Che Guevara, Vilma Espín and Camilo Cienfuegos.

The workers aren’t complaining. “We get a good salary. There are months that I earn 6,000, 7,000 pesos, depending on the content of the work. I like the craft,” says the company’s carpenter, who says “the equipment is modern, which makes the job easier. Now we are waiting for an assembler, because the workmanship must be very good quality,” he adds. continue reading

The designers play with one motif in their designs: the Cuban flag. They make sure that the symbol “waves” at events, on shirts and “along the roads.” They use the image with abandon, and despite the Government’s tension over the “improper use” of the banner, which has cost years in prison to activists Aniette González and the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, they make sure that the work is “proper.”

The company states that it provides services not only to the local governments of the eastern area but also to natural persons “who contract with us.” However, it does not clarify what type of customers – national or international – buy, for personal use, the revolutionary fanfare produced by the entity.

The workers aren’t complaining. “We get a good salary. There are months that I earn 6,000, 7,000 pesos, depending on the content of the work”

A moment of pure effervescence, they say, is when an event is approaching. “The work is constant,” of course, because in a country like Cuba there are more than enough historical dates, such as the imminent May 1. The Workers’ Parade is a prosperous time for Propaganda and Events, which must hire more employees “because companies demand many items in order to ensure the colors of their workers.”

In cash or by card, the company is open to any method of payment. They feel, their managers say, “a high responsibility” and consider themselves “makers of history.” They themselves have a place in the parade; they pronounce harangues using microphones that they have installed and fly banners that are printed in their workshop. Propaganda and Events marches with such a favorable wind that the authorities, not knowing what more they can do to honor the entity, will even dedicate the parade itself to it.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

‘Barbarossa’ Is Resurrected at the Yara Cinema With a Performance for the Military

The Yara cinema, minutes after the military left the premises / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez/Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 28 March 2024 — Four buses of the Armed Forces parked this Thursday in front of the Yara cinema, in Havana’s Vedado district. Its passengers – a flood of soldiers, almost all of them Army and Navy recruits – had tickets for the 2:00 pm screening: I am Barbarossa, the documentary by filmmaker Rebeca Chávez about one of the most sinister architects of the Security of the State, Commander Manuel Piñeiro. 

Two days had passed since this newspaper called attention to the suspicious cloak of silence with which the regime covered the feared Barbarossa – of whom the Chilean writer Jorge Edwards even said he had “limited and influenced” the movements of Fidel Castro – during Cuba State Security’s anniversary.

It is assumed that the Armed Forces contingent had planned, well in advance, to go to the movies. Also drawing attention, in the midst of the current fuel crisis, was the deployment of four large vehicles to attend a recreational function. At the end of the event, the soldiers dispersed to the nearby food stands and, around 3:30 pm, returned to the buses. 

Navy recruits, return to the buses after the screening of the documentary / 14ymedio

This Thursday morning, Prensa Latina announced the screening of Soy Barbarroja at the Yara and noted that Piñeiro had been “one of the founders” of the Cuban counterintelligence, who owed his nickname “to the color of his beard from the time he came down from the Sierra Maestra with the rank of commander.” It also alluded to his role as promoter – from a distance – of several guerrillas in Latin America. continue reading

The agency offered few details about the movie, which recycled fragments of a 1997 CNN interview with Piñeiro, in addition to recordings of his first wife, the American dancer Lorna Burdsall; his widow, the Chilean Marxist Martha Harnecker; and his daughter, economics professor Camila Piñeiro. The documentary has only been screened once, on Cuban Television, at the beginning of the year, but it was not published by the Educational Channel on YouTube, as usually happens with this type of content.

Barbarossa ’s name also did not appear in the summary of President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s speech, during a gala honoring counterintelligence in which Raúl Castro participated and where he described the history of State Security as “the most fascinating, inspiring and patriotic” of Cuban memory. For his part, the nonagenarian soldier did not get up from his seat and his speech – actually a small letter – was read by the Minister of the Interior, Lázaro Álvarez Casas.

Army officers and recruits, walking along 23rd Avenue towards the buses / 14ymedio

Piñeiro, son of wealthy Galicians and in the shadow of Castro since the times of Sierra Maestra, died in 1998 under suspicious circumstances. The official version states that “he crashed into a tree” while he was driving his car, which was foreign to his habit. Despite his absolute loyalty to the regime that he helped form, his biography is little known to most Cubans, and he has been largely absent from the festivities for the 65th anniversary of State Security.

However, legendary enmities are attributed to him and he is the protagonist of numerous conspiracy theories. One of them, in particular, points to the strange circumstances of his death after distancing himself from politics while supposedly preparing his autobiography.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

A Way of the Cross Marked by Emigration and Tensions with the Communist Party of Cuba

The image of the Nazarene runs through Aguiar, under the poster of the municipal committee of the Communist Party / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez / Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 30 March 2024 — The most significant station of the Way of the Cross held in Old Havana this Friday, when dozens of Catholics took to the streets under the tense gaze of the Police, occurred on the block of the municipal committee of the Communist Party. The image of the Nazarene went through Aguiar Street and passed under the red and black sign of the same institution that restricted Holy Week with prohibitions in several provinces of the Island.

It was a procession with few faithful and a lot of vigilance. Presided over by Cardinal Juan García, there were more members of the clergy – Franciscan friars, seminarians and missionaries of the Charity of Teresa of Calcutta – and of the security forces than there were the believers who participated in it. However, the religious figures were able to leave at 6:00 pm from the parish of the Christ of the Good Journey to Cathedral Square.

Believers and officers were asked to “give space” to the figures and those who led the procession. “Why do they have so much security if people keep cutting through it,” one of the clerics said sarcastically. Before starting the procession, the priests thanked the “photographers, cameramen and the press” for their presence. “What a pleasure that you are here, because it is a pleasure to see the faith of the people,” they added.

Closely watched by the Police, the Way of the Cross procession leaves from the Buenviaje Church of Christ / 14ymedio

El Cristo and La Dolorosa, on the shoulders of the well-dressed parishioners, traveled around the damaged streets of Old Havana. Behind the figures, a bus with a bullhorn amplified the prayers of the cardinal and the faithful, who asked for “forgiveness” for the Cuban people. The reflections on the Passion of Christ – usual in the celebration – put the emphasis on comparing, although subtly, the suffering of Cubans with that of the first Christians. continue reading

It attributed to the soldiers who crucified Christ an abuse of their “right to coercion”; it alluded to the “spectacle of suffering” that becomes customary. Believers were asked to “approach the persecuted” and hear “the subtle voice of conscience” about the imprisoned. “The Way of the Cross of bitterness is not a civil act but a religious act,” the priests said aloud, and among them were voices critical of the regime such as Jorge Luis Pérez Soto and Kenny Fernández.

Priest Kenny Fernández in the foreground along with other members of the clergy in Cathedral Square / 14ymedio

More people joined when night fell and the symbolic body of Christ reached the Church of the Angel to be buried. Decorated with garlands and lights strung on balconies, the streets that lead to the Plaza del Ángel – in addition to the concert band that accompanied the parishioners – animated the procession.

Decimated by the emigration of a large part of the young Catholics of Havana and by the population in general, this Friday’s Way of the Cross was less emotional than that of previous years. The tensions between the Communist Party and several parish priests, such as the Dominican Lester Zayas, prevented the local Via Crucisis, smaller than the one held in Old Havana, from being carried out.

The procession marches, now at night, towards the Church of the Angel, where the Holy Burial is celebrated / 14ymedio

Interviewed by EFE about the limitations imposed on the parish of the Sacred Heart in El Vedado, which he attends, Zayas again said that his sermons on the Cuban crisis made the authorities uncomfortable and are the cause of the prohibition. “People say that priests can’t be involved in politics. And it’s true, if by politics we mean partisan politics, but if we understand politics as something social, then it is possible to talk about the Gospel. A priest can’t stand at the pulpit and talk about the Heaven that is going to arrive if we can’t transform what happens on Earth, where we have children who go to school without breakfast because they don’t have milk,” he said.

He added that what happened this week in several parishes throughout Cuba – especially in the dioceses of Santa Clara, Havana and Bayamo-Manzanillo – is an “attack on religious freedom.” However, the Conference of Catholic Bishops of Cuba announced that 111 celebrations, including Good Friday and Easter Sunday, were authorized by the Communist Party.

Holy Week has stirred up the unease of Cuban Catholics with the Government. While several priests, such as Fernández and Zayas in Havana, and Castor Álvarez and Alberto Reyes in Camagüey defend their right to criticize – as citizens and clerics – the situation on the Island, the Bishops’ Conference has remained in a certain lethargy and has not issued pastoral letters that, at another time, were their instrument to urge the rulers to change.

The frustrated negotiations for the release of political prisoners, the Vatican’s approaches to Miguel Díaz-Canel and the cordiality of the ecclesiastical leadership with the authorities of the Government and the Party make a critical turn of the bishops unlikely. Despite this, some isolated voices of the Conference, such as that of the Archbishop of Santiago de Cuba, Dionisio García, have spoken out about the poverty, shortages and blackouts that led to the March 17 protests, with a focus on his archdiocese.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Of Those Arrested for the 11 July 2021 Protests, 676 Cubans Remain Detained

In the witch hunt that followed that day, the Government arrested 1,580 demonstrators. / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Juan Izquierdo, March 13, 2024 — With two recent heart attacks on his medical record and a sentence of 15 years in prison, political prisoner Wilfredo Castillo received a license last week to leave the Agüica prison, in Matanzas, for a year. Haggard and thin, his most recent photograph – in a hospital room – is eloquent about the health of a 55-year-old man who, along with hundreds of Cubans throughout the Island, suffered the consequences of going out to protest on July 11, 2021 (11J).

In the witch hunt that followed that day, the Government arrested 1,580 demonstrators, of whom 676 remain detained. The temporary release of Castillo is the most recent news about that initial group, to which – after several relevant protests in past years – several hundred names have been added. Between 11 July 2021 and February of this year, according to several organizations, more than 1,900 demonstrators have been arrested, 1,067 of whom are still imprisoned, including the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the opponent José Daniel Ferrer.

Only 18 of those who were sentenced for taking to the streets on 11J are free and continue to live in Cuba, according to the NGO Justicia 11J. Another 80 went into exile – especially to the United States, Spain and the rest of Europe – and have resumed their activism outside the country. continue reading

The 11J demonstrations were not only a watershed moment for the opposition, but they also modified the landscape of human rights organizations inside and outside the Island

There are 663 demonstrators who have been released from prison but are serving some kind of sentence. Penalties include house arrest, restriction of mobility, correctional work, fines and bail. In addition to Castillo, only two other licenses to leave prison have been granted due to an inmate’s serious state of health: for Juan Carlos Izquierdo, in Mayabeque, and Mario Josué Prieto Ricardo, in Holguín.

The inventory of Justicia 11J does not have data on 141 of the detainees after the protests, but it does keep records for those who, in addition to participating and being imprisoned on that date, participated in organizing the Civic March of November 15, 2021, and the protests of 2022 – including those in Nuevitas, Camagüey, in August of that year and in 2023.

The 11J demonstrations were not only a watershed moment for the opposition, but they also modified the landscape of human rights organizations inside and outside the Island. After the clamor of the protest, several observatories and institutions emerged with the goal of counting the detainees and making visible, along with the independent press, the repression and the precarious conditions to which they are subjected in prison.

“The hardest thing in prison? In prison everything is hard, there is nothing right, there is nothing beautiful, only depression, hunger,” Osain Denis Trujillo told Martí Noticias on Wednesday. He was released this Monday in Cárdenas, Matanzas, after serving a sentence of two years and eight months. Trujillo was beaten and arrested in his own home on July 12, in front of his wife and daughter, by an armed commando. “They put me in the van and hit me,” he said. “I was unjustly imprisoned. They didn’t give me a regime change, they didn’t give me a minimum, they didn’t give me parole.”

“The hardest thing in prison? In prison everything is hard, there is nothing right, there is nothing beautiful, only depression, hunger”

For Trujillo, the situation that led to the outburst has not changed; it may even be worse. And the consequences of the economic crisis are also felt in prison: “All we have to eat now in prison is rice, pumpkin water and what we call ’electric pasta’. The cup – a portion of rice – is getting smaller and smaller. At breakfast, we get hot pumpkin water or some herbal tea,” he added.

Several of those who protested on 11J or the next day are independent journalists, such as Carlos Michel Morales, who was released this Wednesday in Caibarién, Villa Clara, after two years and ten months in prison. An image of the reporter, as thin and mistreated as Castillo, circulated on social networks. The former prisoner, his relatives say, has health problems from malnutrition, beatings by the guards and the hunger strikes he carried out while behind bars.

Last January, Yusmely Moreno González was also released from prison, sentenced to three years for protesting in the town of Surgidero de Batabanó, in the province of Mayabeque.

Prisoners Defenders (PD) – which includes in its inventory, like other organizations, those who have protested in recent years before and after 11J – claimed in its most recent report the existence of 1,067 political prisoners in Cuban prisons at the end of February 2024. The figure represents an increase in incarcerations, with 9 arrests in February alone and 22 so far this year.

The issue, PD alleges, has been gaining an important ground in the international debates about Cuba. A resolution of the European Parliament of February 29, 2024, the organization emphasizes, denounced in clear terms the drastic increase in political prisoners and the tendency of the regime to imprison more and more opponents. In addition, parliamentarians are aware not only of the number of prisoners currently serving sentences, but also the more than 11,000 cases of “pre-criminal ” convictions, PD alleges, for people who did not commit any crime.

Last January, Yusmely Moreno González was also released from prison, sentenced to three years for protesting in the Surgidero town of Batabanó, in the province of Mayabeque

The report points out that the World Prison Brief, written by the Institute for Investigations on Crime and Justice, placed Cuba in second place worldwide in its incarceration rate last January, taking into account the number of prisoners on the Island.

Of the 1,067 inmates counted by PD, 30 are minors, a fact that the Cuban Government recognized at the United Nations, claiming that they were in “occupational training schools” but hiding that these facilities are true penitentiary centers.

The regime’s disrespect for prisoners – 115 – and for transsexual women – two, imprisoned in men’s prisons – has also been noted in numerous testimonies, including that of the María Cristina and Angélica Garrido sisters, imprisoned in Mayabeque and sentenced to 7 and 3 years, respectively.

Although the numbers speak for themselves, the real tragedy of 11J is the suffering of the prisoners’ families. This Wednesday, Wilber Aguilar, the father of prisoner Walnier Aguilar, sent a message to his son on his 24th birthday. During his last visit to the prison, he said, the family wished him “blessings,” not “happiness,” because they have “nothing to celebrate” while the young man remains in prison. However, those who visited other inmates delayed their visit to show solidarity with the Aguilars. “I’m trying to turn all this pain into strength,” he concluded.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Anchored in Regla, the Mysterious Sixth Turkish ‘Patana’ Contracted by Cuba Is Called ‘Erol Bey’

Suheyla Sultan, the most visible Turkish patana in Havana, generates 240 megawatts. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 15 February 2024 — Anchored in the inlet of Guanabacoa and protected from the curiosity of habaneros, the exact location of the Erol Bey Turkish floating power plant — commonly called a ’patana’ — with its four chimneys, is not known. Located next to an industrial area, a 1,476-foot esplanade separates it from the Regla generator group to which it seems connected.

The Erol Bey, which appeared on Wednesday as the “patana of Regla,” provides 63 megawatts (MW) to the Electric Union. It is the third ship of the Turkish company Karpowership currently installed in Havana, along with the very visible Suheyla Sultan, with 240 MW, and the Belgin Sultan, with 15 MW. Silos, warehouses and flour mills surround the pier where the Erol Bey is anchored, and it can be reached by Nuestra Señora de la Caridad Street, in the municipality of Regla.

According to the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), the patanas contributed 2,591 gigawatt-hours (GWh) in 2022, which represents 14% of the country’s total generation (18,323 GWh).

The Erol Bay, seen from Havana, is accessible only from the industrial area that surrounds it, something only possible for those who work in the surrounding factories, as a reporter from 14ymedio was able to verify. continue reading

Neither the records of Karpowership nor its project in Cuba, where it installed floating power plants for the first time in 2019, allude to the Erol Bey

The satellite images, on the other hand, clearly show the ship, smaller in size than the Suheyla Sultan, located in the port of Havana, and with four chimneys that, this Thursday, emitted a weak smoke.

Neither Karpowership’s records nor its project in Cuba, where it installed floating power plants for the first time in 2019, allude to the Erol Bey. A report by the Turkish media Deniz Haber Ajansi mentions the acquisition, by Karpowership, of a Norwegian oil tanker manufactured in South Korea, which it called – as an “example of loyalty” – Erol Bey, in honor of the then president of the Maritime Council of Turkey, businessman Erol Yücel.

However, it is not known if this ship, transformed into a patana, is the same one that is anchored in Havana. An argument in favor of this change is that, along with this ship, Karpowership bought another “twin” oil tanker that it did turn into a patana. This is the Esra Sultan, which, in 2023, was in the Dominican Republic. For both ships, the Turkish company paid 14 million dollars.

Maritime tracking applications have not given news of the Erol Bey’s location since 2017.

The Cuban government has been hermetic about the contracting of Turkish floating power plants. To achieve estimate of the cost, this newspaper searched for the information in the Dominican Republic, which contracted for two patanas – including the Esra Sultan – for which it paid 40 million dollars for a duration of 42 months. Applying the same calculation to Cuba, the cost would be 109 million for the same period, or 31 million per year.

However, if Karpowership and Havana share anything, it is the lack of clarity about their transactions, and it is impossible to know how much the Island is paying for them. This is not only an economic issue but also an environmental one. The patanas, as the Cubans in Havana know very well, are pollution bombs.

Immersed in an energy crisis, the country suffers constant blackouts, and its facilities go from breakdown to breakdown. Given the lack of fuel, the regime turns to its allies, who do not stop sending oil tankers to Cuban ports, often at the risk of non-payments.

An emblematic case is Mexico, whose oil company, Pemex, according to the newspaper El País, has accumulated a debt of 106 billion dollars, says the credit rating agency Moody’s.

“Cuba and Mexico have not made public the financing agreement for the more than 5.5 million barrels of oil sent by Pemex to Cuba during 2023, with an estimated market value of 390 million dollars,” University of Texas expert Jorge Piñón explains to this newspaper. The quantities sent in “January and February of this year indicate that the supply of Mexican oil to Cuba will not only continue, but could also increase,” he says.

To prove it, the expert says, there are the trips from Mexico to Cuba of the ships Vilma, Ocean Mariner and Delsa – which  transported 1.1 million barrels in January and February, and the Esperanza, which joins the route. The Esperanza, one of the ships that traveled between Venezuela and the Island, is abandoning its old route in favor of Mexico. “Is this a sign of fewer supplies from Venezuela or a simple rotation of tankers?” asks Piñón.

Another important player in Cuba’s oil energy destination is Russia, whose chancellor, Sergey Lavrov, will visit Cuba soon. The diplomat will have numerous topics of conversation with Havana. Among them, the estimated debt of 566 million dollars for shipments of 7 million barrels of oil during 2022, and 1.6 million in 2023.

From that visit, Piñón concludes, many decisions will come out that will affect the geopolitical balance of the region, in particular of Venezuela and Mexico, with tense elections ahead in 2024, and of Cuba, which depends on its allies to survive.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Desperate for More Workers, Cuba’s Electric Company Holds a Job Fair

The electric company’s facilities on Independence Avenue in Havana’s Boyeros district, are well maintained. The sign reads: “The Party Is Immortal”. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Espinosa/Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 21 January 2024 — The Cuban Electrical Union (UNE) needs operators, linemen, inspectors, economists, dispatchers and meter readers. However, attendees at Thursday’s job fair, sponsored by the state-owned enterprise in an effort to alleviate its worker shortage, were not met with promises of good salaries. Instead, they were greeted by a rusty sign over the gate to its operations center that read, “The Party is Immortal.”

The company’s Havana facilities, located on Independence Avenue in the Boyeros district, are well maintained. Several repair vehicles loaded with equipment and ladders are parked next to the main building. Also adjoining the premises is a training center for linemen where, on Thursday, several uniformed apprentices could be seen climbing poles and using training cables.

“All the state-owned companies are desperately looking for people because no one wants to work for them given how little they pay,” says one of the candidates for a lineman position. continue reading

All the state-owned companies are desperately looking for people because no one wants to work for them given how little they pay

Despite UNE’s need to increase staffing, company representatives at the fair did not go out of their way to tout the benefits of working for the company. Essential questions about the nature of the work were met with obfuscation, hemming and hawing, and “misdirection.” Shrugging her shoulders, the building’s receptionist apologized when asked about the pay. “I lost the salary schedule,” she replied.

After an expedited hiring process, the lineman positions — the best paid but also the most dangerous — were quickly filled. For those interested less risky positions, such as those for computer engineers or operators, the news was disappointing.

“The pay is 4,000 a month plus a performance bonus,” explained a department head to an applicant who had already been shuffled from one office to another. “If you exceed your target, you can earn between 9,000 and 12,000 pesos.” Hardly a tempting offer considering a police officer can make up to 15,000 pesos.

Adjoining the company’s offices is a training center for linemen where, on Thursday, uniformed apprentices could be seen climbing poles and handling training cables.  (14ymedio)

Not yet convinced, the candidate was told that transportation was provided for employees. Also needed are inspectors and meter readers, as well as security and protection workers, who require a higher level of certification than the average technician.

Those attending the fair, however, were able to confirm at least one thing. At the electric company, where blackouts are expected and excuses are made for the country’s energy crisis, every office is air conditioned and the place is amply lit. “Blackouts don’t happen here,” said one candidate as he exited under the same Communist Party sign that greeted him when he came in.

With its jobs becoming increasingly less attractive, and with little to offer potential employees, the public sector is running out of workers. The most recent strategy to improve the situation is to organize job fairs, which have proliferated throughout the country since December. Company directors highlight the advantages of working for the state: stability, more reliability and lots of job openings

Job-fair fever has spread throughout the island as officials from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security continue boasting of their success

The last point has proved to be an easy sell. The stampede to the private sector combined with the high level of emigration has meant that organizers of a single job fair last December in Guantanamo province were able to offer candidates more than 2,200 positions.

Job-fair fever has spread throughout the island as officials from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security continue boasting of their success. The ideal candidates, according state media, are those who are “not studying or not currently employed,” and who live in “vulnerable communities.”

One of the workplaces that has worked hardest to recruit Cubans “excited” to work for the state is Cubadebate, the flagship — along with Granma — of official state media. After an attempt to add more journalists to its payroll , the online news outlet received more than a few sardonic responses, some in the form of a query. One example: “Can journalists write their own articles or do they have to wait for the Communist Party to dictate them?”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

With Its Alternative ‘Therapies,’ Cuba Wants To Become a Paradise for Sick Tourists

Customers will be able to buy packages of 14 and 21 days to be treated on the Island, beginning in January. (Invasor)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Izquierdo, Havana, January 4, 2024 — Ready to take out the artillery in the face of the tourism crisis in Cuba, the ministries of Public Health and Tourism returned this Thursday to their strategy to make the Island a paradise for the sick traveler. The Cayería Norte of the province of Ciego de Ávila will be converted into an enclave of “oriental and western therapies, along with therapies with dolphins,” where “ancestral energies” will have as much weight as “the use of Cuban medicines.”

The Medical Services Marketer (CSMC) explained to the official press that the “traditional” Cuban sun and beach tourism is already medicinal in itself, but that they plan a whole package to contribute “to the well-being and improvement of the quality of life” of those who relapse, afflicted by any ailment or a desire for relaxation on the beaches of Seville.

Agnerys Cruz, director of the state company in Ciego de Ávila, pointed out to Invasor that the services will include all kinds of innovative “therapies”

 Agnerys Cruz, director of the state company in Ciego de Ávila, told Invasor that the services will include all kinds of innovative “therapies,” as well as “the consumption of healthy food and drinks” and direct interaction with the dolphins of Cayo Guillermo, which offer proven benefits to the mental health of patients.

“To this is added the possibility of attention to different disorders, from the autism spectrum, in all its varieties, to others that hinder socialization,” Cruz added, without going into details. continue reading

The limits of the program are only imposed, judging from the announcement, by the imagination. “The possibility of visiting cities and rural areas is added, including agricultural farms and local development projects, where they can enjoy ecological walks, farmers’ lunches, traditional Cuban drinks, tropical fruits and fresh vegetables. These proposals reinforce the initiative to travel to Cuba to receive well-being and quality of life services,” the director said.

On a more practical note, Cruz offered customers packages of 14 and 21 days, beginning in January, although she did not delve into the costs. “The experience will be wonderful for both tourists and therapists,” she said.

Both the state facilities and the hotels of Jardínes del Rey will be involved in the new program, which already includes the Canadian Blue Diamond Resorts as one of its partners. “These offers are added to the existing ones at the Starfish Cayo Guillermo hotel, but the purpose is to extend them to other facilities,” the director explained.

However, the CSMC plans an ambitious expansion in its services and is already targeting other audiences. “The Grand Muthu Rainbow hotel, destined for the LGBTIQ+ segment, develops specific therapies that meet the demands of that market and make the stay more pleasant,” Cruz celebrated.

Also inaugurated, in the capital city of the province, was a medical office at the Rueda hotel, “with the aim of ensuring healthcare for those who engage in city tourism in hotel facilities, rental houses or are passing through the province,” she added.

The staff will promote the use of Cuban drugs such as vaccines against covid-19 and Heberprot-P

The office will promote the use of Cuban drugs such as vaccines against covid-19 and Heberprot-P, the latter described as a “stimulant and accelerator of the healing of diabetic foot ulcers” that reduces the risk of amputation.

“In the same way, the medical office staff will promote services aimed at guaranteeing the well-being and quality of life of tourists, such as massages and cosmetic dermatology,” Cruz said.

The initiative, Invasor alleges, is based on data from the World Tourism Organization, which assures that this year health tourism will be a “trend,” since it “increased the number of travelers eager to regain their energies, take a ’breather’ and feel comfortable with themselves.”

It is not the first time that the regime has tried to create a “favorable climate” to attract this type of traveler. After the coronavirus pandemic, the authorities offered foreigners a trip to the Island to recover or receive treatment. The controversy was not long in coming from the population, who feared an increase in the number of infections with the arrival of thousands of tourists.

To this is added, today, the health debacle that the country faces, unable to offer treatment or perform a surgery without the patient’s emigrated relatives sending everything from the simplest supplies, such as needles and thread, to the most expensive drugs. The situation has reached the point where the Government has had to extend again and again the tariff exemption for food, toiletries, medicines and even generators that travelers can bring to the Island for non-commercial purposes.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

William Aguero, the Cuban Artist Who Transforms Garbage Into Art

Agüero has a certain Rastafarian air about him, he wears a blue T-shirt and likes to chat (14ymedio).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Nelson García/Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 26 October 2023 — William Agüero is sitting in the center of his workshop, which is also his world. The mess is noticeable. Masks, fans, a typewriter, tubes of oil paint, paint brushes, an old Philco refrigerator, skeletons of Soviet radios, and objects impossible to classify. If they call him an artist it is by chance; he prefers another definition: daring.

He has a certain Rastafarian air about him, is dressed in a blue T-shirt, and likes to chat. If rum is involved, so much the better. Some time ago, Agüero discovered that the true calling within his work was to avoid any confinement and go out in the open air. He started at home: 21st Street, between 8th and 10th, in Havana’s El Vedado district.

Even if they don’t know Agüero, everyone has visited his world: big open eyes on poles and trees, discs that turn into shiny scales, faces on burnt logs, toilets in which all kinds of plants grow. “In my head I have many more things,” he warns.

Agüero’s creative power does not rest. If he had money, more paint and materials, he would have already expanded his work throughout Havana. A city in ruins, where garbage dumps seem to have a life of their own, is the ideal terrain for his objective: to transform what everyone considers useless into art.

“I started out playing around,” he told 14ymedio. “I used to make shoes, but a painter friend of mine, by the last name of Miruelo, who died recently, asked me to sell some paintings. I knew a lot of people and I sold them all, except one.” That was enough to unleash the world that, according to Agüero, he carried hidden within. continue reading

A city in ruins, where garbage dumps seem to have a life of their own, is the ideal terrain for his objective (14ymedio).

When he had that revelation, his wife was hospitalized, so art was also a remedy to relieve the tension of those days. He began painting “his way,” but continued to sell the work of others – vinyl records of “some young guys, who are very good painters” – until he decided to make his first “masks.”

“I liked it and immersed myself in that world,” he recalls now. He bought canvases and some materials. He also saw some toilet bowls in the trash and said, “Let’s give them a use.” So it has been with all sorts of “tarecos,” or “pieces of junk,” as he calls the artifacts he has rescued from the garbage dump. He has become almost famous, he explains, and his work has been on television.

However, and despite the fact that many fellow painters have invited him to exhibit his work in various galleries, he has never received state aid. “I have done everything with my own resources and efforts,” he says proudly. If anything, friends and admirers stop by his studio and leave him “a little something over there,” which he later transforms into art.

“I eliminate garbage,” Agüero points out. “If it weren’t for this project, the garbage dump at the corner of my neighborhood would be reaching my house by now. One day they pick it up, and then they don’t come for a while.” Recycling is his counterattack and his way of showing his community that, despite Cuba’s unacceptable conditions, life doesn’t have to be depressing.

Of course, some have called him crazy or worse. The project has had its detractors. “But the vast majority,” he says with satisfaction, “is very pleased with what I’ve done in the neighborhood. There are those who are annoyed by it. What can we do? Criticism exists everywhere,” he says. The best part of the work is when the children come. Where others see only trash, they – like the artist – are able to see fantastic cars or imaginary motorcycles.

He is willing to do more, much more, but everything has “its economic part,” he reasons. “Everything is expensive, especially paint, and it’s difficult. Nevertheless, visitors from all over the world continue to pass through the neighborhood. People who explore the other Havana, the one that does not appear in the tourist guides, and discover the magical “tarecos” of Agüero.

Agüero discovered that the true calling within his work was to avoid any confinement and go out in the open air (14ymedio).

Translated by Allison Reyes as part of University of Miami/Spanish 321

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

To Keep the ‘Ninja’ Children Away, Several Restaurants in Havana Create a Private Security Agency

The police declared themselves unable to control the flood of minors dedicated to stealing. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Nelson García/Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 11 November, 2023 — Several burly men, with black pullovers, guard the restaurants on the alley of Espada, on Peña Pobre Street in Old Havana. Their mission: to prevent the beggars, crazies and undesirables of the mythical Angel neighborhood from disturbing the clientele, usually foreigners, and they keep an eye on the children, true ninjas when it comes to stealing a wallet or picking the pocket of a distracted tourist.

Antojos, 7 de Espada and Chacón 162 – three of the most expensive and well-known Havana restaurants – decided to pay attention to a situation that was already beyond the hands of the police. “They are children and we can’t do anything,” the officers alleged when a robbery was reported on the terraces. Hardened by poverty, at only 9 or 10 years old, the children of the area prepare to accept a candy while reaching out to someone else’s pocket, or to ask for alms with all kinds of stories and tricks.

“It all started with a nine-year-old boy who lives in this neighborhood. His father is in prison and he lives with his grandparents. He is the one who supports everyone at home,” a member of the staff of Antojos tells 14ymedio, whose administration is the one that provides the security service to the neighboring premises. continue reading

As the police declared themselves unable to control the flood of minors dedicated to looting – and also “recommended” a quick solution to the problem – the restaurant owners took it upon themselves to find one. First, the waiters and clerks tried to expel the boys, but this “affected the service,” says a source in Antojos. “People stopped coming, and we had to look for a security team,” he adds.

The results of the security personnel are evident: they have “scared off” the beggar children. (14ymedio)

Although not as effectively as children, other beggars used to ask for money from those who come to eat at the “loma del Ángel,” as that corner of Old Havana is known. Now the job is more than difficult: stationed at the door of the premises, the guards prevent the beggars from even stepping past the ornamental pots at the entrance to the terraces. If anyone manages to reach a table, the security officer will have no qualms about grabbing him by the arm and escorting him out of the place. Whether or not they take him out violently or calmly depends on the beggar.

The results of the security personnel, who charge about 2,000 pesos for each day of work – in addition to tips and money to watch over the diners’ cars – are evident: “Security has ’scared off’ the children,” acknowledges a member of the Antojos staff. The beggars know where to look. Antojos as well as 7 de Espada and Chacón 162 have astronomical prices. Only those who can afford to pay dine there. In Chacón 162, a ceviche is sold at 1,300 pesos, beef carpaccio at 2,300 and a few croquettes at 530.

And those are just the starters. A lobster prepared “to your taste” costs 2,800 pesos, while the shrimp is 2,450. The most exclusive, without a doubt, is the octopus dish – a rarity in Havana – which in Chacón 162 is sold at 4,800 pesos.

“Now the clientele is quite balanced between Cubans and foreigners, because tourism is a little dead,” says a source to this newspaper, who prefers not to reveal the identity of the owner of  the Antojos restaurant, someone known as “Reinaldo” and related by marriage to a high military official.

Placed at the door of the premises, the guards prevent the beggars from even getting past the ornamental pots at the entrance to the terraces. (14ymedio)

As for Chacón 162, its owner is José Héctor Argiles Agüero, who is proud on social networks of the visit to his premises of international figures such as the Spanish actor Mario Casas and the Mexican Gael García Bernal, the chef Pepe Rodríguez – presenter of the show Masterchef Spain – and the Cuban artists David Blanco, Raúl Paz and Carlos Acosta.

The comment that someone from the leadership of the regime protects the owners of the restaurants in the Espada alley is recurrent. Their ease of getting food – Antojos operated even during the pandemic, at home – and their decorations, with allusions to Republican Cuba, have been arousing suspicions among the poor neighbors of the Angel neighborhood for years.

Calling attention at the entrance to Antojos is a gigantic mural with the image of Celia Cruz – flanked by Benny Moré and Compay Segundo – whose music is still banned on Cuban stations. A sign with the word “Azúcar!”, which the singer made famous on the international stage, receives the diners.

“This area is for people with power,” acknowledges a staff member of Antojos to 14ymedio. The severity of the muscular guards, who guard the street once famous for the novel Cecilia Valdés, prove him right.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

‘While Doing Military Service in La Cabana, Three Recruits Committed Suicide From the Statue of Christ’

The statue of Christ was inaugurated a week before Batista’s escape, on December 24, 1958. (Secret Nature/Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 9 November 2023 — Adrián González will never erase from his memory the suicide attempt in 1983 by one of his colleagues in the military service. Both were recruits in the military unit of La Cabaña, in Casablanca, on the other side of Havana Bay, when their friend climbed to the top of Christ, the colossal work of Jilma Madera, and jumped into the abyss shouting “I am Superman!” The fall was 20 meters (65 feet).

The young man survived, but was left one-armed and had to remain hospitalized for months. “He wanted to appear crazy and thus get out of the service,” says González, who today lives in New York, and whose memories of military unit 3074, located in La Cabaña, still keep him awake at night. “Until I left there, in 1986, there were at least three ’successful’ suicides. They all jumped off the Christ,” he tells 14ymedio.

At that time, he adds, the access to Christ, inaugurated a week before Batista’s escape, on December 24, 1958, was prohibited – “Fidel Castro did not like people going to pray there” – and he had it guarded, a single recruit, shotgun in hand. For many, the guard duty was a break from the continue reading

oppressive environment of the unit, but many ended up overthinking and descending into depression, he says.

Another young man stole a rifle from the arsenal and shot himself in the head. His desperation had reached a point of no return and he no longer cared about getting out, but rather about killing himself. “The officers told us then that he had problems with his father, but we all knew what had happened: the boy was never able to adapt to the service,” González says.

“I told them that I wanted to kill myself. They didn’t believe me. Then they tried to put me in prison for repeated absences, because I was from El Vedado and I ran away every night”

Unable to physically harm himself, González also starred in an episode of “madness” to try to leave the unit sooner. “They took me to the psychiatrist at the Naval Hospital after I faked severe depression. I told them that I wanted to take my life. They didn’t believe me. Then they tried to put me in prison for repeated absences, because I was from El Vedado and I ran away every night.”

He ended up being evaluated by a team of doctors in Mazorra – the gloomy asylum in Havana – and after the diagnosis “they recognized that I had depression, but it was not enough to discharge me. In the end I completed my service, I spent three years and three months in that unit, but at least I got out of prison,” he says. His assessment, four decades later, is similar to that of any Cuban who has been at the mercy of the Armed Forces: “I am miraculously alive.”

A recent study by the organization Archivo Cuba (Cuba Archive) described Cuban military service as “human trafficking with a lethal cost” that has cost the lives of at least 54 young people — that were able to be documented — since its establishment by Law No. 1,129, of 26 November 1963. Only the Island and North Korea force minors under 18 years of age to train in Armed Forces facilities, with a program with strong ideological overtones that underlines the need for blind obedience to the regime.

The causes of death recorded by the Cuba Archive are several: suicides, negligence by superior officers, medical neglect, imprudent orders – such as the young recruits who died at the Matanzas Supertanker Base — and disappearances and deaths in unclear conditions.

“My son said he would rather die under Ukrainian bombs than from hunger and sadness here”

In 2021, the number of young people in Cuba of military age – between 15 and 29 years old – was 1,033,123, according to official data. They are “a large captive reserve,” the report assessed, “submerged in poverty and hopelessness,” which is why they looked for any opportunity, including military means, to leave the country.

The clear – and most serious – example is the presence of young Cubans in the Russian Army, participating in the invasion of Ukraine. Their motivation, many admitted, was economic. With 26,000 euros a year, the salary promised to some of the Cuban mercenaries, they intended to help their families and later manage to take them to Russia.

The report, signed by María Werlau, documents how the presence of Cubans in the Russian ranks was known and consented to by the leadership of both countries, whose military and political rapprochement has been consolidated in the last year. Werlau highlights the case of the two young people from the Island who reported having been “deceived” and “mistreated.” According to a video released by several media, they had signed a contract that did not stipulate their direct presence on the front, and yet they had been forced to participate directly in the war.

“My son said he would rather die under Ukrainian bombs than from hunger and sadness here,” the mother of one of the recruits had revealed, according to the document.

“Medical care is scarce and food is very poor and people even go hungry, which affects minors who are still growing the most.”

The report also dedicates a section to the most traumatic antecedent of the struggle of young Cubans on foreign battle fronts: Angola. “According to official figures, Cuba’s participation involved 377,033 soldiers and 50,000 civilian collaborators,” for whom the African country paid up to $1,000 for each member, it points out.

For Werlau, the conditions of military service in Cuba could not be more deplorable. “Many of the recruits are sent to remote units far from their families,” she says. “Medical care is scarce and food is very poor and people even go hungry, which affects minors who are still growing the most.” In addition, young people are prohibited from leaving the country.

The “ordeal of sorrow” that military service entails leaves a psychological – and often physical – toll that lasts a lifetime. González knows this well, having met his friend again years after his “jump” from the Cristo. When González congratulated him for having “earned” his exit, the other showed him his hands, still broken from the impact: “Your luck was better,” he said, “I regret it. Look how I turned out.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

‘A Complete Skeleton for a Religious Ritual Costs Between 10,000 and 12,000 Cuban Pesos’

“Monument to the Common Man”: human remains in the Cementario de Colón in Havana. (Radio Television Martí/Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Nelson García/Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 5 November 2023 — The Cuban police only respect one religion: Palo Monte. The hermetic world of its rituals, its sorcerers and cauldrons, its fragmentary language – the kikongo – with which they pronounce incantions and curses, have made it since colonial times the most feared of the Island, according to its own followers. There is only one aspect of the Palo Mayombe, as it is also known, that agents do not let pass: the desecration of tombs to obtain ritual bones.

“The human bone is the center of the foundation,” Ta José, a 42-year-old habanero who has been practicing this cult from Central Africa for several decades, explains to 14ymedio. The foundation – also called garment or nganga, cauldron – is the most sacred object of the paleros. It consists of a container where pieces of wood, earth and endless objects are deposited that the palero [practitioner] should not reveal. It also contains human remains.

The importance of the foundation doubles if the bone belonged to someone prominent or a former member of the religion. Hence, to achieve it, a palero does not skimp on resources or think twice before entering a cemetery. As complicated as it is, “a way has always been sought to achieve it,” admits Ta José.

The most common way is to go to the cemetery and steal it. The other way is to find another palero that already has one

“The most common way is to go to the cemetery and steal it. The other way is to find another palero that already has one, because he went into the cemetery himself or bought it from the custodian,” he says. The business of buying and selling bones has caused the systematic dismissal of the cemetery’s custodians on the Island. The most well-known case of this year, last January, was that of the continuous desecration of the Matanzas cemetery, which provoked the intervention of the provincial Communist Party. continue reading

“Among us or with the help of friends we look for the key points,” describes the palero. “When someone needs, for example, a head (skull), he asks his contacts, even if they are from a different branch of palo monte, or he goes to the cemetery to ask the custodian. It’s always resolved. Of course, it’s quite expensive.”

“It depends on the type of work that is going to be done and what part of the body is going to be worked on,” he explains. “The smallest and cheapest piece you can get costs 1,000 pesos or its equivalent in dollars. A complete skeleton can cost between 10,000 and 12,000 pesos. The price may vary depending on the circumstances of the death, the illness that the deceased suffered. It also depends on the race: Chinese bones have more power for us and are sold at higher prices.”

The foundation – also called a garment or ‘nganga’, cauldron – is the most sacred object of the paleros. (14ymedio)

According to Ta José, there are people who are dedicated to going to the tombs and removing as many bones as they can. Then they find how to sell them on the black market, although no store of religious items – legal, such as self-employment – will announce it unless the person who asks can be trusted. “The police have always persecuted the desecrators,” he insists, but in general they “don’t mess” with the paleros.

Sometimes, of course, when they see someone wandering the streets “with a sack” late at night — as usually happens after a ceremony — the officers arrest the person and find that he is carrying a knife. The knives, he explains, are part of the foundation. When the person explains it to the police, they usually let him continue on his way.

There are families who provide the bones of their deceased, because they were practitioners and that motivates them to make the donation

“Bones are essential in palo monte,” emphasizes Ta José. For a palero, in the bones are “the foundations of power” and its material expression. If there is a spiritual foundation, which is “attended” with rum and tobacco smoke, the material cannot exist without the remains of some person. “There are families who provide the bones of their deceased, because they were practitioners and that motivates them to make the donation,” but it is not usual, he says.

All the “works” of the palero depend on the foundation, which Ta José synthesizes with an enumeration: “Consecrate, save, kill, solve problems and help the world.” According to the habanero, each cauldron is effective and achieves what its owner wants, sooner or later. “Some are stronger than others. It depends on the ceremony and the person’s knowledge,” he says, although he prefers not to say more: an important part of his religion is to keep secrets, which practitioners handle only after several initiations and tests. “I can’t say everything,” he admits.

Despite the difficulties and the mystery that has always surrounded palo monte, its impact on Cuban society has not stopped since religion arrived from Africa, he says. “There was always a certain discord between palo monte and santería, because each one wanted to be the strongest cult.” On the Island, studies say that santería is more widespread. However, Ta José insists, palo mayombe retains the reputation of being “the most effective, fastest and strongest.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The ‘Castle’ of the Cortinas in Havana, Converted Into a Military Zone and a Beggars’ Refuge

With a concrete structure and a design that imitates the fortresses of the Italian Renaissance, La Luisa has long passageways now filled with graffiti, garbage and weeds. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Nelson García/Juan Izquierdo, Havana, October 23, 2023 — No one enters the ruins of the La Luisa farm, in the Havana municipality of Arroyo Naranjo, with good intentions. Where one of the most powerful families in Cuba once lived, now only beggars dare to sleep, surrounded by walls full of graffiti and vines. The sporadic visitors to the “castle” – the building retains its towers and walkways – are now criminals seeking temporary shelter to escape from the Police and young people who, according to the neighbors, come to “do evil things.”

La Luisa was one of the first properties confiscated by Fidel Castro after 1959. Its owner, the lawyer and politician José Manuel Cortina – who served as chancellor of the Republic on two occasions – was accused of being a “landowner” and died in exile in 1970.

The officials who occupied the “castle” after the triumph of the Revolution then received an order from Che Guevara: to install a metallurgy laboratory that ended up becoming the Research Center for the Mining and Metallurgical Industry (Cipimm). “That didn’t last long,” Jorge tells 14ymedio; he now works in the new offices of that institution, not far from La Luisa.

Without maintenance and after numerous instances of neglect, the old Cortina house ended up collapsing. (14ymedio)

Without maintenance and after numerous instances of neglect, the old Cortina house ended up collapsing. “One day, all the pipes were clogged, the drainage system failed and the bathrooms were unusable,” says Jorge. Shortly after, the “castle” was abandoned. continue reading

Over time, the Cortina lands – which bordered those of the family of former president Carlos Prío Socarrás – became a military zone. Now, the Army officers’ houses, as well as the new Cipimm – dedicated to studying the possibilities of gold and nickel exploitation in Cuba – are located where Republican politicians once built their summer estates.

“Many efforts were made, when the Historian of Havana Eusebio Leal was alive, for that Office to restore the ’castle’, but to no avail,” Jorge alleges. According to Leal’s architects, it was useless to repair La Luisa: no tourist was going to go to Arroyo Naranjo to see the building, no matter how interesting the construction.

No one else was interested in the farm, where several scenes from the Cuban-Spanish co-production The Nights of Constantinople were filmed, directed in 2001 by Orlando Rojas and featuring actors of the caliber of Francisco Rabal, Verónica Lynn, Rosita Fornés and María Isabel Díaz. However, the film failed to attract the authorities attention to the building.

Now, the Army officers’ houses, as well as the new Cipimm, are where Republican politicians once built their farms. (14ymedio)

A concrete structure with a design that imitates the fortresses of the Italian Renaissance, La Luisa has long passageways now filled with graffiti, garbage and weeds. Someone – probably a beggar or several, judging by the objects – blocked up several entrances to a room and now sleeps there, among the rubble.

Where there used to be a stately staircase to the second floor, now one made of boards is the only step to reach the upper floor. Balconies and windows, as well as several arches with mosaic work, still allow us to imagine the type of life that was led in La Luisa when the Cortinas occupied it.

Among the battlements, the central tower stands out from which – it is said – José Manuel Cortina watched over his property and the members of his family, as well as President Prío Socarrás. Trees and vines have broken through each floor, destroying not only the flooring but also the walls and beams.

Even so, the building is overwhelming and must have impressed those men in olive-green who, in the 60s – as a photo from the time attests – went to evict the Cortinas. Jorge knows it well, and continues to admire La Luisa under a demolished arch: “Even in these deplorable conditions, the ’castle’ is still a beauty.”

La Luisa was one of the first properties confiscated by Fidel Castro after 1959. (Ecured)

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

With Blood and Bullet Holes, Che’s Last Shirt Casts Doubt on the Remains Buried in Santa Clara

The bullet holes in the fabric provide some clue as to the quantity and trajectory of the sixteen bullets that hit Guevara. (Raúl Torres Salmerón/Leticia Montagner García)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Izquierdo, Havana, 9 October 2023 — In 2017, Dr. Moisés Abraham Baptista, who performed the autopsy of Che Guevara after his capture and execution, offered a challenge to Cuban authorities: using DNA evidence, verify that the remains found by the island’s forensic experts three decades ago in a grave in Vallegrande, Bolivia, and later reinterred in Santa Clara, are in fact those of the Argentine revolutionary.

As a basis for comparison, Baptista offered to provide Havana with the shirt Guevara wore when he was captured and that still has his blood and sweat on it, as well as several bullet holes. Baptista kept the garment at his house in Puebla, Mexico, where he moved after leaving Bolivia and where he lived until his death on March 2nd of this year at the age of eighty-three.

The Cuban government, of course, never responded to Baptista, who told his story to two Mexican journalists, Raúl Torres Salmerón and Leticia Montagner. The Bolivian doctor’s account as well as numerous documents, photographs and articles about the death of Guevara were collected by the authors for “I Did the Autopsy on Che Guevara.” 14ymedio was given access to the book, which remains unpublished seven years after Baptista made his claim.

It took Torres and Montagner years to convince Baptista to tell his story

It took Torres and Montagner years to convince Baptista to tell his story. A discreet man who was fully aware of the delicate political nature of the situation, he kept a low profile to avoid harassment by Cuban counterintelligence. After a team of forensic specialists announced the discovery of what they said were the remains of Guevara and several of his companions in 1997, the doctor decided to speak up.

He did it on Mexican television, saying he had remained silent out of concern for his own and his family’s safety. “People must know how the things I experienced happened. It’s no longer a secret,” he said. The shirt, preserved in excellent condition by Baptista, is a key element in his argument. It came into his possession in 1967, after the autopsy, while he was working as director at the Señor de Malta hospital in Vallegrande. continue reading

Torres and Montagner, who had access to the shirt, are thorough in their description. The garment, placed on a rack in Baptista’s residence in Puebla, smells like “blood, sweat and gunpowder,” they say. The fabric is khaki and has “two large tears, one six inches and the other three inches.” The bullet holes in the fabric provide some clue as to the quantity and trajectory of the sixteen bullets that hit Guevara and which of them, according to Baptista, killed him.

“The shirt still has some curly, light brown hairs on it, some of which can be seen on the collar,” the authors state. Photographs of Guevara in Bolivia confirm that these were the clothes he was wearing when he died. Baptista reported that the body, which was delivered to the hospital’s laundry room, had a lot of blood on the back. “When undressing him to wash the body, [I saw] a strange, large wound. This could have been from a bayonet or from a Garand M2 automatic carbine fired at very close range,” the doctor said.

Che Guevara, shortly before his death on October 9, 1967, with the shirt preserved by Dr. Abraham Baptista. (Arhivo)

In his 1967 reports, Baptista initially stated that Guevara suffered seven gunshot wounds but later revised the number to nine. On several subsequent occasions, he confessed that these figures had been “invented.”

Based on Baptista’s testimony, Torres and Montagner concluded, “When the first shots were fired, it is likely that he fell forward — that is, face down — and was still alive. They tried to finish him off with a machete, a bayonet or with a closed discharge from a machine gun while his back was turned up. He was still alive. They immediately turned him face up and he was killed by a shot to the heart. Judging from the trajectory of the bullet as indicated on his shirt, that was from top to bottom.”

After finishing the autopsy, Baptist severed the hands from the body as evidence that Guevera had been killed. He injected formaldehyde into the body to preserve it and, though he lacked the proper materials, made a death mask.

“I Did the Autopsy on Che Guevara” includes several appendices including Baptista’s medical reports, details about his departure from Bolivia, photographs of Guevara and his shirt, the doctor’s “political will and testament,” articles by the two authors — published in El País and Letras Libres — questioning whether it is Che’s remains which are buried in Santa Clara, and a short biography of Tamara Bunke, one of the guerrillas who accompanied Guevara on his expedition.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.