Anamely Ramos and Claudia Genlui, the Voices from Exile of the Cubans Otero Alcantara and Osorbo

Otero Alcántara (back) and Maykel Castillo (front) in Havana, when they were still free. (Anamely Ramos)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Juan Palop, Havana, July 24, 2023 — They talk about the exhaustion, the psychological damage, the pain of their exile, but also the need to remain strong for Cuban artists and activists Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Maykel Castillo Osorbo, both in prison in Cuba.

In an interview with EFE, Cuban human rights defenders and art curators Anamely Ramos and Claudia Genlui explain the ups and downs of their situation – between frustration, uncertainty and hope – forced to live outside the island during the imprisonment of two close friends, colleagues in the dissident San Isidro Movement, who are considered “prisoners of conscience” by Amnesty International.

“We survive one day at a time, one week at a time, and one call at a time. And more than anything, try to stay strong, because something is clear: they see us as support and the least I feel that I can do is be strong for when he calls or for when he falls, to be there,” confesses Genlui.

This Cuban, who left her country almost two years ago, speaks twice a week with Otero Alcántara. The artist was  sentenced to five years in prison in 2022, for insulting the symbols of the homeland, contempt and public disorder, although he was taken to prison when he tried to join the antigovernment protests of 11 July 2021 (11J). continue reading

Osorbo, who had been arrested two months earlier, was sentenced to nine years in prison for contempt, assault, public disorder and defamation of institutions and organizations, and heroes and martyrs, in a process questioned by human rights NGOs.

He is one of the authors of Patria y vida [Homeland and Life], the song critical of the Cuban system that paraphrases Fidel Castro’s slogan “Patria o muerte” [Homeland or Death].  Patria y vida became the slogan of the opposition and the 11J protests.

Juan Pappier, acting deputy director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch (HRW), applauds that Ramos and Genlui have “bravely raised their voices” for their colleagues. “If it weren’t for them, we would know much less about the humiliation to which these political prisoners have been subjected,” he adds.

Otero Alcántara and Osorbo, he continues, played a “leading” and “crucial” role in the protests in favor of democracy. “The regime has them imprisoned because it fears that with their art and music they can mobilize more Cubans to demand freedom,” he points out.

Ramos left for Mexico to study for a master’s degree after 11J and, when she tried to return to the island, she was denied entry without explanation, despite being within her rights as a Cuban citizen. She has been stranded in the United States ever since.

“I am still trying to adapt to being here. It has been a very hard process for me, because it was a forced exile, practically a banishment. Cuba is not giving in, it simply wants us out, as far as possible from the space of action and internal influence,” she says.

Ramos and Genlui agree when recounting the mood swings of Otero Alcántara and Osorbo in prison and how they influence them.

“There are days when he is in a better mood and there are days when it is difficult to take on this whole situation, especially when it is known that he is innocent,” says Genlui speaking of Otero Alcántara, and she denounces the “constant psychological pressure” from Security of the State and “health problems” due to prison conditions.

“Luis is a very strong person. He has incredible resistance and that keeps him afloat. He clings to art a lot, he is always creating,” she says.

Ramos, in a similar way, sees how the spirits of Osorbo –who a few days ago sewed his mouth shut in protest against ill-treatment in prison — “are changing all the time,” weighed down at times by illnesses, the “violence” in prison and “state security visits to humiliate him.”

Sometimes impotence appears. “When Maykel calls one day and tells you: ’Record this audio for me and keep it in case something happens’. ’But hey, what can happen?’ ’No, no: now I can’t explain it to you. Keep it there in case something happens ’ And when you hear him recording it, it’s a terrible scenario and you can’t do anything,” explains Ramos.

Going forward, everything is uncertainty. According to Ramos, there is the possibility that they will be released on the condition that they leave the country. Or that they remain in prison indefinitely, even beyond their sentences.

Genlui stresses that accepting freedom with exile, with the “psychological damage” it entails, “has been very difficult” for Otero Alcántara: “It is something that he still finds difficult to assimilate, beyond the fact that he sees it as the only alternative.”

“I really don’t know how Maykel is going to survive exile. It is to take the person completely out of the only comfort zone they have managed to have, from the affections they want to maintain and where they want to live. And take them out of the destiny that has been built. It is removing the person from the meaning of life that he has managed to find,” explains Ramos.

From abroad, both continue to disseminate the work of Otero Alcántara and Osorbo, and engage in activism in online networks so that the situation of the prisoners does not fall into oblivion, although they are aware of the difficulties of keeping their condemnation alive.

They consider that Cuba is “a factory for political prisoners” and fears that these prisoners could end up being used as a bargaining chip in some kind of international agreement. “The repression has not stopped,” they warn: “11J is not over. 11J is not history. 11J is happening. And if there is a protest again, the violence could be much greater.”

Ramos also refers to the problems to connect, from abroad, “with those who are inside” in Cuba and warns of the risk of exile “idealizing, even the evil.”


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.

Economy and Geopolitics in the New Attempt To Relaunch Relations Between Cuba and Russia

Cuban Prime Minister, Manuel Marrero, in Sochi this Friday, where he met with Putin. Today, Monday, begins his visit in Moscow. (Government of Cuba)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Juan Palop, Havana, 12 June 2023 — Cuba and Russia have announced plans to strengthen their economic and trade relations, but experts doubt that they can achieve a new bilateral golden age, and they glimpse geopolitical interests in difficult times for both countries.

This week the Cuban Prime Minister, Manuel Marrero, is in Russia for the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council and the International Economic Forum in St. Petersburg, while the opposition warns of a new “Russification.”

The visit, the last after those of several ministers and President Miguel Díaz-Canel himself last November, comes shortly after Havana announced preferential treatment for Russian investors, from transfers of agricultural land in usufruct for 30 years to tax exemptions.

These measures complete a flood of announcements – including the entry of three Russian ruble banks on the Island – and the presentation of a package of reforms of the Stolypin Institute to liberalize the Cuban economy.

Experts consulted by EFE believe that this movement can be understood to some extent by necessity, due to the serious economic crisis that Cuba has been facing for more than two years.

“After the pandemic, the tightening of sanctions and the failure of reforms, Cuba has been economically and financially isolated. Russia can be an alternative to achieve some kind of international reintegration,” says Cuban economist Pavel Vidal, a professor at the Javeriana University of Cali (Colombia).

Cuban economist Tamarys Bahamonde, a PhD candidate in Public Policy and Public Administration at the University of Delaware, also alludes to the “preferential treatment” of the past and the lack of indications that Washington will change its policy towards the Island: “Cuba has no alternative but to look at Russia and Asian partners.”

However, Vidal emphasizes that, for this approach to prosper, “it is necessary to find mutually beneficial economic interests,” something that “is not yet clear.” The great Cuban bet is tourism, he adds, although the sector has not  taken off after COVID-19, and Russia is far away.

“For greater integration between the two economies, it is necessary to look for something that is of value to the market and to Russian entrepreneurs,” explains Vidal, who recalls that Russian capitalists seek to “maximize their profits and minimize risk” and must “perceive” that they can achieve this.

It’s not easy. Due in part to negative experiences in “the recent past,” the Cuban government now has “to do much more to convince investors” that “they’re going to find a market with opportunities, institutions and a regulatory framework that guarantees and allows capital to be profitable.”

Regarding the specific announcements, Bahamonde indicates that the use of the ruble on the Island could have some impact if this currency were used “massively” in international transactions, but it is not. Vidal believes that its application in Cuba will not go beyond being something “marginal.”

“It is left to see if the Russians can convince the Cuban government to give more space to the private sector and move forward in a deeper transition from the Soviet-style economic model. The Russians know the shortcomings of this model and have experience in a transition that did not go well and from which they also had to learn things. If they succeed, even coming from the Russians, it would be an important contribution,” says Vidal.

Bahamonde believes that Russia is the “wrong” partner as a model of economic transformation and says that Cuba does not need economic policy recommendations from foreign experts, because its own national experts have already made them decades ago. The problem, he says, is that in the Cuban government there is a lot of “resistance to change.”

“What is needed are not new recommendations, but the political will to do what has to be done” to “implement the transformations that have been recommended for many years,” says this economist, who emphasizes that the transformations have to include “political institutions.”

In this attempt to relaunch bilateral relations, Bahamonde perceives geopolitical interests beyond merely economic ones. “All empires have their interests” and Russia is no exception, he observes.

In this same sense, university professor Michael Bustamente, a specialist in Cuban and Cuban-American studies at the University of Miami, has said: “In the absence of other options, of other partners, and, above all, in the absence of a different policy on the part of the United States, Cuba is opting for a new intensification of its relations with Russia and is trying to obtain whatever benefit it can.

For Moscow, he continues, “Cuba is, as it has been since the 1960s, a chip on the geopolitical board.” He speculates that in the Kremlin, the relationship with Havana could be seen as a kind of “counterweight” to Washington’s “intrusion” into Eastern Europe in the middle of the war in Ukraine.

Havana, for its part, could be seeking to “indirectly put pressure” on the United States to change its policy towards the Island, says Bustamante, although henwarns that such a movement would be counterproductive.

“I know that Washington is worried,” says Bustamante, but he doubts that there will be a change of policy from the United States towards Cuba, because he senses in the Democratic administration a “lack of disposition.”

Bustamante is struck by the fact that these movements by Cuba have not had a response from the European Union, which in addition to being the Island’s first trading partner, is in one of its biggest political crises with Moscow due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

“I’m surprised that Cuba isn’t taking care of its relationship with Europe a little more. It will be interesting to see to what extent Cuba can balance this new intensification of its relationship with Russia with a relationship with Europe that continues to be crucial and strategic for the Cuban economy. There is a lot of tension and contradiction, and there are risks for Cuba,” he says.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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.