Las Tunas Joins Peaceful November Marches in Cuba

Protesters on a street in Havana on July 11, 2021. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 October 2021 — Las Tunas joined the initiative for a peaceful demonstration called by the Archipiélago collective for this coming November 20th,[Ed. note: now moved to the 15th] just as Havana, Santa Clara, Cienfuegos, Guantánamo, Holguín and Pinar del Río did before.

Archipiélago reported that a group of citizens signed the document notifying the Tunas authorities of the march “against violence, to demand that all rights be respected for all Cubans, for the release of political prisoners and for the resolution of our differences through democratic and peaceful means.”

They also point out that “peaceful demonstration is a human right recognized in the Constitution” and that “violating or preventing the full exercise of this right constitutes a crime.” The group hopes that the authorities “act in strict compliance of the law and respect the dignity” of each participant in this citizen initiative.

“Whatever the defenders of single thought and exclusion say, the Homeland belongs to everyone, and so do its streets,” they conclude. continue reading

In the town of Consolación del Sur, in the province of Pinar del Río, another group of Cubans presented the letter on Wednesday, and the action was recorded in a video shared on social networks.

“Whatever the defenders of single thought and exclusion say, the Homeland belongs to everyone and so do its streets!”

“This is a unique moment in the history of Consolación del Sur,” is heard on the recording, which was made at the entrance to the building of the Popular Power. Yahima Díaz, one of the signatories, explained to 14ymedio that the document was received by Olga Lidia Prieto Blanco, the employee in charge of customer service, who refused to sign the notification, but said that the document would be delivered to the mayor.

This municipality was the second one in Pinar del Río to sign up for the initiative.  The provincial capital had joined earlier. As Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a member of the opposition, reported on his Twitter account, it was dissident and former political prisoner José Cásares Soto who was in charge of delivering the document to the authorities in that town.

In the city of Santiago de Cuba, an attempt was made to deliver a similar document last Tuesday, but activist Dariem Columbié was detained by State Security and the police while on his way to the headquarters of the governments of that province.

Members of Archipiélago also denounced this Thursday that “harassment” was being suffered by several mothers of the organizers of the march. “As they cannot confront us with ideas, they resort to intimidation, defamation and blackmail. Enough of the baseness!” they warned before concluding with the demand that the cowardly harassment of our mothers, friends and other relatives cease immediately.”

“My mother was summoned at work again. She called me crying for fear of losing her job,” one of the signers, who preferred not to identify herself to protect her family, reported to 14ymedio.

“My parents were in tears when they begged me to leave the group and I had to do it. I’m very nervous, this town is very small and everything is known”

The repression of the State Security has also reached universities. A young resident in Sancti Spíritus denounced to this newspaper that they are threatening and persecuting students “for belonging to the Archipiélago group.”

“They have already mentioned several friends of mine. Although they have not mentioned me yet, I am very afraid. They ask them why they are in the group, how did they get in, if they plan to demonstrate on the 20th, and one of them even proposed he come work for them. They touched on the subject of his career and told many that they have to be ‘revolutionaries’ if they want to graduate.”.

“My parents were in tears when they begged me to leave the group and I had to do it. I am very nervous, this town is very small and everything is known,” he said.

Several of the petitioners have suffered arbitrary arrests or are being summoned by State Security for interrogations where harassment and the threat of jail have not been lacking. Cuesta Morúa was arrested last week when he left his house, warning him that they would not allow the march.  The same thing happened to activists Marthadela Tamayo and Osvaldo Navarro.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Havana Restaurants Reopen with Exorbitant Prices and at Full Capacity

It has become impossible to get a table at Rey & Gaby before November (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar & Natalia Lopez Moya, Havana, October 9, 2021 — Rey & Gaby is fully booked until sometime in November. Currently, it is impossible to reserve a table at this privately owned restaurant in El Vedado. Before the pandemic set in, the place always had empty tables. Now that restaurants in Havana are reopening, it has become a go-to place, in spite of its prices. “Rey’s pizza is 150 pesos, which would have been about six convertible pesos. It used to cost three,” remarks a customer who was checking out the menu at the entrance this weekend.

It is not an isolated case. Reservations at the nearby Cocina de Esteban are also up. The place is large and the staff plan to seat anyone waiting in line. But since restaurants reopened on September 24, the number of reservations has exceeded all forecasts, even at state-run establishments.

At the pizzeria on the corner of 23rd and I streets there were five people waiting in line. “We can take your name and, if something opens up, we can seat you but everything is by reservation,” says an employee. She points to the menu board.

“Everything has gone up a lot. Before, you could get a pizza for six or ten pesos. Now it costs forty,” complains a man in his sixties as he waits in line with his two teenage granddaughters.

Not all restaurant and cafe owners are thrilled, however, at the prospect of reopening. Barbaro Dominguez claims continue reading

that, during the quarantine, he learned a lot about how to do business. That is why he is not planning to continue selling pizzas from the covered entryway of his house near the Vía Blanca.

“When I closed, there were 1,000 cases of Covid a day in the country. At the time that seemed like a lot. Now they tell us we can reopen but I’m not sure my family will be safe under these conditions,” he admits. “This is where we live. The bed where my daughter sleeps has a window that overlooks the area where I sell pizzas. If someone sneezes outside, coronavirus could get under the sheets.”

Dominguez does plan to keep operating but will focus on home delivery, which he believes will be much safer. “It’s better for me. I doubt that by year’s end I will still be behind the counter on my front porch,” he says. But not all the changes are driven by the pandemic. “I’m on various websites where people who live overseas buy food in dollars for their relatives who live here. They pay in real money.”

Operating under the names Mercadito XL and Hasta Tu Casa (To Your Door) Dominguez has turned his cafe into a small supermarket that delivers anything from a package of sausages to a bag of prebaked bread rolls to a pack of beer. “It solves a ton of problems like the obnoxious drunk on my front porch and the inspectors who always want more and more money.

“People are complaining about the prices at all those terrace restaurants because, of course, they charge in Cuban pesos and have to exchange a dollar for 70 or even 80 pesos. Every day they have to write the prices on the chalk board because things are constantly changing. I only accept dollars. The people who buy from me are those who have greenbacks,” he says.

Dominguez has posted a classified ad for several items in his cafe. “I am selling a bar, refrigerator with a glass display door, tall wooden stools and a sink with a drain for kitchen work,” the ad reads.

But a beer does not taste the same at home. At least that is what Dayana and Monica think. It has been a year since the two young women sat face-to-face at a restaurant. As soon as restrictions were lifted, they headed to the Maximo Bar, a privately owned establishment near the entrance to the Havana harbor.

“Between the two of us we spent 3,000 pesos but it wasn’t just for the items themselves. We wanted the experience of eating and drinking in a public space,” admits Dayana. The couple met in March 2020 and their relationship has been marked by the pandemic, which is why they want to finally enjoy being in a restaurant together.

“Yes, it’s expensive but we are willing to pay for the experience. We’ve spent months thinking about it. Even if it had cost a fortune, we would have figured out a way to do it, though I don’t know if we would be inclined to do it again tomorrow. Today is the first time but next time I’ll be checking the prices first and maybe we’ll have to settle for some other place,” one of them admits.

There are also those who are frightened by the growing number of zeros on restaurant menus. At the Malecon’s seawall, some carry their thermoses of tea or coffee, their hidden tankards of rum almost rusted out after months of not being used.

“Before, there used to be other problems,” says Lazaro, a fisherman from the outskirts of La Punta. “You were Cuban or you were a tourist. You paid or you didn’t pay… but now everybody is afraid. No one dares take a sip from a stranger’s bottle.”

The drunk guy who used to come here every day died of Covid in March. And the fisherman that I used to share soup with passed away in July. I’m the only one left around here. I used to worry about people bothering me. Now I wish people would come over. No one is fishing and no one goes near anyone else.

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“No One Can Shut Me Up,” Says Professor Who Was Fired for Criticizing Healthcare in Cuba

Merladet, 26, had been teaching History classes for two years at the Silberto Álvarez Aroche vocational pre-university in Granma. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 6 October 2021 — Julio Merladet, who months ago made several public complaints about the poor state of healthcare in Cuba, was sanctioned this Tuesday at his workplace with the “separation from the Education sector” for three years. This is, de facto, a dismissal.

Diplomas he was awarded on several occasions, such as “outstanding professor” and “exemplary educator” demonstrate it. The latest one is dated last December.

In August of this year, he posted a video on Facebook that went viral in which he said that his daughter and her partner had not received medical attention at the health centers where they went. After testing positive for Covid, the young man was not transferred to an isolation center and ended up infecting his family.

“If I had stopped a few days before at the entrance to my house and had shouted ‘homeland and life‘, police would have arrived faster than the doctors arrived at my home this time,” he said in that video, where he also indicated that he could be fired from his job. continue reading

“He published two live videos in social networks in an uncomplicated and very rude way, he spoke out against hospital institutions and the Government”

So it happened this Tuesday. That day, they warned him he’d be summoned for “voluntary work”, but in reality, it was a form of punishment. He already expected it: the reprisals had started long before, “while I was still a teacher”, he narrates, “after I published the first videos”.

The document that was handed to him was signed by Denis Alberto Moreno Beatón, director of the Budget Unit for Education in Granma province, and states that Merladet “incurred violations of labor discipline.”

“He published two live videos on social networks in an uncomplicated and rude way, he spoke out against hospital institutions and the Government, then he made a publication where he says that he does not regret anything stated in the videos but he does regret the rudeness used in that video,” the text details, which argues that a teacher violates the regulation “when he does not maintain “conduct consistent with the ethical principles of educational policy, permanently performing the educational work that corresponds to him” or performs “serious acts” that are “contrary to morality and the ideological principles of our country”.

“Publicly defaming or disparaging the institutions of the Republic and the heroes and martyrs of the country”, the notification also reads, is a violation of “the utmost gravity”.

If Merladet regrets something, it is the “curse words” used in the first video “I am a peasant and when I am crossed, I close myself off, and at that moment I was upset when I spoke”, he alleges, “but after that, I did not.” In addition, he had already made the decision not to continue teaching, despite the fact that months before he had been offered “to do a direct doctorate, without doing a master’s degree”.

“Why are they asking me to separate from the Education sector for three years? What rules did I violate?”

Many of his colleagues, he says, have also supported him, and “even offered themselves as witnesses if I decide to appeal”, something that he still has not decided to do. “I have seven business days to make the claim but I’m still thinking about it.”

“Why are they asking me to separate from the Education sector for three years? What rule did I violate?” Merladet asks during Tuesday’s transmission on his social networks. As a citizen, he was expressing himself freely, he claimed, “a right that anyone has in any country in the world”. But not in Cuba.

“I’m not going to starve, I know how to work, I know how to fight it,” says Merladet in the video, which indicates he sells cumin on the street.

At the same time, he asks the ‘workers’: “With your salary, can you shop in an MLC store [one that takes foreign currency only]? You can’t, because they don’t pay us in MLC”, he answers. “You have to have family there, in the empire, among the enemy” he says ironically. “If you are an ordinary worker, barefoot, like we are, you can’t go in there, you have to have a ‘gusano* from Miami’ who will send you dollars to be able to shop there.” His teacher’s salary, he indicates, was 4,845 pesos.

In the same publication, Merladet announces that now he is going to “really” get involved in politics: “There is no one to shut me up anymore,” concludes his video. “Homeland and life. Homeland or death is over. What represents us is Homeland and Life.”

*Translator’s note: The term gusano — meaning worm or maggot — is a derogatory first applied by Fidel Castro to ‘counter-revolutionaries’ and those who wanted to leave Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting
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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Cuban Artist Lavastida Downplays Document Signed Under Pressure in Villa Marista: “They dictated to me what to say.”

Artist Hamlet Lavastida, left, during his interview with writer Carlos Manuel Álvarez. (Capture)]

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 29 September 2021 — This Tuesday, Hamlet Lavastida denounced that during his time in prison in Cuba he was pressured to sign documents which portrayed him as a collaborator of State Security. In an interview with writer and journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez, conducted from Warsaw, where he flew on Saturday after being released from prison, the artist spoke about the psychological violence to which he was subjected during the three months he was in Villa Marista prison, headquarters of the political police in Havana.

Lavastida explained that the agents always create characters and set up “a theater” to interact with the detainees, and for this reason he also began “to put on a series of dramatizations.”

“I began to make the famous act of repentance and retractions, to write that I never wanted to participate in political life, in any activism group,” he said, and recounted that he was presented with a paper which stated that he collaborated with them. “I remember that officer Darío suggested it to me and basically dictated what I had to say,” Lavastida declared during the interview, which was broadcast live on the Facebook page of the magazine directed by Álvarez, El Estornudo.

The artist decided to go ahead and tell all before State Security uses those signed documents against him. “It doesn’t really affect me much, because my real commitment is to creation, you can use that against a person who wants to have a political career,” opined Lavastida, who stressed that in his life “he had never had anything to do with the Police or with Security” and that everything he experienced was “new” to him. continue reading

Writing those “texts of self-repentance,” he found, was the “slightly more noble” way to get out of jail

Writing those “texts of self-repentance”, he found, was the “slightly more noble” way to get out of jail. “Doing it by denouncing others seemed less honorable to me and self-incrimination, of course, was not going to help me.”

His prison cell in Villa Marista was an “excessively small” place that he shared with four people, he said. “I was trying to walk those six steps, trying to do something with my hands, from the nervousness of not knowing what was going to happen with my case.” The food, he points out, “was not bad but was very scarce”, to the point that some prisoners “counted the spoonfuls” every day.

Regarding the interrogation sessions he experienced in those days, he recalled that they asked him all the time to help the agents “clarify the situation” and that they insisted on the story that he was “sent by the State Department.” The phrases most often repeated to intimidate him were along the lines of: “your mother is going to suffer a lot” or “you get 15 to 20 years for incitement of a crime.”

That was the offense of which he was accused, as reported by State Security to his family after he was transferred to Villa Marista. Lavastida had returned to Cuba from Germany on June 21, after completing his residency at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien gallery in Berlin. Five days later, after fulfilling the regulatory period of isolation (for potential Covid exposure) in a center arranged by the Government in the Flores neighborhood of the capital, he was arrested.

The accusation was based on a conversation in a private group chat of 27N  (27 November) on Telegram, which was filtered and analyzed at the moment by official presenter Humberto López on state television.

The artist is currently in Poland with his girlfriend, the Cuban poet Katherine Bisquet, with whom Carlos Manuel Álvarez announced he will interview this Wednesday.

During the conversation, Lavastida alluded several times to the number assigned to him in prison: 2,239. His life will be marked by it for a long time, said the artist.

Translated by Silvia Suárez
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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Yunior Garcia Takes on Activism Against the Totalitarian, Abusive Power of the Cuban Regime

Artist Yunior García was one of the leaders of protests by intellectuals in front of the Ministry of Culture on November 27; he was also violently loaded onto a State Security truck during the historic events of 11J. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, Cuba | 27 September 2021 — For many years, Yunior García Aguilera has not been satisfied with just being a playwright. Since 2016 when he stood up at a meeting of the Hermanos Saíz Association and asked 15 questions that upset the authorities, the artist, who was born in Holguín in 1982, has not taken a seat in any comfortable position.

He was one of the leaders of the protest by artists and intellectuals in front of the Ministry of Culture on November 27 (27N). He was also violently loaded onto a State Security truck during the historic events of July 11th (11J), when he protested with other colleagues and friends in front of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television.

These days, the spotlights are on him as the most visible face of the peaceful demonstrations scheduled in various cities for November 20 (20N).

All this has happened without interrupting the work he does with his theater group. Without losing the smile that always accompanies him, he talks with 14ymedio about 20N, his hopes, and persecuted art in Cuba.

Luz Escobar. What has it been like to take the step of saying publicly what you think?

Yunior García. I believe that all artists and intellectuals have social concerns and somehow need to participate in the reality of their country. The problem with Cuba is that perhaps there are too many prejudices continue reading

within the intellectual, academic and artistic world, in part because many need to feel like a valid interlocutor before the authorities, the institutions, the power, and that fills you with limitations. Over time, I have tried to shed those prejudices; to not accept those impositions they have tried to sow in our minds, that it is not possible to speak with certain Cubans, that they have no legitimacy; to forget about all the labels that are placed on the traditional opposition or on the Cubans who have decided in one way or another to take on dissidence, activism, in the face of a totalitarian and abusive power.

“I have tried to shed those prejudices; to not accept those impositions they have tried to sow in our mind, that it is not possible to speak with certain Cubans, that they have no legitimacy.”

Colliding with all the limitations, with State Security, with surveillance, with having gone to jail, with not being able to leave my house sometimes because agents prevent me, with having my internet cut off; these are things most artists and intellectuals have not experienced, which is why they view this type of situation from a distance, sometimes from a comfortable distance.

Escobar. Many may say that you have been radicalized.

García. The proximity of these realities of which I spoke has been very uncomfortable, which  makes it increasingly transparent in the essence of what I am seeking. It is not about portraying the most moderate image possible so that some, who have not yet understood the Cuban reality, do not reject my speech, but rather assume the truth and behave honestly. Rather than radicalism, I would like to call it total transparency, not wearing masks.

Escobar. How much has the treatment received from the government’s repressive apparatus changed in recent months?

García. The discourse of power has become quite clear in recent times. At first they treat you as if you are confused, they try to approach you as someone who is perhaps surrounded by bad company. They try the discourse of the good cop who pretends to help you, who wants you to continue doing your work as an artist without it affecting you too much. But when you maintain a firm position, to continue thinking as you have decided and acting in accordance with the way you think, the pace of surveillance increases, the pressure on you increases and then there is now an officer who attends to you and they start limiting your rights.

The first time was shortly after November 27th, when an agent named Jordan prevented me from leaving my house and said that he was coming on behalf of the Cuban people. But now, for example, that same agent has already approached relatives and friends trying to pressure them, always with a speech in which he purports not to position himself as an enemy.

“Now, for example, that same agent has already approached relatives and friends trying to pressure them, always with a speech in which he purports not to position himself as an enemy.”

With their clumsiness, they help you define yourself as an artist, as a citizen, as a Cuban. You start to truly see all the repression, all the abuses, the lack of freedom and you begin to live it closely, no longer in a book or in an interview.

Escobar. How much has your relationship with arts institutions changed in the last year?

García. I want to continue being an artist, I would love to be able to continue doing theater, making movies, even television. It is something that I would never give up because it is the essence of who I am, but of course I also want to continue engaging in activism, functioning as a human being, as a citizen of a country. Sometimes people tell me, “dedicate yourself to writing”; as artists they have always instilled in us that if you have a talent you must exploit it and if you are an artist “you must speak through your work.” But I wonder: would they have said the same to José Martí, who was an excellent poet, who was a playwright? How would Lorca or Brecht or any other artist have reacted? We live in a concrete reality and one does not spend one’s entire life being an artist; most of the time you are a citizen and you have to go stand in a line, be at the bus stop, move around.

With the institutions it has been a bit tough. Right now the theaters are closed, my group is still open, they continue to pay us a salary, but we don’t know if when the theaters open they will let us present our works. For example, I have received some refusals: a telenovela project that I was working on will no longer be possible. I don’t know if from now on I will have to write under a pseudonym.

What I do know is that I could not continue belonging to an organization like the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (Uneac) after their complicit silence with regard to the repression and abuse which followed July 11th. An organization that perfectly accepts a power that represses its citizens and violates their rights, imprisons people for exercising their right to demonstrate and does not direct a single word to the citizenry, one whose speech is in favor of that abusive power, is an organization to which I cannot belong. That’s why one of the first decisions I made after July 11th was to give up my membership.

What I do know is that I could not continue belonging to an organization like the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (Uneac) after their complicit silence with regard to the repression and abuse which followed July 11th

Escobar. How was the group Archipiélago born and how would you define it?

García. As a playwright, I obviously have a constant dialogue with the work of Virgilio Piñera. That notion of him on the Island is a reference for me, the unfortunate circumstance of the water everywhere, it is something that has always also evoked in me a slightly dissident response. Yes, okay, we are an island, but we really are an archipelago.

From the poetic point of view and from the political point of view, the notion of the island has been extremely present, of being separated from the world, of reacting like a monolith, of that false unity that is nothing but exclusion, because that unity is about excluding anyone who does not accept the official discourse. That is why, in contrast to Virgilio’s idea, I prefer to think in terms of an archipelago rather than an island.

We are different islands, we have the right to think differently, to propose different notions of a country, but in the end we have to live together in the same space. It is a concept that does not deny the difference.

We want to build a diverse country where differences are respected and where there is space for dissent, not only for the different ideas that already exist, but for new ones that may arise. Establishing a dogma, a single standard, an immovable model seems to me anti dialectical, something irrational.

Escobar. Why the November 20 march?

García. In all of history, those who are discriminated against have never obtained rights by gift or grace of the group in power. Rights have been conquered and they have been conquered through civility, through social participation, through marches, and through struggle in the streets. This is what happened with minority communities, with all those groups or people who have been discriminated against in the history of humanity, therefore marching is a right, demonstrating is a right which definitely must be conquered in Cuba.

In more than 60 years, an anti-government demonstration has never been allowed and we believe it is time to finally conquer that right, which is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and in the Cuban Constitution itself.

In more than 60 years, an anti-government demonstration has never been allowed and we believe it is time to finally conquer that right, which is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

We are living in a moment of crisis which perhaps has seldom been experienced in the history of Cuba, a crisis in all sectors. There is a popular dissatisfaction and discontent that grows daily. It is not about taking advantage of that discontent, it is about showing solidarity with it, taking it on as our own, because we are part of that dissatisfied society, which needs to change the reality of Cuba; and perhaps the most obvious way to do that is by demonstrating, going out to the streets to tell the government that we need a new social pact, that the one they have imposed on us has expired, is inefficient and has failed.

Escobar. How do you experience the smear campaign launched by various official sites and groups against you following your call to march?

García. What I have felt is a lot of solidarity from people who no longer subscribe to these types of attacks and who realize they are defamation campaigns to dehumanize you. When they have no way to attack you, they invent. They have to link you to the CIA, or call you a “mercenary” or “annexationist,” which is a ridiculous 19th century idea. I don’t believe any Cuban currently thinks of annexing the country to any territory, we are doing everything within sovereignty, we do it without any type of economic interest. No one is paying us to organize this march; those who oppose us have nothing to say, therefore they have to lie. What it also shows is that this no longer works for them: a large part of society realizes that this is manipulation. On the contrary, every day the messages of support grow, the people who say I am with you and I am going to march and see you on November 20. That old discourse is over, they failed, they have lost the battle ideologically and socially, they no longer fool anyone.

There are things one cannot fully understand until you experience them in your own flesh. When they use the same lies against you that they already used against others, you realize that they were lying when they stigmatized those people, and that also generates a feeling of solidarity with those who, before you, have been fighting for their ideas and have been demonized by those in power. I believe that this has also made us unite perhaps as never before. We are reaching a consensus that may be unprecedented. There is a general feeling of respect that we do not think alike and we have different strategies for the country we want to build, but it is time to unite.

Translated by: Silvia Suárez

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Cuban Teleclasses: A 20th Century Practice That Fails Among Today’s Students

Many parents regret that content is being repeated in teleclasses. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 24 September 2021 —  For months, Yanet Fernández, who lives in the neighborhood of multi-family buildings in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado, has not started her day with kisses to her classroom friends and the rowdy conversation of the “gang” before the morning assembly. Since the capital’s schools closed last January, he has had to receive classes at home and the first thing he sees when he opens his eyes is the television screen and the notebook next to his breakfast.

“I only watch teleclasses to please my mother. I copy everything, but out of commitment to her. It’s the most boring thing in the world and, to top it all, it’s the same as last year,” says this ninth-grade student. “I have asked everyone, but none of my friends have seen a single subject from those classes on television,” says Fernández.

Alina Moreno, mother of the teenager, has been dealing with this problem since face-to-face classes were suspended. “Turning on the television and seeing the teacher sitting behind a desk, trying to capture the attention of the children without the slightest preparation makes me desperate. They do not exploit all the tools that this format offers and, in addition, they are repeating content,” she complains. continue reading

Each teleclass lasts half an hour and, most of the time, the teacher who teaches it has never been in front of a camera before. The most used resource is the PowerPoint presentation, often with errors and spelling mistakes, a tool that has begun to become obsolete.

“What I see now is that they are not recording anything new and I understand that they get tired and do not want to see it. The authorities are not taking the education of the boys very seriously in this pandemic scenario,” says Moreno.

Inés Casal, a grandmother of two school-age adolescents and a retired professor at the University of Havana, tells 14ymedio that she has been aware of this issue because her two grandchildren also receive teleclasses and it is difficult for her to separate her roles “as a professional and as a grandmother.”

Casal recalls that the educational television method “had its peak in the 60s of the last century,” when it was strongly promoted in the US. But, in her opinion, the idea “has been a failure,” above all if it is based, as many countries have done, on trying to make up for the absence of a teacher in the classroom by putting one in front of a camera.

“A teacher giving classes on TV, without any teacher-student interaction, will never be able to replace a teacher in a classroom constantly exchanging with their students, and vice versa.”

Casal believes that, in the specific case of Cuba, failure was predetermined. “The classes that I have seen are disastrous. The teachers simply repeat what is in the books, without an atom of didactics, with almost zero support media: presentations with texts and nothing else. With some exceptions, serious mistakes are made when writing the questions of the exercises. They have selected teachers who have no sense of humor to give this type of classes, they look like robots. The children who manage to attend and, above all, learn, are so good that they do not even need the classes,” she emphasizes.

In her opinion, it would have been preferable “to understand and assume that there will be a regression in the students (lost years) and hard work required after they rejoin classes.”

This idea has been rejected by world institutions in the field of childhood and education, which consider it essential that children continue to receive classes, face-to-face as much as possible, or a replacement with some technological tool.

In Cuba, not even teachers like Inés Casal consider the method most used in most Western countries that faced the closure of schools at some point in the pandemic: online classes.

The teachers resorted to video calls and messaging to try to advance in the subjects and, although in no case has the quality of face-to-face been matched, the mechanism has allowed not only a minimum of learning, but also routines and a culture of effort.

Countries with lower incomes or where internet penetration is low have suffered more, but this should not have been a problem in Cuba, with a relatively small size and the state telecommunications monopoly Etecsa potentially capable of providing a basic infrastructure to cover the service to guarantee online operations and education that the country offers, ultimately, free.

“There were two possibilities: either that Etecsa would offer educational data packages to be used by teachers and students; or that the Ministry of Education would acquire the packages and offer them to students. But this has not happened because Etecsa does not have a social vocation, rather it focuses on collecting [money]”, says María, a resident of the same neighborhood of Yanet Fernández.

“Teachers complain that they have not been offered an extra allocation for WhatsApp,” she adds, knowing that many teachers are spending money out of their own pockets to keep in touch with their students.

Although an agreement between the telecommunications monopoly Etecsa and the Ministry of Education would be very simple, since both are part of the State, the Government has never explored this route.

“They don’t want to set a precedent because then anyone who works remotely could ask for a data quota and, as a general rule, the only people who have preferential or free prices are some employees of Etecsa, State Security and, probably, also the senior officials. There is an eternal mistrust that people are not going to use it for its intended purpose,” says María.

Juliete Isabel Fernández Estrada has two children who receive teleclasses and she has managed to get them to watch them daily, even if just “as a formality.” However, she believes that the limitations of this format are a reflection of those already possessed by Cuban education.

“To the poverty and rigidity of the contents that are taught, the political indoctrination, the outdated and the deficient training of teachers, is added the poor use of the facilities provided by the television medium and the lack of imagination to animate teleclasses, in which practically all kinds of resources and messages would fit, not just the patriotic songs in fashion and fragments of Fidel’s speeches,” she laments.

Lizandra, a fourth grade teacher, says that there are parents in the group she teaches who have been able to pay for a private tutor to help their children not lose the thread with their studies, but points out that “this is not the case for most of them.” Many parents complain that children have no way to review the assignments and exercises that are given to them every day in class and that teachers are very fast in the teleclass.

“I think that the fact that students are not motivated by the teleclass has so much to do with the television format. Many of them spend hours watching Youtuber programs downloaded from the internet that come in the ‘weekly packet‘ but, unlike teleclasses, there they find an attractive set, different camera shots, animations or graphics that make the content more digestible,” says Lizandra.

The teacher confirms what María pointed out: the internet is “very expensive” and it is very difficult for teachers to always be connected to monitor the evolution of their students.

The announcement by the Ministry of Education that face-to-face classes should be resumed gradually starting in November and it will be difficult for young people to get used to returning to an activity that they have abandoned almost a year ago.

“I have spoken with other mothers and they tell me the same thing,”  explains Alina Moreno. “I am afraid that going back to school will be difficult for a young woman who has been away from classrooms and the routine of learning for months.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Tele-Classes Begin in Cuba, Though Students’ Homes Have Neither Pencils nor Notebooks

The school year in Cuba will begin on September 6 with tele classes. (Bohemia Magazine)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana | September 02, 2021 — Four days before the school year begins, there is no trace of notebooks or pencils for the students, but there is a lot of uncertainty. This Wednesday’s Roundtable program on State TV, dedicated to the restart of classes, which will be in tele-class mode, did not clear all doubts either.

“I thought that yesterday at the Roundtable they would have already broadcast the television schedule with the subject’s programming, but I have not seen it published yet,” Ana Miriam Rosado tells this newspaper. As a nurse, she is always working during tele-class hours, and her mother is in charge of ensuring that her 11-year-old daughter does not miss the lessons.

She explains that her daughter has already been promoted to sixth grade, but in reality “she has not been able to finish because the school year was interrupted” by the advance of the pandemic, which forced the suspension of face-to-face classes in January 2020. “Today I called the teacher to find out what content they were going to give and he told me that the tele-classes will be a consolidation of the same material that was taught the previous course,” she says.

“Here we have the books they gave us when she finished fifth grade, and they graded her and everything, but we don’t have notebooks, pencils, continue reading

or ballpoint pens,” laments Rosado, referring to the school supplies, which up to now, the school has always provided. “I will have to invent, because you cannot even buy the stuff in the stores to complete what little they give you for school, as was done every year. The only thing that is currently available for sale in the state stores are food and cleaning products.”

“Here we have the books they gave us when she finished fifth grade, and they graded her and everything, but we don’t have notebooks, pencils, or ballpoint pens”

Another issue that worries parents and one which has generated many doubts is how the vaccination process will be carried out. Many relatives wonder without finding an answer: Will children be forced to get vaccinated? What options are there for parents who do not want to get them vaccinated?

These are questions that the Roundtable did not answer, where the Minister of Education, Ena Elsa Fernández Cobiella, reported that, at the beginning of this month, the vaccination will begin for students who are in 12th grade, third year of Technical and Professional Education and third and fourth of Pedagogical Training. For this group, the official assured, the courses will be face-to-face starting October 4th.

In the case of students who are between 12 and 18 years old, she said that vaccination is scheduled to begin “on September 5th,” and she specified that sixth grade students are included in this group. She added that the idea is to resume the course in the face-to-face mode for them as of November 8th. “Vaccinations for children in Primary Education will begin on September 15th, therefore, they will resume the course in person starting November 15th,” she said.

Despite the inconveniences of the resumption of classes, many of the mothers have not stood idly by. This is the case for Linda Reloba, who has already agreed to go this weekend to the La Cuevita Fair with a friend: “You will always find everything there, so I hope to solve some of the problems with notebooks and pencils, because if not, I don’t know where or what my children are going to write with.”

She is upset because “at school they have not given the materials as they always do” and the only thing she has to start the tele-classes with are books that she was given at the end of the previous year.

Nor was it mentioned on the Roundtable, Reloba complains, “if they are going to sell new uniforms before the start of classes or if they are going to take other measures, such as allowing them to wear street clothes.”

It is a concern shared by many other families, who have to deal with the fact that their children have grown or gained weight and the uniform of a year and a half ago will not work for them.

The other option is to compare these materials on the black market, but “a 200-page lined notebook does not cost less than 75 pesos and neither do the graph ones that are used for mathematics.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Poor Organization and Few Staff Delay Vaccination Process in Cuban Schools

The wait began on the sidewalk, outside the extensive building that occupies the entire block from Tulipán Street to Lombillo. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 12 September 2021 — The time of a working day, the itchiness of the skin in the sun and the long faces of children tired of waiting are part of what I experienced and observed during the vaccination process for my two daughters last Friday. A day that began with the hope of immunization but it was twisted with the inefficiency and slowness of the process.

Among the parents who took their children to be vaccinated against covid-19 at the José Luis Arruñada school in Havana that day, uncertainty and complaints reigned. However, the criticisms went more to organizational problems than to questioning the effectiveness of the Soberana 02 vaccine, developed in Cuba and surrounded by intense official propaganda.

Questions about the process ranged from how to access the vaccination site to the lack of outdoor seats, on a day marked by the heat and the discomfort of a long wait. However, the line — slow and at times paralyzed — was a scene for the exchange of wishes and fears before a possible start of face-to-face classes.

Those who came to the school, from the Plaza de la Revolución municipality, were called by a notice that, like me, reached them by phone or through the WhatsApp group that parents keep with teachers. In the message they detailed schedules by group. Everything seemed very organized, but the reality was very different.

“We are behind schedule because the vaccine was almost two hours late,” said several teachers as soon as the first complaints began to rise. “We are slow because some kids had a reaction to the vaccine and we had to stop to attend to them,” they explained.

With a single nurse vaccinating, the process lasted for hours and in some cases, continue reading

families with children in different grades in the school had to wait the equivalent of a full working day to be able to return home with their two children now immunized with this first dose, out of a total of three that children and adolescents are expected to receive.
From early in the morning the students gathered at the door hand in hand with a relative. In the call to come for the vaccine, it was explained that it was an essential requirement to be accompanied by an adult and we were also armed with water bottles, charged cell phone batteries and some snacks. In a few hours there were already dozens of us crowded in front of the school.

The wait began on the sidewalk, outside the extensive building that takes the entire block from Tulipán Street to Lombillo, a school managed more than half a century ago by the Catholic Brothers of La Salle and which for years has housed a primary school and another secondary school, surrounded by a sports area that has been worn out.

In my case I was lucky, because my two daughters, the youngest who is in sixth grade and the oldest who is in eighth grade, were scheduled for the same day. But it was not going to be easy because despite going together they had to be immunized separately, each one at the time assigned to their teaching group. So after waiting they called the younger one and, although I tried to convince the teacher to inject both of them, my words did not persuade her and the older one had to stay outside, sitting on a wall.

Despite the stumble, we were relieved that we had managed to overcome the first obstacle and enter the school. Already in the shade and just after passing the threshold of the door, a woman had the task of spraying a jet of water with chlorine on each hand, a dirty sack splashed with that liquid also served as the “breech step.” In one of the classrooms they had set up a makeshift waiting room with chairs placed five feet apart.

After answering a few questions, it was just involved a few steps to where the nurse was and receiving the injection. (14ymedio)

When we entered the vaccination center, the nurse was waiting for the kids in a corner of the room where she had everything ready on a table while another nurse was taking care of registering the batch and making the vaccination card. But first you had to go through another table with a doctor who took the students’ temperature and asked them some questions: Are you allergic to any medications? Do you suffer from any disease? Have you had covid recently? Are you taking antibiotics?

After answering, it was just taking a few steps to where the nurse was and receiving the injection. We had to wait for her to finish with another child, the father took out his cell phone to take a picture and she told him: “You can but please don’t publish it.” “Don’t worry, it’s for Grandpa who doesn’t want to miss out on this moment,” he replied.

My younger girl took a seat and they gave her the first dose of Soberana 02 which will be completed later with a second, allowing 21 days to pass between each one and a third which is with Soberana Plus. Now it was an hour of waiting in the school dining room, to monitor her condition after being immunized.

It was almost noon and my other girl had already passed the time indicated in the summons message. A teacher informed us that they had to stop the process “because some children had raised blood pressure.” So my youngest daughter and I left the regulation wait and went to another line where the high school students were.

Nothing had moved, the clock read 12, and not a single eighth grader had been vaccinated.

Of course, the line of these teenagers did not resemble that of the little kids who came hand in hand with their parents. They met in groups to talk while their parents stood in line and of course each greeting was mediated by a hug and a kiss: Who controls the euphoria and hubbub of 13- and 14-year-old students who have not seen each other in person for months?

But the three of us were hungry and we crossed Tulipán to have a snack in a cafe that is right next to the school. Although we delayed, when we returned the panorama was the same. At half past two they began to organize the line for the eighth grade students and soon it was my daughter’s turn because she was one of the first.

The process was almost the same, the difference being that they did not allow us to go to the dining hall to accompany them during the observation time. “But and that’s why, the objective of them coming with their parents is that, that we accompany them, they are not going to complain so you have to keep an eye on them in case they feel bad,” protested a mother but the teacher in front was uncompromising: “You have to wait outside.”

When the hour passed, we went home and when we left we saw that there were still dozens of students outside waiting in the inclement September sun. The process that should have occurred in one morning lasted until late in the afternoon, unnecessarily expanding the physical interaction between the kids.

After the vaccination, the only complaint that has come from the girls, especially the younger girl, is a severe pain in the arm. We went to see the doctor, but she commented that this is normal and that it was more of a warning sign if there was redness on the arm or if the area where she received the injection became very hard.

Speaking later with other mothers who also went through the same process this Friday, I was able to hear quite similar stories: delay in the arrival of vaccines, little organization and, in general, slowness in the process.

“The worst thing is that we still have to go through this two more times and I don’t think it will be any different,” one pessimist commented. “For the next time you have to bring an umbrella, a bench and more cold water,” she said.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

‘Cuban State Security is the Last Antediluvian Monster Left Standing’

Yoe Suárez considers his book a first step to encourage researchers and journalists to try to take a closer look at the repressive organ that is State Security and to try to illustrate it for the future. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 September 2021 — The independent journalist Yoe Suárez won the first edition of the Iliad Journalism Prize, convened by the Berlin-based publishing house of the same name, and the cultural magazine Otro Lunes [Another Monday], registered in Spain, with a book on the repression of Cuban State Security.

The work, titled Leviatán. Policía política cubana y terror socialista [Leviathan. Cuban political police and socialist terror], was described by the jury as “a shocking testimony about the repressive apparatus of the Cuban State in which, from a current personal experience lived by a young journalist, the reader is immersed in a retrospective of the repressive horror of the dictatorship during the last six decades.”

The Germany-based Cuban writer Amir Valle, founder of Ilíada Ediciones, described the book as “heartbreaking and courageous.”

In a publication on social networks, he communicated that two other finalist works are dedicated to the Masons in national politics and the current presence of Islam in Cuba, without specifying the names of the authors.

The award was created, he says in a message to 14ymedio , “to encourage the development of journalistic books on Cuban issues.” A total of 16 participants residing on the Island submitted their work.

Along with Valle, the jury was composed of journalists Isaac Risco, from Peru, and Johan Ramírez, from Venezuela.

Speaking to 14ymedio, Yoe Suárez, who was “super happy,” affirms that Cuban State Security “is a kind of antediluvian monster that only has counterparts in history with those repressive bodies of the Stasi and the KGB,” specifically “the last of that line that remains standing.” The objective of his book was to portray the repressive body, “not only thinking of an audience outside of Cuba but also with a view to the future.”

Divided into two strands, one, his personal testimony and the other, a journey of the political police through history, to document it Suárez interviewed three former officers of the State Security, as well as other people who had ties with that department within the Ministry of the Interior and today work in the opposition, one of them, the blogger Regina Coyula, who lives on the island.

“Clearly many stories will be missing,” he says, “but I think it is a first step to encourage other researchers and journalists to take a closer look at this repressive organ and try to illustrate it for the future, a kind of museum piece.”

Due to his work as an independent reporter, Yoe Suárez has had to observe up close the actions of the political police. Last June, during an interrogation, State Security agents tried to intimidate the journalist by threatening him with jail: “They told me that I could end up as a political prisoner and that no one here remembers them, that I should think of my family.” At that time, Suárez assured: “I felt them more aggressive than other times.”

In 2017 Suárez won mention in the Casa de la Américas Literary Award for his biographical work Charles en el Mosaico [Charles in the Mosaic] in the category of testimonial literature. According to his own description, it is a text that deals with “the Stalinist cultural policy in Cuba in the first 25 years of the tyranny.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Cuba: A Policeman Who Beat a July 11th Protestor in Custody is Sanctioned

Romero Negrín was awaiting trial for protesting on April 30 on Obispo Street. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 September 2021 — For the first time, one of the complaints of mistreatment of the detainees of July 11 (11J) has had consequences. The officer accused of having beaten the university student Leonardo Romero Negrín while he was in custody, has been sanctioned by the Prosecutor’s Office with “administrative measures.”

According to an investigation by the university magazine Alma Mater, the prosecutor validated, based on the complaint by Romero Negrín’s father, that the duty officer who received the young man when he arrived at the Dragones Police Unit hit him with a board “in the back of the thigh.”

The Military Prosecutor’s Office, indicates the magazine in an article published this Monday, detailed that “the act of the agent did not qualify as a crime of injuries,” but it did consider it an “administrative contravention.” For this reason, “he communicated these results to the headquarters of the Minint [Ministry of the Interior] and the PNR [National Revolutionary Police]” for the “adoption of corresponding administrative measures,” although without specifying what they consist of.

On July 19, Alma Mater announced the meeting with the young man and said that “in the next few days” it would publish about the case. As a result of the delay of almost two months, they received pressure on the networks to publish the story of Romero Negrín, a university student who is studying Physics at the University of Havana.

The text narrates that several witnesses declared to the Prosecutor’s Office that “Leonardo arrived at the unit visibly upset.” Although in initial testimonies the young man claimed to receive several blows, in his statements to continue reading

the Prosecutor’s Office he affirmed that it was a single blow, something that the duty officer also admitted, who added that, after hitting him with the board, “he demanded verbally he calm down. ”

The agent himself acknowledged, the article highlights, that “given the magnitude of the situation, he decided to keep his regulation weapon and use a board (…) to protect his physical integrity.”

In addition, on July 12, when he arrived at the penitentiary center known as the Cotorro prison for minors, in a medical examination Romero Negrín found “slight injuries to his nose, arm and thigh.”

Romero Negrín, arrested on July 11, was released on July 17 and accused of “public disorder” but he was already under a precautionary measure of house arrest awaiting a trial for the same crime for protesting on April 30 on Obispo Street, when he pulled out a sign that read “Socialism Yes, Repression No.” On that occasion, he was also arrested.

In an interview given to La Joven Cuba, the student said that what they did to him “was little” compared to other detainees who had “a bruised eye,” “a swollen face,” as well as “others with a plaster cast, with fractured fingers.”

“They brought an old man on Friday, they went to look for him at his house because they saw him on a camera,” he said. “They put him into the Ivanov handcuffed and made him go through something known as Somatón. What is that? Well, they get them off the truck and there is a line of soldiers on the left and another on the right, and all the inmates have to pass through the middle of those two rows so that they will beat them.”

According to the Cubalex legal advice center, the list of detainees in the protests reached 956 people from July 11 to date and 443 protesters are still in jail.

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Cuba’s Ladies in White Show Solidarity With the 11J (July 11th) Detainees

Berta Soler (center with sign), leader of the Ladies in White, during a demonstration in Havana in 2018. (Ladies in White)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 3 September 2021 — The leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler, joined the fast of other dissidents on Thursday in support of the opponents José Daniel Ferrer and Félix Navarro, both former prisoners of the Black Spring of 2003, who were arrested on July 11, the day of the massive protests throughout the island.

Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, is in the Mar Verde prison, in Santiago de Cuba, according to a letter released by the authorities with the signature of Ferrer himself, although his family still doubts his having signed it, while Navarro, President of the Pedro Luis Boitel Party for Democracy has been on a hunger strike for 11 days in the Combinado Sur prison in Matanzas.

In declarations to 14ymedio, Soler says that her “solidarity fast” extends to “all those detained on July 11 and 12,” among which are other figures of the dissidence, such as the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, leader of the San Isidro Movement.

“We want them free and healthy. Freedom now,” said the Lady in White on her networks, and she also demanded proofs of life from both Ferrer and Navarro. continue reading

The dissident said that the first to show solidarity with a fast, in concrete support of Félix Navarro, was Caridad Burunate. “The day after her initiative we are in solidarity with her,” said Soler.

Along with them, she says, there are another twenty Ladies in White fasting – spread between Havana, Santa Clara, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo – from seven in the morning to noon.

At the same time, Soler denounces that the harassment of the headquarters of her organization has not stopped: “Here we have the patrols and the State Security agents are visible, and they detain everyone who comes.”

According to the Cubalex legal advice center, the list of detainees, which reached 917 people since July 11, now contains 427 names of those confirmed to be still detained as of this Friday.

From the same day of June 11, the Government unleashed a tough hunt to identify and imprison the protesters through the videos and photos that were published on social networks.

The official press reported this Friday that in Sancti Spíritus “criminal proceedings are progressing for the riots of July 11” and specified that 11 people were charged, one of whom is still waiting for his case to reach the courts.

An article published in the newspaper Escambray states that they carried out five criminal proceedings in which the detainees were accused of “creating a climate of destabilization” during the protests and one of them, in addition, was accused of “instigation to commit a crime.” He was sentenced to nine months of deprivation of liberty.

The local media pointed out that this person “publicly incited, through social networks” … “the people of Sancti Spíritus go out, demonstrate against the Government and subvert order, in the midst of a complex epidemiological scenario due to the pandemic” of covid-19.

Nine of those involved “received administrative treatment”, which in this case translates into fines amounting to 5,000 pesos, as provided in Article 8.3 of the Penal Code for crimes of “public disorder” or “contempt.”

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

“My People Will Never Allow any Kind of Injustice to be Done to Me”

Yomil believes that ‘De Cuba Soy’ is the most important song in his life because he is committed to a just cause, even putting part of his career at risk. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Luz Escobar, 31 August 2021 — It’s not so long since the reggaetoner Roberto Hidalgo Puentes, known as Yomil, distanced himself from politics and asked that artists be left alone, but it’s been an eternity. The death of his colleague in the duet, El Dany, changed everything forever and now he not only claims justice to clarify the negligence that cost his “brother” his life, but he also takes to the streets of Havana shouting “freedom,” as he did on July 11th with thousands of other protesters. Now, with his song De Cuba Soy, he has once again placed himself in the spotlight and speaks openly with 14ymedio about his commitment to democracy.

Escobar. You presented De Cuba Soy stating that it was “the most important issue” of your career, why do you see it that way?

Yomil. I believe that when an artist joins the just cause knowing that he may lose everything he has fought for, the work surpasses all successes. It is the greatest contribution I can make to my people.

Escobar.The video is risky, starting with the choice of the director who was controversial within [Cuba’s] institutions, and continuing with its aesthetics, which is quite unusual. How did this collaboration with Yimit Ramírez come about? Was he aware of the risks involved?

Yomil. I started a friendship with Yimit some time ago. I saw his work and it interested me, I take a lot of risks when working with talented filmmakers and he was not going to be the exception. I knew I would do something tough, knowing how important this topic is to my life, and I just let him create and go free, but I never thought he was going to impress me so much. I’m very proud of the result and his creativity, that’s why I respect him a lot.

“I knew I would do something tough, knowing how important this topic is to my life, and I just let him create and go free, but I never thought it would impress me so much. I am very proud of the result”

Escobar.It has been less than a week since the song and the video were released and it has already received attacks and threats from the official press and cultural institutions. Did you expect it? Do you have support around you?

Yomil. Of course, I knew that this was going to happen when I saw how they have acted with other artists who have manifested themselves in the same line. I knew they were going to threaten, offend and defame me, that’s not news to anyone. But on the part of my team continue reading

, they have known how I think for a long time, so that did not take them by surprise either; and as for the public I am more than satisfied with the reaction and support. I am very happy because I know that since I was at zero hour with my people, my people will never abandon me or allow some kind of injustice to be committed against me. That’s what keeps me calm, because if not, things would be very different.

Escobar.Other artists who have openly assumed their critical vision towards the Government are imprisoned today, such as Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Maykel Castillo or Hamlet Lavastida. Are you afraid of finding yourself in a situation like that?

Yomil. I believe that I have not crossed any limits, since I am an artist and I have the right to be free in my work. Since I decided to risk everything, I am psychologically prepared for the worst, but I think the government is idiotic in reacting to some things and very smart about others. If something like this happens to me, they know that young people follow me and are capable of doing anything for their favorite artists. The proof of that was the loss of my brother Dany, when the people, spontaneously and without any convocation, went out to bid farewell to him in different provinces and cities around the world. Something like this had never happened in the country and I think the Government realized the great level of appeal that Yomil and El Dany had in Cuban society, so I don’t think they will make unexpected decisions that make their situation worse. There could be another July 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and they know it. So I think they will leave it at that. 

“The Government is idiotic in reacting to some things and very smart about others. If something like this happens to me, they know that young people follow me and are capable of doing anything for their favorite artists”

Escobar.Speaking of El Dany, at one point in the song you refer to him and the need for justice to be done, to what do you think the lack of answers about what happened in the hospital that day is due?

Yomil. It was medical negligence, and the treatment they gave him was a total lack of respect, since only they know the measures they took with the nurse who was on duty that morning. That’s why, because of the respect and brotherhood that I have towards Daniel, I will always ask for justice, because if that had happened to the son of any high-ranking leader in this country, believe me, they would imprison the whole country, but they looked the other way when it came to my brother, and that hurts and offends.

Escobar.On July 11th, you took to the streets together with those who were demonstrating against the Government. Did your vision of Cuba change from the political and social point of view then?

Yomil. I think that my vision on the social political issue of my country changed since I began to travel and worry about the serious problems we are experiencing, noticing that the Government has a hard time accepting different points of view and criticism, when I go out on the streets of my Havana and see how it deteriorates more every day, when arriving at any province and seeing how suspended in time it continues to be, when seeing the way the Government acts in the face of the thousands of problems that exist due to its mismanagement, when seeing how disconnected they are from reality, and so on. There are many things that I have seen, I have lived and I have learned. When one is acquiring maturity and knowledge, one must contribute his grain of sand to try to accelerate that process of change that my country is sorely lacking. I live here and I know that the most precious thing human beings have is time and that Cuba is in no condition to lose it, on the contrary, it is time to recover it, because there is only one life.

“I live here and I know that the most precious thing that human beings have is time and that Cuba is in no condition to lose it, on the contrary, it is time to recover it, because there is only one life”

Escobar.Yomil and El Dany sang the song Música Vital with several Cuban artists who today remain silent in the face of the repression that took place on July 11th. How do you feel about that?

Yomil. I don’t really know, because I haven’t seen any of them making any statement against me, but I did have a meeting last Saturday with the president of the Institute of Music. They summoned me at 10 am at my company to explain the reason for my song and I explained all the reasons in a meeting that lasted more than two hours. She told me that, on the part of the institution, nothing was going to happen, but that she would wait for the response of several artists from the union who were supposedly outraged, since they are committed to socialism. I respect their position always and when they respect mine, and depending on their answer, they will have mine too.  I think they are not prepared to put up with being told a few truths (laughs), but so far, these are just speculations, so let’s wait and see.

Escobar. What do you visualize when you think of “a change” for Cuba?

Yomil. I see Cuba being State with the rule of law, where ordinary Cubans are the highest authority, where there is no abuse of power, repression or censorship for thinking differently, where dialogue is accepted as a way to solve problems, because I think that the first thing we have to have is a change of mentality and make it an open country, not only of the so-called “revolutionaries” who, for me, have nothing of revolutionaries. It must become a country of everyone and for everyone, also for those Cubans who had to leave it, many risking and losing their lives in order to have a better future, who had to start a life from scratch in a foreign country to help their families and have a dignified life. I want my country to be one of the best in the world and I tell you with total confidence that it can be done, as long as everything that needs to be changed is changed.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Cuban State Security Threatens to ‘Intercept Laritza Diversent in the US to Try Her in Cuba’

In the image, the lawyer Laritza Diversent, director of the Cubalex legal information center. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 24 August 2021 – On Monday, Cuban State Security threatened the mother of the director of Cubalex, Laritza Diversent, who denounced the incident on her social networks and on the web presence of the non-governmental organization of which she is the founder.

“An agent of State Security went to the home of the family of the director of Cubalex, Laritza Diversent, and threatened her mother because of the work that the organization has been developing,” detailed the official Facebook page of the legal information center which, since the protests of 11th July, and with the help of a group of volunteers, compiles data on the detained and disappeared in a list that exceeds 800 names.

The on-line posting explains that Maricelis Cámbara, 63, “was warned that she herself could be tried for her daughter’s work” in defense of human rights and they threatened to “intercept Laritza Diversent in the United States or another country” to “take her to Cuba” and try her. Cámbara was also asked where Diversent lives in the United States.

“I have been reflecting on this threat and the first thing it shows is that the work that Cubalex is doing annoys them and worries them to the point of going to my mother’s house and threatening continue reading

her to be able talk to me. Direct threats to put her in jail by insinuating that I send her money and she receives it, for example,” Diversent told 14ymedio .

The lawyer said that they also offered her mother “things that they were going to give her” if she collaborated. “My mother is quite calm but I can’t stop worrying about her and she is worried about what may happen to me here in the United States,” she said.

“I think they are trying to send a message of fear so that one is frightened and leaves the work they are doing. I think that those of us who live outside of Cuba are also exposed, although not at the same level of risk as those who are on the island who receive repression directly,” she added.

Diversent is clear and categorical when she affirms that she is not going to abandon the work she does with her team: “We are not going to leave what we are doing, much less now, we are not going to leave the people imprisoned in Cuba alone, I am going to continue supporting them.”

Cubalex has spent years providing free legal advice to Cuban citizens and activists, journalists and opponents who are victims of repression on the island and whose human rights are constantly violated.

A part of the legal team went into exile in May 2017 after State Security carried out a raid on the headquarters of Cubalex where its members, including Diversent, received attacks and threats.

On her networks, Diversent spoke directly to the agent who went to her mother’s house: “You can come find me and take me to a prison in Cuba. I’m waiting for you (…) whatever you are going to do, do it, but starting now.” She also pointed out that she is responsible for her actions and her work and that “bothering” her mother for what she does “is irresponsible and cowardly.”

Laritza Diversent graduated in Law from the University of Havana and later did a Master’s degree in Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law at the American University Washington College of Law. On the island, the lawyer directed the work of Cubalex for more than six years and now continues to do so from exile.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Be Silent or Complain: The Dilemma of the Relatives of July Protest Detainees

Yunior Villarejo Estévez and Eduardo Manuel Báez arrested for the popular protests last July. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 15 August 2021 — The relatives of the protesters arrested on July 11 are debating between a public denunciation or keeping a low profile to avoid further complicating the situation of their relatives, but more and more people are breaking their silence to demand immediate release or to point out irregularities in the judicial process.

“I have not been able to sleep for a month,” said Eduardo Báez, father of 22-year-old Eduardo Manuel Báez, speaking to 14ymedio. The younger Báez was arrested with his girlfriend one day after the demonstrations. She was released with 8,000 pesos as bail but the young computer science teacher is still under arrest. “We have not been able to see him or talk to him,” says the father from Güines, Mayabeque.

“They were accusing him for the crime of public disorder, but also for robbery with force, which is the little poster that they hung from those who, allegedly, participated in the events in the MLC stores, which occurred together with the protests when the people entered against these establishments owned by the army,” he details.

The stores that take payment only in hard currencies were the target of popular fury in several localities, where citizens smashed windows continue reading

and looted shelves. Managed by the Cimex corporation, a military conglomerate that controls large sectors of commerce, these stores have earned social anger for selling food and basic products in foreign currency.

“Because the MLC stores belong to the army,” Báez points out, “it is the military prosecutor’s office that is accusing them,” and adds that they have not even allowed him to hire a lawyer. Last Wednesday the situation became even more complicated for the family when they learned that the young man had tested positive for Covid-19 in a prison in San José de las Lajas, Mayabeque.

The name of Báez is one of the hundreds included in the list of detainees and disappeared of the 11 July protests that several activists have written about despite the setbacks: “In Santiago de Cuba aberrant things have happened such as that they have released the person but they have taken their cellphones and those of the their immediate family, so they have not been able to communicate with anyone for days, so that complicates the updating a lot,” reports journalist Ivette Leyva, who has contributed to the preparation of the list of detainees, speaking to 14ymedio.

According to this list, of the total complaints collected, 164 are women and 672 are men. There are still 170 cases that are in the process of verification and there are 168 detainees, while 197 people have been released, although the majority are in home confinement.

Báez is concerned that they are being cruel to his son: “Many people who were in the stores and who had in their possessions items stolen from these establishments, which were then seized, have already been released, even without bail.” Seeing this panorama, he wonders: what is the problem with my son, is there any anger against him?”

“He is not a vandal, he is not a thief, my son only likes to play video games and with computers. He is a man with the mind of a child, a young man full of poverty who only lives on his monthly salary,” he says, expressing pride and pain. “As a father I am desperate,” concludes Báez.

Odalys Estévez, 30-year-old mother of Yunior Villarejo Estévez, has also chosen to denounce the situation of her son, detained on July 11 in Havana. The woman relates that in the summary trial that was carried out on July 20, Villarejo received a 10-month sentence of deprivation of liberty for “public disorder” and is in the Valle Grande prison.

Arrested at the intersection of Reina and Belascoaín streets, in Centro Habana, the young man was beaten during the arrest by State Security agents who took him from the demonstration with violence: “I have the videos. I had hopes that they would release him with a precautionary measure even if it is for house arrest and they did not do it,” says the mother.

“There has not been any kind of consideration, he did nothing. They beat him because he just picked up the phone (…) I can’t take it anymore, I don’t know what I’m going to do, my son is innocent, a tremendous injustice that they have committed with him,” he says.

Others have received better news despite the sad days. This is the case of the relatives of Reyniel Pacheco who recently reported that the young man had already been released.

“Today I want to thank all the people who supported me with the freedom of my brother, they have already released him,” wrote Yani Pacheco, the detainee’s sister, on his Facebook profile. Pacheco was held incommunicado since July 12, when he was arrested, and his whereabouts were unknown for several weeks until, in a call from Quivicán prison, an inmate alerted them of his whereabouts.

A similar case is that of Damián Yacel Hernández Viera, one of the protesters who took to the streets of the Quivicán municipality, Mayabeque province, on July 11. The authorities of that territory notified him that all the judicial charges against him would be withdrawn. Hernández was also returned the 8,000 pesos he’d paid in bail.

Meanwhile, dozens or hundreds of families refuse to speak to the independent press or to report the arrest of a relative. They cling to the idea that maintaining discretion could aid their relative’s speedy release. With their reports, the number of those arrested during that day and the following days could increase considerably.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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 Defense of the ‘Young Man With the Placard’ Reclaims the Right to Protest

Considered a political prisoner, Robles remains in prison awaiting trial. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, August 10, 2021 — Luis Robles Elizastigui, the “young man with the sign” arrested on December 4 during a protest on San Rafael Boulevard in Havana, spent 15 days in a punishment cell in the Combinado del Este prison. This was reported to 14ymedio by his brother, Landy Fernández Elizastigui, who managed to speak with him after a month without receiving any news.

During the call, which this newspaper had audio access to, Luis Robles explained to his brother the reason why he was locked up in the punishment cell: they found some photos which, Fernández told 14ymedio, were “some images of the campaigns that have been carried out calling for freedom.”

In any case, Robles assured his brother that he is “calm.” “I’m a little weak because I lost some blood, and my blood pressure got out of control,” he says, but until today what he has done “is rest” to see if his body will recover.

He also mentioned that he was seen by a doctor, who told him continue reading

that he was going to refer him to a hospital outside the prison for a medical check-up, but that this has not happened yet.

Luis Robles has been threatened in prison. “It’s difficult, a very difficult time. They’ve threatened to put you in jail,” he explained to his brother.

Landy Fernández had previously told this newspaper that the lawyer had received a fourth denial of his request to change the precautionary measure to allow Robles to await trial at his home.

“The lawyer showed me the latest application that he presented on August 2, based on the words of the President of the Supreme Court who said in a press conference on July 24 that ’thinking differently, questioning what the process is doing, or demonstrating, constitutes a crime,’” he said.

Considered a political prisoner, Robles is in prison awaiting trial for protesting peacefully last December 4, calling for the release of rapper Denis Solís and an end to repression in Cuba.

Robles, 28, doesn’t belong to any opposition group, but he is suffering in his own body what it means to be a political prisoner in a Cuban jail for exercising his right to protest. His brother reported that in May he had received mistreatment and punishment that caused a skin allergy that triggered severe wounds.

During their Sunday conversation, Robles and his brother also spoke about the family: “My mother is very worried about the whole situation of my father and yours,” Fernández told him, referring to his father, who was sick with Covid.

At the end of July, a Facebook page created with the activist’s name to demand his freedom, published a video in which Luis Robles talks about his thoughts, his wishes, and also the reasons that led him to be a protestor. The material was recorded on December 1, three days before he was arrested by the police and accused of “enemy propaganda” and “resistance.”

Seven months after Robles was arrested for expressing himself with a sign in the streets of Havana, thousands of Cubans took to the streets and plazas of more than 40 cities throughout the island demanding freedom, the resignation of Miguel Díaz-Canel, and the end of the regime. Hundreds of them remain in detention and are being prosecuted for alleged crimes of public disorder, contempt, or transmission of epidemics.

Translated by Tomás A.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.