UNEAC Expels the Writer Pedro A. Junco for his Letter to Cuban President Diaz-Canel

Pedro Armando Junco in his house in Camagüey. (Sol García Basulto/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, August 5, 2020 — The Camagüeyan writer, Pedro Armando Junco, has been expelled from the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) for “acting in stark contradiction to the principles, statutes and rules” of the organization, according to what the author himself posted on his Facebook page.

“As all my followers can imagine, this has been in response to my daring to write a public letter, through Facebook, to President Díaz-Canel,” says the writer, who admits he was hardly surprised by the violation of the constitutional article that guarantees freedom of thought and expression.

Junco published his missive to the President on July 19, in which he rejected government measures like the opening of shops for food and cleaning products in hard currency, and, especially, qualifying anyone who questions this and other decisions as an “enemy”. continue reading

“When they tried to get me to apologize at the end of July, like Herberto Padilla almost 70 years ago*, I expected this,” he adds. Junco was held for almost a month and pressured to retract his criticisms of Castroism and recognize his alleged “counterrevolutionary” attitude.

Junco, who claims his letter was respectful and well-presented, thinks the Government was upset by the “positive reception” that thousands of people gave his words, sharing the post or marking “Like” on the social network. “This letter captures the feeling of most of the Cuban people: NO to the segregation of our money in the face of foreign currencies, and economic freedom for all those who produce food,” he continues.

The writer says that there are many who supported the text in the shadows, but didn’t say so openly for fear of reprisals. “And I understand them. They’re afraid! They don’t want to put their feet in hot water and risk their salaries, which barely allow them to eat, or the social perks that some enjoy. They are ignorant of that aphorism of Alejandro Jodorowsky: ’Your fear ends when your mind realizes that it’s the one creating this fear’,” he adds.

Pedro Armando Junco, 72, has had a long trajectory in Cuban letters since publishing his first work in 1984. He’s won awards on numerous occasions in Cuba, even winning the David National Prize, which he received from the association that now expels him, for his book, La furia de los vientos (The Fury of the Winds), one of the most important in recent literature and the name of his blog.

On May 16, 2015, his son, the rock musician Pedro “Mandy” Junco, was murdered in Camagüey, and the writer led a campaign for increasing the penalty for homicide on the Island. Junco has collaborated several times with 14ymedio, among them telling the story of the sad death of the young man, who was 28 years old.

*Translator’s note: Herberto Padilla was a Cuban poet imprisoned in 1971 after publication of Fuera de Juego (Out of the Game), where his ideas were considered “counterrevolutionary”. He was released 37 days later, after a self-criticism session in a UNEAC meeting, and he urged other writers to follow the principles of the Revolution. He was not allowed to leave Cuba until 1980.

Translated by Regina Anavy


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Legal Process Opens Against ‘14ymedio’ Reporter in Camagüey

The reporter Sol García Basulto has denounced the escalation of repression against her, which started in December 2015. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23 March 2017 – This Wednesday the gates have begun to close around independent journalist Sol Garcia Basulto, who has been charged with the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity.” (In other words, “practicing journalism without a license.”) The correspondent for this newspaper in Camaguey is facing a sentence of between three months and a year of deprivation of liberty.

The accusation against Garcia Basulto coincides with that made against the regional vice-president of the Inter-American Press Association in Cuba, Henry Constantin. Both reporters are a part of the editorial team of the independent magazine La Hora de Cuba (Cuba’s Hour), which is distributed in a digital format.

The young reporter was warned by the police about her work interviewing and gathering information in public spaces. A task that she engages in, according to the officials, to “misrepresent information and write against the government.” continue reading

If the process takes its course, the journalist could be tried under Article 149 of the Penal Code which punishes those who “perform independent acts of a profession for which they are not properly qualified.”

The police did not mention the names of the possible complainants, but warned Garcia Basulto that she was not “empowered” to undertake work as a reporter. The young woman is being investigated and cannot leave the country. Any travel outside her home province must be communicated ahead of time to the police.

Last November, State Security prevented the 14ymedio correspondent from leaving her house in the days after the death for former president Fidel Castro, while the funeral procession carried his ashes to Santiago de Cuba.

At that time, the young woman denounced the escalating repression against her, which started on 4 December 2015 when she tried to take some photos and collect opinions in front of Camaguey Provincial Court where the trial was being held for the murder of the musician Pedro Armando Junco, known as Mandy.

The Inter American Press Association warned this week about García Basulto possibly being charged with the same crime for which its vice president is being prosecuted. The entity considers that such accusations are contrary to international provisions that support “the right to seek, receive, disseminate information and express opinions.”

Political Arrests Increase / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

Reporter Sol Garcia Basulto was arrested on the night of November 3 when she was preparing to travel to Havana. (14ymedio)
Reporter Sol Garcia Basulto was arrested on the night of November 3 when she was preparing to travel to Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Havana, 23 November 2016 — I learned via the internet that 14ymedio’s Camaguey correspondent, Sol Garcia Basulto, was illegally and arbitrarily arrested on the night of November 3 when she was travelling to Havana to get a visa for her passport.

As she herself relates, she had won a trip abroad for a journalism course. She would not qualify for enrollment in a Cuban university journalism school because her political ‘wood’ is not suitable for the construction of that ‘national informational edifice.’ Her case is not isolated. There are many young students of this profession whose careers are interrupted for the least ideological slip-up or who, when they manage to graduate, have doors to jobs closed on them. They are innumerable, the names of the recent graduates who have crossed the Strait or who are marginalized within the country and take on any self-employment that is often as distant from their abilities and aspirations as they ever imagined. continue reading

Sol’s case is in keeping with a repressive wave that is playing out across the Island against opponents and independent journalists in order to put a stop to that avalanche of popular dissatisfaction that is growing among the citizenry because that handful determined to complain is the only representation of the people’s discontent. The system is not content with excluding them from the official media – the only media accessible to the population – but intends to eliminate them because of new technologies that one way or another allow what’s happening within Cuba to be known.

The most significant thing about Garcia Basulto’s detention, if the objective was to prevent her trip abroad, is that they could have visited her at her home and withdrawn her passport; taken her off the bus at the Camaguey terminal before it took off; or even summoned her to the police station. However, they waited for the bus to leave the city, and then they stopped it in the middle of the road, boarded it and handcuffed her like a common criminal. This is one more kind of mistreatment that so many of the Cuban population suffers.

I know Solecito – as I call her – and I know that she is a young woman of character. She raises her daughter alone because the father is a prisoner. I am not unfamiliar with that journalistic aspiration that has not been able to develop, as I said before, because of its dissident tenets. I have seen her often and read her work in the independent magazine Cuba’s Time which, by the way, is not at all “counter-revolutionary” except when its collaborators touch a sore spot of some public official – I even think that the State could take the articles that are written there as a reference to discover the administrative deficiencies of many revolutionaries who bleed public assets for their own benefit, as is well known.

I am at once saddened and indignant that the changes of openness promised to the people are the object of a double standard – to use this phrase that they like so much – and that now that the president general assures that there are no political prisoners, they stop and humiliate those who don’t submit to the system. It is possible that there are no political prisoners in Cuba; but political arrests increase daily.

The bad time that they gave to Solecito will not change her way of thinking but will increase her condemnation of those who oppress her. Maybe a friendly and convincing attitude together with facilitating her trip would have made her change her view and respond empathetically when the time came to practice non-professional journalism. But instead, the sad and regrettable event has brought to international light a new name that will have to be taken into account from now on.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Elections and the ‘Blockade’ / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

The "Roundtable" program where Cuban journalists lash out against the United States. (Cuban TV)
The “Roundtable” program where Cuban journalists lash out against the United States. (Cuban TV)

14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Camaguey, 6 November 2016 — I met a man who, when his wife left him, carried on endlessly about the contempt he felt for her, constantly berating her, although he couldn’t stop talking about her: she was a prostitute, a liar, a thief and all sorts of other despicable things that came from his mouth. Such was the hatred he felt for this person that, a little while later, he reconciled with her.

Something similar has happened with the official Cuban press in recent weeks. The campaign has developed as never before against the United States “blockade” (as the Cuban government insists on calling the embargo), and the detailed attention to the upcoming US elections takes us back to the sixties with its bitter rancor. Primetime Cuban Television News spends about 25 minutes out of every 30 on these two topics. It is a paroxysm of unnerving propaganda. continue reading

The US government’s abstention on the vote to condemn the embargo in the United Nations General Assembly surprised everyone, at a time when Barack Obama was being presented as no longer a “good president.” The respect and admiration with which he was referred to during his visit to Cuba had collapsed, since some official interpreted his peaceful intentions as a new formula for destroying the Cuban Revolution.

Measure after measure taken by Obama – many of them officially recognized as positive – have been useless in developing a good understanding between the two systems. There is always a “but” to give a discordant note and suggest “the black intentions of imperialism to destroy our fair, equitable and progressive system.”

It is true that the world is against the embargo. What is not explained to the Cuban people is that on questions of international politics, things work this way: there are basic principles of international order that obliges governments, not at all sympathetic to our system, to challenge the financial embargo against Cuba.

Nor is it explained to the ordinary Cuban that the fateful embargo is a law. And in that country not even presidents can abolish laws at the stroke of a pen. In totalitarian regimes, yes they can, because as Machiavelli said, the Prince is above the law. In the United States the legislation that established the embargo was strengthened by the Helms-Burton Act in March of 1996, when President Bill Clinton signed it due to the downing of the two civilian Brothers to the Rescue planes: a crime very similar, although on a smaller scale, to the downing of the Barbados plane, Flight 455.

The embargo and the Cuban Adjustment Act will continue to patiently absorb the Cuban nation toward an annexation as reviled in the same measure as, in the minds of the young people on the island, the dream grows of flying to other lands where they can develop fully and reach a standard of living superior to the one this country offers them. A government that clings to stagnation not only ceases to be revolutionary, but is going backwards in time, because global development of all the nations of the world is a marathon race; and when a nation comes to a halt, for whatever reason, it goes to the back of the line: see North Korea.

Nor do they explain to the Cuban people the causes of the embargo and the requirements that might lead to its abolishment. Perhaps that is why there is such a reluctance to provide unlimited internet in homes and why a decree is being developed to allow the prosecution of independent journalists.

The other issue obsessed about in Cuban TV’s broadcasts on international news, is the election in the United States. The Roundtable show is exclusively devoted to this subject. Reinaldo Taladrid and Randy Alonso paint with a broad brush, discrediting both the main candidates. Clinton has a private server and Trump fondled a girl in an elevator in one of his multimillion dollar buildings and has mocked the female gender like one of the most depraved chauvinists. Yes, politics is dirty. But that is the result of freedom of the press! It is better to know even the wart on the left foot of the person who leads us, than to believe in a crystal urn like the most illustrious of the saints.

Randy and Taladrid even presented a red and blue map on the Roundtable program. The central states in red tend toward Trump; those on the east and west coasts are certain for Clinton. There is no lack of criticism for the system of electoral votes. What is not said is that the system has been respected in the United State Constitution because it was created by the founding fathers, and on only three occasions – two of them in the 19th century – has it not coincided with the popular vote. Nor is it said that a president, no matter how good and effective he or she is, only has the right to be reelected one time, for a maximum of eight years at the head of the government.

But the question that arises is this: Why such a close following of US politics when in Cuba there aren’t even presidential candidates, there are no direct elections, there are no journalists digging into the private lives of the leaders – a very important question when evaluating their moral and human values?

Why waste hours of radio and TV time if we are convinced that, whether Trump wins or Clinton wins, the neighbor to the north will continue the “blockade,” the Cuban Adjustment Act, the Guantanamo Naval Base, the Radio and TV Marti broadcasts, and many more measures as long as Cuba doesn’t respect the right to dissent, to create opposition parties and free trade unions, to have direct presidential elections and, above all, the individual economic empowerment of its citizenry?

A lot of paper and ink has been spent on this side projecting the caged country of 2030. This Cuban megaproject that predicts so many beautiful dreams, perhaps lacks, among others, two basic aspects impossible to evaluate: what percentage of the population living on the island will be under sixty, and how many young Cubans will have crossed the Florida Straits by 2030?

I am afraid, because I am not an annexationist*, that what could happen to us could be what happened to the man at the beginning of this article. Time will have the last word.

*Translator’s note: An “annexationist” in this context, is someone who wants Cuba to become a part of the United States – a charge frequently lodged by the government against its opponents.

Cuba And The Parable Of The Elephant / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

The US president, Barack Obama, and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, last March at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana. (White House)
The US president, Barack Obama, and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, last March at the Palace of the Revolution in Havana. (White House)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Havana, 17 September 2016 — The vagaries of fate are unpredictable. Who would have thought ,15 years ago, when food containers and all types of first world goods and gushing oil came from Venezuela to Cuba, that today the Cuban collaborators in that country would have to bring their own groceries?

The invested positions of both governments denote the great differences between the small concessions of the general president and the impenetrability

in which Nicolas Maduro wants to lock away Venezuela. Even Cuba’s relations with the United States are developing greater diplomacy today than the bitter vituperations of the Venezuelan executive. Is there a certain presumption from a friend in the early years of the current century? “Is communism starting in Venezuela now, but ending in Cuba?” continue reading

Cuba, at least, without renouncing its ideology, is taking steps to move forward. The importance of an aperture implied by the bilateral accords coming to fruition with the United States is huge, despite the silence of the official press; nor it is adequate to exclude the circumstantial coincidence in an era with a US president who is sufficiently tractable and is a facilitator of suitable arrangements. But are the limitations that still persist and hinder the emergence of civil society on the island objective and condemnable?

Given the recent pronouncement by the Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto, calling the economic empowerment of Cubans on the island a plot by the US government to destroy the Revolution, and another wisecracking friend who said, laughing, “Imagine a caricature of Raul, up to his waist in the economic swamp, with his left hand caressing the sorrowful faces of those clinging to the old centralized system and his right hand making signs to Uncle Sam behind his back to come to his aid.”

We have to keep in mind, above all, the limitations of freedoms and rights that Cubans have experienced since the sixties, their privations still exceeding those of the other socialist governments on the continent, no matter how tyrannical they seem. In the island there is no opposition party and no legitimate elections, The last two generations know nothing of freedom of the press, free labor unions, the right to strike, the ability to generate their own wealth, etc. Only in this way is it comprehensible that one nation has become accustomed for more than half a century of meekness, disinformation and the lack of its fundamental rights.

It is the parable of the circus elephant that from childhood was subject to having his foot tied to a stake in the circus. From the time he was young, no matter how much he pulled on the stake, he failed to pull it out and learned to live in chains. The years passed, the elephant became an adult, but he never tried to remove the small stake that would have been easy to pull out.

This is also the story of the Cuban people in the Revolution: they planted the state of fear and with it limited or eliminated their fundamental rights. They were prohibited from feeding themselves at their pleasure, leaving the island, acquiring wealth, saying what they thought, dissenting from what they considered unfair… And over time, like the chained elephant, they became accustomed to living subject to certain unjust laws and mandates, without answers, without reason, because one word and one man monopolized all power.

The man above any citizen, including his closest collaborators, above the law, above reason, above God. The word revolutionary, an absolute and obligatory qualifier, the golden key to open any kind of lock, and its lack, the most aberrant and degrading blemish on a human being. In that word was contained all the virtues of man, its absence contained the vices of the world.

But the descendants of the old elephant of the parable have discovered that the stake has deteriorated. The passage of time has eaten away its old wood, and by nature itself, it has been pulled out. The grandchildren of the elephant have looked up and discovered that beyond the circus enclosure there is a horizon to walk to, to feed themselves better, to create a herd. And the stake their grandfathers were subject to is fragile, anachronistic, useless. The wheel attached to the foot, but incapable of serving as a snare under any credible concept.

Times have changed. Everyone knows that the economic salvation of the country lies with the United States. Some resist as much as they can, juxtaposing conditions – elimination of the embargo, the Cuban Adjustment Act, the “enemy” broadcasts and the return of the Guantanamo Naval base.

This constantly echoes to the nation, although its well known that these grants are dependent on a greater opening on the Cuban side, are only discussed behind closed doors in the bilateral conversations between the two governments.

It is similar to the game of the stingy trader who until the last minute attempts to get one more crumb from the transaction. Ultimately, the only correct path is a major opening to investment and American tourism, for which they have to concede important political changes, necessarily.

But, when and how will they handle the recognition of the opposition, respect for the dissenting demonstrations, for the mass media and the economic empowerment of the people? This task belongs to the grandchildren of the decrepit elephant.

Camagüey Neighbors Manage To Stop Work On An Official’s House / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

Residents fighting the official’s house with a view of their apartment building and the uninhabited area. (Pedro Armando Junco)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Camagüey, 13 September 2016 — The struggle of a small community of neighbors in Camagüey against the allocation of a plot of land at the corner of their building to an official from the Ministry of the Interior, has resulted in a small victory, as they have managed to stop the work on the new owner’s house.

Since 2001 there has been a plot of idle land some 200 yards from where it is believed the first house in the city was built, 500 years ago. As the area is large, and given the deterioration of an old multi-family building, at the end of the 1990s it was planned to fund new construction of a five-story building with 10 apartments. The new housing was planned to be built under the “microbrigade” progam, [Ed. note: See page 26 of the linked PDF] most of whose participants came from the deteriorating structure, and they were the ones doing the work. The project was completed and the new building was inhabited while the old building collapsed, leaving a generous plot of land in front with the new apartment building behind. continue reading

For more than 15 years there have been many solicitations to build in the downtown area, but all were denied. Thereafter, the empty space has served only as an eventual landfill.

The pleasant site to the east hosts the America Cinema, an emblematic theater from the 1950s, a beautiful and well used entertainment venue, and to the east Plaza Santa Ana hosts its namesake church, more than 300 years old, the oldest church on the city.

In early August, to the surprise of the locals, it was announced at a neighborhood meeting that the vacant lot had been given to a high official of the Ministry of the Interior. Almost immediately, a supposedly qualified person marked off an extensive perimeter for the construction of a private residence for the official.

Many members of the community criticized the “excessive” use of space – around 2,700 square feet – and there was even an exchange of angry words between a neighbor of the building and a family member of the official. The following day backloaders and trucks appeared to clear the area and excavate it, leaving only a few yards of space between the site and the multifamily building to the rear.

There was no delay in registering a complaint. The building residents and some other people from the community got together and drafted a protest letter to the municipal government with more than 20 signatures. The district’s delegate to the People’s Power, affectionately called Angelito, offered his unconditional support to the citizen protest and said he felt badly for not having taking into account their opinions as the area’s authority from the Communist Party base.

In the letter the residents argued that not only would the building completely eclipse the view of the beautiful multifamily building, whose brightly painted color scheme contributes to the atmosphere of this corner of the city, but the narrow corridor remaining for their circulation was dark and hidden and badly connected to the street. They also argued that in the case of a medical emergency, a fire, or any other emergency, it would be very difficult in such a narrow space for an ambulance to maneuver, much less, a fire truck.

Dr. Armando Balaguer, promoter of the complaint, appeared before the president of the municipal government and, he says, he was not treated with the expected benevolence. The local president claimed that the Ministry of the Interior official, Liduvina Gay Perez, deserved the land donation because of her dedication as head of the women’s prison in Camagüey. Dr. Balaguer stressed that the demand of the neighbors was not opposed to the individual who was benefiting from the donation, it was simply a demand for the rights of the citizens in this small community of families, not only with the voice and legitimate vote of their delegate, but also because the more than 10 families affected includes five doctors, most of whom have served on international missions providing health care in other countries [in exchange for payments in cash or oil to the Cuban government].

In addition, although the land is state-owned, the residents of the building feel it is their own, and given their marked sense of belonging their demand states that they want a playground to be built there, or a circuit training park to fight obesity, or a fenced area for children’s sports, given that the neighborhood’s children do not currently have a place for extracurricular games. This first discussion was a failure.

Without surrendering to defeat, Dr. Balaguer met with several residents of the building and with the delegate of the district, and they went again in a tight group for the second time to the office of the president of the municipal government. After some research on their own, they learned that the Office of the City Historian, the supreme entity in such cases, had not given its approval for the donation, which would indicate that the gift was directly rooted in the municipal government with the concurrence of the Department of Physical Planning.

After the clearing of the land, the excavations, and the staking out of the perimeter, the work has been stopped. It is appears that the methods used to arrive at the construction of the house were not the most correct nor in accord with the aesthetic interests of the city.

See also: A subtitled film on Microbrigades in Cuba by Florian Zeyfang, Lisa Schmidt-Colinet, Alexander Schmoeger, 2013

An Enslaved People / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

Fidel Castro’s entry into Havana in 1959. (File)
Fidel Castro’s entry into Havana in 1959. (File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Camagüey, 24 August 2016 – The level of enslavement of a people is determined by the sum of freedoms that are restricted. Slavery and freedom are two ends of a scale that, as one side slants downward from the weight of the load on its side, its counterpart rises.

I explained this to a high school student some days ago when he asked me if I agreed with the opinion of his grandfather, who told him that the Cuban people are suffering a modern form of slavery. continue reading

It took me a few minutes to answer his question. With teenagers and children one has to be extremely cautious when offering insights, and even more so when they ask questions based on the admiration and respect they have for us. What we express to them can become a dogmatic axiom for their lives. Children are intelligent and think for themselves and then seek out an adult who, for them, has their own opinion.

To dodge his query I answered with another questions;

“What is the basis for your opinion of the condition of a modern slave.”

“Many characteristics, prof (high school students call everyone who teaches them ‘prof’).

“For example?”

“The slaves of previous centuries suffered punishments that today wouldn’t work: shackles, whips, mutilation… But my grandfather says that we Cubans have lost rights that we enjoyed before the triumph of the Revolution and this is called modern slavery.”

The young man’s grandfather had informed him that in January of 1959 more than 90% of Cubans were fidelistas – Fidel loyalists – and that people put signs on their doors saying, “Fidel, this is your home,” and that apparently the Maximum Leader took the offer seriously: he banned the sale of homes and confiscated more from everyone who kept things in their own names than from the rest. This he called “Urban Reform.”

Then he did the same thing with the haciendas and he called that Agrarian Reform. He confiscated the businesses, from the huge corporation to the last little mom-and-pop stands that supported thousands of proletarian families, stretching out their meager earnings. His grandfather had told him all this with a wry smile, saying that even the combs and scissors of the barbers did not escape confiscation. He didn’t know what to call this.

Possession of firearms was prohibited. Anyone who rebelled was shot or imprisoned. The labor unions were nationalized and the right to strike eliminated. The intellectuals were told “within the Revolution everyone and against the Revolution nothing,” leaving the concept ambiguous, but in a clear warning to those who tried to present personal arguments in publications and artistic works of any kind. The Cuban people, as a whole, were left stripped of their basic rights: without possessions, without arms and without the ability to show their discontent. The great ideologues of tyranny, especially Stalin, were always convinced that miserable people were not capable of rebellion.

This happened in the first decade of the Revolution. The results didn’t have to be waited for. The population, all of it, became the proletariat. The ration card arrived, a macabre Leninist idea from when people in Russia were starving to death in huge numbers. The coffee and meat quotas were reduced, along with those of other most needed items. Smallholdings were forbidden from selling their products to anyone but the State; the rancher who slaughtered a cow for family consumption could be punished with a long prison sentence; and so it was with most individual producers, creating the largest monopoly in memory in all of Cuba’s history, including during the centuries of colonial rule.

An official document was created for those who wanted to leave the country: the “white card,” controlled by the Ministry of the Interior and virtually unattainable by the common citizen except in exceptional cases. Cubans became inmates within the limited territory of the island, and all those who emigrated illegally, became a foreigner, stripped of their Cuban citizenship. An even greater limitation, was restricting the right of residents of other provinces to live in Havana.

In 1973, the right of the people to appear directly in court as an accuser was eliminated, regardless of their having proof of being the main injured party, regardless of the damage suffered, thus violating Article Six in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law.”

In 1975, tens of thousands of Cuban were sent to fight in Angola. Refusing to serve as soldiers in this war was severely punished, especially among young people doing their compulsory military service. Members of the Communist Party and the Young Communist Union were stripped of their membership, and non-members were fired from their jobs. Thousands of Cubans lost their lives for a cause interfering in the affairs of another country that had nothing to do with them. The Cuban people still do not know the number of their compatriots who died in this adventure.

In 1980, homophobia reached its peak when a group of desperate people invaded the Peruvian Embassy; the Port of Mariel was opened for their deportation, and from there homosexuals, the disaffected and prison inmates were expelled to the United States. President Jimmy Carter’s humanist approach cost the Democratic Party the presidency of the United States.

At the end of the decade European Communism collapsed and Cuba faced a misery unprecedented in its history. The country coped by enforcing major restrictions on citizens, and there was even talk of communal kitchens and creating an indigenous style habitat. Luckily Hugo Chavez showed up with his oil in exchange for highly qualified Cuban personnel, rented out by the State, these “internationalist” collaborators – mostly doctors and other health care workers – received barely a miserable stipend from what Venezuela paid the Cuban government for their work.

Possession of an American dollar was punished by several years in prison. The consumption of fish was restricted to a greater extent and the ordinary citizen never had the right to try seafood, beef or other products from livestock farming.

Then came the new millennium, the high school student’s grandfather explained to him. Time did its work and the leadership of the country passed – apparently, the grandfather stressed slyly – to the hands of Raul Castro, the general president.

The general president opened some opportunities to the beleaguered citizens with his reiterative motto, “without haste, but without pause.” He removed the restrictions on travel, without completely letting go of the rope through a section of a decree. He allowed individual work, despite impeding the economic growth of businesses, and much less authorizing national citizens to make major investments, a privilege reserved only for foreigners. Holding of dollars was allowed, but every remittance received by an individual – from family or friends abroad – had to be immediately exchanged for a currency that has no value outside the country.

The Cuban people continue to drink at dawn a concoction that is not pure coffee. They put “chopped meat” on their tables with such a high proportion of soy it’s an effort to believe they are eating meat. They buy used clothes in the trapishoppings – a name derived from the word for ‘rag’ – donated by charities in other countries. They continue to be paid in Cuban pesos worth four cents each, versus the convertible pesos worth a dollar. They go on vacation to popular campsites along the riverbanks like aborigines, because places like Varadero are reserved for foreigners and senior leaders.

Their proletarian earnings don’t allow them to buy plane tickets to travel abroad and they lack the wherewithal to buy a car. The state monopoly swallows, as if into a funnel, the country’s scanty agricultural production at bargain prices. Popular dissent is not allowed or recognized, and when women go out into the streets carrying flowers in peaceful protest they are beaten, while the voices of dissenters, opponents and freethinkers are hermetically silenced in the mass media, and in the blocking of internet sites and radio broadcasts, which are considered enemies

After listening to all the conjectures of the young high school student, I had no choice but to respond: “You belong to the new generation of Cubans that represent the future of the nation. You are young, talented and a friend of truth and wisdom. You have the right to determine through your own reasoning if the Cuban people are slaves or not; and, of course, the duty to work so that these injustices are eliminated.”

In Search Of The Owner Of The City / 14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco

Camagüey is one of Cuba's largest cities and is more than 500 years old (14ymedio)
Camagüey is one of Cuba’s largest cities and is more than 500 years old (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Armando Junco, Camagüey, 21 May 2016 — Every city rests on the man who safeguards it. He can be called mayor, administrator or public official; ultimately the label is the least important. This is his charge, like the steward of the millionaire’s mansion. His obligation lies in the zeal with which he is able to optimize the performance of the city’s people. For this he counts on public economic resources and the necessary personnel.

He is, almost always—as he always should be—the ideal citizen. He is the man everyone knows, who knows everyone’s name and where they live, because, among his reasons for being, his priority is to be ready to hear the needs of the last inhabitant of the village at any time. continue reading

However, in Camagüey this citizen never shows his face, no one knows his name, or where he resides; and worse, when we assume who he is and where he is, it is impossible to address him and we can not establish a dialogue with him even through the press.

The certainty of not having been democratically elected lies in that nobody knows him. Despite his phantasmagoric existence, when he takes measures in search of “perfecting” the city, they are arbitrary and counterproductive. I have given this man the name: “The Owner of the City.”

Camagüey, despite its narrow winding streets due to its five hundred years of existence, was a city where it was easy to circulate. Dozens of traffic lights ordered the path of the cars, police officers took care of traffic violations, to the point that the least of its alleys was accessible to traffic, and both the sidewalks and the pavement were kept clean and in perfect state of repair. It is said that Camagüey once qualified as one of the most beautiful cities in the country. Above all, at any hour of the night or in the earliest hours of the morning, the citizenry enjoyed a high level of security.

The Camagüey of today is far from what it once was. The Owner of the City is pleased to close streets for the slightest reason. Martí Street, an important artery through the historic center and the main route to the east for the fire brigade, has been permanently blocked in front of Agramonte Park. An outdoor café has been placed in the street to serve international tourism, as the snacks sold there are priced in hard currency not attainable by ordinary Cubans.

Also to attract tourists, they have unearthed the rails that were sleeping under El Gallo Plazoleta, so that the visitors can see that there were once trams in the city, although the result has been too turn this into the most inconvenient and dangerous crossing—over those sharp steel strips—and on occasion bicycles and motorcycles come to grief there.

The parking lot at Merced Plaza—now called Workers Plaza—was dismantled and vintage benches have been placed around the central ceiba tree, so that those who visit us will have the most beautiful image of the place, although cars in the business center of the province now have to park on another street, under permanent guard. It seems, that the Owner of the City wants to convert Camagüey into a showcase for tourism, to the detriment of its permanent residents.

The most important streets in the center—Cisneros, Independencia and San Esteban—have been closed for many months under the pretext of repairing the abutting buildings, and Republica Street has been modified into a boulevard for pedestrians only, while San Martin Street is in such a state of disrepair that it is very difficult to travel on it, without anyone showing any interest in its restoration.

Everyone who knows this city could intuit that these being the exclusive thoroughfares of the historic center, its viability is reduced by nearly half and thus its potential, while intersecting streets are overburdened by traffic.

If we add to that the reductions in parking spaces in the plazas, forcing parking to the left of the narrow lanes in the Historic Center, this leaves only a tiny space where not even a bicycle or a pedicab can get through—the common vehicles of residents—causing heavy volumes prone to traffic jams. There are only four traffic lights in the city, three of them on the central highway. In “peak” hours traffic in the non-preferential directions suffers long delays because of this lack.

The narrow sidewalks of old Camagüey are mostly damaged, obstructed by structures placed to shore up the buildings, or by the theft of the utility covers. They are filled with dog excrement which is everywhere due to the lack of discipline among unethical people and the absence of inspectors capable of correcting the bad habits of animal owners.

People walk in the street more than on the sidewalks. No one respects the rules of circulation: not only do cyclists and pedicabs ride against traffic, but motorbikes and cars, very dangerously, do the same thing, turning the city into something very like a rural village.

More could be said of the current Camagüey. There remains much to be censored, but the shortage of publishing space makes it impossible. I am barely permitted to make a call to the Owner of the City asking him to consider these constructive criticisms and to begin his necessary labor. To ensure that this urban honeycomb shelters not only international tourism, but also its more than 300,000 inhabitants, his work is urgently needed along with more rigorous and effective attention.


Editor ‘s Note: This text was originally published in the blog La Furia de los Vientos (The Fury of the Winds) and is reproduced here with permission of the author

The Bridge / 14ymedio, Pedro Junco Lopez

Barack Obama greets the Cuban people after his speech at Havana’s Gran Teatro.
Barack Obama greets the Cuban people after his speech at Havana’s Gran Teatro.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Junco Lopez, Camaguey, 27 April 2016 – Some have suggested I write about US President Barack Obama’s recent visit to Cuba. A great challenge after so much criticism about it. However, despite the blockade I’ve suffered in international research, I lean to two very attractive topics—and as far as my information sources permit me to know—two that have been hardly discussed: first, the oratory style of the American president who, according to what they are saying here, “has the Cuban people in his pocket”; and second, “the bridge” between the two systems and societies, which both presidents brought up. continue reading

With regards to oratory, I will not dwell too long on that of the general-president, considering his having always been in the military, his extreme longevity, and his usual approach of reading his texts. Whether or not a man is an excellent orator has nothing to do with his other aptitudes. Oratory is an art, an art that isn’t learned, but that one is born with and perfects or doesn’t. But I propose to compliment Obama’s rhetoric, offering as a counterpart that of some contemporary Cubans speaking live.

I don’t think it was at Harvard where the American learned to launch these clear and precise parliamentary arrows in the form of short sentences; then he stops, tightens his lips and puts a brake on the overflowing words, giving the audience time to digest his ideas and then one phrase after another, repeats the pauses, often with a smile playing on his lips and without losing the thread of his exposition, without even looking at the script that guides him in his discursive ascent and ending with the clear solidity of a prophet.

How different is the style of some Cubans who speak haltingly, breaking their phrases as one who walks along a path strewn with large boulders that must be leaped over, taking a breath in the middle of well known phrases, seeking respite from the terror of making a mistake and expounding something that could upset whoever dictated the script.

We appreciate the serene movement of President Obama’s hands, always in a lilting rhythm in sync with the idea of the phrasing. How different from the immoderate flapping of other local speakers for whom the podium must be cleared of ornamental objects, lest one of their swipes knock the microphone to the floor or any other instrument on the set where they are talking.

The people of Cuba saw a president in the flesh who proposes and convinces, not the god who taught them to listen with meekness half a century ago: powerful, imposing, unanswerably humbling and always threatening.

But let’s address the detail of the bridge. Nothing in the theme surprises us, when many years ago the young Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona wrote and performed a song with this name; watching the video brings tears to the eyes of Cubans who have suffered a separation from their loved ones. This time the initiative came from the Cuban president: it is easy to destroy a bridge; it is difficult to build it back again; a straightforward simile, but concise.

So the naiveté of the general-president in “mentioning the rope in the house of the hanged man” surprises; and the condescension of the northern president in seeking a convergence between the two governments and not taking the bull by the horns and telling a story that surely he knows.

The first foundations of that bridge were built by the Americans and the mambises – Cuban independence fighters – at the end of the 19th century, when they fought together to free Cuba from Spanish colonialism. Today very subjective concepts are put forward about what led the United States to invade Cuba, drumming on “the ripe apple” concept. It would be good to detail when this apple ripened, with the two principals killed in combat and the stubborn position of the Spaniards not to abandon the island. In Spain to this day, when something goes badly for a citizen, they seek solace in the classic phrase: “More was lost in Cuba.” The Spaniards were so attached to our native land that no one was able to predict how many more years of fighting and how many human lives independence would cost.

The first foundations for the bridge were built on solid ground after the emancipation of the metropolis, and its horizontal beams were laid when industrialized sugar cane production, the great electricity and telephone companies and many others were brought to Cuba. Because on 20 May 1902, they lowered the American flag and raised that of Miguel Tourbe Tolon and Narciso Lopez—names that barely appear in our schools’ current history books—and the Cuban nation had 10 people for every square kilometer of the homeland.

Republican governments, despite the tyrannies of Machado and Batista, thanks to close negotiations with the neighbor to the north, paved the bridge with the building of the Capitol, the central highway and the walls of the Havana Malecon, despite the aberration of the Model Prison on the Isle of Pines.

They built hospitals, highways, local roads, and made our currency equal to the dollar, and Cuba was the most developed country in Latin America, thanks to a sugar quota with privileged pricing worked out with the United States.

Projects for a 96-mile highway between Havana and Key West had already begun: a physical bridge that would link the island to the continent. Had this project been completed, the tens of thousands of compatriots drowned in the Florida Straits would have completed their journeys with greater safety and comfort.

But who broke the bridge? Who led to Washington establishing a “blockade” against the revolutionary government for having confiscated without compensation the billions of dollars the Americans invested in the island during the Republican period?

Who destroyed the agricultural and urban infrastructure of this unhappy country that today will have no other pillar to lean on if Venezuela ceases to be socialist?

Who clings to refusing to see that without fundamental changes toward industrial capitalism and development today’s young people will continue the exodus and we will be left in this beloved land with only feeble old people, unable even to dig the graves of those who die first?


Editor ‘s note: This text has been published on the blog Fury of the Winds and is reproduced here with the author’s consent.