Sissi Abascal, the Young Woman Sentenced to Six Years in Prison for Painting ‘Patria y Vida’ on a Sheet

Annia Zamora and her daughter Sissi Abascal. (Courtesy)

114ymedio bigger4ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 14 May 2022 — At the age of 16, Sissi Abascal Zamora was not, like any other teenager, walking with her friends or wearing new clothes. At that age she became part of the Ladies in White Movement and she lived between arrests and police operations. On July 11, 2021, her participation in the popular protests of that day led her to prison with a six-year sentence.

Her mother, Annia Zamora Carmenate, has no doubts: “Sissi is a political prisoner.” From that quiet girl, who differed from her brothers for being very calm, she became one of the most consistent activists in the province of Matanzas. In the little town of Carlos Rojas, the young woman – on 11J (July 11th) she was 23 years old – starred in an intense demonstration together with dozens of neighbors.

“That day we were at home and I connected to the internet through my cell phone. There I began to see the videos of the demonstrations, first in San Antonio de los Baños and then in Havana, so I told my husband, Armando Abascal Serrano,” about it, Zamora details to 14ymedio. “Then Sissi tells me that people were gathering in the Carlos Rojas park.”

The family lives on the outskirts of the town and when they got out on the road there were already other people waiting for them. “They know that on other occasions we have also protested.” In November 2020, the Abascal family was part of the group of residents of that community, belonging to the Jovellanos municipality, who demonstrated in the streets against the long blackouts.

Since a long time earlier, saying the surname Abascal among the neighbors is like remembering that the first name of the town was Cimarrones, after the slaves who did not accept the stocks or the whip of the foreman and escaped to the surrounding mountains. But these rebels of today are not facing slavers with dogs, but policemen who brandish their tonfas and lock them up in dungeons.

“We kept going and arrived at the park. That was tremendous. Everyone joined in. Right away, two State Security officers appeared and took my husband to the station in front of the park.” The arrest emboldened the protesters. “We were joined by people that we had never seen at other demonstrations we’ve carried out.”

Sissi climbed onto a bench, “suddenly a sheet appeared. We put it on the sidewalk and wrote ‘Patria y Vida’ [Homeland and Life] on it.” She took off her shoelaces and I gave her mine too. With that we tied the fabric to a branch of a flamboyan tree on one side and on the other we tied it to a crutch. We put the sign on a bicycle and started to go around the park.”

That month of July the town of Carlos Rojas, like the whole Island, was experiencing critical days. “In the municipality of Jovellanos there was a very intense outbreak of covid-19, we had no medication, the isolation centers had very poor conditions,” Zamora recalls. The lack of freedoms was combined with the economic crisis and the epidemiological situation. That Sunday patience reached the limit. continue reading

Zamora closes her eyes and seems to be living that day again. “The people gathered in the park and shouted Food! Freedom! Down with the dictatorship! We want medicines,” also “Patria y Vida!, that slogan was the one that was repeated the most, the one that will go down in history: there were old people, children and many young people too.”

Popular protests on July 11, 2021 in the town of Carlos Rojas, in the municipality of Jovellanos. (Courtesy)

Then the patrol car arrived to transfer Armando Abascal Serrano from the town police station to Jovellanos. “People stood in front of the vehicle to prevent it moving, but the police dealt many blows and finally took him away,” she says. The rest of the afternoon, those who remained continued to repeat slogans until around 6:30 pm when a bus and a truck with shock troops arrived.

“In the bus and the truck were Yonaikis Villegas Oviedo, the mayor of Jovellanos, also the representative of the Communist Party, the director of the Inder (National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation), members of the political police dressed in civilian clothes, members of the Government, the Party and the head of the Communals,” lists the mother.

“They came with sticks and stones in their hands, later we learned that they were even carrying bottles. It was a very strong aggression. They hit me and I fell against the bicycle that held the sheet, Sissi fell on me.” Zamora adds that the Communal official attacked her in the head, eyes, arms and her belly. “I had just had surgery and I fainted, so I could no longer see my daughters.”

When she came to, she heard someone yelling at her that Lisi, her other daughter, was injured after receiving several bottle blows to the head. The mother ran to the Polyclinic and on the way her shoes came off, the shoes whose laces had helped tie the sign. There she found her daughter, who was having her head bandaged. “She also had one hand with the fingers turned backwards that the orthopedist had to treat to put them back forwards.”

Shortly after, Sissi also arrived at the Polyclinic, having been beaten. Half an hour later the three women were transferred in an ambulance to Jovellanos. “There were many injured there because the police had distributed many blows. They gave my daughter Lisi a certificate of injuries, because they had to give her stitches on the head wound, but they did not want to give Sissi and me anything.”

Moment in which Lisi Abascal, Sissi’s sister, is attacked by an official mob, then she receives sutures on her head after being hit with a bottle. (Collage)

That day they were able to return home and on Tuesday, July 13, they went to the municipal police station to file a complaint for the injuries against Lisi. “Even today, ten months later, neither the police nor the Prosecutor’s Office give details, they always evade,” laments Zamora.

The family patriarch was missing for 14 days. “We took him some clothes to the Jovellanos police station and they stole them, they never gave them to him. He was imprisoned for two months in the Combinado del Sur and then he was fined,” explains the woman. “On September 20 in the morning, an official from the Municipal Court of Jovellanos arrived and she knocked on the door of our house. She had in her hands a prosecutor’s request for a six-year sentence against Sissi.”

The trial took place on November 3. In the trial, they judged not only the young woman, but also Frank Ernesto Trujillo Hervis and Yoendris Torres Corría,ann 11J protesters. “Frank — when my daughter was being beaten — he pulled her out of the group of women. He is now sentenced to six years in prison.”

At the trial in the Municipal Court of Jovellanos, Zamora attended as a witness: “I went in, made my statement and then I could only return to hear the conclusions. It almost gave me a heart attack to hear so many lies. The prosecutor Odilia Casallas García lied blatantly. She said that since 1959 no one had been mistreated and beaten by the police in Cuba.”

Sissi’s sister couldn’t stand that, she got up from her seat and contradicted the Prosecutor. “Our family has been hit many times. I still have stitches on my head from being hit with a bottle.” Immediately the guards took her out of the room.

The mayor of the Ministry of the Interior, Silvia Martínez Montero, accused Sissi of attack and contempt, although the family insists that this officer was not present on Sunday in Carlos Rojas park. “The trial was a farce, a clown show. Not even the defense attorneys could do their job,” Zamora denounces.

The Labiotec women’s prison, where Sissi Abascal is imprisoned in the province of Matanzas, and Annia Zamora with a bag of food to take to the visit with her daughter. (Collage)

The appeal trial was held on December 27, under an intense security operation, and the sentence of six years in prison was confirmed. The young woman was confined in the Matanzas women’s prison, Labiotec. “It’s a nasty, sad place. It has two buildings and she’s in one of them in cubicle three on the third floor.”

But during the phone calls, the young woman’s great concern is not the prison conditions but her family. To calm her mother, she reiterates: “Don’t worry, remember how many dungeons, beatings and detentions I have experienced.” She also wants to know details of the other prisoners of that historic day of protests.

When Annia Zamora Carmenate asks her daughter what she wants her to bring in the food bag that she tries to prepare for each visit, the young woman asks for little or nothing. Although her mother insists, she responds in monosyllables. In those moments, she returns to being the shy and quiet girl from the town of Carlos Rojas.

____________

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.

A Bus Catches Fire at a Bus Stop in Havana

Firefighters came to put out the fire at the whereabouts of the Electric Distribution. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 May 2022 — A bus on the P8 route in Havana burned this morning near the Electric Division of Havana, where it was parked. The news has not yet been released by the official media and the only information available is that shared in the Accidentes buses & camiones Facebook group, where the author of the images, in which the work of the firefighters can be seen putting out the fire, affirms that “an electrical short on the driver’s board” is noted.

The users of the group have been scandalized by the fact that there was no fire extinguisher at the bus stop capable of putting out the fire more quickly, although most were surprised by the fact that recently there have been more similar cases. Some comments speak clearly of “sabotage,” although without proof.

In early March, a fire burned up five school buses in Cojímar, East Havana. The event occurred in broad daylight in the area where the buses stopped, four of the Chinese brand Yutong and one Diana brand, in this case. continue reading

“Unable to put out the fire, due to the strong winds at that time, the flames spread, reaching four other buses that were stopped in the area. Work continues on the investigations, to delve into the causes that generated this unfortunate event,” the Automotive Transport business group said in a brief statement.

There were so many speculations at the time that the Ministry of Transportation had to publish a note in which the incident was attributed to an electrical failure that occurred while one of the buses was being repaired.

In September 2020, a bus caught fire in the middle of the street in the El Mónaco neighborhood in Havana, which required the intervention of the Cuban Fire Department to put out the flames, but the vehicle was left completely unusable.

Months before there was another fire, also on a street in Havana, Belascoaín, between Zanja and Salud, due to a “failure” in the engine.

____________

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.

US Court Validates Cuban Doctors’ Lawsuit Against PAHO for Slavery

Cuban doctors who were part of the Mais Médicos program left Brazil through the Presidente Juscelino Kubitschek International Airport in Brasilia. (EFE/File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 30 March 2022 — A US appeals court has rejected the appeal of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) which tried to paralyze the lawsuit filed by several Cuban doctors against them for facilitating the “human trafficking network” and “slavery” that, they argued, hid the Mais Médicos [More Doctors] program in Brazil. The news was released on Tuesday by the British agency Reuters.

The lawsuit was filed in Florida in 2018 by Ramona Matos, Tatiana Carballo, Fidel Cruz and Russela Rivero, four Cuban health workers who denounced the working conditions they experienced as members of the medical cooperation program signed between Raúl Castro and Dilma Rousseff in 2013.

“There is an international organization (PAHO), affiliated with the United Nations, that became the main force to allow Cuba to export its citizens to do slave labor in a foreign country,” said the lawyer for the doctors at the press conference at which the lawsuit was filed.

The complainants consider that PAHO, the American section of the World Health Organization (WHO), violated the Law for the Protection of Victims of Trafficking by being an intermediary of the program, from which it channeled the payments. As is common practice in Cuba’s cooperation agreements, the contracting country, in this case Brazil, sends the money to Havana, which keeps percentages ranging from 70% to 90% of the salary paid for each worker, he explains, and this money goes to support the State.

According to the lawsuit, in the case of Brazil, 85% went to the Cuban government, 10% to doctors, and 5% was retained by PAHO through its mediation. continue reading

The United Nations health organization tried to stop the lawsuit using the immunity granted by US law. The courts considered themselves incompetent to judge an issue that occurred outside the country, but accepted that the claims could proceed from financial activity.

The organization then responded that the complainants were not suiing over the transactions, but rather the foreign conduct, but the courts considered that these movements of money were necessary for the alleged trafficking of persons and could in themselves be the cause of the opening of the judicial process.

PAHO raised more than $75 million through the Mais Medicos program and some $1.3 billion was deposited into Cuban state coffers using US bank accounts, according to the lawsuit documentation.

It is estimated that the Cuban authorities obtained some 11 billion dollars a year thanks to “human trafficking,” according to a study by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The doctors reported in 2018 that they were not informed until they reached their destination of how much they were going to be paid and that the amounts were very meager.

“They were going to give us a thousand dollars, of which 400 was going to be given to us in exchange (in local currency), and 600 dollars was going to go to our account in the Cuban bank,” said one of the plaintiffs, who added some of the general conditions already known, among them the control that the heads of mission exercise over the workers to control any movement, meeting or relations in the destination country.

____________

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: Is Otero Alcántara More Dangerous Today Than Frank Pais Was in 1957?

Frank País, the bellicose, was released and Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the pacific, remains imprisoned. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 12 January 2022 – When, half a year ago, the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party said in response to the popular demonstrations against the dictatorship, that the combat order had been given, he was not uttering his worst phrase. No. The worst thing was when he said “They have to go over our dead bodies if they want to confront the Revolution! We are ready for anything, and we will be in the streets fighting!”

People of goodwill may not have imagined that the threat of being willing to do anything would materialize in the disproportionate prison sentences to which more than 200 protesters have been subjected to date.

The disproportion happens, first, through the legal definition of the acts, which converted what should have been classified, at most, as “public disorder” into crimes punishable with greater severity, such as sedition, attack, contempt, instigation to commit a crime and other atrocities. The disproportion also happens because of ignoring the discontent of the people before a State that abuses its prerogatives; the danger in which citizens feel themselves due to the inability of their leaders to guarantee their survival, and, above all, citizens’ belief that they are protected by a right: the right to protest.

It gives the impression that the judges and prosecutors who have tried these protesters have omitted what the Penal Code itself establishes in its Chapter III to define the “exemptions of criminal responsibility,” among them “legitimate defense” is mentioned, as it “state of necessity” and the “exercise of a right.” continue reading

Perhaps they should be reminded of what Magistrate Manuel Urrutia Lleó did on March 14, 1957 when Case 67 was initiated against the young people from Santiago who, on 30 November 1956, took the city of Santiago de Cuba by force of arms to support Fidel Castro’s landing (which ultimately took place on December 2 of that year).

On that occasion, Urrutia said that the young people could not be convicted, because what they had done was protected by the Constitution of 1940, which said that the people had the right to rebel against a dictatorial government. Specifically: “In view of the usurpation and illegal retention of power by Batista and his followers, the defendants acted in accordance with their constitutional rights.”

The 150 accused were not “protesters” but combatants. Led by Frank País and wearing the olive-green uniform, they took to the streets wearing an armband with the flag of the July 26 Movement. Armed as they were, they attacked the Maritime Police station and another police station in the city center.

In the same case, there were 22 expedition members from the yacht Granma, who confessed to having landed in Cuba under the direction of Fidel Castro, to fight to overthrow the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista and transform the economic, political and social order of the country.

On May 8, 1957, in the eleventh session of the Santiago de Cuba Emergency Court for Case 67 of 1956, the Prosecutor Francisco Mendieta Hechevarría stated that the confession of the accused “constitutes proof that they have acted out of love for the country and to give it a government that makes it happy and free from the anguish that it is experiencing.” A week later, Frank País, along with other detainees, left Boniato prison acquitted for lack of evidence.

There is the right to wonder if in today’s Cuba there are no longer judges and prosecutors like those. And also, with the forgiveness of those who are offended by the comparison: is Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara more dangerous today than Frank País was at the time?

All the historical data mentioned in this text have been taken from Lucharemos Hasta el Final (We Shall Fight to the End), 1957, a volume edited by the Office of Historical Affairs of the Council of State of Cuba.

____________

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: Tomatoes and Squash Rot in the Fields Because There is No Fuel

Some 29 cooperatives in Sancti Spiritus reported economic losses at the end of the first quarter of the year. (Bohemia)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 April 2021 — Yamile Bombino, an agricultural producer from the municipality of Cabaiguán, in Sancti Spíritus, opted to denounce the incompetence of the state-owned Acopio on April 3. The Sancti Spritus woman has a contract for the delivery of 400 quintals (1 quintal = approx. 100 pounds) of tomatoes with the company, but the harvest is spoiling in the field due to the failures of the State.

“Two weeks ago the two presidents of the cooperatives were notified of the [tomato] harvests,” she wrote on her Facebook profile and the post quickly went viral. Bombino added that currently Acopio has not sought a solution for the fate of the tomatoes. “It is not fair that this quantity of good quality is lost given the need for food that the country is going through and also with the efforts we have had to make to be able to harvest the crop.”

Two days after the first publication on her social network, Bombino said that she had called Acopio again, this time the provincial company, and only received the answer that “tomatoes are a national matter… Please respect the contract and meet it,” demanded the producer. continue reading

The deficiencies in the collection and distribution of agricultural products are not new, but the Government maintains its position of continuing to centralize the work and production of the farmers. A recent meeting of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) of Sancti Spíritus province once again highlighted these problems.

“Today we have products in the fields such as tomatoes and squash that cannot be harvested because there is no fuel,” the president of the provincial ANAP, Pedro Águila, acknowledged at the meeting, quoted this Wednesday by the local newspaper Escambray. This official was blunt: “The resources have not reached the farmers.”

It is not surprising then, that in the face of this scenario that is repeated in other provinces, some 29 Sancti Spiritus cooperatives report economic losses at the end of the first quarter of the year, while more than 140 have presented “cracks” in finances and productive operations, according to the local newspaper.

After a new change in the tariffs for the commercialization of the crops announced by the Government at the end of March, Esteban Ajete Abascal, president of the League of Independent Cuban Farmers, warned that the authorities “are turning around all the situations to not do what they really should: give freedom and decentralize to satisfy the needs of the farmers.”

Meanwhile, complaints from producers are increasingly common. Last month, Héctor González, a worker at the Pedro y Bienvenido Cooperative, in the Minas municipality, in Pinar del Río, lost a cabbage harvest. The state company Acopio, in charge of receiving the harvest, said it had no workforce to process it.

According to the complaint published on Facebook by the user Anadeilys González, the Cuban farmers lost 1,300 cabbages, after Acopio, in the popular council of Sumidero, rejected the merchandise. As a result of the post, several people commented on similar experiences on the island with papayas, sweet potatoes and yuccas.

“The same thing happened to my cousin with some melons in Holguín and Acopio’s response was that they did not have transportation, but the farmers are not allowed to sell them on their own. Conclusion: The harvest was spoiled,” wrote Elizabeth Batista.

Due to these problems with the destination of the crops and in the midst of a great shortage of inputs, many products that farmers need to work the land will now have to be paid for in freely convertible currency, as is the case of agricultural fertilizers .

Last November, to try to alleviate the severe food crisis in which the island is plunged, the Council of Ministers announced provisions that seemed to announce a slight relaxation in the countryside. Among them, that private farmers could sell part of their production on their own, as long as they first meet with the deliveries agreed with Acopio, something that was looked at skeptically by independent farmers.

“The goals that Acopio sets for us to sell to the State are high and the prices are low,” Rolando Villegas, a farmer from the Guane area in Pinar del Río , told this newspaper at the time. “Many times we have more losses than gains to meet those amounts. The little that remains after meeting the standards, often goes to the feed our own families.”

____________

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 Exiles and Opponents Ask Biden for Democratic Changes Without Concessions

Rosa María Payá, from Cuba Decides said that they are in favor of “direct” remittances without the intervention of the Cuban government. (EFE / Giorgio Viera)

14ymedio biggerEFE/14ymedio, Miami, 12 February 2021 — On Friday, Cuban exiles and opposition groups in Cuba urged United States president Joe Biden and the US Congress that the review of the policy towards Cuba should be based on democratic change without “unilateral concessions” to the government of President Miguel Díaz-Canel.

For several weeks, Cubans “committed to democracy” drew up a plan with 162 proposals that they sent this Friday to the White House, the State Department, and Congress, according to Rosa María Payá, from Cuba Decides, speaking to Efe.

The activist also rejected “aggressive” requests made by the Cuban government and other actors on the Island to the new US Administration of Democrat Biden. continue reading

Payá expressly rejected the removal of sanctions against the financial corporation Fincimex, linked to the Armed Forces

Among them the recent one by a group of Cubans and Americans, such as Alan Gross, who asked Biden to resume the rapprochement with Cuba promoted by President Barack Obama (2009-2017) and to withdraw the sanctions on Cuba toughened by his successor, Republican Donald Trump.

Gross was released in 2014 after five years in prison in Cuba for bringing telecommunications equipment into the country.

Payá expressly rejected the removal of sanctions against the financial corporation Fincimex, which is linked to Cuba’s Armed Forces and handles remittances received from the United States.

She added that they are in favor of “direct” remittances, without the intervention of the Cuban government.

Payá stressed that “it is only up to Cubans to define and decide the destiny of our nation.”

For Cubans who contributed ideas, among them the Ladies in White, the Cuban Republican Party and many other civil groups, the new policy towards Cuba “must be in support of democracy and free and plural elections, without making unilateral concessions, but conditional on irreversible steps towards the recognition of human rights.”

With Biden’s arrival at the White House, politicians and groups of Cuban exiles have asked him not to repeat the mistakes made by the last two administrations, including that of President Obama, which promoted rapprochement with Cuba and in whose administration Biden served as Vice-President.

With Biden’s arrival at the White House, politicians and groups of Cuban exiles have asked him not to repeat the mistakes made by the last two administrations

The proposals were published this Friday by the Pasos de Cambio [Steps of Change] platform, which include the impressions of Cuban opposition organizations and civil society, as well as citizens living on the Island and in the diaspora.

They all agree that “any eventual negotiation process involving the current Cuban regime must recognize the members of the opposition and civil society as interlocutors.”

They point out that, to this end, the regime must first comply with the unconditional release of all political prisoners in Cuba and end all violence and repression.

Similarly, organizations such as the National Human Rights Foundation and the Opposition Movement for a New Republic, urge respect for fundamental human rights, including freedom of expression, association and public demonstration.

To this end, they asked the Biden Administration to “publicly express the will to authorize and promote humanitarian aid from the American people to Cuban citizens and its civil society, preventing the intervention of or benefit to the regime.”

They asked the Biden Administration to “publicly express the will to authorize and promote humanitarian aid from the American people to Cuban citizens and its civil society

They also insisted on political, financial, diplomatic and judicial sanctions against collaborators and those responsible for repression and for policies of human rights violations.

They suggested considering the use of the Global Magnitsky Law on Human Rights Responsibility, aimed at imposing political and economic sanctions against agents involved in serious abuses.

The proposals include calling on the international community, including the countries in the Americas and multinational organizations (OAS, UN, European Union), to show their solidarity with the Cuban people and “their right to decide democratic change.”

On the other hand, State Department spokesman, Ned Price, said this Friday at a press conference that the US Government’s policy towards Cuba will be guided by respect for human rights and the empowerment of the Cuban people “so that they can determine their future.”

Price reiterated the Biden Administration position by emphasizing that “Americans, and especially Cuban-Americans are the best ambassadors of freedom and prosperity in Cuba.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

____________

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.

“We’re Not Moving From Here,” Insist Travelers Stranded at Havana’s Airport

A video shows the chaos that exists in Terminal 2 of Havana’s airport. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 January 2020 — Hundreds of travelers are stranded in Cuba after the Government’s January 1st decision to reduce flights to and from the United States and five other countries, to try to stop the rebound of Covid-19 on the island.

Hundreds of travelers arrived in the country in December and were scheduled to return in the first days of January, but their flights were canceled at Terminal 2 of the José Martí International Airport in Havana.

“My brother and I have been here for two full days, feeling cold and thirsty to see if we can leave,” Sayuri, a Cuban living in Texas who has not been able to leave Havana due to lack of flights, tells this newspaper.

“We signed up on a list and we have a number over 300 but we aren’t moving from here, although they told us that they would call us by phone, because there is a lot of corruption and people who pay are put ahead of others.” The emigrant says that climbing quickly in the list “costs between 150 and 200 dollars right now.” continue reading

A video that has gone viral on digital platforms shows the chaos that exists in Terminal 2 of the capital city’s airport, where desperate travelers crowd, without social distancing and without knowing what will happen to their return tickets. They have come to the airport with their luggage and are looking for answers.

The government’s announcement to reduce the entry of travelers brought with it a wave of cancellations of airlines flying to the island.

Terminal 2, which connects the Cuban capital with the United States, the Cayman Islands, the Bahamas and Germany, is not in a position to hold so many people, it is narrow and looks like a “container,” with few food options and bathrooms.

The other countries affected by the reduction in flights (Mexico, Panama, Haiti, Bahamas and the Dominican Republic) also serve as stopovers for travelers passing through a third country to avoid US sanctions.

The Cuban government asserted that international travelers’ contacts with other people represent “71.5% of the total cases detected in recent weeks, the vast majority associated with Cuban citizens” from the countries that were restricted.

From January 10, the health authorities will require a negative PCR test for covid-19 from all international travelers. The requirement includes that the test be carried out in a certified laboratory in the country of origin and carried out within a period of 72 hours before arrival in Cuba.

The official number of daily infections of Covid-19 on the island has remained at more than 160 for six days. This Wednesday the Ministry of Health reported 201 new cases, of which 123 were contacts of confirmed cases, 65 arrived infected from abroad and 13 without a specified source of infection.

Since the pandemic began last March, the country has confirmed 13,165 people with Coronavirus and 148 have died from the disease (in a population of just over 11 million). Currently, all provinces are infected and 1,746 patients remain as active cases.

____________

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.

Reporters Without Borders: Cuba 2020

Constant ordeal for independent media. (Reporters Without Borders)

Reporters Without Borders, December 2020 — A self-styled socialist republic and one-party state, Cuba has continued year after year to be Latin America’s worst media freedom violator. Miguel Díaz-Canel’s election as president in April 2018, after 59 years of repression under the Castro family, has made no difference. The regime maintains an almost total media monopoly and the constitution prohibits privately-owned media.

The few Cuban bloggers and independent journalists are threatened by the government and watched by security agents, who often take them in for questioning and delete information in their devices. Journalists regarded as especially troublesome are often arrested and jailed.

The authorities also control the coverage of foreign reporters by granting accreditation selectively and expelling those regarded as too “negative” about the government. The gradual improvement in Internet access nonetheless constitutes grounds for hope about the future of press freedom in Cuba.

“When You are Censored, All Doors Close and the Locksmith Keeps All the Keys”

Omar Mena has authored over 11 albums since he began his career in rap more than a decade ago. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 8 September 2020 — Omar Mena is an artist without fear when it comes to expressing himself. The author of more than 11 albums since he began his career in rap more than a decade ago, he is known in his genre as El Analista [The Analyst].  Mena has always been at the side of the most complicated causes that have been defended within the culture in recent times: the fight against Decree 349, the support for the campaign that called for the freedom of the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and the vote to petition the rejection of the Constitution, among others.

After a lot of struggling from one place to another, today he resides with his family in Santa Clara, from where he talks with 14ymedio about the challenges of being a free artist in Cuba and about the projects he has defended to stay active in the world of hip hop.

Question. What were your beginnings in music like, and what prompted you to rap?

Answer. I started to do rap in 2008, recording an album at the Real 70 production company. I’ve been in this field for twelve years. Initially I was a rocker, I really liked rock and I had my band, but I was always rebellious, what I liked was expressing what I felt. The issue was already complicated with the members. There were four of us and some began to be afraid because of what I said in my lyrics. So I decided to do rap. After my first album I recorded in some Santa Clara studios and later in one that I put together myself. continue reading

Question. Where can you hear hip hop in Santa Clara?

Answer. Santa Clara does not have spaces specifically for hip hop, the usual clubs in the city are the only spaces rappers have. For example, at the AHS there are about two clubs a month and one in El Mejunje de Silverio

When you have my kind of lyrics, you live with censorship from the beginning. The Government never guaranteed me anything with respect to my work or my music, I have always created independently

Question. Due to the lyrics and the free expression of the songs that you write, you have suffered censorship from the institution, what did this mean for your career? How did you experience it? What hit you the most?

Answer. In this genre, censorship is not something that affects an artist’s career much. When you have the lyrics that I have, you live with censorship from the beginning. The Government never guaranteed me almost anything with respect to my work or my music, I have always created in an independent manner.

What hurts is the dimension that censorship brings, the worst censorship is the one exercised by the artist against the censored artist. I have directed events when I belonged to the institution and brought censored artists such as David D’omni or the Patriot Squad and everyone participated, but if there are no artists from those who remain in the institutions who are committed to Cuban society, that censorship will be the one that will continue to hit the most, because no one can prevent an artist from being brave and inviting you; what can happen, at most they will tell him that he is responsible and that’s it.

What also happens is that censorship is a machine: they not only go against your work but against you.

Question. I suppose that resuming your career independently has closed many doors for you, what new experiences did creation outside the institution bring to you?

Answer. After censorship arrived, I spent almost a year devising a new strategy, because it was always clear to me that it was not going to stop. When you are censored, all doors close and the locksmith keeps all the keys. then there is nowhere to perform, you need to create doors and options and that’s what I did.

What hurts is the scope that censorship brings, the worst censorship is the one exercised by the artist against the censored artist

I created a project called Genesis Club. Initially it was only about supporting artists in their work, holding improvement workshops, helping them to record their albums but then it evolved into another period.

I have a large patio so that’s where I built my stage. It has been the most special thing that has happened to me in my life, one for the artists who have performed there and another for the support of the people of the neighborhood. It is not the same to sing for people who have the same problems than for those who attend so they can party. In a club everyone goes to drink their bottle and the neighborhood people attend out of curiosity and pay close attention to everything that’s said.

That is what the Government fears, new comments said in the neighborhood and the neighborhood starts to think, reflecting on what happens there. It is one of the most special things that has happened to me.

The issue of repression has been more complicated, let’s call a spade a spade. I am not a politician, I am an artist, I do not belong to a party, I am just an independent thinker, a young man with his own way of thinking and who expresses it without fear. It is not a question of being brave, it is a commitment that I think must be taken. Everyone should give themselves the personal satisfaction of saying what they think and that is my case.

What the Government is afraid of, what new idea can be spoken in the neighborhood and the neighborhood is left thinking, reflecting on what is expressed there

Whenever a rumor goes around or with each demonstration that social networks or the opposition calls for, two policemen get stationed in front of my house to prevent me from going out. When the Clandestinos thing was going around they stationed them there too.  It’s crazy.

It is difficult for me to understand that they do that to an artist, especially when they control everything. They know that I don’t belong to any party and yet I’m being repressed. Personally, it does not affect me, I can live quietly, I am free and I am at peace.

Question. Do you agree with the idea that a rapper from the provinces is at a disadvantage compared to one from Havana to achieve success in his career?

Answer. It is relative. Initially, I lived in Havana and I never achieved what I did later here in my province. Everything is where you pump it out, where you put effort to work. The thing about Havana is that there are 400 rappers there, but you can come to your province and make yourself noticed, I don’t see that as impossible.

It is true that there are more opportunities there, but it is possible. Life is a line, which may curve, but it will always go to its point, if something is there for you it will happen, everything depends on the effort you put into it, I do not agree that opportunities exist only in Havana.

When I’ve had to make an important video I have gone to Havana, like the one from 349, the one about “no to the Constitution”, I have gone and been videoed, when the issue of Luis Manuel’s freedom the same thing happened, shot the video, they counted on me from my province.

Question. Having created a concert space in the house where you live with your family, what consequences has it brought you? How has it worked so far?

Answer. The creation of space in the house has not brought me many problems, just a few citations, the normal that one lives with daily. I think it is done to make you feel the intimidation and surveillance. They always ask me about what I’m going to do and I always answer the same thing: I’m going to make art.

A State Security officer told me that they had an order to prosecute me, but that they were going to give me the opportunity to do the concert. I left calmly and told them that I was going to make art that day.

During the first concert they threatened to send me to prison if something was said on stage that was not in accordance with the Revolution’s discourse. A State Security officer told me that they had an order to prosecute me, but that they were going to give me the opportunity to do the concert. I left calmly and told them that that day I was going to make art and that the next day they would do what they had to do.

David, Soandry, the neighborhood Hip Hopper came to the concert, what went on, went on.  What they said was going to be said was said and nothing happened, many police cars patrolling, watching.

Every time I do a concert it’s the same. They come up here and come to ask my permission. Then they schedule me with the head of the sector to ask me what I live on and things like that, but they have no way to cross my threshold. I follow the rules, the schedules, it is at my house, it is not in the street, I do not interrupt the public space.

We’re here to make art, it is a free space, the neighborhood supports me immensely, they help me in a huge way, they fill up the audience space, they have never disappointed me. I live two kilometers from the park and people come from there. I have never before sung for as many audiences as I have here and there is always an atmosphere full of freedom.

Translated by Norma Whiting

_______________________

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.

Ramiro Valdes Searches for Captures Those Who Consume a Lot of Energy

The authorities urge the population to reduce energy consumption, which in the last month has been higher than expected. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 September 2020 — The energy consumption forecasts were exceeded this August by just 1.1%, but it has been enough for the Cuban authorities to ask the population to reduce consumption. On Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister Ramiro Valdés Menéndez asked the municipal energy councils to identify the high consumers in residences and state services.

The National Energy Council estimated consumption in August at 16,890 megawatt hours, 1.1% higher than what the Island can afford. Furthermore, on the first day of September, consumption was almost 5% more than the available energy.

Liván Arronte Cruz, Minister of Energy and Mines, specified that electricity consumption is higher at night and in the early morning, especially in the residential areas of the western provinces. However, the head of the area only ended up exonerating the residents of the eastern part of Cuba, noting that in Camagüey and the center of the island energy consumption also shot up. continue reading

In August Arronte Cruz, appearing on the Roundtable program on Cuban Television program, said that the blackouts were not caused by fuel shortages and that the oil and gas production plan was being fulfilled by 103%, which would guarantee 51% of the fuel used to generate electricity. The remaining amount is attributed to what was provided by Venezuela.

The measure is worryingly reminiscent of the situation experienced on the island just a year ago, when the fuel deficit put food distribution in jeopardy and electricity consumption was restricted in the countryside and in some industries, which the authorities described as a “temporary energy” situation.

______________

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.

Two Cubans Win the Biznaga de Plata Prize for ‘Best Director’ at the Malaga Festival

The documentary already has commitments to be shown at festivals in Israel, Peru, Greece and France, and at the end of 2020 it will be released in Spain. (Facebook / Heidi Hassan)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 30 August 2020 — On Saturday,  A media voz, a feature film directed by Cuban filmmakers Patricia Pérez and Heidi Hassan, received the Biznaga de Plata prize for ’Best Director’ in the official documentary section of the 23rd edition of the Malaga Film Festival.

The event described the film on its social networks as a “moving” story that speaks to the friendship between two friends “with their encounters and disagreements” where “glances and intimate stories about cinema as a way of life” coexist.

The film is a co-production between Spain, France, Cuba and Switzerland under the direction of Pérez and Hassan, both graduates of the San Antonio de los Baños International School of Film and Television, and who currently reside in Spain. continue reading

In 2019 A media voz also won the Best Feature Film Award at the 32nd edition of the Amsterdam International Documentary Film Festival and the Coral Award for Best Documentary Feature Film awarded by the International New Latin American Film Festival of Havana. In this last contest, the documentary had several presentations on the island and its directors hope to be able to release it soon in the country’s cinema circuit.

This autobiographical documentary was created through the audiovisual partnership between Patricia and Heidi, who were best friends since childhood, but who were physically separated during adolescence by the path of migration to Europe for a period of 15 years. The synopsis says that a dialogue is articulated in the work that shows “two stories in which identity, motherhood and creation intersect and mutually promote each other.”

The documentary already has commitments to be shown at festivals in Israel, Peru, Greece and France, and at the end of 2020 it will be released in Spain.

__________________

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.