Economic Crime, the Pitfall in the Path

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 22 May 2017 — The saleswoman described her merchandise in a murmur: loggerhead turtle steaks, beef and shrimp. The man salivated, but replied that he could not buy any of those products, the most persecuted in the informal market. Every opponent knows that the authorities would want to try him for an “economic crime,” and perhaps that saleswoman was just the bait.

The techniques used by an authoritarian government to control citizens can be as varied as the fertile imagination of the repressors. Some are designed in air-conditioned offices using studied methodologies, while others arise on the fly, from seemingly fortuitous situations.

Are the economic constraints that we live under a calculated scenario to keep Cubans locked in a cycle of survival? Do so many prohibitions seek to leave us civically paralyzed, feeling ourselves guilty and with one foot in a prison cell? continue reading

Beyond the conspiracy theories, officialdom has managed the informal market as trap for the nonconforming, a framework for gathering information about the deep Cuba, an element of blackmail against its citizens and a lure to hunt down political opponents.

Although it is a practice that has been engaged in for many years, in recent months there has been an increasing tendency to accuse activists of alleged economic infractions

The Plaza of the Revolution has turned its bad economic management into another way of keeping society in its fist. It knows that families will do everything possible to put food on the table and will turn to the underground networks to buy everything from their children’s shoes to the dollars that at the official currency exchanges are taxed at 10%.

In many cases it is just about waiting, like the spider who knows that sooner or later the little insect will fall into its sticky threads. State Security only has to wait for a dissident to buy coffee “under the table” or to dare to have the bathroom retiled by an unlicensed tile setter.

Although it is a practice that has been engaged in for many years, in recent months there has been an increased tendency to accuse activists of alleged economic infractions. They are charged with crimes that ordinary Cubans commit every day under the patronizing eyes of the police and with the complicity of officials or state administrators. However, in the case of an opponent, the law has the capacity to be narrower, more rigid and more strictly observed.

In all international forums, Raúl Castro’s government boasts of not having political prisoners and it supports this argument by severely, but politically selectively, criminalizing such trivial matters as keeping four sacks of cement or a few gallons of fuel at home, without being able to show the papers that prove they were purchased in state stores.

Journalist Henry Constantin is accused of “usurpation of legal capacity” for working as a reporter in an independent publication, but dozens of ex-military are appointed managers of tourist facilities without ever having studied hotel management or business management. None of them have been reprimanded for serving in a position for which they are not formally qualified.

The lesson is that no matter what degree of economic illegality you commit, keep your mouth shut and don’t criticize the government

Karina Gálvez, a member of the Coexistence Studies Center, is being prosecuted for alleged “tax evasion” during the purchase of her home. However, before the new tax imposed on real estate transactions came into force, thousands of Cubans thronged the notaries to complete their paperwork under the previous tax laws, far removed from the real estate market rates. Not one was sanctioned.

Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ Movement, had his home broken into in a police raid and is charged with the offense of “illicit economic activity.” His “crime”: possessing a laptop, rewritable discs and several disposable razors. Unlike those thriving artists who import the latest iMac from the market or “Daddy’s kids” – children of the regime’s leaders – who have a satellite dish to watch Miami television, the activist committed the offense of saying he wants to help change his country.

The lesson is that no matter what degree of economic illegality you commit, keep your mouth shut and don’t criticize the government. It is not the same to buy beef in the informal market when you pretend ideological fealty to the regime, than it is to do the same when you belong to an opposition movement.

The black bag can become a wall, a noose, a hidden trap for those who do not applaud.

We Have Survived

A man reads the printed version of ’14ymedio’ circulating in PDF format inside Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 May 2017 — Three years ago this digital daily was just a dream, a project on paper and a desire in the heads of several colleagues. On that 21 May 2014, the mirage took shape on the first cover of a site that robs us of our nights, brings us frequent moments of tension, but also puts a smile on our faces when we publish a successful investigation or report.

When we joined together around that initial idea of ​​creating a newspaper from within Cuba, we had at least two pillars on which to build this informational edifice: to engage in quality journalism and to maintain our economic independence. Fulfilling those initial goals has been a difficult challenge, but we are pleased and proud to have succeeded in most cases. continue reading

For three years this newspaper has privileged opinion, has made reporting its flagship content and has opted for well written stories, carefully prepared and anchored to reality. We have managed to address opposing worlds: opposition and officialdom; ecology and industry; emigration and local entrepreneurship.

We have avoided adjectives to focus on the facts and to distinguish ourselves from activism journalism. Our compass seeks to maintain seriousness and rigor in the simplest and most complex articles. In this newsroom we repeat some phrases that reveal this premise: “it is better to be late than wrong,” “we do not work for the hits but for the information,” “being a reporter is not a good profession for making friends,” “a good journalist will always end up annoying someone”… and many others.

We have avoided adjectives to focus on the facts and to distinguish ourselves from activism journalism. Our compass seeks to maintain seriousness and rigor in the simplest and most complex articles

In this time, we have rejected all offers of economic support from foreign governments, political parties, foundations linked to power groups and figures with a marked ideological position. Instead we have chosen to “make a living” through journalism, something so distressing and difficult in these times it has put us constantly on the verge of material indigence. However, this tension has been the best incentive to produce high quality content that we can offer to media and agencies in other parts of the world.

Our editorial team is the best family you can imagine. Like all relatives, it has its headaches: there are severe parents, hypercritical uncles, grumpy grandparents, unkind brothers and fast-paced cousins when it’s time to click the button to “publish” to information. But in general it is a team united by the best possible glue: the search for journalistic quality.

Our main obstacles remain obtaining information in a country where institutions practice secrecy, the official press gilds reality and most citizens are afraid to speak with an independent newspaper. They are not insurmountable difficulties, but they demand an enormous amount of energy and patience from us every day.

The blocking of our digital site, the stigmatizing of our name and the harassment of reporters have also negatively affected the scope of our work, but we are not discouraged. Nobody said it was going to be easy.

The most important thing we are going to keep in mind today, when we blow out the three tiny candles on our digital cake, is that “we have survived.” Against all the predictions of friends and enemies, we are here, we have made a space in Cuban journalism and we will continue to work to improve the quality of this newspaper.

Manipulation And Silence, Cuba’s Information Policy On Venezuela

Maria Jose Castro, known as ‘the woman of the tank’, blocks the passage of an armoured tank of the National Guard during a demonstration by the Venezuelan opposition. (Miguel Gutiérrez / EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 9 May 2017 — Cubans have not seen the images of that lady who, armed only with her determination, stopped an armored police tank in the streets of Caracas. The official press also conceals the tears of those who have lost their children because of the repression of the those in uniform and the government-allied militants known as colectivos. Instead, the media controlled by the Communist Party of Cuba appeals to silence and distortion to narrate what is happening in Venezuela.

On Tuesday, the front page of the Juventud Rebelde newspaper went a step further and compared the demonstrators against Nicolás Maduro with “those hordes that gave rise to the fascism that triggered the Second World War.” The text, sprinkled with words like “right,” “counterrevolutionaries” and “onslaught,” reinterprets the events in the South American country and adjusts them to the information agenda of Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution. continue reading

A journalistic manipulation that is repeated – again and again – whenever an ally of the Cuban government faces popular protests or commits some political blunder. Recent history is plagued with examples in which the national newspapers have wanted to adjust reality to their editorial line in order to finally swallow the bitter evidence that life follows another path.

The island authorities stood up for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, presenting him as an inflexible revolutionary who would never accept “the impositions of the European Union.” But they were silent when Greeks took to the streets to protest the policies of austerity, impoverishment and deprivation embraced by the left-wing Syriza party itself, after its sell-out to the Troika of the European Union-International Monetary Fund-European Central Bank.

It is time to “sweeten the pill” of what is happening in that country and fill the pages of the daily newspapers to accommodate the desires of the Miraflores Palace rather than the truth

A few years earlier, the government newspaper Granma said that the Polish union Solidarity had been totally dismantled and its leading leader Lech Walesa was nothing more than a memory of the past. A few months after that note appeared in the official press, Cubans knew that president Wojciech Jaruzelki had agreed to sit at the negotiating table with his opponents.

During the United States’ invasion of Granada in 1983, the information distortion became immensely scandalized. The national media reported the immolation of Cuban soldiers – while wrapped in the Cuban flag – when in fact they ran for their lives and surrendered without any heroism. Soon afterwards, those who had supposedly perished returned to the country.

The list of lies or omissions spans decades and includes the silence on the Island when a man stepped foot on the moon, the falsehoods around the fall of the Berlin wall, and the indescribable journalistic neglect in not specifying the cause of the death of former President Fidel Castro.

Now it is Venezuela’s turn. It is time to “sweeten the pill” of what is happening in that country and fill the pages of the daily newspapers to accommodate the desires of the Miraflores Palace rather than the truth. The ink of praise for Nicolás Maduro will run, protesters will be branded enemies of the country and the images of repression will be censored.

However, nothing will stop the reality. On Venezuela’s streets citizens are demanding change, and not even experts in editorial manipulation can turn their cries to applause.

When The Abuser Is The Government

Karla Pérez González has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time incarnated in a campaign of character assassination. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 May 2017 – I was in the third grade and the teacher chose the most aggressive girl in my class to be the room monitor. She was given carte blanche to control the other children. Later, the abuser rose to a position in the Federation of Middle School Students and joined the Union of Young Communists. Today she is an active part of a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. She is corrupt and violent, but highly valued by the authorities in her area.

Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex), led by Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro, has launched a campaign against homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools. The initiative includes the family in order to “understand what it is about, to help the girls and boys, the teenagers, the young people, and all the staff of the school,” says the sexologist. continue reading

Mariela Castro says that the level of abuse in schools on the island is “fairly low,” an affirmation that demonstrates – at the very least – her lack of connection with the Cuban reality. Without reliable official figures, any investigation of the subject must appeal to the personal experience of individuals and this is when the stories and testimonies of bullying in the educational environment surface.

The high schools in the countryside, promoted by former president Fidel Castro, were a reservoir of these abuses, many of them carried out under the impassive eyes of the teachers

The high schools in the countryside, promoted by former president Fidel Castro, were a reservoir of these abuses, many of them carried out under the impassive eyes of the teachers. Suicides, rapes, systematic robberies of the most fragile, accompanied by power structures more typical of prisons than an educational institution, were the daily bread of those of us who attended these schools.

I remember the spring of 1991, when a student threw himself off the water tower of the People’s Republic of Romania High School in what is now Artemis province. He had been harassed by the taunts and pressures of several classmates. We were all crowded together in the central hallway during the evening’s recreation hour when we felt the thud of his body landing on the concrete.

His harassers never paid for that death, it never became a data point in the statistics of student victims of bullying, and a family had to bury a son without being able to put a name to what had happened to him: abuse. In the weeks after that death another student slit his wrists – fortunately he didn’t die – and a group of twelfth grade students beat up a tenth grader for “having feathers,” i.e. being effeminate.

However, abuse in the schools doesn’t end there. There are many ways to harass a student and not all of them come from his or her classmates, nor are they motivated by sexual stereotypes, strict gender roles or group bravado. Ideological violence, exercised by power and with the consent of the school administrators, is another way to inflict psychological damage.

A few weeks ago, a journalism student at the Central University of Las Villas was the victim of institutional abuse that will leave permanent psychic and social scars on this young girl, just 18. To make matters worse, it was the leaders of the University Student Federation who behaved toward Karla Perez Gonzalez as the school abusers, like the leaders of a gang or the thugs of the hour.

The former student has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time embodied in a campaign of character assassination that would be laughable if it weren’t aimed at destroying her self-esteem and turning her into a non-person

Since her expulsion, the former student has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time embodied in a campaign of character assassination that would be laughable if it weren’t aimed at destroying her self-esteem and turning her into a non-person. To do something like that to a student of such a young age is an act of rape from power, persecution dressed up in the robes of school discipline.

The abusers, protected from above, end up feeling that they can destroy lives, denounce innocents and beat others as long as they are protected by an ideology. A system that has fomented political thuggery in its schools and its streets cannot confront bullying in all the complexity that the problem presents.

Noisy campaigns to fill foreign media headlines and the collection of large funds from international organizations is not the solution for all the Cuban children who have to deal, right now, with the physical blows, the ridicule of their classmates or partisan indoctrination in their schools.

‘Good Morning, Lenin!’

Raúl Castro watches the crowd parading before the political leaders in the Plaza of the Revolution (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 2 May 2017 — The loudspeakers blared in the distance. Their echo filled the neighborhood where many took advantage of the Monday holiday to sleep until mid-morning, far from the May Day parade and its slogans in the Plaza of the Revolution. The screams into the microphone sneaked into that apathy, like an alien band with its instruments out of tune. On the Day of the Workers, officialdom took its tropical chauvinism for a stroll.

I woke up, like in the German movie “Goodbye, Lenin!” and had the feeling I’d leapt through time. But my journey did not carry me into a future of imprecise contours, but rather into the past. The words spoken by the Secretary General of the Cuban Workers Center took me back to a time of ideological bravado, years in which the Kremlin bear had our backs and Cuba sent guerrillas to the jungles of South America and cosmonauts to space. continue reading

Ulises Guilarte De Nacimiento’s address smelled like mothballs, and didn’t fit the times we are living in. In his angry phrases there was a nationalism as ridiculous as it is outdated, and in any case politically incorrect almost everywhere on the planet. He spoke of exploits that most of the population had never experienced and, to top it off, ignored the demands of Cuba’s working class. He spoke in the past tense, with the rhetorical twists and turns of agitators from the last century and the overacting of every good opportunist.

I thought of all the topics he failed to address, all the proletarian demands that no one mentioned because the event had more ideology than class-consciousness. Missing were any demands from labor, requests for greater union autonomy, complaints about serious violations of occupational safety and health throughout the country, and the vital demand for wages more in line with the high cost of living.

Instead, the government preferred to use the day for political purposes, repeating the structure of the podium, up there, and the workers down below. More than a thousand foreign trade unionists and activists were present as guests, able to see with their own eyes the “proletarian enthusiasm” displayed by Cubans, but the event was nothing more than a faded repeat of those that formerly took place in the extinct socialist camp.

When the Berlin Wall fell, where were all those workers who had marched on the International Day of the Workers? When the USSR collapsed, what did they do to block those workers with medals on their chest who marched shouting slogans in those squares?

The King, The President and The Dictator

Cuban President Raúl Castro receives the Spanish Foreign Minister, José Manuel García-Margallo. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 23 April 2017 — In the palace of the Captains General in Havana there is a throne awaiting its king. It was prepared when Cuba was still a Spanish colony and a monarch has never sat in its imposing structure. The visit of Spain’s King Felipe VI visit may end such a long wait, but the Island needs more than gestures of symbolism and protocol.

The king and the Spanish president, Mariano Rajoy, will arrive in the country a few months before Raul Castro leaves power. The official visit, long prepared for, has all the traces of a farewell. It will be like the farewell of the Mother Country to one of its descendants across the sea. Someone who began as leftist revolutionary and ended up being a part of a rigid dynasty.

The visitors will arrive in the middle of “the cooling off of the thaw” between Washington and Havana. The expectations that led to the diplomatic normalization announced on 17 December 2014 have been diluted with the passage of months in the absence of tangible results. More than two years have tone by and the island is no more free nor has it imagined to merge from its economic quagmire. continue reading

It will be like the farewell of the Mother Country to one of its descendants across the sea. Someone who began as leftist revolutionary and ended up being a part of a rigid dynasty

US airlines have begun to reduce the frequency of their flights to Cuba, discouraged by low demand and the limitations that remain on Americans traveling to Cuba as tourists. Castro has not withdrawn the ten percent tax he keeps on the exchange of dollars, and connecting to the internet from the island is still an obstacle course. All this and more discourages travelers from the country to the north of us.

The photos of building collapses and old cars fill the Instagram accounts of the Yumas (Americans) who tour the streets, but even the most naïve get tired of this dilapidated theme park. Cuba has gone out of style. All the attention it captured after the day Cubans refer to in shorthand as “17-D,” has given way to boredom and apathy, because life is not accompanied by a comfortable armchair to support this incredibly long move where almost nothing happens.

Last year tourism reached a historic record of 4 million visitors but the hotels have to engage in a juggling act to maintain a stable supply of fruit, beer and even water. Between the shortages and the drought, scenes of long lines of customers waiting for a Cristal beer, or carrying buckets from the swimming pool to use in their bathrooms are not uncommon.

Foreign investors also do not seem very enthusiastic about putting their money into the economy of a country where it is still highly centralized and nationalized. The port of Mariel, tainted with the scandals of the Brazilian company Odebrecht, and with activity levels far below initial projections, seems doomed to become the Castro regime’s last pharaonic and useless project.

But Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House hasn’t meant an iron fist against the Plaza of the Revolution as some had prophesied. The new US president has simply avoided looking toward the island and right now seems more focused on the distant and dangerous Kim Jong-un than the anodyne and close at hand Raul Castro.

The new US president has simply avoided looking toward the island and right now seems more focuses on the distant and dangerous Kim Jong-un than the anodyne and close at hand Raul Castro.

The Havana government lost its most important opportunity by not taking advantage of the opening offered by Barack Obama, who hardly asked for anything in return. Right now there hasn’t even been start on the drafting of the new Electoral Law announced in February of 2015. Was that news perhaps a maneuver so that the European Union would finally decide to repeal the Common Position? Fake news that sought to convince the unwary and fire up the headlines in the foreign press with talk of openings?

To top it off, they have increased the level of repression against opponents, and just a few days ago a journalism student was expelled from the university for belonging to a dissident movement. A process in the purest Stalinist style cut off her path to getting a degree in this profession that, decades ago, officialdom condemned to serve as a spokesperson for its achievements while remaining mute in the face of its disasters.

Take care. The visit of King Felipe and Queen Letizia is inscribed in times of fiascos. Failures that include the economic recession that plagues a country with a Gross Domestic Product that closed out last year in negative numbers, despite the usual make-up the government applies to all such figures. And the Venezuelan ally unable to shake off Nicolas Maduro, increasingly less presidential and more autocratic. The convulsions in that South American country have left Cuba almost without premium gas and with several fuel cuts in the state sector.

These are not the moments to proudly show off the house to visitors, but rather a magnificent occasion for the highest Spanish authorities to understand that totalitarianism never softens nor democratizes, it just changes its skin.

The Spaniard will have to spin a very fine thread not to turn the visit of the head of state into an accolade for the dying system. The royals will be surrounded by the attentions of officials who are trying to avoid, fundamentally, their stepping a single decorated millimeter beyond the careful preparations that have been underway for months. As was once attempted during the 1999 visit of Juan Carlos de Borbón to participate in an Ibero-American Summit.

The Spaniard will have to spin a very fine thread not to turn the visit of the head of state into an accolade for the dying system

On that occasion, and during a stroll with Queen Sofia through the streets of Old Havana, officialdom blocked access to the neighbors, emptied the sidewalks of the curious and worked the magic of converting one of the most densely inhabited areas of the city, with the most residents per acre in all of Cuba, into a depopulated stage where the royal couple walked.

Their successors, who will travel to the island “as soon as possible,” could do worse than to study the ways in which Barack Obama managed to shake off the suffocating embrace in March of 2016. The American president handled himself gracefully, even when Raul Castro – with the gesture of a conquering guerrilla, fists raised – tried to trap him in a snapshot. But the White House tenant relaxed his hand and looked away. A defeat for the Revolution’s visual epic.

Nor does Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy have an easy time. The official press does not like him and surrounds him always with criticism and negative news about his Party

Nor does Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy have an easy time. The official press does not like him and surrounds him always with criticism and negative news about his Party. He does not enjoy sympathies among the circles of power in Havana despite having reduced the degrees of tension that reached a peak during the term of Jose Maria Aznar. But on the island there are more than 100,000 Cubans who are nationalized Spanish citizens, also represented by that nation’s leader and who are, in the end, his most important interlocutors.

Felipe VI and Rajoy have in their favor that they will no longer be bound by the protocol to be photographed with Fidel Castro in his convalescent retirement. The king declined his father’s participation in death tributes for the former president last November in the Plaza of the Revolution. Thus, the young monarch managed that his name and that of the Commander in Chief do not appear together in the history books.

However, he still has to overcome the most difficult test. That moment in which his visit can go from being a necessary approach to a country very culturally familiar, to become a concession of legitimacy to a decadent regime.

Meanwhile, in the Palace of the Captains General, a throne awaits its king, and in the Plaza of the Revolution a chair awaits the departure of its dictator.

Editorial Note: This article was published in the original Spanish Saturday 22 April in the Spanish newspaper El País

Invitation to the Readers of ’14ymedio’

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Miami, 14 April 2017 — In this blog I have experienced good readers and bad moments, shared stories and exchanged opinions. For almost three years you have also accompanied me in the adventure of running a digital newspaper. Together with the team of 14ymedio, you are part of a diverse family spread over several continents.

To talk about this time that we spent together and update you on the challenges that are to come, I want to invite you to the meeting: Cuba: at the distance of an embrace, this coming April 24 from 6 to 8 pm at the CubaOcho Museum and Performing Arts Center in Miami, to share anecdotes and ideas with you and two other reporters from 14ymedio.

I know that many who live far away or are busy and will not be able to come, but I don’t lost hope of continuing to have this kind of conversation in different cities and one day, why not, do the same thing in our newsroom in Havana: without repression or fear.

____________

Note:
The Address of the Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center is 1465 SW 8th Street #106, Little Havana, Miami.

There will be a menu for those wishing to buy food and drink during the event. Special guests will be our friends from Project 305 of the New World Symphony of Miami, an initiative of which we are part and which seeks to collect audio and video clips to be used in an orchestral work that reflects the spirit of this city.

Ten Years, A Blog

Yoani Sánchez received the Ortega y Gasset award for her work on ‘Generation Y’ in 2008, although she was not allowed to leave the country to receive it until five years later. (El Pais)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 10 April 2017 — Dawn, the sound of the keyboard marks the beginning of the day. I start a blog that will make me experience the most gratifying and terrible moments of my existence. I go out with the USB stick around my neck, climb the steps of the Havana Capitol and mumble a few phrases to get myself into the place with internet access exclusively for foreigners. It is the 9th of April 2007 and I publish the first text of Generation Y… My life has just taken a turn.

A decade has passed since that scene. A time during which I laid bare, post by post, the events that mark the reality of my country and of my own existence. I have filled the pages of this personal diary and left a testimony of the eventful and intense years I have lived. A digital logbook that could well serve as an impressionist portrait of Cuba at the beginning of this millennium. continue reading

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then. I discovered the immense scope of the written word, the amplifying character of technology, and an authoritarian power’s lack of ethical limits. I owned responsibility for every published phrase and not a few times paid the consequences not for what I said, but for what others believed I said.

I discovered the immense scope of the written word, the amplifying character of technology, and an authoritarian power’s lack of ethical limits

I earned a scolding from a severe leader accustomed to hearing only his own voice, I spent more than one night in a jail cell, and I learned to speak in code to evade the microphones placed in my house. I got used to seeing my face in the official media surrounded by the worst adjectives and lost more than one friend. However, the gratifying moments have far surpassed all the punishments this opinion space has brought me.

I watched innumerable voices be born and gain strength, voices that made the Cuban blogosphere a more plural and inclusive space. I met many, like myself, who in their respective countries grabbed ahold of the new digital tools to try to better their societies. I received the support of my family and discovered the profession that I exercise today: journalism.

Each text that has come out in Generation Y shows that personal path, marked by obstacles and gratifications. If I could go back in time I would only amend the moment when I decided to open this blog. I don’t forgive myself for having waited so long to express myself.

Reflections* From a Glass House

Reinaldo Escobar, 18 June 2008 (Reposted 10 April 2017) — The former president Fidel Castro has just published a foreword to the book Fidel, Bolivia and Something More in which he discredits the internet blog, Generation Y, written by my wife, the blogger Yoani Sanchez.  From the first day, she has put her full name (which he omits) and her photo on the web, visible to readers, to sign the articles which she writes with the sole purpose – as she has said several times – of “throwing up” all that is nauseating about our reality.

The ex-president disapproves of the fact that Yoani accepted this year’s Ortega y Gasset Prize for Digital Journalism, arguing that the prize is something that imperialism favors to blow its own horn. I recognize the right of this gentleman to make this comment, but I allow myself to observe that the responsibility implied in receiving a prize is never comparable to that of bestowing one, and Yoani, at least, has never awarded a medal to a corrupt person, a traitor, a dictator or a murderer. continue reading

I clarify this because I remember perfectly that the author of these reproaches was the one who placed (or commanded to be placed) the “Order of José Martí” on the lapels of the most terrible and undeserving men possible: Leonid llyich Brezhnev, Nicolae Ceausescu, Todor Zhivkov, Gustav Husak, Janos Kadar, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Robert Mugabe, Heng Samrin, Erich Honecker and others that I have forgotten. I would like to read, in light of these times, a “Reflection” that justifies the award of these inadmissible honors – to blow the horns of others – that so tarnished the name of the man we call our Apostle, José Martí.

It is true that the philosopher Ortega y Gasset can be connected to elitist and perhaps reactionary ideas, but at least, unlike those decorated by the prologue writer, he never launched tanks against his nonconforming neighbors, nor built palaces, nor imprisoned those whose opinions differed from his own, nor left his followers in the lurch, nor amassed fortunes from the misery of his people, nor built extermination camps, nor gave orders to shoot those who, to escape, jumped the fence from his own backyard.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro’s column in the daily newspaper Granma, is titled “Reflections of Fidel

Site manager’s note: Translating Cuba has chosen to reprint this article, from the early in the second year of Yoani’s blog, in connection with Generation Y’s tenth anniversary.

Men’s Matters

Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 18 June 2008 (Reposted 10 April 2017) — In this Central Havana of guapos* – tough guys – and brawls where I was born, I learned there are certain lines a woman should never cross.  I have spent my life breaking the laughable rules of machismo, but today – and only today – I am going to take refuge in one of them, one of the ones I dislike the most.  It warns, “A woman needs a man to represent her and to go to bat for her when another man insults or slanders her.”

Feeling attacked by someone with a power infinitely superior to mine, more than twice my age, and in addition – as the neighbors of my childhood would have said – someone who is “macho-male-masculine,” I have decided it will be my husband, the journalist Reinaldo Escobar, who will respond. continue reading

I refer to the damaging remarks that Fidel Castro made about me in the prologue of the book, Fidel, Bolivia and Something More.  Not even such a “great” attack convinces me to abandon the premise of refusing to engage in a cycle of rejoinder and self defense.  I am sorry to say I remain focused on the theme called “Cuba.”

Let’s leave it up to Reinaldo and Fidel to do the fighting.  I will continue in my “womanly” labor of weaving together, despite the chatter, the frayed tapestry of our civil society.
The guapos from my neighborhood will know that I learned “something” from them!

* Please do not confuse a Cuban guapo with a handsome man or suitor. That might work in another Latin American country, but here in Cuba the word carries a different connotation, which someone might explain to you  with a slap, or perhaps a stabbing.

Translator’s note: The first sentence is hard to translate because there is a double meaning.  Guapo/guapa is both an adjective and a noun and in common use it means handsome/gorgeous.  In Cuban slang “guapo” also means a tough guy, someone who likes to fight.  It can be used as an insult or to dare someone, that is as the aggressive form of “Hey, man…”  The original footnote explains this meaning for non-Cuban Spanish readers who may not be familiar with it.

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Site manager’s note: Translating Cuba has chosen to reprint this article, from the early in the second year of Yoani’s blog, in connection with Generation Y’s tenth anniversary.

Eliécer Ávila, The ‘New Man’ Who Became An Opponent

Eliecer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement (CC).

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 8 April 2017 – Walking along the streets with Eliécer Ávila can be a complicated task. His face is well known thanks to a viral video broadcast almost a decade ago. However, before fame came into his life, this young man born in Las Tunas was a model “New Man”: the most finished product of ideological indoctrination.

Like all Cuban children, Avila shouted slogans during his school’s morning assembly, participated in countless repudiation activities “against imperialism” and dreamed of resembling Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara. But while, in school, they taught him the social achievements that the Revolutionary process brought to the population, at home reality was stubborn and showed itself to be something quite different. continue reading

The residents of Yarey de Vázquez are poor, the kind of poverty that grabs you by the throat

The residents of Yarey de Vázquez – the Puerto Padre municipality of Puerto Padre where the leader of the Somos+ (We Are More) Movement was born – are poor, the kind of poverty that grabs you by the throat. A place lost in nothingness, where many families still use latrines for their bodily needs, and live in houses with roofs made of palm fronds.

Surrounded by pigs, chickens and tedium, Avila realized that his life did not resemble the official version he was being taught. Born in 1985, in the middle of that “golden decade” when the Soviet Union was propping up the island, he was barely walking a year later when Fidel Castro ordered the closing of the free farmers markets in the midst of the “Process of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies.”

Eliécer Avila reached puberty during what was called the Special Period. With the voracity that still characterizes him, he faced many days of his adolescence with his plate half full, or almost empty. He hand stitched the shoes he wore to school, invented all kinds of “outfits” from his grandfather’s old shirts, and turned off the light when it was time to strip down to his underwear, so no one could see the holes.

Surrounded by pigs, chickens and tedium, Avila realized that his life did not resemble the official version he was taught. He was born in 1985, in the middle of that “golden decade” when the Soviet Union was propping up the Island

With a natural leadership quality, in which a certain humor mixes with an undeniable histrionic capacity to narrate anecdotes, the young man made his way through those years without climbing aboard a raft to escape the country or ending up in jail. Those who knew him predicted a future in politics, because of those “fine lips” that helped him in student meetings and in romantic conquests.

A little bit later, luck smiled on him. He was able to enroll in the University of Computer Sciences (UCI), founded in 2002 in the middle of the Battle of Ideas. UCI was located on the site that had once been the Center for Exploration and Radioelectronics Listening, known as the Lourdes SIGNIT Station, where until 2001 Russia – and the Soviet Union before it – had had its largest spy station outside its borders. UCI was a school for trusted young people to become computer soldiers for a Revolution that fears the Internet.

While a student at UCI, Avila led Operation Truth. His task was to monitor digital sites and blogs critical of the Government. In those spaces, the young revolutionary sharpened his arsenal of tools for political struggle that included everything from hacking to the execution of the reputation of anyone who opposed the Plaza of the Revolution.

Little by little, like acid that filters through the cracks, those anti-government arguments he read on the web began to sink into his mind and mingle with his own disagreements. Restless, in 2008 he took his turn at the microphone during a visit to UCI of Ricardo Alarcón, then president of the National Assembly. The minutes of that public appearance that followed marked the rest of his life.

The video of the collision between Ávila and Alarcón jumped to first place in the hit parade on the clandestine networks that distributed audiovisuals. No one wanted to miss it, especially the moment when the leader of Parliament justified the travel restrictions imposed on Cubans by saying how congested the skies might be, if everyone were allowed to board an airplane.

Avila led Operation Truth while studying computer science; his task was to monitor digital sites and blogs critical of the Government

Now, nine years later, the young activist prefers not to be called “Eliécer, the one who debated with Alarcon,” but for the rest of his life it will be his most important letter of introduction to millions of Cubans. His challenge of power, with simple questions and a firm voice, has been one of the most accurate and best documented gestures of rebellion in almost six decades of Castroism.

After that, he received his punishment. After graduating, the authorities sent him to a remote Youth Computer Club to purge his audacity. It was the decisive moment in which he decided to cross the red line towards independence. He left the state sector, founded the Somos+ Movement and relocated to Havana. One audacious act after another.

The attacks rained down from all sides. State Security raised the level of pressure on his environment, traditional opposition leaders threw darts at the upstart, and there was no shortage of those who claimed that he was only a mole for the political police disguised as a dissident.

Since then, Ávila has tried to give shape to a civic discourse that uses new technologies and a less politicized language, closer to the concerns of ordinary people. But, like every dissident, he is caught in the grip of charges of illegal action, subjected to constant vigilance and assigned the halo of demonization imposed on anyone who does not applaud power.

Nothing is more disturbing to a system that has played with social alchemy than the fact of a creature from its own ideological laboratory turning against it

The numerous trips abroad that he has made since the Travel and Immigration Reforms of 2013 have allowed him to know the world, only to discover that the most exciting and indecipherable of the territories that await him is located in the future Cuba. That country so many have dreamed of and that is taking so long to arrive.

Recently he went a step further and announced that he was prepared to represent the electors of his constituency as a delegate. A somewhat remote possibility, given the oiled mechanisms of control over the People’s Assemblies maintained by the ruling party where, by show of hands, the attendees must nominate the potential candidates.

This week, the guajiro of Yarey de Vázquez has crossed another line. A public protest at José Martí International Airport has resulted in his house being searched, and him being arrested and charged with “illicit economic activity.” The trigger was the seizure of his laptop at Customs when he returned from Colombia.

Now, it is expected that the siege around the young leader and his Somos+ Movement will continue to close. Nothing is more disturbing to a system that has played with social alchemy than a creature from its own ideological laboratory turning against it. Eliécer Ávila will be doubly punished because power acts with more fury against its own, when it rebels.

More articles in English by and about Eliécer Ávila can be read here.

Invasive Marabou Weed Arrives at the Plaza of the Revolution

Marabou in the Plaza of the Revolution. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, NYC, 6 April 2017 — Resistant and thorny, the invasive marabou weed has inundated Cuban fields and threatened to displace the national shield’s royal palm. The shrub has become a plague spreading across the country, covering previously arable land, and worming its way into a topic for the speeches of senior officials. But the tenacious invader is not exclusive to rural areas and has also reached that symbol of power that is the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana.

On one side of the José Martí National Library, among the ruins of a building that would have been used to house patients for Operation Miracle – an eye care program – but that was never finished, grows a spontaneous garden with tiny yellow flowers and powerful pods loaded with seeds. The marabou raises its defiant branches there as if it were pointing to the huge tower popularly called “La Raspadura” – The Scratch. continue reading

Without adequate machinery or chemical defoliants to help stop the plague, across the island many country dwellers use old machetes and makeshift axes to cut the trunks. However, on both sides of the highways and in any vacant lot, the marabou continues to display its excellent health.

In 2007, during his speech on the anniversary of the attack on the Moncada Barracks, Raúl Castro joked about the panorama he had found on his trip to the city of Camagüey: “What was most beautiful, what stood out to my eyes, was how lovely the marabou was along the whole road.”

Now, the implacable enemy is approaching the presidential office in the Palace of the Revolution. Stealthy and steady, the marabou has won the battle.

Maduro Closes His Fist Around Venezuela

The president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, in a civic act. (EFE File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 2 April 2017 — Everything was to get to this point: the long harangues of Hugo Chávez, his populist promises and the perks distributed to the loyal. Nearly two decades of “Twenty-first Century Socialism” have successfully led to Venezuela’s abandonment of democracy. This week, with the cancellation and subsequent “restoration” of the powers of the National Assembly, the cage has been definitively closed.

Nicolás Maduro took a bold and desperate step. The all-powerful entity into which he converted the Supreme Court dealt the blow that the president had been planning since he lost control of Parliament in December 2015. The judges just did the dirty work and, three days later, they faced the ridicule of backing off from their decision. continue reading

The claims inside and outside of Venezuela prevented the leadership from accomplishing the self-coup. A move with which Maduro sought to end his stubborn opposition, to stand up to the possible application of the Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States, and to buy time for his battered and corrupt government.

A country shaken by the whims of a political elite as obstinate to preserve its own privileges, as it is to refuse to recognize that it has lost the support of the citizenry

Although Maduro backed down shortly afterwards, previous decrees make it so that the parliamentarians still can not implement their legislative decisions and the country has been living from January of 2016 under a state of exception, euphemistically denominated the economic emergency. The Venezuelans go through a calvary of hardship, violence and exodus.

Every week Maduro invents some campaign or confrontation that will help him, with the support of the leadership of his party, to stay in the presidential chair and exercise control over the country’s budget and oil wells.

The Chavistas have no ideology left. The movement they described as popular has become addicted to the attributes of power, unable to perceive the reality of the streets. It is not the Venezuelan people who interest them, but the life of luxuries that they have constructed in their palaces while proclaiming to the four winds the discourse of helping the poor and the needy.

However, more frightening than their insatiable material voracity is the institutional fragility in which they have left the nation. A country shaken by the whims of a political elite as obstinate to preserve its own privileges, as it is to refuse to recognize that it has lost the support of the citizenry.

Maduro has Venezuela in his fist and does not seem ready to let go.

Raul Castro Squandered His Last Chance / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, shook hands a year ago in Havana. (White House)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 March 2017 — A year ago Cuba had a once in a lifetime opportunity. US President Barack Obama came to the island willing to turn the page on political confrontation. The gesture transcended the diplomatic situation, but Raul Castro – fearful of losing control – responded by putting the brakes on economic reforms and raising the levels of ideological discourse and repression.

Nations are not presented with opportunities every year, nor even every century. The decision to entrench itself and not to undertake political flexibilizations has been the Plaza of the Revolution’s most egotistical measure of recent times. Failure to know how to take advantage of the end of public belligerence with our neighbor to the north will bring this country lasting and unpredictable consequences. continue reading

These effects will not be suffered by the so-called “historic generation” – those at the forefront of the 1950s Revolution – now diminished by the rigors of biology and desertions. Rather than the generals in olive-green, the ones who will pay the price will be those who are still sleeping in their cradles or spinning their tops in the streets of the island. They don’t know it, but in the last twelve months a short-sighted octogenarian tricked them out of a share of their future.

The greatest waste has been not exploiting the international moment, the excitement about foreign investments, and the expectations everywhere in Cuba of taking the first steps towards democratic change without violence or chaos. It was not the job of the White House to encourage or provoke such transformations, but its good mood was a propitious setting for them to be less traumatic.

Instead, the white rose Obama extended to Castro in his historic speech in Havana’s Gran Teatro has faded, beset by hesitations and fears. Now, it is our job to explain to these Cubans of tomorrow why we were at a turning point in our history and we threw it away.

Utopia’s Courtesans / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

”Jineteras” accompany tourists on a Cuban beach. (Cuban  Human Rights Observatory)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 March 2017 — An aging prostitute is like a book with tattered pages depicting the life of a nation. A survival manual to approach the vagaries of reality, to learn about its most carnal and, at times, most sordid parts. Many of the courtesans of Utopia in Cuba are already octogenarians. They have gone from caressing the chests of their bearded idols to the arthritis they struggle with as they stand in long lines to buy bread.

More than half a century ago this island decreed the end of the exchange of sex for money. No one, ever again, would sell their body for a little food, a social position or a better job. Hookers were a thing of the capitalist past and in a country heading for Utopia there was no room for such weakness. They had to transform themselves into militants, outstanding workers and the irreproachable mothers of the New Man. continue reading

But prostitution, alas, continues to exist. Like the national lottery that was submerged in illegality after being outlawed, and the jokes against the Maximum Leader shared in whispers, the world’s oldest profession hid in the shadows. Clients were no longer nationals with a few pesos to spend at the nearest brothel, nor sailors eager to recuperate in the tropics from their long days of abstinence on the high seas.

Hookers were a thing of the capitalist past and in a country heading for Utopia there was no room for such weakness

Instead, the goal for socialist courtesans was to end up between the sheets with a guerrilla down from the Sierra Maestra, capture some senior leader of the Communist Party, or hook up with a government minister who would provide a car, a trip abroad or a house. Cash was not a part of the operation. She caressed him and he paid her with power. Those were the years of revolutionary polygamy in which a commander who was respected needed as many lovers as medals.

The pimp was transformed. There was a proliferation of heads of protocol who connected these dedicated compañeras with foreign guests of the Plaza of the Revolution. In tightly-fitting outfits they brightened the parties where Latin American guerrillas exchanged toasts with Basque separatists, union leaders and Eastern Europe diplomats. They laughed and flirted. A Revolution is pure love, they thought.

The fall of the Soviet Union caused a cataclysm in those beds where sweat and influence, semen and privileges, were exchanged. With the end of the subsidy coming from the Kremlin, and the economic reforms officialdom was forced to undertake, money regained its ability to be converted into goods, services and caresses. The new generation of prostitutes had read Karl Marx, declaimed the works of Cuba’s national poet Nicolás Guillén, and thrown flowers into the sea after the disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos. They were, Fidel Castro said, the most educated prostitutes in the world.

The new generation of prostitutes had read Karl Marx, declaimed the works of Cuba’s national poet Nicolás Guillén, and thrown flowers into the sea after the disappearance of Camilo Cienfuegos. They were, Fidel Castro said, the most educated prostitutes in the world

International tourism came into play in the mid-1990s with canned drinks, hotels where Cubans were not allowed to enter, and the companionable ladies renamed jineteras (female jockeys). Official propaganda had shouted all over the world that Cuba was, before January of 1959, “the brothel of the Americas”; not it but collided with the evidence that the island had become the whorehouse of Europeans and Canadians.

These were the years of shortages and ridiculous prices. A bar of soap, a bottle of shampoo or a pair of shoes was enough to buy the favors of these young women who had been trained to inhabit the future and ended up in bed with men three times their age who couldn’t even pronounce their names. The dream that many of them now caressed was summed up in a marriage contract, emigration and a new life far from Cuba.

Today, many of these graceful courtesans – who swarmed around the discos in their colorful outfits – have become mothers and grandmothers walking with their offspring through the parks of Milan, Berlin or Toronto. With their pensions they buy apartments on the island and return willing to pay for a young lover who sighs before the passport with the new nationality that they acquired with the sweat of their pelvis.

They are the graceful survivors of a hard battle, but others only achieved venereal diseases, long nights in jail cells, and the treatment of rude clients who haggled until the last kiss.

The official response against the jineteras concentrated on repression. Arrests, prison sentences and forced deportations to their province of origin were some of the rigors these sex workers had to suffer. The pimp became important in direct proportion to the risks on the street. Now, many wait in a room, get a client, collect the money and manage their lives.

The well-known pingueros were not as shamed by the police in a country where the macho tradition does not stigmatize equally merchandise that comes packaged in a young man’s body

Male prostitution also flourished. The well-known pingueros were not as shamed by the police in a country where the macho tradition does not stigmatize equally merchandise that comes packaged in a young man’s body. They manage to circumvent surveillance and fill every space in the national territory where visitors are betrayed by their accents. They populate the wall of the Malecon, show off their meaty biceps on the most touristy beaches, and most offer a unisex service that doubles their opportunities and swells their incomes.

Because money, alas, continues to buy bodies. Much more so at a time when a new class stumbles to emerge among the economic spoils. The new rich do not wear military uniforms, but run private restaurants or administer a joint venture. With them, the national client has returned to the picture of Cuban prostitution.

The increase in social inequalities and the tourist boom that the island has experienced since the beginning of the diplomatic thaw between Havana and Washington have also fueled the carnal market. In 2016 the country reached the record number of four million international visitors. Once again, customers arriving from the country to our north are the most popular, those gringos that the official propaganda thought had been removed from the brothels.

These women throw themselves into the arms of tourists because “they cannot meet the basic needs of food, clothing and footwear”

At the recent International Symposium on Gender Violence, Prostitution, Sex Tourism and Trafficking in Persons, held last January in Havana, a researcher from the Interior Ministry revealed alarming figures. Of a group of 82 prostitutes studied, the majority were “mixed-race, followed by white and black, coming from dysfunctional and permissive families, living in overcrowded conditions.”

These women throw themselves into the arms of tourists because “they cannot meet the basic needs of food, clothing and footwear.” One in three began in the trade before age 18 and “charge between $50 and $200,” depending on the service they provide.

They do not seek luxuries, but crumbs. They are the granddaughters of those courtesans who panted between slogans and privileges.

Editorial Note: This text was published in Spanish on Saturday March 11 in the Spanish newspaper El País .