The Revolution Does Not Want To Be Tweeted

María Hergueta

Yoani Sanchez, New York Times, Havana, 13 January 2019 — A young man posts images of a flood in Centro Habana on social networks. From the internet come complaints from neighbors who are clamoring for an official response and for repairs to the sewer network. Sixty years after the triumph of the Revolution, Cubans are prohibited from expressing their dissatisfaction in public plazas, but take advantage of virtual spaces to call out the government.

On 6 December, the more than eleven million people who inhabit this island began to travel a new path. Like the day we gave birth to a child, or a close relative died, or we learned of the death of Fidel Castro, all Cubans remember what we were doing at the moment that web browsing service burst onto our cellphones.

A package allowing 4 gigs of navigation costs 30 dollars a month, the equivalent of the entire monthly salary of a professional. The high prices leave a good part of the population unable to access the service. Many Cubans face a dilemma; connect or eat; chat with a friend or replace a light bulb; watch a video on YouTube or pay a shared taxi to get to work. This is the new “capitalism.com” of a Revolution that fears being tweeted for lack of news to talk about or results to show. continue reading

We all know how and when this new stage of connectivity began, but few venture to predict how far it will go. To imagine that scenario, right now, must be the worst nightmare for the Plaza of the Revolution.

It is an irony that a large part of the internet surfers’ phone bills are paid by the emigrants who want to maintain contact with their families. Those who were criticized by the official discourse for not staying to build the utopia are now the main economic support of those who remained here. Popular humor has not missed the contradiction and portrays the exiles with a play on words: “De traidores a traedólares” – from traitors to dollar-bringers.

With the passing years the pressure has been growing from these Cubans all over the world, together with the pressure from within, to be able to access the web and maintain greater communications between both shores. In 2015, when the first wireless connection zones opened in Cuba’s plazas and parks, thousands of customers filled those spaces to chat, connect with relatives who have emigrated, and enjoy the vertigo of connectivity.

This image of collective euphoria contrasted with the first internet rooms that opened at the beginning of this century and offered services exclusively to tourists or foreigners living on the island. From one of those sites, located in emblematic Havana Capitol, in April of 2007 I published the first text in my blog Generation Y.

Wearing sandals and the astonished look of someone who had just landed on the island, with enough sunscreen to make the security guards believe I’d arrived from far off Europe, I mumbled some words in a mix of clumsy Spanish and harsh German which allowed me to buy my first card to sit in front on a state computer and upload the post of my baptism as a blogger.

Those were the years in which an army of cyber-combatants was created, ready to fill the comment sections of critical sites with revolutionary slogans, attack opponents using pseudonyms, and spread doubts about the morality of the dissidents, with the high level rage of a real “reputation assassination,” but this time without going through the courts or needing bullets: a blistering attack purely by tweets.

A figure who stood out in those moments of fierce ideological battle against new the technologies was the revolutionary commander Ramiro Valdés, who defined with harsh words the relationship of the historical generation with the new phenomena that arrived with cellphones, USB memories and the computers Cubans assembled from spare parts they bought on the black market.

The internet is a “wild colt” that “should and can be tamed,” said the feared soldier, when he served as Minister of Information Technology and Communications. That premise of confronting information technologies as an enemy and seeing digital spaces as a place to conquer dominated the government’s attitude to the network for more than a decade.

The pioneers of independent blogs were plagued by accusations that we were “cybermercenaries” trained by the US Central Intelligence Agency, and in the University of Information Sciences, Operation Truth was created to bring the influence of the official version to forums and virtual debates. National television presented us, the first Cuban tweeters, as the new outpost of the United States to attack the Revolution.

From that fierce battle for digital expression I came away with some personal and social scars.

Now I do not have to speak with a fake accent to connect to the Internet, but the official intolerance towards free expression has changed little and the work of independent reporters remains a central focus of the attacks of the political police. The “digital plaza,” that section of cyberspace made up especially by social networks where Cubans who can not meet physically express their political ideas, has helped us to narrate the reality of deep Cuba from all its diversity.

Access to 3G telephony has allowed many Cubans to use the Internet to ask for a No vote in the referendum on the new Constitution, to denounce Decree 349 – which restricts artistic expression – and to question the method by which Miguel Díaz-Canel was installed as president. But in parliament, public spaces and centers of power one still hears a single discourse.

Without his own political agenda, Díaz-Canel wanted to mark a difference, at least aesthetically and technologically, from his predecessors. The first man who does not have the surname Castro in the presidency of the country for more than half a century, he opened a Twitter account and has ordered all cabinet ministers to do the same. But the 58-year-old engineer, handpicked by Raúl Castro and the few remaining octogenarians of the historical generation, only use the networks to reaffirm the continuity of the political model, to repeat the official phraseology and to attack their ideological adversaries.

The new president uses the old discourse and the worn out oratory of the Castros in new clothes: HTML code. But despite that, his presence on the Internet can hardly help the oxidized lungs of a twentieth century revolution come alive, through breathing the oxygen of new technologies.

Young people who complain about the quality of the bread on the rationed market, dissidents who record a violent arrest, passengers of a bus that can’t provide service to a huge crowd bothered by the poor state of public transport, and the objections on Facebook walls to every word pronounced by the deputies of the National Assembly, are some of the phenomena that are being seen since the internet reached Cuban cellphones.

In fact, the cost of connectivity is passing a very negative bill to a government that has been unable to get on the bandwagon of modernity.

Activism will grow with connectivity, although opponents and independent journalists must continue circumventing the censorship. Greater access to the Internet will allow for the reconciling of positions and a coming together – at least digitally – in a country where the right to free association is restricted. But, above all, it will weaken control over information by a system that began by trying to change everything and that, today, fears any novelty that offers the slightest change.

Revolution is Disappointment

The 60th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution was celebrated in Santa Ifigenia cemetery, a few yards from the tomb of Fidel Castro, the large rock seen in the background of the photo. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana | 9 January 2019 — As a gesture of profound symbolism, on January 1 the official ceremony to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the triumph of the Cuban Revolution was held in the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia in Santiago de Cuba. More than the birthday of a living thing, its defenders gathered around the cadaver of a process, the tomb of a utopia.

The official slogans commemorated that six decades ago the “bearded ones” came down from the Sierra Maestra and burst onto the national life, but this doesn’t mean that the country has been in a process of renewal this entire time. It remains a task for academics to determine the date on which the original purposes were betrayed, but in day-to-day life it is easy to see that the Revolution has become a cadaver.

Like an earthquake or a hurricane, the process that began in 1959 rumbled for a short time, but the consequences of that initial impulse have extended over time and determined the lives of millions of people. The winds generated devastated generations and molded the mentality of an entire people. Its repressive death throes have affected everyone with more intensity and gravity than the benefits of its so-called social “conquests.”

Its repressive death throes have affected everyone with more intensity and gravity than the benefits of its so-called social “conquests.”

Now, although the government insists on continuing to call the political, economic and social situation we have experienced the “Cuban Revolution,” any study of history can find notably differentiated periods in which the paradigms, purposes, and above all the timelines to fulfill the initial promise of a luminous future, have changed. The chronology of disappointment has more dates than the one that marks moments of satisfaction.

Now it is almost obligatory to prepare an accounting that contrasts the achievements and failures, above all to respond to the question whether so many sacrifices, deaths, loss of rights, exoduses and imprisonments are equal to what has been achieved, or – at least – what has been proclaimed as accomplishments. Was it worth it to turn a nation upside down, tear apart its economy and redefine it, and push millions of the children of this land into exile?

Throughout the first three decades, the expressly stated purpose of the process was to “build socialism” and specifically the system described in the manuals of the Soviet academy, from which it was not possible to deviate a millimeter under pain of incurring the grave the sin of revisionism. Those were the times of drawing the future in bright colors and demanding the absolute sacrifice of Cubans for the sake of that ideal.

When the system collapsed in Eastern Europe, the Island’s authorities rushed to add the possessive pronoun “our” to socialism, and from that point any transgression of the dogma was allowed. They reworked the project to fit into the new historic context and, with this work of putting make-up on it, betrayed their most orthodox followers. That was when the Revolution died for those who hadn’t yet buried it during the exodus of the Mariel Boatlift in 1980, Fidel Castro’s support for the Soviet tanks in Prague in 1968, or the massive executions by firing squad of the first years.

A dozen octogenarians, self-proclaimed as the historic generation begin to prepare their withdrawal

In the early nineties of the last century, and without an explanation based in Marxist theory, the religious of any denomination were invited to join the Communist Party; private businesses – which had been exterminated and demonized in the Revolutionary Offensive of 1968 – were permitted; and to top off the heresies, since there was no longer the “pipeline” of subsides coming from the Soviet Union, it was considered necessary and profitable to accept and promote foreign investments, obviously from capitalist countries.

The precepts of the trashy “egalitarianism” that had molded the social reality during the first steps of the process ran up against the reality of the rise of the new rich and the fact that the State could not guarantee a rationed market that could cover people’s needs, nor a system of material privileges to win loyalty. Money resumed its value as a medium of exchange, and to the extent that foreign tourism arrived on the island the dollar delineated the new face of daily life on the Island.

With enthusiasm exhausted and the illusion that the revolutionary process could offer a dignified life to every Cuban extinguished, only repression remained to maintain control. The conquests in public services, such as education and healthcare, also suffered a frank deterioration and today languish under the problems of infrastructure, excessive ideologicalization and large ethical gaps.

Nor is the original leader alive. The years of the permanent call to action and the perennial mobilization imposed by Fidel Castro have been left behind. His brother, Raul Castro, tried to impose pragmatism during his mandate, but barely managed to unlock some legal absurdities, for example allowing Cubans to travel, or to buy and sell their homes and cars. His successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel, can’t get past the discourse of continuity, even though he dresses in shirt sleeves and appears, for the first time in more than half a century, accompanied by a first lady.

Hence, the 60th anniversary is celebrated at a crucial moment. A dozen octogenarians, survivors of purges, heart attacks and accidents, self-proclaimed as the historical generation of the Revolution, begin to prepare their withdrawal and accept the inescapable reality that they need a relief player. The new wolves in the litter show their hands free of the blood and confiscations, as they swear allegiance and promise to sustain continuity at any price.

The permanent call to action and the perennial mobilization imposed by Fidel Castro have been left behind

At the moment, the most notorious and transcendent fact that leaves its mark on the sixtieth birthday is the new Constitution of the Republic. A list of articles that seeks to leave the system “well secured” against potential heirs who might want to dare to change something. It is the road map of immobility, the rigid and unappealable political testament of a process that once boasted of renovation and irreverence.

The text of the new Constitution has been promoted as a way to adapt the initial purposes of social justice to the new times imposed by the 21st century. However, it is clearly a set of regulations to tie the hands of any reformer who attempts to change course. It is not wings for the future but an anchor firmly sunk in the past, a dead weight labeled “revolutionary.”

In its articles are enshrined the “irrevocability of socialism” and the role of the Communist Party as society’s maximum leading force, a clear example of the conservative will – a negation of the revolutionary spirit– that has dominated the regime for a long time. It is the last gesture to try to control from the tomb of the Cuban Revolution the life that continues to flow out here. A corpse that seeks to regulate each step, each breath, as if the coffin of history could condition the future.

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This article was originally published in the Spanish newspaper El País.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Six Decades of an Unattainable Utopia

This 2019, the process that delighted millions of Cubans reaches six decades of existence, without resembling the dreams generated in its early days. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 2 January 2018 – Ramón, an old man now, was a smooth-cheeked teenager when Fidel Castro entered Havana on January 1959. Soon after, he decided to become a militiaman to defend what many Cubans then proudly called “the Revolution.” Today, with a pension that does not exceed the equivalent of 23 dollars a month, the retiree lives on the money sent to him by his grandchildren, emigrated to the other side of the Straits of Florida, to that country to which Ramón pointed his rifle while standing guard in a military unit in the midst of the Cold War.

This 2019, the process that delighted millions of Cubans reaches six decades of existence, without resembling the dreams imagined by young people like Ramón and without having managed to provide a dignified and free life to those who stayed on the island. Now there are few who call the political model established after the arrival of the “bearded ones” to power “Revolution”; instead they prefer to say “the system” or simply “this” or “this thing.” Of the leaders dressed in olive green who came down from the Sierra Maestra, there are only a few octogenarians left and they fail to arouse admiration or respect in the vast majority of people. continue reading

Of the initial promises, among which there was talk of opportunities for all and of civil liberties, almost nothing has survived. In place of these spaces of individual and collective realization, Castroism has maintained a strict framework of vigilance and control, the most complete of its “achievements” and the most permanent of its “results.” As for social justice, there is not much to celebrate. Evident in the streets is the economic abyss that separates government leaders from pensioners, the black population and residents in rural areas. The new rich mark a distance from those who are becoming poorer.

On the other hand, in recent years the Havana regime has had to give ground to the laws of the market so strongly criticized in its slogans. A private sector of half a million workers has made clear the inefficiency of the state apparatus and is pushing the limits of the restrictions that still remain on entrepreneurship and creativity. After having confiscated even the most humble food stalls in that distant year of 1968, the Plaza of the Revolution is now selling off the Island piece by piece to foreign investors.

Nor is there much to show of the “jewels in the crown” of the process: public education and healthcare. The extension of both systems continues to reach every corner of the country, but the deterioration of the infrastructure, the low salaries of teachers and doctors, together with the excesses of ideology and ethical gaps have meant that the classrooms and hospitals do not resemble the dream of an educated people, well-cared for with regards to health, that once drew the applause of thousands of Cubans who gathered to listen to the marathon speeches of the Commander in Chief.

Now, when the official celebrations speak of the 60th birthday of this political and social process that few dare to describe as “revolutionary,” people like Ramón and his grandchildren are appraising what they did not achieve, the dreams they had to park along the way, and the dysfunctional and authoritarian system that derived from all that utopia.

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This text was originally published in the Deutsche Welle for Latin America.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

We the ‘Bastards’


14ymedio biggerIn fewer than 280 characters, the Cuban president has put in writing his formula of governance. Translation of tweet: As a family, we watched the movie “Innocence” by Alejandro Gil, a very painful chapter in our history. Let us never forget that just as heroes abound, there is no lack of bastards in #Cuba, which can be worse than the enemy that attacks it. Viva forever #CubaLibre! [Yoani: The part of this tweet that refers to “the bastards in #Cuba” is intolerable, illegal and much closer to fascism than I have read in a long time. The text should be deleted immediately, he should apologize, and a commit to not using this language in the future. Will he do it?]
14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 31 December 2018 — Miguel Díaz-Canel is receiving a hazing on Twitter. He arrived so late to this social network, in use for more than a decade by Cuban activists, that he is tripping over the primeval stones we ourselves discovered along the way. The first lesson is that everything one says on the network of the little blue bird does not remain only there, but multiplies and grows throughout the virtual community.

This Sunday, the Cuban president commented that he watched the movie Inocencia, based on the history of medical students shot by the colonial regime, and he added to his message the phrase, “just as heroes abound, there is no shortage of bastards* in Cuba.” In addition to the grammatical nonsense of the phrase, the “hand-picked” president put his verbs in the present tense, suggesting that there are still people, here and how, who should not have been born on the island. continue reading

Revolutionary bravado prevents him from erasing his tweet. Bad for him because the blunders are accumulating, and there are already several messages which transmit an idea of hatred, polarization and intolerance. Instead of endeavoring to make it known that he governs for all Cubans, the new tenant of the Plaza of the Revolution seems determined to please his predecessors. This tweet is not directed so much as an insult to us, the critics of the system, as to ingratiate himself with the historic generation of Castroism.

In fewer than 280 characters, the Cuban president has put in writing his formula of governance. He is not going to represent all of us, he tends neither to conciliation nor harmony, rather he intends to confront us, polarize us and add more labels to the wide repertoire of insults this system has generated. Now, we are no longer only “worms,” “mercenaries” and “enemies,” but the attack has reached into the past, to the time of our birth, to that instant in which we drew breath for the first time.

Poor Díaz-Canel, he does not know that the tweets remain and he just delivered a phrase that defines him in his just measure as extremist, fascist and dogmatic. If he had the least capacity for self-criticism, he would erase that message right now… but I suspect he will not do so.

Translator’s note: The original wording is “los mal nacidos por error,” which in a literal English translation would read: “the badly born by mistake.” In Spanish, however, it is very strong expletive, and so has raised a correspondingly strong response across social networks.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

The Nicaraguan Press in the Eye of the Hurricane

The repression against the press is occurring in the midst of a sociopolitical crisis that has resulted in between 552 and 558 “political prisoners” after demonstrations against Ortega. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 December 2018 — It wasn’t enough for them to extinguish social protests with blood and fire, nor to imprison hundreds of young people for exercising their right to protest. Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo needed to go further.

In December of this year, the Nicaraguan police assaulted the offices of the Confidential newspaper and of the television programs Esta Semana (This Week) and Esta Noche (Tonight), in an attempt to silence the chroniclers in a country where freedom of expression has been in serious danger for years. continue reading

Why this blow against the media? What is the point of lashing out against journalists and earning the unanimous rejection of the profession on an international level? In part, because there is nothing more uncomfortable for an authoritarian regime than the conscientious reporting of its excesses and timely information about its outrages against the population.

For tyrants, the reporter is public enemy number one in that he or she has the ability to put in writing those details of reality that the Government wants to sweep under the carpet and hide from the public eye. The reporter is the uncomfortable witness, willing to disseminate what some want never to be known.

Now, with this turn of the screw, Ortega has entered a new phase of repression. In this stage, his apparatus of control focuses on dismantling any vestige of independence that may remain in civil society.

This is why non-governmental organizations, civic groups and newspapers are at the center of his onslaught. Everything that can be useful to citizens to unite their efforts and keep abreast of what is happening will be eliminated or, at the very least, this is what the former guerrilla turned tyrant will attempt.

That is why the solidarity of other media and information professionals everywhere in the world, and especially in Latin America, is so important. To level the newsroom and take away the working tools of a newspaper is like gagging thousands of people in a single second, like closing hundreds of throats so they can not express themselves. In the pages of all the newspapers and on the broadcasts of all the television stations of this region of the world, we should mourn our Nicaraguan colleagues this week and also make felt our indignation about the dangerous step Ortega has taken.

But, above all, in every digital medium, printed newspaper, magazine or television channel we must remember that in the imperfect Latin American democracies – and even in the countries in this part of the world still under authoritarianism – the press has been an important pillar to give a voice to the people and narrate the excesses of the authorities. The fragile republics born after the wars of independence and the freedoms that were restored after the military dictatorships would have been much more ephemeral without the work of the professionals of the press.

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Note: This column was originally published in the Latin American edition of the Deutsche Welle chain.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

From Battle to Battle

Diaz-Canel continues to talk about the economy using bellicose language (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 18 December 2018 – Miguel Diaz-Canel has assured the National Assembly that “the fundamental battle of Cuba is the economic one.” A phrase that draws on that hackneyed military metaphor that has been abused so much in the Cuban official discourse of the last 60 years. His words are part of a strategy to address every aspect of reality as a struggle, a confrontation and an eternal contest, whether against the political enemy, a hurricane or, in this case, the economy.

What would happen if, instead of “playing the bully” all the time, Cuban officials saw production, the market and entrepreneurship as allies they could help, encourage and promote? What would we notice in our lives if they put aside the “weapons” of restrictions, abandoned the “trenches” of so many bureaucratic absurdities, and raised the “white flag,” publicly acknowledging that this system does not work?

The only war that is worth fighting in this case is the one that ends with the unconditional surrender of so many failed management methods that have led this Island to permanent bankruptcy, financial beggary and the mass escape of our children in search of horizons of prosperity in other latitudes. It is time to decree an economic “armistice,” a daily peace that allows us to find bread, travel in a train car, or access a newspaper – one that does not repeat slogans – to set aside this permanent fight, a bitter and exhausting contest.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Ventana 14

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 10 December 2018 – This Monday, December 10, Human Rights Day, I have begun the transmission of Ventana 14 (Window 14) from Havana. Ventana 14 is a reporting space through the services of Facebook Live. My purpose is to comment on the news and the most important topics of each day, especially those issues that will also be touched on in the pages of the newspaper 14ymedio. It will be like a brief sip of coffee: intense and at times bitter, but necessary.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

And The Day Arrived…

There is no shortage of those who see the arrival of the Internet as a way of diverting attention from the serious problems that Cuba is going through. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 7 December 2018 – There is always room for pessimism, because it worms its way in from all sides. After six decades of unmet promises, many Cubans were skeptical about the coming of web navigation on mobile phones and, in part, they are right after so many years of delay at the hands of the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa). It is normal that the enthusiasm has “cooled.”

One more “bucket of cold water” on the joy is the high prices the State telecommunications monopoly has imposed on its data packages which, as of Thursday, have been marketed to the cellular network’s customers. Paying between 25% and 100% of the average monthly salary for plans that cover between 600 megabytes and 4 gigabytes is too much.

On the other hand, there is no shortage of those who see the arrival of the Internet as a way of diverting attention from the serious problems that the country is currently facing, with a bankrupt economy, a private sector that is troubled by the regulatory measures that are going into effect on 7 December, and authorities unable to lay out a plan for the future, as if it’s not constrained by the rigid articles of a Constitution that have been cooked up by those “up there.” continue reading

However, even though all the pessimists and skeptics have good reason to be cautious about this new form of connectivity, it would be much more powerful and effective to assess the potential that is opening up before us as citizens. This is not a crumb that has been thrown at us, but the victory of a demand long yearned-for, one earned by our “sweat.”

More than a decade ago, when I opened my blog Generation Y, those of us who used the few cybercafes on the island, opened the first digital blogs and dared to create accounts on Twitter, were immediately labeled as “cybermercenaries.” Those were the days when the web was presented in the official press as a tool created by the CIA and Cuba’s outdated military called for “taming the wild colt of the Internet.”

On the other hand, from the opposition, we bloggers were seen as “kids” who had it easy because we wrote from our keyboards and were going to change the Island tweet by tweet, duped by the idea that with a phone in our hands we could stop the blows of the repressors or put the Plaza of the Revolution in check. Nor was there any lack of those who labeled us “agents of State Security” simply because they “let” us write on the web.

Time has passed and we have won. Now, without any self-criticism, most of the ministers have a Twitter account, president Miguel Diaz-Canel fills his timeline on the network of the little blue bird with slogans, and Etecsa, the technological arm of the repression, has had to open up mobile navigation services after several resounding failures and a flood of complaints from its customers.

All the dissidents I know have a cell phone, YouTube accounts have become an effective way to report human rights violations, and numerous independent media have emerged in the country with a journalistic quality and rigor that force the official press to report things ranging from an armed assault in a school to the ravages of dengue fever. The skeptics of yesteryear ended up joining the new technologies.

Now, although no doubt a good part of the money the inefficient Etecsa will raise with the navigation service will be used to buy uniforms for the police and to feed the officials who plan the surveillance of the opposition and activists, we will also win. There is no doubt. Because the step they have taken this December will have a much greater cost to them than all the dollars they might pocket.

In every corner of Cuba they are exposed, in every town there is someone with a phone connected to internet, fingers ready to report an injustice, denounce a corrupt official, through the reality that differs so much from that reported in the official media. People who will have access to another type of information, far beyond the boring pages of the official newspaper Granma.

I can imagine that, in a short time, some part of communications between Cubans will be traveling encrypted by the internet, chat forums will offer those rooms of debate that we lack in the physical world, and State Security will be forced to develop new techniques of surveillance, new methods to keep track of millions of Cubans in cyberspace.

The private economy will also benefit. Businesses, online purchases, home deliveries will be enhanced with this new service and even if they do not manage to rescue the country from the deep crisis it is in, it will probably ease the lives of thousands of families. Knowledge, distance-learning, and participation in forums will also come to our lives on a daily basis, little by little.

The process will be long, but we have started down a path and it depends on us if we want to see it as a trap, or if we start to explore it with the aim of taking advantage of it so that it brings us closer to freedom.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

López Obrador or the Art of Launching Too Many Promises

Andrés Manuel López Obrador during an event in Juchitán de Zaragoza, Mexico, last September. (Yoani Sánchez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 December 2018 – Nobody had to tell me about it, I was there. The sun pricked my skin in Juchitán de Zaragoza, Mexico, a town still half destroyed by the earthquake that just a year earlier ravaged the region. Andrés Manuel López Obrador arrived to give a speech, but not everyone in the audience applauded or seemed to believe his promises. Some shouted clear and harsh slogans: “Out of the Isthmus!” (of Tehuantepec), they yelled.

That day, when by accident Amlo – as the president is known in Mexico – and I crossed paths, I thought I would find a passionate flood of his supporters but it was not like that. In fact, in Oaxaca there was talk of “the betrayal of Obrador,” the about-turn he had made between his campaign to reach the presidency and the gestures he made after being elected. One could already sense disenchantment and frustration over the contradictions that were beginning to show. continue reading

Schooled in the oratory of populists, that day I sensed in his discourse the haughty turns of language used to seek applause and call from the audience a response more devoted than reflective. I remember hearing him say that he would build “concrete roads” and that he would make the area an “industrial park.” He talked about employing everyone, raising wages and ending poverty in the area.

Noon arrived and the orator finished his speech. He quickly left through the back of the platform while the shouts against him rose from one side of the stage. I felt that I had been watching a theater performance, calculated but awkward, a professional staging that to my ears as a citizen born and raised in authoritarianism sounded familiar and dangerous.

On December first, the man I heard speaking in Juchitán de Zaragoza was sworn in as president of Mexico. On his shoulders he carries the hopes of millions who elected him, tired of traditional politicians, corruption and the scourge of insecurity. For them, Amlo is a wager to achieve healthy institutions, develop social programs that improve the lives of many Mexicans, and present an adequate response to violence.

Although his term is just beginning, it is easy to venture that he will not be able to fulfill so many promises, in part because some of them are completely chimerical. Others he will achieve at a cost harmful to the nation, appealing to the practices of patronage and accumulating too much decision power in his hands, under the justification that it makes everything more expeditious or better. The greater risk is that he ends up devouring the institutions with his person and that he swallows up the imperfect Mexican democracy under the pretext that the country needs a profound renovation.

Certain visions of a personality cult are beginning to emerge in Amlo’s Administration. Public mobilization rallies, during which the president uses words to hypnotically develop his theme, had already become part of his way of governing even before he donned the presidential sash. His followers do not admit criticism, he evades answers when questioned and his relationship with the press is beginning to get testy, especially when he treats reporters as children or kisses a journalist to avoid an uncomfortable issue. He presents himself as the redeemer of a nation, and expects in return the unlimited veneration of Mexicans who will give him their absolute confidence to resolve the national wrongs.

His obstinacy, which undoubtedly attests to the several attempts he made to reach Los Pinos, can be a virtue when the time comes to apply solutions, but also a double-edged sword that leads to the most ferocious voluntarism. It will be a challenge for his ministers and closest officials to maneuver with this human whirlpool, a man who believes he has the answers to all the problems and knows how to resolve each quagmire.

For now, the first “Amlo effect” that Mexicans will have to deal with is polarization. That confrontation that settles in society and threatens to sit at the table of every household. The half measures are over, now one can only applaud or reject his management, a dichotomy that undermines the healthy debate and moderation that public discourse in any democracy needs.

Confusing the nation with a Party, the homeland with an ideology and the people with a man, as has happened in the sad case of Cuba, has devastating consequences for citizen sovereignty, the independence of institutions and freedom of expression. That one individual stands as the savior of millions of people should scare us as much as coups d’état. They start by distributing perks and end up locking us in the authoritarian cage. Nobody had to tell me, I’ve lived it.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Will Today Be The Day?

To connect by mobile phone you have to go to a wifi point. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 4 December 2018 — Will today be the great day when the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) finally tells us – with precision, transparency and honesty – the date on which we Cubans will be able to enjoy internet service on our phones?

The state monopoly, one of the most inefficient companies on the planet, promised a few months ago that we would be able to surf from our cell phones before the end of this year. After three tests that were a resounding failure, Etecsa has not mentioned the matter again and now only 27 days remain until the end of the month. We do not accept excuses, we want to be respected as customers.

If Etecsa CAN’T (as it seems), the authorities should let other foreign companies with more experience and infrastructure come in to offer stable, modern and cheap connectivity. Professionals across the country are crying out for this, because every day they spend not as internet users their knowledge is outdated and their ability to innovate and create ceases to be competitive. continue reading

Entrepreneurs would also be able to scale to a new level if they could offer their products and services through the web (can you imagine Über arriving in Cuba?), and teenagers, students, housewives, and even retired people who stand in line for the newspaper, would have greater opportunities, new channels of information, more chances of interacting with their emigrated relatives and with the world.

In other words, the country would benefit. But the thing is, there are some who see nothing good coming from our being connected. They are those who have spent years been trying to “tame the wild colt of the internet,” the mediocre people who have gained prominence with their subsidized (and privileged) access to the web where they go to repeat their slogans. The lifelong censors who tremble just thinking about people having their hands on a device directly connected to the great world wide web, able to report an abuse in a matter of seconds, to record political violence, the chronic shortages, the popular discontent, to denounce a corrupt official… to question the system.

They are those who even fear people enjoying “the frivolity” of the web… because every song we listen to on iTunes, every dating site we visit, every product we “covet” on Amazon, will be time spent beyond the influence of official propaganda, far from the carefully packaged primetime newscast. It will be time in which we may seem apathetic, but at least we won’t be “fanatics.”

Anyway, Etecsa, how long until mobile internet arrives?

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

First Ladies: An Untapped Potential in Latin America

After more than five decades in which the power had hair on its chest and only used skirts as a secondary support, a woman accompanies the president on his international engagements. It is a serious problem that she does not say anything.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 27 November 2018 — In times when there is so much talk of women’s demands, of campaigns with #MeToo-style labels, and of questioning the treatment of women in the media, it is worth reflecting on the figure of the First Lady in so many governments in Latin America.

In contrast to some European nations, and of specific moments in the administrations in the United States, in this part of the world that ranges from the Rio Grande to Patagonia, the person accompanying the president has barely used her influence and media exposure to bring messages of renewal to a female audience. She has been, rather, a “beautiful adornment” that follows the president to his public speeches, to the signing of agreements or on international tours, but she has been far from carrying herself as someone with a voice of her own who addresses the nation.

What if she used her position to influence something beyond clothes or hairstyles? The Latin American first ladies should break the mold of a beautiful face that assents to everything her husband does and throw themselves into promoting new roles, demanding spaces and launching those life stories that help the women of this region shake off disrespect and violence. continue reading

There are very gray cases, such as that of the recently premiered first lady of Cuban Lis Cuesta, the first female name that is officially linked to a president in more than half a century. After more than five decades in which power had hair on his chest and only used skirts as a secondary support, we see a woman who takes the president’s hand and accompanies him on his international engagements. It is a serious problem that she does not say anything, but we do not know if it is because of her own desire for “invisibility” or because she is prevented from doing so.

It matters little whether she shares spaces with the highest Chinese authorities or walks through the streets of London, the big problem is that we Cubans do not know the tone of her voice or what she thinks about the most critical issues of the nation.

In other Latin American countries the problem would be one of media over-exposure or the banal use of the figure of the first lady by the gossip media or fashion press to discuss the inches of her hemline or the quality of her makeup. However, in countries like this island where I live, the voice of the ruler’s wife seems to be suppressed as her very existence is shown as a “weak” diversion of the ideology in power, a “mannered” gesture of authority.

It is already time for this person who accompanies the highest office in the country to stop being pure decoration. She should not be presented like a flowery curtain that does not speak, like a beautiful vase and – much less – like an artificial flower that should always look fresh and perfumed, even in the worst moments.

A first lady must be the mirror for many Latin American women to see their potential reflected, a powerful call to realize projects and a reflection of what will come in the future. Will the ladies of the Palace be willing to subvert their wardrobes for real influence, to exchange heels for social endeavors? We all hope so.

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Note: This column was originally published in the Latin American edition of the Deutsche Welle chain.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba, A Risky Trip For Pedro Sánchez

Pedro Sánchez during the XXVI Ibero-American Summit held last week in Guatemala. (Moncloa)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 20 November 2018 – Pedro Sánchez will arrive in Cuba and will put an end to a long period of 32 years during which the island has not hosted an official visit by a President of the Government of Spain. The former Motherland hopes to reaffirm its business presence and reconquer the land that the United States won with a diplomatic thaw. The visit, however, planned as promenade of smiles and handshakes, presents many possibilities for failure.

During his stay in Havana, Sánchez will be surrounded by three fires whose flames will point at him from different positions. There is no way he will not be burned, or at least singed, on this trip, but it would be good if he knew the extent of the fire before delving into it. continue reading

If the Spanish president has chosen Cuba because it is a seemingly comfortable plaza that avoids his reaching nations that are nearer but with which there are too many outstanding issues, he may pay dearly for his mistake. As in 1898, this may be the place where the fleet of his illusions is sunk. Especially because it comes at a time when his visit may generate more resentment than benefits.

One of the fires that will burn the head of the Spanish Executive will be that of the almighty Government, a true master in diplomatic choreography, which designs every step so that the visitor does not depart from an agenda meticulously planned to the last detail. This itinerary has a clear purpose: to show the benefits of the Cuban system and, incidentally, to put a hand in the guest’s pocket so that he grants soft loans to the island’s ailing economy.

Miguel Diaz-Canel will show off the visit as an accolade to his Government and a success of his newly inaugurated mandate. If Madrid “sanctifies” this handpicked president, it is very likely that Sánchez will be followed by other European dignitaries who do not want to miss out on the red carpet in Havana. After all, many of them think that Cuba is a country of beautiful beaches and smiling people where a “heavy hand” is needed to keep things under control.

Ministers, officials and apparatchiks will surround Sánchez and, with a gesture of a hand or a raise of an eyebrow, they will drop the idea that soon, very soon, the country will enter on a path of deep reforms and that all of today’s deficiencies will be tomorrow’s achievements. Dressed in suits and ties or the traditional guayaberas, they will sell him the mirage of a change that is just around the corner, one for which only a little more money is needed.

Perhaps it will be a handshake with Raul Castro who, although he no longer sits in the presidential chair, continues to pull the nation’s strings from his watchtower as general secretary of the Communist Party. With a constitutional reform about to conclude, the octogenarian general may try to raise Sánchez’s arm with his fist raised, as fellow travelers, a gesture he has made with others.

To exorcise the demons that might manipulate his words, Sánchez should demand, as Barack Obama did, an opportunity to speak directly to the people of Cuba, live and in real time. Not the typical intervention of a press conference, where the official journalists will crowd the space asking him to speak out against the US embargo, but a speech without censorship or intermediaries.

Fleeing excessive protocol and guided tours will be another challenge. In this case, as well, he could learn from the experience of the former US president who tempered his more formal agenda with some escapes to several areas behind the curtains of propaganda. What he sees there will not resemble the tourist postcards but it will leave him with a more authentic impression of our reality.

The other burning coal that Pedro Sánchez will have in front of him is the political opposition and activism. So far, it has not been reported that he is going to meet with any opposition figures, nor whether the independent press will be able to cover some of the events in which he participates. Maybe that information has not been revealed yet, to avoid annoying the susceptible official hosts, but not announcing it generates strong criticism that would be worth tackling.

If the presidential plane takes off from this Island without the president having heard a version of Cuba other than that of the Palace of the Revolution, this will have been a useless and incomplete trip.

From the voice of the dissidents, Sánchez will be able to learn of the persistence of repression, now masked in subterfuges such as condemning opponents for “attack on authority” or “disrespect,” codified as common crimes. They can also detail how in recent years many activists have been “regulated,” a bureaucratic euphemism that hides a prohibition on leaving the island. That, together with the surveillance and the execution of critics’ reputations, remain common practices in this country.

But the flames do not end there. Sánchez lands in a nation where more than 150,000 citizens have become nationalized Spanish citizens thanks to the so-called law of grandchildren. These cubañoles are also waiting for a response to their demands on issues they assume as rights. Financial aid, greater support for food and medicine for the elderly, and intercessions so that the Plaza of the Revolution finally recognizes dual citizenship.

This community of cubañoles, the vast majority of which has never traveled to the Spain but rather has spent their entire lives in the island, will not speak to Sánchez as they might speak to a foreign visitor who arrives for a short time and whom one tries not to annoy, but as those who are addressing their representative, a public servant of a nation that owes them answers, protection and solutions.

Nor will Sánchez find rest outside of those three fiery tongues. Each commercial agreement that he signs during his visit, each loan that he grants, and each debt that he forgives to the Cuban Government, will be in direct contrast with the economic and business segregation to which the citizens of this country are subject.

Under current legislation, it is forbidden for a group of neighbors, who can range from prosperous owners of paladares – private restaurants – to owners of rental houses for tourists, to invest, for example, in fixing the paving of the street where they live. However, if a distant Asturian, Basque or Galician disembarks in that same block to erect a hotel, they will be allowed to do so.

Sánchez arrives at a moment when the piñata has already been shattered and the governing elite has divided the most succulent pieces of the national economy, in chicanery with foreign investors. Investors who close their eyes to the lack of rights of their employees and the absence of equity of opportunities for those born in this land, under the argument that “if we do not invest, others will.”

In this Cuba, fractured economically and politically, it will be a real miracle if this presidential visit does not end more in criticism than applause. The fire of public opinion waits to make firewood from this tree.

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Editor’s Note: This text has been published this Tuesday, November 20 in the Spanish newspaper El País.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Cuba-Brazil: The Battle of the White Coats

Cuban doctors who stay in Brazil will be forbidden entry to the island for eight years. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 19 November 2018 – We saw the conflict coming. From the moment Jair Bolsonero won the elections in Brazil, Cuba’s official discourse increased in rhetoric against him and prepared public opinion for the rupture that was imminent.

The straw that broke the camel’s back for the Plaza of the Revolution was the statements by the president-elect in which he warned that he would change the conditions of the agreement under which more than 8,300 physicians from Cuba work in Brazil’s Mais Medicos (More Doctors) program.

Last Wednesday, tensions escalated to their highest point when the Cuban Minister of Public Health announced that he was cancelling the contract and removing his professionals from the South American country. The official notice, read out on all of the island’s the news programs, repeated that Bolsonaro’s threats would not be tolerated but deftly ignored some of his words. Particularly those where the rightist leader insisted that the Cuban doctors should receive their full salaries and be able to bring their families to stay with them while they were in the program. continue reading

The Cuban government has made medical missions a lucrative business. With professionals deployed in more than 60 countries, the money raised by this practice is Cuba’s largest source of foreign currency, estimated to exceed $11 billion annually.

In the case of Brazil, Havana pockets 75% of the 3,300 dollar salary Brazil pays for each doctor, while the health professionals only receive a quarter of the total. On the Island, in a bank account which they do not have access to, their “Cuban” monthly salary of about 60 dollars accumulates, which they can only collect if they return to the island.

Those who leave the Mais Medicos program under their own will are considered deserters and are banned from entering Cuba for eight years. During the time the Workers’ Party (PT) was at the head of the Brazilian government, the doctors who escaped from their contracts were pursued by the Brazilian police and could be returned to the Island if they were arrested. None were allowed to bring their family members to be with them during their missions, and they were often housed in overcrowded hostels shared with other doctors, nurses and hospital technicians.

Despite so many difficulties and the low earnings, the missions were very much desired by the doctors because they were able to buy goods that are not available in Cuban markets, and to make contacts that would later allow them to return to Brazil privately, with a contract to work in some clinic.

Beyond its ability to provide healthcare for many Brazilians in the poorest areas of the country, the Mais Medicos program hid a political operation to build support for the leftist Workers’ Party and guarantee it the votes of the lower classes. It was clear that Cuba’s interest in this outcome was not going to continue with Bolsonaro in charge, thus it was only a matter of time before Castroism removed its healthcare professionals from Brazil. It only remains now to ask how many of them will actually return to the island.

The president-elect of Brazil has announced that he will grant political asylum to all Cuban doctors who request it and it is expected that a considerable number will benefit from this offer. Those who do so will lose the right to return to their homeland for many long years, they will be called traitors and, most likely, their families on the island will be under pressure. The battle of the white coats has barely begun.

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Note: This column was originally published in the Latin American edition of the Deutsche Welle chain.

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Keys To Understanding An Emergency Tour By Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel

Díaz-Canel did not choose to visit closer or more lucrative markets, in part because he is not looking for contracts but rather alms. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Lima, 13 November 2018 — If it were not for the two stopovers, one in Paris and the other in London, which Miguel Díaz-Canel made during his first official foreign tour at the head of the Cuban government, the map of his trip would be reduced to a group of countries that share ideological similarities and that are, for the Plaza of the Revolution, old allies from lost political battles.

In “the world according to Diaz-Canel” there are only as few nations as fingers on a hand, Moscow is located a few kilometers from Havana, and both the Americas and Europe have disappeared from the map. It is a planet scuplted in the geology of authoritarianism and created at the will of all-powerful parties, a land where the fragile grass of democracy hardly grows.

During his journey through that reduced world, the 58-year-old engineer was officially received by leaders from five countries: Russia, China, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos. The trip generated abundant declarations of “total support and solidarity” between the rulers, several visits to mausoleums housing the remains of controversial leaders, and the signing of some trade and cooperation agreements.

This latter seems to be the core of so much hectic activity, because beyond the official rituals, the journey was marked by urgency and driven by the despair of a leader at the head of a bankrupt nation. It was a trip in search of patrons, a “pass of the hat,” to achieve an economic relief from the tense situation on the island.

The scope of the agreements reached in this tour and their impact on the economy will only be verified in the coming months, but according to the headlines in the official newspaper Granma, we can already read that the compañeros visited on the trip have not been very benevolent. There has been no lack of agreements or signatures for exchanges, but there have been few loans or donations after so many handshakes, beyond having obtained 60 investment projects and a loan of 50 million dollars to buy weapons.

With productivity in the toilet, foreign tourism that will fail to reach the 5 million promised visitors, and the default of investors lacking enthusiasm to buy a piece of the Cuban pie, Havana is experiencing an acute lack of liquidity that is deepening the daily problems. Nevertheless, despite this tense situation, Díaz-Canel did not opt to visit closer or more lucrative markets, in part because he is not looking for contracts, but rather alms.

In addition to help and donations, the trip aimed to reaffirm the concept of “continuity” that has become the cornerstone of Cuba’s rulers. To reassure those who, like Kim Jong-un, could fear that, with the help of a younger leader, Havana might undertake economic and political reforms that would allow it to strengthen ties with Washington, Brussels and other democratic governments.

To all of them the message was clear. Nothing moves in the politics of the Island without the consent of the Communist Party and the generational change is totally under control. With this mantra, late Castroism tries to renew the support provided by these five nations in international forums, following the crisis facing regional entities such as the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC).

A third reason to undertake this “path of complicity” has been to annoy the United States and to make it clear to the European Union that it is not a priority on the Cuban agenda. And, in passing, slam the door on Latin American administrations that believed that without a Castro in power dialogue with the island would be easier. By preferring not to travel through the countries of the area, Cuba’s government has shown its low regional spirit and its disdain for its

Now, once this tour of necessity and ideological myopia is over, it remains only to wait for the real benefits it will have in everyday life. The millions of dollars agreed upon in exchanges are just a drop in an ocean of needs and are unlikely to deter those who plan to escape the island. Those thousands of Cubans who each year set a course for countries not included in the small world preferred by Miguel Diaz-Canel.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Private Versus State, Novelties and Fossils

The restaurant in the mansion at 3rd and 8th in Havana’s Miramar district is very close to a place privately run by self-employed workers. “House Rules” [Briefly] 1. No one under 18 at night. 2. Appropriate dress. 3. Do not bring your own food and drink, it will be confiscated. 4. No pets. 5. No photos without permission. 6. Behave yourself or you will be permanently barred. (14ymedio)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation 7, Havana, 8 November 2018 – The distance between them is a hundred yards and an abyss. The restaurant in the mansion at 3rd and 8th in Havana’s Miramar district is very close to a place privately run by self-employed workers. Both serve food, both are located in beautiful buildings with columns and arches, but the differences are so profound they might be two different universes. The first is under state management and the second is private, a word that the authorities avoid mentioning.

In the Cuba where I was born and grew up everything was state-owned. The snack bars, the pizzerias, the newspaper kiosks and the funeral homes. Most of those places are still administered by the government sphere; they are socialist businesses that have not demonstrated a very efficient management. But in the field of gastronomy there has been a significant and positive change in recent years. In this field, where the Ministry of Internal Commerce once ruled, it is now the self-employed who are leading the sector. continue reading

On this Island the fossilized remains of the Soviet era coexist with businesses that could be competitive in New York, Berlin or Madrid. Back-to-back are state services unable to adapt to the new demands of their customers, and private ones trying to stay afloat despite the high taxes, the absence of wholesale markets, and the ill-will professed by Communist Party bureaucrats.

The collapse of the state company is evident, with all its harshness, in the mansion at 3rd and 8th  Streets in Miramar, where a woman jingles some coins outside the bathroom: a gesture to demand tips from the customers who use the stinking cubicle, lacking toilet paper and water. Half the dishes listed on the menu are unavailable, an absence the waitress justifies by the lack of chicken and pizzas. There are no napkins on the tables and in the kitchen five employees vegetate while talking loudly.

The stately patio, with its palms and ferns, is occupied by a metal container that serves as a storeroom and the plants in their stone beds show symptoms of neglect. A piece of paper stuck on a door announces that in the room on an upper floor where videos are shown there are currently no films. The tablecloths are splashed here and there with spilled food and on the TV set over the tables a horror movie is showing images of disemboweled people while the customers sink their teeth into hamburgers.

Just when the customers think it can’t get any worse, the administrators organize a “lightening meeting” with the cooks and servers which paralyzes service and causes a crowd to pile up at the bar. Some, annoyed by the long wait, the missing menu items and the bland dishes, decide to cross the sidewalk and patronize the paladar (private restaurant) offering Spanish tapas. The walk between yesterday’s Cuba and tomorrow’s is a journey between a failed model and another one, possible and desired.

“Everything on the menu is available,” the waiter states proudly to the incredulous customers who have escaped the state premises. No one is able to explain very well how the private restaurant manages to maintain a supply of pork, beef and fish in a country where, in the last year, shortages have worsened, but everyone knows that some of the ingredients travel in the suitcases of innumerable passengers and others come from the black market. “Do you want your paella with seafood, rabbit or vegetables?” asks the waiter. Two tourists take pictures in front of a poster of bulls and another dares to ask for a vegan dish that arrives in a few minutes: varied and without traces of animal protein.

I fear that the mansion at 3rd and 8th may have many years ahead of it, offering bad cooking, the worse service, and the poor flavors that flow from its cauldrons. Meanwhile, the nearby paladar does not know if it will survive, because it has exposed the mammoth futility of a whole system. For this it may pay dearly.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.