A Spanish Ambassador in the Wrong Place

Was it the decision of the Spanish ambassador Juan José Buitrago to go to the cemetery of Santa Ifigenia and lay flowers at the monolith that holds the ashes of Fidel Castro? (Sierra Maestra)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 February 2018 — Five years ago, when I visited Spain for the first time, a fake photo showing me at the tomb of the dictator Francisco Franco began to circulate. I posted a brief denial on Twitter, but the incident helped me to reflect on the need to inform oneself about the history of a country one visits, its symbols, passions and animosities.

Five years later, but this time without some crude photographic manipulation, I see the Spanish ambassador on our island posing in front of the monolith containing the ashes of Fidel Castro. Juan José Buitrago de Benito, who presented his credentials last May, appears in an image standing at almost military attention, a few yards from the headstone of someone who, for almost five decades, remained in power by force. continue reading

Like any diplomat experienced in the arts of handling situations, Buitrago de Benito must have weighed the implications of taking that snapshot and leaving a floral tribute before he arrived there. He had to know that his action was going to unleash furious passions and send a clear signal of ideological positioning and a political posture sympathetic to the ruling party.

Two questions immediately come to mind seeing him there, in his impeccable guayabera under the sun Santa Ifigenia cemetery: Was it his decision to go? Did he know the connotations his visit would have?

For those who deeply understand the skillful maneuvers of the Cuban authorities to deceive every visitor to the country, one can imagine a naive ambassador who entered the cemetery to pay tribute to José Martí, national hero and son of Spaniards, and who on arriving was almost pushed to also visit the nearby Castro monolith.

If that is the case, the lack of knowledge of this reality and its codes has played a trick on Buitrago de Benito. His not knowing how to “stand firm” to avoid a trap set with premeditation and a lot of treachery, has caused a stumbling block that will mark his entire stay with us.

However, it is possible that it was his own decision, from the moment he headed to the cemetery. Then we are left to think that he is an admirer of the deceased or at least of that biography full of falsehoods and clichés that presents him as a savior of peoples, wise and just. Or another option, even worse: that with the visit to the tomb he hoped to win the favors of the authorities, who are wounded after the fiasco of the supposed future visit, recently belied, of the King and Queen of Spain to Cuba.

Any of these options, a naivety that led to a trap or a calculated intention, present the Spanish diplomat in a bad light. His visit to Santiago de Cuba, which had begun on a very good footing with the announcement of a new consulate for the eastern area, has become an unfortunate misstep in his diplomatic career.

We have yet to hear his explanations, but a photo, authentic and without trickery, has already said more than a thousand words.

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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 Moderate Is Also An Enemy

In the end, all of his art, his public image, and even his complaint have been determined by this entity – the faceless one – that he fears so much. (Artwork: El Sexto)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 15 February 2018 — A friend calls me sounding depressed. For years he has chosen caution and the path of moderation but even so, he wasn’t able to avoid being labeled an enemy. In his work he avoided knocking on the doors of those the government found most “uncomfortable,” rejected support that he considered “radioactive” and appealed to his own self-censorship to avoid ending up on the opposing side. It did little for him.

My friend enjoyed a period of certain advantages for not having become “a radical.” He was invited to endless embassy receptions, where he was presented as a young exponent of “a reformist tendency among the left.” There, he worked hard to demonstrate that his desires for change were within socialism and that his work contained intrinsic “constructive criticism.” continue reading

Amid the mojitos and canapés, the smiling diplomats looked on him with satisfaction, pleased that on the island there are people who don’t shout freedom slogans, who continue to work within some state institution, but who are allowed to let slip sharp accusations about the bureaucracy, the impediments of conformism and the corrupt practices, without being labeled a mercenary.

My friend was everything they needed: an artist who pushes “from within the limits,” with grace, a bit of humor and always clarifying that “Cuba is not how the dissidents paint it to be.”

Thanks to this image, he had access to funds he described as coming from foundations or entities with no ties at all Washington or the international “right.” To pave the way for such economic support, he excluded from his art those voices that he feared could “contaminate” his work and limited contact with his most “controversial” acquaintances.

Thus, stepping cautiously, like someone picking his way over broken glass, my friend managed to build a reputation as an “uncomfortable” – but not censored –artist, a citizen who demands his rights but respects the current and “authentic” Cuban system, who speaks from the shadows but also “values ​​the achievements of the Revolution.”

He never counted, so as not to break that ideal construction, the police citations he received over the last years, the arm across his shoulders from so many cultural officials inviting him to avoid certain red lines, nor the bits of evidence he was collecting about the surveillance he was subjected to.

Often, so that there would be no doubts about his loyalty to the cause, he lent his name and image to critiques, in the national media, of those who took stronger positions. Later, sotto voce, he clarified to his friends that his opinions had been manipulated by State Security while, in reality, he was sympathetic to the lost sheep.

None of it mattered. This week, the name of my friend has appeared in an article published on an official website that describes opposition leaders and moderate artists as “recalcitrant.” Years of carving a “permitted” face went up in smoke with a click.

Now he calls me, wanting to denounce the injustice to human rights organizations, crying out because he is not put in the same bag, and detailing his pedigree. It is all in vain. They never trusted him, they always considered him the system’s adversary from the moment in which he reflected, in his art, the reality and embraced, timidly, with his work, a certain plurality.

Still stomping his foot, he emphasizes in the phone call that he doesn’t want to make “a media show” of it, nor offer himself “on a silver platter to the [country to the] North,” but these explanations he is offering are not for me, but to the other person listening in on the line. In the end, all of his art, his public image, and even his complaint have been determined by this entity – the faceless one – that he fears so much.

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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 ‘Yes’ Victory in Ecuador is Also a Defeat for Castroism

Lenin Moreno, Ecuador’s recently-elected president, triumphed in all 7 questions of a national referendum that was pro-democracy, pro-environment and anti-corruption. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 February 2018 — “For the first time, I’m a Leninist,” a Cuban retiree said repeatedly and recklessly, standing in line for the newspaper. Around him some responded with a complicit smile. A few hours before, the news of a story with profound significance for Cuba had arrived: the triumph of the ‘Yes’ vote last Sunday, in a 7-point referendum promoted by that other Lenin, the president of Ecuador, Lenin Moreno.

During the last decade, Ecuador had become a recurring reference point for  Cuba. The diplomatic closeness between Rafael Correa and Raúl Castro, the thousands of professionals who were sent to work in that geographically complex country, and the many other Cubans who made Ecuador a point of departure for migration to other places, brought both nations closer together. continue reading

Meanwhile, Cuba’s official press also played a hand with positive adjectives about a Citizen Revolution and presented Rafael Correa as an “eternal friend” who would always be there for Cuba, to close ranks against the “empire” of the North. The narrative ignored a key fact: the Andean nation was still a democracy and at some point, Correa, an economist with a PhD from an American university, would have to leave power.

The Cuban media controlled by the Communist Party, including the newspaper Granma, gave no space to critical information about the Ecuadorian president’s management of his country. Not even to question the terrible oil drilling agreement he signed with China that shorted the country 2.2 billion dollars for the anticipated sale of crude oil, according to data that have surfaced in an ongoing investigation.

Granma also remained silent on Correa’s attacks of arrogance, his lack of composure in dealing with political opponents, the judicial witch hunt he launched against the press that dared to criticize him, and the corruption plots that shook his government and have led to a six-year prison term for vice president Jorge Glas, for receiving bribes from the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht.

After ten years in office, Correa concluded his second term and Havana reinforced its information strategy with regards to Ecuador. Lenin Moreno, Correa’s vice president, was presented as an extension of his predecessor, the docile heir of the designs of the true leader of the process who would respect the law barring him from three consecutive terms, and take a brief pause before returning triumphantly, after Moreno served one term as a ‘placeholder’.

That entire fantasy has been collapsing in recent months and was shattered this last Sunday. Moreno triumphed over the former president and his authoritarian model, cutting off the path the latter had laid for himself to return to the presidency, and, incidentally, sending a bitter message to Castroism at a time when Cuba’s so-called ‘historical generation’ is tying up the threads of succession politics.

There is no doubt, the resounding ‘Yes’ victory on all seven of the referendum’s questions is also a defeat for the Cuban regime.  Ecuadorians who chose to reestablish firm term limits and support the political disqualification of those found guilty of corruption, among other topics voted on in the popular consultation, have taken a decision that transcends their own country and touches, in particular, on this island.

With Brazil’s former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva submerged in several legal processes, Bolivia’s Evo Morales facing an imminent crisis of sustainability, Kirchnerism going through its worst moment in Argentina, Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro unable to buy support in exchange for oil, and a pathetic Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua making concessions to liberalism, the populist left has received another devastating blow in Ecuador. But this is a more effective hit because it comes from within.

After learning the results of the polls, Lenin Moreno called on his compatriots to build a country “happy, renewed, in peace and freedom.” That last word must have sounded in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution like a coup de grace.

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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.

‘Doctor Zhivago’, An Old Acquaintance Opens In Cuba

Screenshot of ‘Doctor Zhivago’, inspired by Boris Pasternak’s novel. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 25 January 2018 — The book was part of the private collection of a writer who went into exile and even though the title did not appeal I chanced it, bored in the midst of the publishing drought of the ‘90s. Its pages narrated a country I knew, but described a different place, convulsed, unjust and harsh. Doctor Zhivago came into my hands when the Soviet Union had disappeared and in it I found a part of the answers to explain that disaster.

A quarter of a century later, Cuban television finally broadcast the well-known film inspired by the novel, directed by British director David Lean. Released in that long ago 1965, the movie was absent from the screens of the island until 22 January of this year, though before the airing the program’s commentator warned about the picture’s ideological distortions. continue reading

An unnecessary clarification, because the story of Yuri Zhivago is well known on this island thanks to the infallible formula “there is nothing more attractive than the forbidden.” For decades, the work written by Boris Pasternak circulated from hand to hand – its cover wrapped in the boring state newspaper Granma to avoid indiscreet eyes – or, in recent years, in that elusive digital format that easily mocks the thought police.

Unlike George Orwell’s 1984Doctor Zhivago was not banned for predicting a totalitarian future that lined up along many points with our socialist Cuba, but because it described an uncomfortable past for those who wanted to present Russia as a country where the proletarians had achieved a Parnassian state of equality, comradeship and justice.

Instead of the Manichean vision taught in Cuban schools, Pasternak’s work focused on a tormented individual, shaken by social vagaries and more concerned with emerging unscathed from his circumstances than in sacrificing himself for a cause. He was an antihero far-removed from the “New Man” and the Soviet ideal.

The adventures the book had to circumvent also served as an argument to those who wielded the scissors at the Island’s publishers. Its publication in Italy 1957, the Nobel Prize it won Pasternak and the official pressures that forced him to reject the award contributed to the denial of Cubans’ right to read it.

The “camaraderie” in the Communist Bloc was filled such actions. An author censored in one of the countries that made up the vast red geography also made the blacklist in the other nations orbiting the Kremlin. Havana did not ignore that maxim and was faithful to its national stepmother, depriving its citizens of one of the twentieth century’s anthological works.

They censored it in Cuba not only out of ideological complicity with the country that economically sustained all the eccentricities of Fidel Castro, but because in its pages the Great October Socialist Revolution came out badly; it was a mass of informers, police, pressures of all kinds and lies. A suffocating scenario where the individual could barely protect her privacy and herself.

They say that when he was expelled from power, in 1964, Nikita Khrushchev read Pasternak’s novel. “We should not have banned it. I should have read it. There is nothing anti-Soviet in it,” he acknowledged then.

The Cuban censors, however, have not drafted an apology, nor is it necessary. History sounded the vigorous trumpet: the country they tried to protect from the supposed calumnies of the writer ceased to exist almost three decades ago; but Doctor Zhivago remains a vibrant and unforgettable novel.

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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.

IAPA Condemns Cuban State Security’s Threats Against ’14ymedio’ Journalist

Gustavo Mohme, president of the Inter-American Press Association. (Congress of the Republic of Peru / Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 January 2018 – Cuban State Security’s threats against Luz Escobar, a journalist with 14ymedio, were condemned on Tuesday in a statement by the Inter-American Press Association (SIP); the organizations said that the threats “show that restrictions and challenges continue to confront the exercise of freedom of the press” on the island, as they have since the triumph of the Cuban Revolution.

“We are concerned that this new harassment of an independent journalist only reflects the government’s intolerance and lack of will,” the president of the IAPA, Gustavo Mohme, said in the note.

Last Monday, 14ymedio published an article in which it made known that Luz Escobar, who has been working for this medium since its founding in 2014, had been summoned in Havana by agents of the political police, who invited her to collaborate with the Government and thus “influence the editorial line” of this newspaper. continue reading

During the hour and twenty minute meeting, and before the professional had received and rejected the offer, the agents threatened to prevent her from leaving the country, said they would pressure her family members, and would accuse her in front of her neighbors of being a “counterrevolutionary.”

In a recent article framed as a letter to the journalist, the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, openly stated her support for Luz Escobar. “They, without planning to, have given you the best argument to continue your career in journalism, because they have shown you that ‘up there’ nothing remains of respect for the citizen, for ethics, morality, sincerity, integrity… and much less for COURAGE. Of which you possess oceans,” she told the journalist.

The president of the IAPA has reiterated that what is happening in Cuba “continues to be a priority issue” for the organization he presides over. The statement also mentions another incident that occurred on January 11 in which the authorities detained journalists Sol García Basulto, Inalkis Rodríguez and Henry Constantín Ferreiro, members of the magazine La Hora de Cuba  in Camagüey.

IAPA continues to emphasize that this action by Cuban State Security against the journalists of La Hora de Cuba was due to the presence of President Raúl Castro in Camagüey, since he was visiting the city. ” Constantín Ferreiro and Garcia continue to be prohibited from leaving Camagüey, where they reside,” the statement reads, noting that they had been accused of the crime of “usurpation of legal capacity” because, according to the government, they have not been “duly authorized” to practice as journalists.

In its latest report on Cuba, the IAPA denounced that the lack of press freedom on the island worsened in 2017. The non-profit organization said that this was due to an increase in “the aggressions against independent journalists and even their relatives, and against users of social networks by police bodies” with the collaboration of the Ministry of Justice.

In the Human Rights Watch’s 2017 Annual Report published on Thursday, the organization notes that the Government of Cuba “detains, harasses and threatens independent reporters” among other serious violations of people’s rights and freedoms.

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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.

Letter to a Threatened Journalist

Luz Escobar has worked for 14ymedio since its founding in 2014. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 17 January 2018 – Luz, you have had an incredible “privilege”: To see up close the true face under the Fantômas mask.

In your police interview this Monday those State Security agents showed you, with complete self-confidence, who they really are, what is hidden behind the discourse of supposed ‘Revolutionary ethics’ and ‘defense of the country.’ In reality, under their clothes they are ‘mafioso’ whose methods mimic the worst style of the Camorra.

They have threatened you, they have warned you that the people closest to you will pay the consequences, they have even asked you to become one of them to betray your colleagues. All this, using the only tool they know: repression.

Your life will become more difficult from now on. Many friends will stop calling you, others will cross to the other side of the street when they see you, dozens of acquaintances will say you’ve gone crazy or that you are brainwashed, others will advise you to leave the country as soon as possible, to shut up, to stop writing. Some relatives will tell you to think about your daughters, while the fence around your house, your neighborhood, your person, will become suffocating.

They themselves, with the characteristic abuse of power, will spread the word that you are a ‘mercenary’ or, in the worst case, that you work for the ‘apparatus’ as an ‘undercover agent’. Distrust will rise like a wall around your work. These campaigns of defamation and demonization will affect every detail of your existence, from who knocks on your door to sell you a little milk, to the phrases the teachers repeat in your daughters’ classrooms.

However, from today, you will also feel a strange lightness, as if a weight you had been carrying on your shoulders for years has been lifted. They, without planning to, have given you the best argument to continue your career in journalism, because they have shown you that ‘up there’ nothing remains of respect for the citizen, for ethics, morality, sincerity, integrity… and much less for COURAGE. Of which you possess oceans.

Welcome to your new life. Enjoy it and be free.

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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.

“We Will Be Watching You”

The police offered Luz Escobar better treatment if she collaborated so that the Government could influence the editorial line of ’14ymedio’. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 16 January 2018 — Two State Security officers threatened the journalist Luz Escobar on Monday with prosecution for a common crime and making her life hell if she continues her work as a journalist for 14ymedio. “We are going to be watching you, because everyone here [in Cuba] has to buy something on the black market,” warned one of the interrogators.

Escobar received a summons, the second in less than five weeks, to attend an “interview” at the Zapata and C Street police station in Havana’s Vedado neighborhood, on 15 January at 1:00 in the afternoon. The meeting lasted an hour and 20 minutes and included several warnings.

“They threatened to tell my neighbors that I am a counterrevolutionary, to not let me leave the country and to prosecute me for a common crime,” adds the reporter, who in the last four years has published dozens of chronicles and reports in the pages of this newspaper. continue reading

“They gave as an example the case of the economist Karina Gálvez,” a member of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC) who was prosecuted last year for the crime of tax evasion. “The same thing can happen to you”

“They gave as an example the case of the economist Karina Gálvez,” a member of the Center for Coexistence Studies (CEC) who was prosecuted last year for the crime of tax evasion. “The same thing can happen to you,” the officers threatened.

Escobar, who previously worked as a theater producer, has been working as a journalist since the beginning of 2014 when she joined 14ymedio’s initial team. Since then she has specialized in cultural and local coverage; highlights of her work are her interviews with artists and her chronicles of daily life in Havana.

“They were particularly annoyed by the article I published last week about the situation outside the Colombian embassy in Havana, where visas are processed so that Cubans can continue the consular procedures for visas to United States in Bogotá,” she said.

“The official, who identified himself as Lieutenant Amed, reproached me for going there and gathering information from Cubans who were waiting to enter the consulate,” Escobar said. “He told me that I had to notify State Security whenever I wanted to cover news of that type.”

The “interview” cycled between threats and an offer of collaboration for the journalist to help the political police to “influence the editorial line” of 14ymedio, because right now “it is a newspaper that receives instructions from abroad to subvert the Revolution,” they told her.

“Among the warnings there were clear hints that they will put pressure on my family and even alluded to my daughters, telling me that they might not have me around as they grow up,” said the reporter, who has decided to continue with her work. “It’s what I want to do with my life,” she says flatly.

The agents asked the journalist to help the political police to “influence the editorial line” of ’14ymedio’,because right now “it is a newspaper that receives instructions from abroad to subvert the Revolution”

The officials insisted that the United States Government financially supports this digital newspaper, but did not reference public information on 14ymedio’s finances; in its four years of existence the newspaper has not received funds from any governments or political parties, or from any organizations linked to any nation’s executive branch.

“Lieutenant Amed avoided mentioning the transparent finances of which this newspaper boasts,” said the director of 14ymedio, the journalist Yoani Sánchez. “He is lying, because we have created our own business model with the resources derived from memberships, reporting agreements with other media, private donations and the work we do in academic centers or other information spaces,” she adds.

“Amed wants to blame us for something that is totally false and is committing the crime of defamation crime by saying that we receive resources from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) or the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), when we are a project with total economic and editorial autonomy,” she reiterates.

A few weeks ago, this newspaper inaugurated a membership system for Internet users to help support the costs of maintaining a newspaper in a country where the independent press is penalized. “We have managed to involve readers so that they can support, with their monetary contributions and solidarity, the work we do every day,” says Sánchez.

Thank you all for the solidarity. The “interview” was full of threats from State Security to get me to quit my work as a journalist on the digital newspaper 14ymedio. 15 January 2018

Since the founding of 14ymedio, in May 2014, members of the editorial team have received constant pressure to abandon their work as journalists. The website is blocked on national servers and residents on the island can only access it via anonymous proxies or VPN.

“Arrests, threats and interrogations have been our day-to-day reality, but we have tried to prevent that repressive atmosphere from distracting us from our reporting,” Sánchez emphasizes, “however, the situation has reached a point where we fear for the integrity of our reporters and it is time to call on the solidarity of journalism organizations in the region and human rights organizations to alert them to what is happening.”

At the end of the interview, Luz Escobar received a new police citation for next Wednesday, 17 January, at the Police Station on 21st and C streets in Vedado.

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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.

‘Che’ Guevara, The Faded Myth

It does not matter if his face continues to be reproduced on countless T-shirts, flags or ashtrays all over the planet, because the more it becomes known what kind of person he really was, the more his myth fades. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 14 January 2018 — Almost four decades ago, when I was learning the alphabet, I had to say my first political slogan, the same one repeated every morning by thousands of Cuban schoolchildren: “Pioneers for communism, we will be like Che.” The only thing that has changed is that, today, the figure of the guerrilla is sharply contested in many parts of the world, but not in Cuba.

The man who posed for so many photographers, who was immortalized in a portrait with his beret and lost gaze, is not escaping the judgment of History. Now, when violence and armed struggle are increasingly publicly condemned, the details of his excesses are coming to light and the victims of those years are finally beginning to be heard.

Times are not good for Ernesto Guevara, the Argentinian who has captivated filmmakers, writers and journalists. It does not matter if his face continues to be reproduced on countless T-shirts, flags or ashtrays all over the planet, because the more it becomes known what kind of person he really was, the more his myth fades. The truth floats while he sinks. continue reading

The material voracity of his heirs, the unscrupulous use made of his name by his own compañeros in battle, and the frivolity of the consumers of ideological relics add corrosive acid to his legend

The unrestrained commercialization that has taken over that image with its thin beard and prominent brow also contributes to his descent. The material voracity of his heirs, the unscrupulous use made of his name by his own compañeros in battle, and the frivolity of the consumers of ideological relics add corrosive acid to his legend.

Che has become a business, a good business for nostalgics who write books about those utopias so lacking today. They are tomes to deify a man who would have persecuted many of his current admirers for wearing a nose ring, having long hair or for the residue of marijuana in their pockets.

Like one of life’s ironies, the Guevarian cult spreads among people who could never have fit into the strict mold that the Argentinian designed for the “New Man.” That individual had to be motivated by “hatred as a factor of struggle” and had to know, when the time came, how to become a “selective and cold killing machine,” he warned in his last public message in 1967.

In what way can Che appeal to the pacifists, environmentalists or anti-establishment types who today venerate him? How do those who claim to want greater spaces of freedom for citizens be in tune with a man who helped subdue an entire society to the designs of a few? At what point does their idealism connect with a man who wanted to change Latin America through the sights of a gun?

Guevara’s early death and his failure to age in power are not enough to sustain his legend. The complacent biographers who retouched every passage of his life have contributed to his deification, as have his former fellow travelers in need of a “martyr” for the pantheon of revolutionaries, a John Lennon without a guitar or a Jesus without a crown of thorns.

In October 2016, the image of Che Guevara which, for more than 30 years, had stared out over the main square of the National University of Bogotá in Colombia, disappeared from the wall of the León de Greiff auditorium. The erasure of that face provoked a bitter controversy among the students and soon after a group of the Argentinian’s supporters ended up repainting the mural.

The clash revealed something more than ideological differences among the students: it showed the clash of two eras. On one side, a moment when Guevara was seen as a Latin American liberator who, riding his motorcycle or holding his gun, represented a quixotic figure ready to face the imperialists’ machines. On the other, a time when the failure of the model that the guerrilla wished to impose has been proven.

There is nothing that gives a greater lie to the man who reached the rank of commander in the Sierra Maestra, than the rancid totalitarianism into which the Cuban Revolution sank

There is nothing that gives a greater lie to the man who reached the rank of commander in the Sierra Maestra, than the rancid totalitarianism into which the Cuban Revolution sank. No blow to his image has been as harsh as the pro-Soviet drift that Fidel Castro took after Che’s death and subsequent “concessions” to the market he was forced to make when the subsidies from the Kremlin abruptly ended.

Last year, just half a century after the death of Guevara in Bolivia, the liberal Bases Foundation began a campaign to collect signatures on Change.org to eliminate all monuments and other tributes to Che in the city of Rosario, where he was born. The Argentinian NGO called him the heir of the “murderous legacy of communism.” More than 20,000 people have signed the demand.

At the end of December, last year, the controversy reached France when the Parisian City Council, led by the socialist mayor of Spanish heritage Ana Hidalgo, hosted the exhibition Le Che à Paris. Several intellectuals and academics signed a protest letter written by the journalist and Cuban exile Jacobo Machover in which they demanded the immediate closure of the exhibition.

Machover, author of The Hidden Face of Che, recounts in his book several of the aspects most hidden in the official history. Guevara “attended the executions” carried out after summary trials in the first year of the Revolution and “the Cubans, who feared him, called him the butcher of La Cabaña,” he relates. In 1964, from the podium of the United Nations, he boasted of his actions: “We executed, we are executing and we will continue to execute as long as necessary.”

Hidalgo responded with a message on the social network Twitter that fired up the mood even more, where she said, “the capital city pays homage to a figure of the revolution turned into a militant and romantic icon.” The Parisian mayor closed her tweet with an emoticon in the form of a closed fist, in the old revolutionary way.

With her gesture, Hidalgo joined one of the most elaborate publicity campaigns that has emerged from the Castroist laboratory, one in which the past is distorted and Guevara is praised, while the extensive cruelty that characterized him is hidden.

For several generations of Cubans who have repeated from an early age the commitment to “be like Che,” all these polemics come as a shock. Like slaps, they bring us out of the hypnotic state engendered by the combination of ignorance and indoctrination.

However, the most devastating blow I have witnessed to the figure of the so-called “heroic guerrilla” came from a compatriot. In the midst of a party in Havana, a young university student realized that a German guest was dressed in one of those shirts with the famous snapshot taken by the photographer Alberto Korda.

“You could just as well put on a shirt with the face of Charles Manson,” the student said to the tourist, and the phrase remained floating in the air while the music seemed to stop. Nervous laughter and silence. No one defended Che Guevara.

Editor’s Note: This text was initially published in the Spanish newspaper El País.

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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 Departure Of Raúl Castro, The End Of An Era

The vice president of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, listens to Raúl Castro (Havana, May 1, 2016). GETTY

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, (Politicaexterior.com), Yoani Sanchez, 9 January 2017 — “Six decades are a lifetime,” says Facundo, a Cuban retiree who sells the official press in Old Havana to supplement his low pension. Born shortly before Fidel Castro came to power, the man is suspicious of the appointment of a new president next April. “That’s going to be like learning to walk,” he says, while hawking the pro-government daily Granma.

Like Facundo, a good part of the Cubans residing on the island today were born under Castroism or barely remember the country before January 1959. Raúl Castro’s departure from the government [first announced for February 2018 and then postponed until April] for them has the connotations of the end of an era, regardless of the rupture or continuity shown by the successors installed in the national command room. continue reading

A few weeks before the presidential transfer becomes effective, indifference gains ground among the inhabitants of a nation that has the longest serving family dynasty in power in all of Latin America. A moment that should be a source of expectation and speculation is diluted by apathy and the island’s complicated economic situation.

Unlike other countries on the continent that have experienced regional or general elections in recent years, the Cuban electoral process does include polling to measure the electorate’s inclinations or to motivate media debates. The sensation is one of “follow the leader” with everyone working together to preserve control in the hands of one group.

The boredom also comes from the fact that the current electoral law prohibits political campaigns, nor are candidates allowed to present their programs, which might excite some or scandalizes others. Without this essential component, the process is one more of confirmation than selection; more of a tacit appointment than of a competition.

Only in April, when the new Council of State becomes public, will it be known who has been chosen for the highest office in the country. So far, the outcome is only a matter of speculation, that moves according to official attention focused on one person or another, as functionaries move in and out of the spotlight. Thus, political divination is a very inaccurate art in these parts.

On top of that, the candidates to sit in the presidential chair will enjoy their status as aspirants for an extremely short time, perhaps hours or minutes between the time the National Candidacy Commission reveals their names to the new Parliament that body’s vote to approve a candidate. The trajectory to the presidency could be no longer than a sigh.

This has been the case since the first National Assembly of People’s Power was constituted in 1976, when Fidel Castro proclaimed that the “provisional period of the Revolutionary Government” ceased and the socialist State adopted “definitive institutional forms.” In 1992, the new electoral law modified some details, but maintained the single-party essence of the system along with its armor against any kinds of surprises.

The end of a family dynasty

However, the novelty of the current elections does not lie in what may happen outside the script, but in the fact that for the first time the person occupying the presidential chair is very likely not to have the surname Castro. The possibilities that the office holder will belong to “the historical generation of the Revolution,” formed by a small group of octogenarians, are also minimal.

Along with the new president, figures that will replace the hard core of gerontocracy will come to sit on the Council of State. A cabal where the excess of years has been justified by the argument of accumulated experience, when in reality the permanence of these veterans is based on their proven loyalty to Fidel Castro, and now to his brother Raúl.

Biology, in its pragmatic task, seems to have imposed new rules and the time has come for the relief team, but there are no signs that the renewal of faces implies a political transition. In fact, anyone who has been projected as a reformer will not appear in the fleeting list of candidates that, in a predictably unanimous manner, will be approved by Parliament in April.

As was noted before focusing the cameras of the last century “anyone who moves does not appear in the photo”; anyone who has shown traits of thinking with his own head or wanting to mark his mandate with a new imprint will be out of the picture. This is what happened in 2009 with then Vice President Carlos Lage and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Felipe Pérez Roque, who had been seen as possible heirs but instead were unceremoniously ousted.

If this is the case, it is worth repeating Galileo Galilei’s  mythical “and yet it moves.”  After six decades of the country being governed by a regime that is not only totalitarian but also family based, those who assume leadership roles will have to do it in a collegiate way, in the absence of a figure that combines historical ancestry, command capacity and the consensus of the leadership to rule without supervision.

During the almost 50 years that Fidel Castro held power on the island, he did it based on his own will and caprice. At that time councils of ministers hardly existed and the country was governed from the door of a Soviet jeep from which the maximum leader appeared to impart his “clear guidelines.” His omnipotent power led him to decide everything from the fabric and cut of school uniforms to the way housewives cooked beans.

When he participated in the sessions of the Parliament, the only one who spoke was him and he did it relentlessly for hours, wasting in the practice the participation of the more than 600 deputies. He hoarded all the portfolios, imposed his desire in each sector and emptied the institutions of any possibility of decision making. Fidel Castro led the country with the tip of his index finger, without anyone else influencing the national course.

There are many testimonies that narrate the occasions in which he met with his immediate subordinates, where the curses and the threats would rain down if his designs were not fulfilled. His pounding the table buried every possible disagreement and assent or applause were the only possible answers. “Yes, Fidel.” “Of course, Chief.” “At your orders, Commander.”

When Fidel Castro fell ill and was forced to withdraw from public life, in July 2006, Raúl introduced the habit of consultation. During the 10 years that he has governed he held more meetings of the councils of ministers and summoned a greater number of plenary sessions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) than all of those held for the previous nearly half a century.

That proclivity to teamwork does not make the younger Castro a democrat, but at least he gave the impression that, although he did not renounce imposing his will, he was in the position to or in need of sharing decisions. His calls to make “incremental” and “gradual” changes to improve the country’s economy earned him a reputation contrary to that of his brother. The former was like an unreflecting hurricane, the latter a lackluster drizzle that was neither wet nor cool.

However, it fell to the younger Castro to lead the diplomatic thaw with the United States. The milestone of his mandate and the one for which he will go down in history was not — ironically — the long-awaited democratic transition on the island, but rather to have settled the problem with the great neighbor of the North. A conquest that dissolved in the last months with the arrival of Donald Trump to the White House and the outbreak of the scandal of the acoustic attacks supposedly suffered by US diplomats in Havana.

To make matters worse, the great Venezuelan ally has also clouded the final days of the Cuban president. The plummeting of oil imports to the island, along with the growing loss of prestige of the so-called “Bolivarian revolution” and the departure of several political allies in the region have made the scenario of the “farewell” very different from the one that was planned.

In the midst of this adverse context, the entire weight of Cuba’s future lies in the decision that will be taken when the moment comes to transfer power. Although the ruling party tries to show that it has everything “well under control,” a system so based on the will of a family clan has serious problems with new faces. A dynastic regime is not inherited by or delegated to others, it only survives if it remains anchored to a family tree.

Hence, speculation about the possible rise of Alejandro Castro Espín, son of the current president and a dark figure responsible for the police control of the country and the management of the feared State Security. Despite this possibility, his father is trapped in wanting to present an image of institutionality before genetics. He knows that a relief based on blood would protect him, but that also it would end up burying any narrative of the revolution in favor of emphasizing the character of a family dynasty.

Beyond the individual who will assume the highest office in the country, the person will be obliged to agree with others and to govern under the inquisitive gaze of third parties. He will have no choice but to argue to reach consensus, in a scenario where no one will have the right to pound the table with his fists or to throw a threatening look when asking if anyone disagrees with his opinion.

A future for Miguel Díaz-Canel?

The great unknown remains the name of the man – or woman – who will be graced with the position, although all bets point to Miguel Diaz-Canel, currently Cuba’s first vice-president. Born in 1960, the possible heir is a faithful product of the laboratory of political cadres, someone suckled on the udder of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and attached to the official script, with not a single mis-delivered line.

The Cuban dauphin can be considered a gray man, without charisma or a will of his own, someone who projects the image of continuity. He has come to where he is thanks to that projection and is unlikely to expose himself as a Mikhail Gorbachev or as a Lenin Moreno, once he reaches the presidential chair. Instead, his rise is surrounded by questions and suspicions that rain down on him from the opposition.

A sector of the outlawed dissidence maintains that “until what has to change has changed, nothing has changed” and that the transfer of power will be a theatrical representation to show the world, although nothing will move even a millimeter with regards political repression and the lack of freedoms.

This point of view is based on the fact that Raúl Castro will continue to be the first secretary of the PCC, which, according to the Constitution, “is the leading force of society and of the State.” Although biology suggests that it is unlikely that he will remain in that position until the eighth congress is held, in 2021, when he would be about to turn 90.

So, in order to continue the tradition of the socialist countries of concentrating in one person the highest governmental and partisan positions, it is more than foreseeable that before the end of his term at the head of the political organization he would convoke an extraordinary congress to unify the controls.

It may also happen that, for the first time in decades, the person appointed to head the PCC could be different from the person who holds the presidency. A bifurcation that weakens the system and will generate more than one collision of authority.

Between the slight optimism of a few, the distrust of the opposition and the indifference of most of the population, we just have to wait and see what is decided in April. Whether the date becomes a watershed or a new chapter of “more of the same.”

What is not discussed is how difficult it will be for the relief team to complete the pending tasks left by the current government. Perhaps the greatest difficulty is that of undertaking the essential reforms in the economy, while fulfilling the promises of continuity that, as a mandatory reverence, they will have to make when assuming their positions.

More complex will be to introduce political changes. Maybe they should wait for probable new elections in which, if everything works out, they will have to compete with the platforms of other candidates, of those possible presidents who remain hidden in the Cuban reality, waiting for a future legal framework that will allow them to emerge, waving their own government programs.

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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 Blindness Of Michelle Bachelet

Michelle Bachelet, the president of Chile, has an old sentimental commitment to Castroism. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 7 January 2018 — Nine years ago, Michelle Bachelet met with Fidel Castro during his convalescence. The Chilean president left that meeting stating that she had seen the former president lively and “handling a lot of information.” Her words were used by the Plaza of the Revolution to spread a lie: that the Commander in Chief was in good health.

This January, a new visit from Bachelet could lend itself to spreading another fallacy: that the Government of Raúl Castro still has numerous allies in the region beyond its unconditional supporters Nicolás Maduro, Daniel Ortega and Evo Morales, when in fact the circle of comrades in Latin America it is very diminished, like never before in the last decade.

A few weeks before delivering the presidential sash to Sebastián Piñera, the Chilean leader arrived in Cuba on Sunday to close a cycle of loyalty that rests more on emotional attachment than on political pragmatism. Her closeness to Havana is marked by an ideological nostalgia that clouds her view and her ability to recognize the lack of rights that mark the lives of Cubans. continue reading

Bachelet is a comfortable fellow traveler for the island’s authorities, because she has never made public any criticisms or democratic demands. One of the few flare-ups that occurred between the two governments was caused by Fidel Castro when, after the Bachelet’s visit in 2009, he criticized Chile’s position in the border dispute, dating back to the 19th century, that blocked Bolivia’s access to the sea. At that time, the Chilean president expressed her annoyance over those statements.

In each of her two terms Bachelet avoided showing sympathy for the cause of Cuban dissidents and has declined any contact with the countless activists from the island who have visited her country in recent years. From her mouth, there has never been any condemnation of the political repression systematically carried out by Raúl Castro, even when the victims are women.

In his case, blindness and silence before the absence of freedoms in Cuba are not derived from ignorance. The Chilean press and the innumerable emigrants from the island in the southern country have let her know that her allies in Havana have been in power for almost six decades, forbidding other parties, repressing opponents and pushing their critics into exile.

The president, who a few weeks ago called her political adversary to congratulate him for having won in the second round of the presidential elections, knows that the lack of routine transfers of power sickens societies, impoverishes the solutions to any country’s problems, and entrenches one group in the highest spheres of power, a power that then ends up supplanting the name and will of the nation.

With her personal history, which includes the death of her father in prison, going underground and into exile, it is difficult to understand why the Chilean president does not face her Cuban counterpart and demand democratic changes, and much more so now that she herself is leaving power. That contradiction between her biography and her passivity before the Cuban dictatorship can only be understood from loyalty.

Bachelet has an old sentimental commitment to Castroism, although in her heart she knows that all that is left of the olive-green bearded ones, who once filled her dreams, is an immobilized gerontocracy. Calling on them publicly to respect the rights of their citizens would be like demolishing that utopia that she sighed for in her youth.

Like many other leftist politicians, the Chilean believes that if she points to the Plaza of the Revolution as a regime that violates human rights, it would be akin to going over to the side of the “right” and betraying her ideals. In order to maintain an ideological pose, she has been capable of choking back any signs and remaining silent before the acts of repudiation, arbitrary arrests and criminalization of thinking differently.

This Sunday began Bachelet’s last opportunity to amend her indifference and be consistent with her libertarian and democratic pedigree. One phrase, a few words, a meeting with activists, a tweet of commitment to the Cuban people and not to the Government, would be enough to repair her previous complicity.

Only with a gesture of this nature, will the visit of the Chilean president have been worth more than rubber stamping a memorandum of intention, closing some commercial agreement and serving Raul Castro to mask the growing loneliness that surrounds him in Latin America.

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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.

Mrs. Mogherini, We Are Still Without Freedom

Federica Mogherini and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez on a previous visit of the High Representative of the EU to Havana. (EEAS)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 3 January 2017 – Is a ship that has had all its parts replaced still the same ship? The question is known as Theseus’s Paradox and illustrates the European Union’s dilemma with Cuba: Does a dictatorship that moderated its diplomatic language, tried to make peace with its enemy and lost its personality cult leader continue to be a dictatorship?

The promoters of rapprochement between the European Community and the Plaza of the Revolution intuit that the planks added to the ship of Castroism have ended up changing its nature. This confidence in the renovation experienced by any political process over time, the arrival of new actors, and adaption to the international context are what bring Federica Mogherini to the Island on Wednesday.

The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy begins a two-day official visit to advance the bilateral relationship after the signing of the first agreement between the EU and Cuba. However, the rush to strengthen relations and the intention to cede first and demand later could play a dirty trick on the most visible face of European diplomacy. continue reading

Behind the text of the agreement between Brussels and Havana that came into force on November 1, in the spirit of rapprochement, is the opinion that only with an approach to Raul Castro’s government, with solid diplomatic ties and a fluid communication channel, can the EU influence the course of the lives of the eleven million people who inhabit this nation.

With the signing of the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, the EU’s 28 member states want to resume the exchange programs and the influence that was lost in Cuba with the application of the EU’s “common position” in 1996, which conditioned relations on an improvement in the human rights situation on the Island.

However, the approach can also be read as a gesture of legitimization, an act of support and solidarity with the Cuban government. At least that is how it has been presented by government propaganda within the island, losing no opportunity to reiterate that Raul Castro’s government disagrees with the conditions regarding human rights and will not accept “interference of any kind.”

From that time until now, the national “ship” has undergone several transformations. Among them is the transfer of power between El Comandante — Fidel Castro — and his successor, by blood: El General — Fidel Castro’s brother Raul Castro. With the latter in command, there has been the promotion of “work on one’s own account,” an official euphemism with which to designate the private sector, but only on the small scale of a pizza maker, a shoe repairer, or, in the most sophisticated cases, a restaurant.

The Cuban raft has also been subject to some patches regarding immigration policy, especially when the disgraceful requirement for an exit permit to leave the country was eliminated in January 2013, a flexibilization that has not ended selective travel restrictions against activists nor has it yet returned full rights to exiles to visit their native country.

Today Cubans can contract for a mobile phone line, stay at hotels, establish cooperatives, connect to the Internet from the Wi-Fi zones installed throughout the country and request a piece of land under a leasing arrangement known as usufruct.

The death of the Great Helmsman has put an end to the delirious decisions of a man sick with power who was an obstacle on the path of normalization of relations with the EU.

However, like Theseus’s boat, it is not only the planks and navigation accessories that make up the “personality” of a ship. For the most part, the name painted on the side, the flag that flies on the mast, the destination traced by the captain and the performance of its sailors define it better than a keel, new sails or a gleaming anchor.

This country, to which Federica Mogherini arrives today, continues to be ruled as a dictatorship. The proof of this is the absence of political pluralism, the criminalization of opinion, the arbitrary arrests of opponents and prison sentences with a visible political bias, a partisan monopoly over the press, the impunity with which State Security works and the permanent vigilance over every aspect of reality.

All these tools of control become more visible when they are exercised against activists, but they also run through every detail of society and touch all individuals. Fear, the mask of simulation, opportunism and self-censorship are some of the many effects provoked by this permanent Orwellian supervision over the life of every Cuban.

This Wednesday, the ruling party will deploy its arts so that Mogherini will be unable to verify how much of the old totalitarian structure of Castroism still stands. They will do everything possible so that she does not look overboard, does not look at the horizon, does not discover that under the new paint and the cosmetic adjustments, the compass that governs this country does not yet point towards 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.

The Economic Crisis Explained Through A Leg Of Pork

A leg of pork marks social difference sin Cuba, but also in its near neighbor, Venezuela, the story repeats itself. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 31 December 2017 — The young man knocks on the door, having arrived from the distant town of Güira, sweating buckets. He doesn’t have to mince words, just display his merchandise consisting of fresh milk, cheese and a leg of pork. This informal vendor has cheaper deals than those in the state markets, in days when the city’s pallets are empty or the quality of what is available has collapsed.

In a country where the Gross Domestic Product grew in 2017, according to official data, by 1.6%, things continue to go badly for Cubans who do not have contacts in the informal market. It does not matter if the man is among the new rich, or the woman is a state worker who scratches every penny of her salary or the person is a retiree with both a pension and remittances from family living abroad. Without that furtive seller who knocks at the door, everyone has fewer chances to make ends meet. continue reading

The complex underground network that supplies the national tables, and which becomes essential on holidays, is one of the many evidences of the dysfunctionality of the economic system that rules the island. Along with their ABCs, political slogans and ideological simulation, islanders learn to buy and sell “under the table.” Anyone who does not master this vital subject is lost.

The first lesson of the clandestine school is simple: few questions, a lot of complicity and no “slips of the tongue,” because “no one sells to” the informers. Once this basic class is passed, all you need is to have a contact who makes a first connection with “the source” for you. To obtain a serious supplier, who does not cheat or adulterate the merchandise, is equivalent in these parts to finding a four-leaf clover. Whoever finds one doesn’t let it go.

On the other hand, the black market vendors who take the most risks are those who move “delicate” merchandise, such as shrimp, lobster, milk and all its derivatives, in addition to the very tightly controlled beef. However, by the end of the year, a leg of pork rises to the category of “the most wanted” by the police, especially after the government is forced to cap the prices of many agricultural products.

This piece of meat that will roast in the ovens of innumerable houses on the last day of the year is a symbol of status. A leg of pork on 31 December is not the same thing as a pork shoulder, a rack of ribs, or the least valued pork chops. Like a Cuban Dow Jones, this cut of meat draws the clean line of the social abyss that divides the country.

This Sunday, when the smells rise from thousands of kitchens on this island, not only will the economic contrasts be there with all the rawness that mark the dishes, but the degree of contact with the black market will make the difference in what each family puts in its mouth.

For those who do not belong to the ruling class and who at this time of year receive a gift package with nougat – a traditional holiday treat – liquors and cuts of meat, there are only two ways to get ready for the festivities: stand in the long lines in the markets for a piece of pork that’s worth the hassle, or appeal to a clandestine vendor.

Those who have someone who knocks furtively on their doors will eat with more variety; those who immerse themselves in the illegality can bite into something closer to the “ideal” of the Cuban New Year; and those who move most adeptly in these informal frameworks with celebrate 31 December, Saint Sylvester’s Day, with less pain.

In Cuba, a leg of pork marks the difference.

In the island’s near neighbor, Venezuela, the story is repeated. A system that promotes political patronage and wants to control every detail of the economy is put to the test at this time. The economic crisis that the country is experiencing due to bad administration, corruption and the political blindness of its leaders, reached painful heights this week.

The Venezuelans are throwing themselves into the street because of the daily hardship. Even the poorest and those most loyal to Chavism demand to be able to eat the traditional twelve grapes at the end of the year and insist that Nicolás Maduro fulfill his promise of a mass importation of legs of pork for Christmas. In the face of a frustrated family dinner, slogans are not worth much.

Miraflores Palace blamed Portugal for not having fulfilled its commitments and leaving thousands of poor without their traditional Christmas dinner, which triggered a new wave of street protests.

There too, a piece of pork has become more eloquent than any antigovernment slogan. The contents of the tables anticipated in 2018 speaks more of privileges, crisis and illegality than the best economic treatises that can be written about the collapse of a system.

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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.

‘Sputnik’ and ‘Russia Today’ Invade the Cuban Media

The references to ‘Sputnik’ and ‘RT’ are increasingly frequent in Cuba’s official media, which cites them among their main sources.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 December 2017 — While the accusations grow against Russia for using social networks to manipulate the Catalan crisis, the American elections and Britain’s Brexit, the Kremlin-financed press gains space in Cuba. The references to Sputnik and Russia Today, which is now called RT, are increasingly frequent in the official media, which presents them among its main sources.

The Russian state news agency Sputnik and its international television channel RT are mentioned every day in newspapers, and TV news and radio programs on the island. The content taken from both media ranges from scientific announcements, to information about Russia to international issues.

Without substantiating the veracity of the information provided, the analysts of the official press assume the points of view, the opinions and the assertions of those media, with the same complicity with which they once promoted information from the Soviet newspaper Pravda and the official new agency TASS. continue reading

Questioning the legitimacy of the West, promoting skepticism of democracy, doubting the future of the European Union, disseminating conspiracy theories about the powers that move the world, and denying the decision-making capacity of citizens in liberal systems are some of the ideas most repeated in those state media.

In support of this scaffolding are added “testimonies” and opinions to reinforce the idea of ​​the superiority of authoritarian regimes in comparison with the chaos that seizes parliamentary debates when approving new security measures or passing laws, in societies governed by the separation of powers.

The current closeness with Russian media contrasts with the attitude of the Cuban government towards Novedades de Moscú (a weekly newspaper published in Spanish) and Sputnik magazine in the years of Perestroika and Glasnsot in the Soviet Union, when the circulation of those publications was censored in Cuba.

The cult of personality around Vladimir Putin and Fidel Castro is also part of the recipe of this propaganda press, with more intentions to indoctrinate than to inform. Analysts warn that the average person does not know if what they see is propaganda or information, one of the keys to the success of these media, especially on social networks. In addition, RT and Sputnik also display a rampant absence of criticism towards any regime allied with the Kremlin or any enemy of the United States.

According to them, the launching of the missiles by the Kim Jong-un regime is the correct North Korean response to “the joint naval maneuvers of the United States, Japan and South Korea,” while the most recent Venezuelan elections represent the “greatest victory’ of Chavism and the “final defeat” of the opposition.

The information published by the official Cuban media on the Catalan crisis was mainly based on RT’s reporting. The support for the separatists reached its climax the days before the illegal referendum, which was presented as a democratic consultation in opposition to the position of the Spanish Government, which defended the constitutional legality but which was branded by the Russian media as “fascist” and an inheritor from the dictator Francisco Franco.

These official bodies of the Kremlin also have a political agenda when narrating the Cuban reality. Positive verbs such as “grow” and “develop” or nouns of a humanistic nature in the style of “solidarity,” “justice” and “collaboration” dot the information about Cuba, in which the supposed achievements of the Cuban health system, its sporting feats and official events are highlighted, while productive inefficiency, police repression or migratory exodus are silenced.

Both media fail to mention the political opposition within the country and, when they do, they repeat terms such as “internal enemies,” “counterrevolutionary” or “financed by the United States,” while presenting Raúl Castro’s government as having broad popular support and a proven diplomatic ascendancy in Latin America.

The worn-out formula of the small “revolutionary” David against the great “imperialist” Goliath fits within all of their content about the relations between Washington and Havana and the diplomatic thaw promoted by Barack Obama. Clearly, according to them, the economic problems faced by the island’s resident every day are the absolute fault of “the blockade.”

On 25 November, RT broadcast a program with the lead “One year after the death of Fidel Castro Cubans remain faithful to his legacy,” in which it delved into topics about the genius and charisma of the former president, in addition to interviews only with his eternally grateful supporters.

Last May, a few days after Donald Trump announced in a speech in Miami the change of course in the relationship between Washington and Havana, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez offered an interview to the Russian network, one of the only two media that commented on the subject. The other was the Chavista channel from Venezuela, TeleSUR.

Several ideas were emphasized in the material presented: the US president develops a policy “typical of the Cold War”; the White House mutilates “the civil rights” of its own people; and any criticism launched by the occupant of the White House towards the Plaza of the Revolution represents the sin of “a double standard.” Three points from the Kremlin’s information booklet on Cuba.

These biased positions have been widely disseminated on social networks thanks to the island’s cyber soldiers who militantly share the content of RT and Sputnik. Both media also work to indoctrinate the Cuban audience through the Cuban press, thus Moscow influences the way in which the reality of the outside world is perceived by Cubans.

Unlike many European countries where alarms have been sounded over the new media war that is being deployed by the ex-official of the KGB who is now president of Russia, Havana willingly lends itself to all the manipulations of Putin and offers him, in addition, a captive audience of 11 million Cubans.

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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.

Life in Numbers

The tomatoes make the shape of a five and the tiny peppers used to season the beans come together to form a scandalous 16. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 December 2017 – She pauses to think in front of a stand at the market. My mother is not evaluating the size of the tomatoes or the quality of the garlic, but making calculations. A mathematical operation where subtraction and division are the stars. With a pension of 250 Cuban pesos a month (roughly $10 US), she can’t lose sight of a single centavo and is an expert in daily calculations.

For the majority of Cuban retirees, the cost of living, that concept that connects the value of goods and services to the material quality of one’s existence, is an equation that yields a higher figure every day. Those who come out worst with these price increases are those who do not receive help or remittances or – because of their health – cannot engage in any informal work, such as selling cigarettes at retail.

In stores and markets they are known by their gaze. They are those who pause, attentively observing the price lists, while only a few coins appear in their hands. They usually wear clothes more than two decades old, the same amount of time that has passed since the smile was erased from their faces and they wait for evening to fall so they can “catch” the products at reduced prices.

Throughout the day they calculate their accounts, living surrounded by digits and breathing sums. When they unpack the contents of their shopping bags, the 14 Cuban pesos for a pound of chili peppers appears between their eyes and the merchandise. Tomatoes make the shape of a five, and the littlest peppers used to season the beans come together to form a scandalous 16.

In just one visit to the market, retirees like my mother spend a seventh part of their pension. The numbers do not lie and they are there, on the table, to remind them.

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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.