Red Flag: The New Penal Law Threatens Human Rights / Laritza Diversent

The reforms of the Penal Code and the Penal Procedure Act adopted by the State Council to “ensure greater effectiveness and efficiency in the prevention and the fight against crime” raises a red flag about the situation of human rights in Cuba.

The amendments will come into force on October 1st. Their main objective is to expand the power of the police forces and lighten the burden of the courts, a solution that results in more than one problem. The main one is: Are the police officers trained to legally evaluate and judge a case?

Currently, police officers can address directly any infringement of the Penal Law, with penalties of up to 1 year’s imprisonment and/or fines no higher than 15 thousand pesos, without being required to report the case to the court. In October, they will be granted authority over offenses of up to 3 years’ imprisonment and/or fines no higher than 50 thousand pesos, with the approval of a prosecutor.

This power enables them to judge and punish with fines, which represent 27% of the penalties established in the Penal Code. With the new amendments, these will now represent 52% of the penalties, and police officers will only need approval from a prosecutor to enforce 26%, a good way to contribute “to the consistent enforcement of the Penal Code policies outlined by the State.”

In the amendments the guarantees of due process were not taken into account. The police officers decide whether or not to take the citizen to court and the amount of the fine. In addition, the assistance of a defense lawyer has not been foreseen for any of these cases. Undoubtedly, a subtle way of violating the right to a public hearing in “court.”

The accused decides whether or not they will be judged by a policeman or a judge. Just think how dependent courts and prosecutors’ offices are on the instructions of the State Council and, therefore, the Ministry of the Interior. Judges and prosecutors are badly paid and overworked. In October, the number of cases that municipal courts will have access to will increase from 52% of all cases to 78%, and those in uniform can lighten this workload in 67% of all cases.

What could happen? Will they be acquitted, will they try to fine them again or will they be sentenced to deprivation of liberty? It’s better not to bet on it. However, the uncertainty will not disappear if the citizens accept to be judged by a police officer.

The fines currently enforced by police officers for infringements with penalties of up to 1 year’s imprisonment and/or fines no higher than 15 thousand pesos, range from 200 to 1,000 pesos, national currency, and can be extended up to 2 thousand pesos whenever the circumstances demand it.

In October, this range will reach the 2 thousand pesos and could be extended up to 3 thousand. For infringements with penalties of up to 3 years’ imprisonment and/or fines of more than 50 thousand, the fines will be from 500 to 5,000 pesos and can be extended up to 7,000.

Can you imagine this in a country where the basic monthly salary is 229 pesos? Taxes on self-employment allow for a 300 to 400 pesos revenue, without resorting to the black market or violating the law. Have they thought about the need citizens have to resort to illegality as mean of survival?

Perhaps it may be better to address the matter without going to court. One does not have to think that we are all innocent until proven otherwise. Once the citizen accepts to be judged by a police officer is he recognizing his own guilt?

Today, if the fine is paid within 3 days and the citizen complies with the terms of civil liability, the case is closed without penal implications. With the new amendments the time period to pay the fines was extended to 10 days. In these cases, property and goods can be confiscated as well.

What would happen if the accused does not have the money within that time? Will their charges increase? If the person fails to pay and to comply with civil liability, the case will be passed on to a court. What crime will they be judged for? For failing to comply with the charges from the initial crime or for the crime itself that the person committed and implicitly accepted? None of these questions are clarified in the Law of the State Council Decree.

Have the recently elected national deputies read the draft of the amendments for the Penal Code? Why doesn’t the National Assembly, the legislative body participate in the legal implementation of the “changes and transformation” in the economic and social arenas of the country? In short, did anyone think about us?

In any event, the lack of political will is evident when it comes to complying with the international human rights covenants for the drafting of national legislation. In contrast, the new legal amendments increase the state of legal uncertainty for Cubans. A good time to raise a red flag.

By Laritza Diversent 

Translated by Chabeli Castillo

Monday, July 1, 2013

From La Finca, the Spy Asks for More / Juan Juan Almeida

Rene Gonzalez, a member of the "Cuban Five" or "Five Heroes" now back in Cuba. From
Rene Gonzalez, a member of the “Cuban Five” aka the “Five Heroes” now back in Cuba. From

News on Mondays tends to be unflattering, and that is why, instead of writing a story, I would rather share a gossip, which if it doesn’t get you informed will entertain you. So I risk it.

You may surely remember the spell of that magician who at the Pioneer parties, amid the heat of a bonfire, before reaching into his hat, from which he then would pull out a small replica of the national insignia, would cross himself and say: “What until now was a handkerchief is turned into a flag.”

Well, it turns out that a few days ago–while Havana continues to face its unfortunate struggle of worn out prostitutes, criminals with decorum, the intellectualized poor, deranged leaders, entrepreneurs who have managed to triumph selling stolen little mirrors, and leftists who defend worn out images under the uproar of Chivas Regals–a friend called me to tell me in a conspiratorial tone that René González Sehewert, the well-known ex-convict, member of the gang “The Wasps 5 or 4,” had the indiscretion to express his discomfort, because in his view, he has not been treated in Cuba as he deserves.

What to believe? -I wonder- It is true that, from habitually lying, someone who practices espionage develops a constant conflict with the word loyalty; but it is also true that on December 29, 2001, Cuba’s National Assembly of People’s Power granted, in a special session, the honorary title of Hero of the Republic of Cuba to Gerardo Hernández, Ramón Labañino, Antonio Guerrero, Fernando González and René González.

I listened to the story, and so my friend told me that super-wasp René González, in an act of utter incoherence, because of his known legal status, wrote to General Raúl Castro who in response, instead of sending him to a psychiatrist, sent him an officer (nearsighted, shy and unpopular) as emissary from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a state body known for spending its time and money on Origami, in addition to press releases.

The whistleblower and the envoy, forgetting the old saying: “Anything you try to hide is always visible to others,” went out for dinner and ended up at La Finca (The Ranch), a super exclusive restaurant, located in the old Biltmore neighborhood, today Siboney in the Playa municipality.

As entrée, they ordered avocado cream; and the main course was grilled goose liver in a fig-raspberry sauce.

This gastronomic refuge, certainly very inordinate, does not include in its structure a menu with the prices; I owe you that one. But it is logical to believe that people with foreign–and so un-proletarian–tastes may get their ideals spoiled due to emotional problems.

That said, it seems that, somewhat saturated with the national situation, even the spy wants God to send a beam of light over the island, capable of breaking the spell of the old and monotone cycle: “Wake up, sleep, die”; or in its failure, it could reward the island getting it out of simplicity toward eccentric and palatial luxury. Is it possible that every spy ends up somewhat perturbed?

This is quite a fable, hard to digest, but somebody assured me that through this emissary, René asked the General about the possibility of a job in any of the Cuban embassies in Argentina, Bolivia, Venezuela or Ecuador, countries to which he offered to travel incognito, armed with his principles and taking his questionable ethics as luggage.

After the dessert, but before the coffee, making a funny face and showing a very flattering look in his eyes, René alleged that just like astronauts and emergency doctors, “agents” also need decompression time.

I have not been able to confirm yet the veracity of this story, but it reminded me of something that was once written to satirize the manual of the now extinct KGB: “Spies and criminals share that cold principle of being able to sell their mothers just to get rewarded.”

Translated by Chabeli

29 June 2013

Categories of Human Beings / Rosa Maria Paya

Where are the documentaries about the Bahamian concentration camps where there are school-age children and women with their lips sewn shut?

It has been a few weeks since South Florida’s media and social networks have been denouncing the systematic abuses to which refugees from Cuba and other nations are subjected in the Bahamas. The trigger was a series of clandestinely made cellphone videos that showed officers kicking people and subjecting them to different tortures. Those who made the videos public assure these were taken in the refugee detention camps in Nassau, and even when people have recognized their friends and relatives in the videos, the Bahamian Chancellery has denied that these are authentic.

These detention centers seem to be the scene of systematic human rights violations, but they are not a new phenomenon. The oldest data I know of refers to the New York Times of August, 1963, which discusses the intervention of Cuban air and naval forces in the former British island during which 19 refugees were kidnapped and taken back to Cuba. But even more astonishing is the reaction of the international community before a situation that has been taking place for years, and for which there are not many echoes beyond the modest ones from the voices of Cubans and Cuban Americans.

In the past 20 years, there is no trace of these events in two of the most important American newspapers, even when the Interamerican Human Rights Commission (IACHR) has issued reports thereon from allegations dating from 1998. For its part, the Spanish newspaper El País lists the names of the two Caribbean islands when it comes to hurricanes while other Iberian newspapers only mention them to highlight the progress of the oil drilling carried out in collaboration with Cuba.

The reaction is different when it comes to the equally unjust humiliations suffered by the prisoners at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo. The acts of condemnation in this case reach high political dimensions including the Human Rights Commission of the Russian Chancellery, the Swiss President of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, the American Catholic Church, some leftist French party and thousands, perhaps millions of people from around the word who are in favor of the closing of this prison in the easternmost end of Cuba.

However, curiously enough, in that very end of my country the Provincial Prison of Guantánamo, run by Cuban authorities, is known for its inhumane treatment, the lack of hygiene, a poor diet and occasional beatings to which the people who are surviving there are subjected to. Most of the country’s prisons are run in similar conditions.

It would seem as if the men in orange uniforms held at the naval base belonged to a different category from that of the non-uniformed emigrants of the Caribbean. One hypothesis could be that the people of the Middle East evoke greater sympathy or compassion than the Caribbean people, but since it is precisely in that region where countless human rights violations have been committed in the past and continue to be committed to this day by the authorities of those countries, and the international condemnation has historically suffered its ups and downs, this argument doesn’t hold water. It would be scandalous if the level of the scandal was related to the category of the oppressors.

It is not the US Marines who are torturing Cubans and Haitians in the Bahamas; it is not “the Yankee empire” against “the oppressed people of the world.” Therefore, the perception is that the abuses committed by the authorities of the Commonwealth of the Bahamas are less attractive to the international community.

I cannot help questioning the motivations of the forces behind these reactions. If it is not compassion for those who are suffering, a sense of justice and respect for international treaties, could it be that the level of solidarity is determined by the unpopularity of the oppressor? Doesn’t the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaim that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights? A world in which lobbies have the last say and pressure groups have more interests than convictions is scary.

Who is lobbying for our brothers whose rights are violated with the same impunity in Havana and Nassau? Where are the documentaries about the Bahamian concentration camps where there are school-age children and women with their lips sewn shut? Where is the absolute condemnation for the humiliations that these people who emigrate suffer from, which are not subjected to any accusations? Why throughout the 20 years this situation has been taking place has it not become popular among youth to favor the closure of the prison camps in the Bahamas?

Apparently, the sense of impunity is contagious, and the Bahamian officials feel they can beat Cubans in the same way in which the repressive bodies of the State Security in the Largest of the Antilles have no mercy toward opposition members. Each of them should know that impunity is not sustainable over time, and that time is running out.

Rosa María Payá

Translated by Chabeli

6 July 2013

The Cuban Communist Party and the Workers Central Union / Dimas Castellanos

The XCIII Plenary of the National Council of the Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC) that recently met under the chairmanship of the Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), agreed to postpone the celebration of its XX Congress, create an Organizing Committee and appoint Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento to its leadership.

The postponement of the XX Congress was made so that the newly created Organizing Committee would have more time to organize the event, which has a pending discussion on the Draft of the Labor Code Bill and on the Congress Rules document.

Considering that another Plenary of the National Council of the CTC in which the progress of the organization efforts for the Congress were discussed took place just a month ago, the following questions arise: Why wasn’t the date for the Congress proposed at the time? Why was Carmen Rosa López ratified at the front of the CTC until the celebration of the XX Congress? And why wasn’t the Organizing Committee created during the time of the convening or last month at the Plenary?

The answers seem to be related to the difficulties encountered in the preparatory meetings. If so, doubts point to a poor preparation and to the inability of the Second Secretary of the CTC to reach the goals set by the Communist Party (PCC). This assumption is based on the fact that Carmen Rosa López had been appointed as the head of the PCC until the celebration of the event and had been elected Member of the State Council, which indicated that she was going to be “the chosen one” as Secretary General in the XX Congress. However, surprisingly, she had just been replaced by Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, who was the Secretary General of the PCC in the Province of Artemisa two weeks ago.

The discussion topics, according to the preparatory meetings of the XX Congress, will be related to the economy and represent an unavoidable duty for the CTC and its unions to achieve the conscious mobilization and participation of all workers in the fulfillment of the economic and social policies that were passed in the VI Congress.

Nonetheless, in the preparatory meetings the inadequacies that conspire against what the PCC expects from the union movement were highlighted. By that I mean keeping the CTC as the only labor union under the control of the PCC to ensure support for the implementation of the recent reform Guidelines; for such purpose it would be necessary to enroll all workers under the same union, the CTC, particularly those self-employed from the private sector, who would tend to grow and provide the strength without which reaching the expected results would be impossible.

Some of the criteria expressed during the process shed light on what happened. Salvador Valdés Mesa explained in Matanzas, on March 8th, that even when retirees, state and non-state affiliates, represent three sources of affiliation with different interests, it is the self-employed who are demanding special attention because of the novelty they represent to the union movement. Then later that month,  in the report to the XCII Plenary, Valdés emphasized in the shortcomings faced in the functioning of the organization, in the affiliation of workers and he made a call to combat crime, illegalities and to perfect the workers’ guard service.

Meanwhile in an interview published in Granma on April 27th, Carmen Rosa López said, “We still frequently find in the collective convening of workers that they have not been affiliated because of the shortcomings of our work,” and she also said that in all of the questionnaires and assessments completed this year the statements from the assembly members make reference to wages; which shows that the goals set took a different path from that of the workers’ concerns.

The recurring concerns expressed by the workers show their non-recognition of the unions as representatives of their interests, especially after the statement made by the Workers Central Union (CTC) in September of 2010 in favor of the layoffs, a measure that directly affected workers and their families. The statement said: Our State cannot nor should it continue to sponsor companies, institutions of production and services that are budgeted with inflated payrolls and result in losses that drag down the economy, which is counterproductive, generates bad habits, and distorts the codes of conduct of workers.

To summarize, the main goal of the Congress is to emphasize the performance that is expected from workers by the PCC in the implementation of the Guidelines for reform, not to address their particular problems, such as the insufficient wages and pensions in relation to the cost of living, among others, which has led Cubans to survive on the fringes of the law turning their backs on the so-called ideology while creating a negative attitude that hinders the realization of any social project.

We have to remember that unions in Cuba emerged to defend the interests of workers  when paid work began replacing slave labor; that the labor movement became widespread with the General Law of Associations of 1888 and then with freedoms and rights recognized in the Constitution of 1901; that it showed its strength with the founding of the National Confederation of Workers of Cuba in 1925 and with a general strike in 1933 that toppled Gerardo Machado’s regime; that it achieved the passing of a number of labor laws, including the most important in Cuban labor legislation — Decree 798 of 1938 — which was subsequently endorsed in the Constitution of the Republic; that this development led to the birth of the CTC in 1939; and that joint committees were created to set a minimum wage standard, the terms to the right of collective bargaining and other measures in line with the established by the International Labor Organization.

Therefore, unions became an important sector of Cuba’s civil society to the point that in 1945 the CTC became the second largest trade union in the region with half a million members.

The takeaway is that workers’ participation in programs from the State or a political party, if it takes place, must be based on the interests, needs and decisions of workers themselves, a vital premise to the defense of their own interests.

Therefore, the postponement of the date of the Congress, from November of this year to the first trimester of 2014, has its roots in the conversion of the CTC into an auxiliary organization to the goals of the PCC, resulting in the loss of its independence and leading to the distortion of its original purpose. It is a situation beyond the capabilities of Salvador Valdés Mesa, Carmen Rosa Lópeza, Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento or any other individual appointed to the leadership of  Cuban labor unionism.

The only way out, which depends on a political will so far nonexistent, is not in changing political figures or in modifying documents pending for discussion, it is in the freedom of association. This way the PCC could keep the CTC as an auxiliary organization and allow those workers who do not want to be CTC members to form other labor unions and freely join them. This would also be a response to the remarks and recommendations that were given to Cuba in a recent evaluation by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

Published in Diario de Cuba

Translated by Chabeli

3 June 2013

20 May 1902, The Possible Republic / Dimas Castellanos

Decorations for the birth of the Cuban Republic 20 May 1902
Decorations for the birth of the Cuban Republic 20 May 1902

Once the flag of the stripes and stars was lowered amid popular rejoicing on 20 May 1902, Generalissimo Máximo Gómez proceeded to raise the national ensign at Palace of the General Captains. “I think we have made it,” were his words that day.

After four centuries of colonialism, three decades of independence wars, and more than three years of foreign occupation the Republic of Cuba was officially born. This new date altogether with January 28, anniversary of the birth of the Apostle (José Martí), October 10, the Cry of Yara, February 24, the beginning of the War of Independence, and December 7, the fall of the Bronze Titan (Antonio Maceo), would form a pentarchy of illustrious anniversaries, with a singularity when it comes to political material; May 20th taught us a lesson: negotiation.

In an attempt to reduce its importance and to shape this event into a particular ideology and into the objectives of those in power, May 20 has been compared to the military coup d’etat of 1952, and it has even been denied as the event that marked the birth of the Republic. An example of the latter was the opinion expressed by historian Rolando Rodríguez who said that May not be remembered as the day that marked the birth of the Republic because the Republic had already emerged in Guáimaro on April 10th of 1869… “That is where the origin of the Cuban Republic is,” he said. continue reading

Guáimaro, undoubtedly, is inseparable from the foundation of the Republic. It represents the beginning of that process, but that is different from the moment when it became a reality, when Cuba, despite the imposed limitations, debuted as an independent country, recognized by the international community. Guáimaro is the building block, but the advent, despite what our personal inclinations may be, was in 1902. Rolando simply confuses process and results.

His rejection of the date is not illogical. It is true that the Republic was not born with absolute independence or full sovereignty, but his reasoning does not take into account that this outcome did not only result from the effort and bloodshed of Cubans, as was desired, but also from the entry of the US Army into the war due to the geopolitical interests that were being defined in the international arena by the world powers of that time period. Like it or not, beyond our desires, that is what happened.

After Spain’s defeat and the signing of the Treaty of Paris, the occupying government issued Order No. 301 on 25 July 1900, calling the Cuban people to a general election to appoint the delegates of the Constitutional Assembly that would develop the Constitution and would define Cuba’s relationship with the United States. A commission charged with the task of defining US-Cuba relationships, but their result was rejected by US authorities. After multiple discussions, procedures and disagreements, the delegates received a final blow.

The Platt Amendment, passed and signed by the president of the United States, was delivered to the delegates to be incorporated into the Constitution, and it included a note signed by the Secretary of War stating that the President “is required to comply with [the ultimatum] and to execute it as it is […] he can neither change it nor modify it, add or take out anything,” as a condition of ending the military occupation.

What were the factors that led those Cubans to approve a document so lacerating to independence and national sovereignty? Simply, that they could not count on anything else, but their commitment, dignity, intelligence and capability to fight in the political arena. And that is what drove them, regardless of whether one or the other may have felt some sort of admiration for the occupying government. To add to this quandary, the Liberation Army had been demobilized, the Cuban Revolutionary Party dissolved, the Nation had not reached a crystallization point and lacked a Republic, with a State and a government of its own, and the people were exhausted from by the prolonged war.

The events that took place in March of 1901 attested to this. After the objectives of the Platt Amendment were publicly known, a demonstration of about 15,000 people walked through the streets of the capital toward the Martí theater, the headquarters of the Consitutional Assembly, to the residence of the military governor in Arms Square, demanding independence and sovereignty with an invocation directed to the American people.

However, a few days later, when a delegation of Cubans embarked to the United States to discuss our nonconformity only about 200 people showed up for their departure and barely a few dozen attended their return: a clear expression of the exhaustion and helplessness of the people in general.

In this situation, although intransigence might have seemed very patriotic, it was groundless and of no use. Choosing belligerence would have been suicidal before the superiority of the occupier.

The “all or nothing” expressed in “Freedom or Death,” “Independence or Death,” “Motherland or Death,” or “Socialism or Death” has proved itself unreal. Life went on after 1878 when we were not able to get our freedom. Life went on after 1898 when we did not completely win our motherland. Today, while this totalitarian Socialism is dying out, life goes on, which proves that intransigence, despite its solemn declarations, has contributed very little.

However, despite that this Republic of incomplete independence and limited sovereignty was not precisely the one José Martí dreamed of, Cuba joined the international community with a juridical personality of its own and closed the doors to annexation; the occupying army was withdrawn, and our destiny would not be that of Puerto Rico, Guam or the Philippines.

Time proved our wisdom. In 1904 the Hay-Quesada Treaty was signed, and our sovereignty over Island of Pines was recovered in 1925. In less than 20 years, Cuba managed to emerge from the economic stagnation and the social upheaval caused by the war; civil society strengthened; in 1934 we got rid of the Platt Amendment, and in 1939 the Constitutional Assembly convened, from which later emerged the brand-new 1940 Constitution that served Dr. Fidel Castro to support his defense at his trial for the Moncada Barracks assault in 1953.

Reminding ourselves that this Constitution endorsed the fundamental rights in the First Section of Part IV would be wiser than judging the Cuban delegates: the essence and spirit of habeas corpus, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association for all legal purposes and freedom of movement. Freedoms/rights, inherent to human beings, that are the foundation of the respect and observance of legal guarantees, of citizen participation and the realization of popular sovereignty. Rights that are mostly absent today.

Published in Diario de Cuba

Translated by Chabeli

31 May 2013

Celebration of the 4th Anniversary of the Network of Civic Libraries / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada, Jennifer Fonseca Padrón

By Jennifer Fonseca Padrón, Activist and Independent Journalist

( | Four years after the birth of the Network of Civic Libraries (NCL), its members and founders decided to come together to honor the date, look at the accomplishments of their work and set new goals to reach. The celebration took place at the NLC headquarters where a dozen librarians exchanged ideas and made a brief account of the founding and development of the organization; among them the presence of Teresita Castellanos, co-founder and integrant of this civic organization, should be highlighted.

“The Network of Civic Libraries was created in mid-June 2009 at the request of a group of librarians who were then dispersed without being part of any project or already disappointed at others,” says Omayda Padrón, National Coordinator from the start to this day. One of the future goals to achieve is the growth and rescue of libraries across the country, she added. “The work of independent libraries is equally important to the work of movements, political parties and other civic organizations because it represents a permanent source of resistance against the government in any community, city or province,” said León Padrón, a reporter invited to the talk.

The main objectives of the Reinaldo Bragado Bretaña Network of Civic Libraries are book launches in independent libraries, giving lectures, literary gatherings, offering courses on leadership, human rights, Twitter, among others; exchanging ideas with other organizations and mainly to make known books that have been censored by the government, as well as to promote unknown literature in Cuba by Cuban writers from the diaspora who were once convicted and even their work was banned. This was the case of Reinaldo Bragado Bretaña, the writer and reporter the Network is proudly named after.

Also it needs to be highlighted that within the Network we are developing the Animated Smiles Project which consists in rescuing civic values, encouraging reading as a habit and regaining the culture where children play children’s games, particularly for those who live in the outlying communities of Havana where most of the families are dysfunctional and present problems of alcoholism, drug and domestic violence and many more, expressed Padrón.

Translated by: Chabeli

21 June 2013

The Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) left us with a bitter taste / Mario Lleonart

The VI Assembly of the Latin American Council of Churches (CLAI) came to an end, and this entity of Latin American churches missed out on the opportunity to make history in Cuba, adopting a genuinely prophetic position. Instead, the Assembly let itself be manipulated by the Cuban Council of Churches (CIC), which obviously is used by the regime. How sad!

Translated by Chabeli

29 May 2013

Operation Truth – Video / Eliecer Avila and Yoani Sanchez

Operation Truth Video & Transcript

Site manager: We decided not to subtitle the video itself, given its length and poor sound quality, so a transcript is provided below and can be downloaded here.  The video of Eliecer’s encounter with Ricardo Alarcon is available subtitled in English here.

Yoani Sánchez: It’s a pleasure to be with you and share an interview with Eliécer Ávila. Eliécer is an Information Scientist, but in recent years has been best known for his political and social action in Cuba. He is also the producer of the alternative television program “One More Cuban” and in the year 2008, for those who remember it, in the Universidad de Ciencias Informáticas (UCI) (Information Sciences University).  Eliécer had a question and answer session with Ricardo Alarcón, President of the National Assembly.

(Excerpt of video between Eliecer and Ricardo Alarcon)

Eliécer Ávila: OK, let me introduce myself, I am Eliécer Ávila, Faculty No. 2, leader of the “Technological and Political Surveillance” Project, which is one of the specialties of Operation Truth). What we are looking at here is the constant monitoring of the internet and our mission of reporting and fighting in this area.

Yoani Sánchez: What is and what has been Operation Truth?

Eliécer Ávila: Operation Truth is a project that stems from an “activity” of the UJC (Young Communist League). An “activity” (for non-Cubans here) is a meeting of the key militants and UJC teams of all the UCI brigades, which they hold periodically, about once or twice a year as I recall, in the Palace of Conventions.

The Minister of Culture, Abel Prieto, was invited to one of these activities and, among other things, he explained that currently they were pursuing another campaign of defamation and that kind of thing, and then a student … (after the announcement Prieto played the university card, to use the students to express the Revolution’s opinion on the theme they were discussing. … a student proposed creating a project organized in the UCI,  which was the university most technically able to do it, to send out to the world the truth about Cuba, the truth put forward by the government about Cuba. Also the context of the Five Heroes. The second important objective of the Operation Truth Project was to tell the world about the Cuban vision regarding the Five Heroes.

Roughly in what year was the Operation Truth started?

I think it was 2007-2008

It was exactly in that period, in early 2008, if I’m not mistaken, when the conversation occurred between Ricardo Alarcón and a group of students of the UCI, and you in particular, pretty much in the same time period.

I think the Project had been going some months because it was then fairly well developed and they had gained a lot of experience. There was already a signed document of the Project at that time. It had been in operation for some time. continue reading

And you were running the Project?

No, I was the principal in charge of the Project. I was responsible for a part of the Project, which was very well structured. The Project had about 7 or 9, you could probably call them divisions or sections each of which had to carry out certain functions; mine was technological surveillance, which consisted of, as I explained to you at that Alarcon meeting, knowing at every moment all the information to do with Cuba, with the government, with Fidel, or the main leaders, about what they were up to instantly anywhere. It was practically a 24-hour monitoring.

Only monitoring or also acting on that information?

The Project functioned as an integrated whole. We detected the information and there was another group who were the analysts, which in effect formed part of the whole, but everybody had their functions. There was a group of analysts. They were students who were orally articulate. They provided a bunch of ideas and they came up with the answer that should be given, each time, to everything written in blogs, in websites, in whatever discussions arose, in order that everything should hang together coherently.

That’s very interesting because we are also talking about a period of time when several critical blogs started to emerge in Cuba with known names or rather, without pseudonyms. People began to put in their name, their face, their ID number in virtual space offering criticism so that at the time when you were participating in Operation Truth I imagine that one of the people that you were supposed to monitor was the one who is interviewing you today – correct?

I have already admitted it was you, you were one of the principal people we always had to keep up-to-date on what you were up to, but there was an interesting detail; it was not about reading, interpreting and analyzing what you wrote. It was to do with you as a person, who had all the names given to you (a caricature image typing on a computer, with the sign “cybermercenary”, and with a dollar sign on your head) and so we had to fight you as an entity. It’s important to understand, as I told you, that our role centered on always squeezing the person and in doing this I then understood how it is you operate.

It’s a strategy?

Exactly. I came to read you in depth, to analyze what you said when I left the UCI. Nevertheless, your writings passed through my hands.

There was also a fear of contagion …

No one got into contradicting the facts you presented, because if you say “that structure is falling down”, I could say “that construction is being maintained”. It all turned on discrediting you as a person or intellectual expressing opinions.

There were people there who ran out of ideas and when you read (unintelligible) it was always the basic stuff.

How did they form these Operation Truth groups? On what basis were they selected to be a part of the operation? Was there some academic requirement to be a part of the Union of Young Communists?

The Operation Truth project was one more project of the UCI. It ended up as a productive project, and they measured performance against targets, monthly and weekly. It was a production line. What was the output? A political product: how many report they produced, how many blogs they put comments into, how many debates of forums they participated in and opposed opinions being expressed there. That was in essence a kind of production.

I should also explain that the function wasn’t just political. This is closely related to the technical question; because at the same time another part of the same project was focused on creating technologies which could position our own government web pages much better in the international search engines so that, when someone enters a particular combination of words in a search, the government web pages come up and not other sites.

There is a kind of tool which allows you to arrive at this kind of question on the computer.

OK, let’s see if I understand this properly. Operation Truth was a multifaceted group of people who took turns being so-called trolls in the sites, attacking, insulting, diverting the conversation. Others who wrote up more complex replies to the alternative blogs, independent journalists, people who criticized the Cuban government. And, on the other hand, a group which dedicated itself to promoting and positioning the official sites more effectively in the search engines. That’s roughly what I am understanding.

Exactly. It was a technological-ideological combination, serving the same objective. It also proceeded in steps. If somebody entered a blog or a forum and didn’t feel able to oppose, which is what they were trying to do, the opinions there, or the analysis, then they had to go and consult a group of specialists which was closely linked to the project in order that they could put together much more complex and finished responses.

Was there a confidentiality clause in relation to these people? That’s to say, did they have to promise not to reveal …?

This was built in. Those people who formed part of the project, we can assume, were the most prepared and committed ideologically of all the FEU brigades. The analysis was very political in that sense. And in terms of the project’s technology there were very talented students who were the best the University had (unintelligible).

Did you also have to accept at a given moment that confidentiality clause?

Yes, I was strictly forbidden to circulate messages containing the information we were dealing with. There were only accounts authorized by the professors who, in this case were the managers of the project and I could only send my group’s information to the Party professor who dealt with me in this connection, because the professors were also forbidden to share the information.

They functioned as cells, correct?


Levels of confidence?

It was compartmentalized in that sense.

In total, roughly how many people would there be in Operation Truth?

In total the project ended up with about 300 students involved.

Quite a lot! Out of a total enrollment in the UCI of …?

10,000 students. There were students from all over, plus the professors and the attached specialists.

24 hours a day, or on a rota?

Well, I would say that it wasn’t 24 hours every day, but close enough.

I have noticed as someone who has suffered from this avalanche of “soldiers in the web“ as I call it, that, for example, during vacation months, their aggressiveness is considerably lower, as is the intensity of the trolls, of those who attack the forums, of the individuals who write comments to denigrate the blogger or the writer of the website. I have also noticed that at certain hours during the day, after 4 pm, there is a marked decline in the virulence of these computer soldiers.

Indeed, there were different work shifts, which could take on an intense nature if demanded by the situation, from late at night through early morning. We called these shifts “special periods” (unintelligible). It was an important situation in which the entire operation had to be active; for example say: elections in an ALBA country, any political event, like that call by Raúl to all workers, exhorting them to speak their minds. At the moment those events were taking place, it was essential that we expressed ourselves in a detailed way in public comment threads or that we started a comment thread ourselves and created trends (unintelligible).  And so, we were there the entire time.

Did you have unlimited access to all sites or was your access also controlled?

For my group specifically, which was in charge of monitoring, we had a fairly broad and efficient accessibility and did not have the kind of restrictions that the rest of the students did have. Supposedly, we were ideologically armored.

But I imagine that the attacks were not only against sites that had a different ideological stand to that of the government, critics. There are other sites that have suffered a lot, such as “Revolico,” which simply is a classified ads website. Were these kinds of sites on the spectrum of reaction?

Well, on the spectrum of reactions we had sites that somehow were beyond the mental understanding of our shift supervisor who would be in charge of the project. The project was even followed by someone from the Council of State.


Directly. We would get visits from the Council of State from time to time. It was also under the direct supervision of someone in the university dean; supervision came from the highest levels. Therefore, if anyone anywhere, including official sites, gave an opinion that was inconsistent with the discourse of the Revolution, well…  of course, always in very elaborated responses, according to who was saying it and what they were saying, each would get their dose and would be given an “answer.”

Did you have any cases where you remember seeing anyone contradicted or somehow “infected” with a critical opinion that they had read somewhere? Anyone who began to have doubts?

All the time. I think we all went through that at a certain point. It particularly happened to me a lot, but the thing is that I was always very rebellious, and I was seen as “a rebel within the system.” We even took the arguments to the classroom many times, but they were seen through the following language: “that could be fine, or more or less fine, or more or less bad, but this is not the context to talk about this issue. It has to be said in the Congress of the Communist Youth Union, in the Congress of the University Students’ Federation, in the Communist Party. There are people who already talk about that stuff therefore, there should not be any ridiculing Cuba on the Internet.”

And do you think that the Eliécer Ávila of January 2008 who stood up before Ricardo Alarcón and asked him that very difficult to answer question had already been influenced in some way by what he had read in the internet in those prohibited rebellious sites?

Yes definitely I was influenced in some way because at the end of the day the internet has a life of its own. The internet is something which when you get to know it it changes you. Without doubt, even though you try to maintain a defined profile, because I should tell you that this project was a most important guarantee for almost everything, could be a mission in Venezuela, or what you need to be successful as a student. I believe many people asked themselves questions but they kept on at their work.

And the resources, I imagine everything you needed.

OK, one of the first projects of UCI in which they modernized their techniques was ours. We had very good technology and if we needed it we could use everything that UCI had to print or whatever we had to do. And, if we had to ask for something from the State Council, we did,

Apart from expressing opinions, and opposing by screaming and with not much argument, did you also hack and mount cyber attacks on sites and portals?

Sometimes, because you know geeks are always addicted to the hacking drug and stuff like that; and therefore it occurs to some of them that we should, in total secret “I suggested it and it was agreed subject to these conditions” create a little group of 3 or 4 persons who knew each other very well and at least begin to study and get deeper into that type of question: how to put a particular site out of action, how to interrupt a service.

Because the logic was that we could do it therefore we should have the capacity to be able to do it. More than anything because we were studying a document put out by the US State Department which talked about cyber warfare, of a special group they had created, and many of us started to believe that we were its opposite number and therefore we took more seriously the idea of carrying out a serious attack.

And what sort of sites were listed for possible attack?

I think sites which could have advance critical  information which they could put out at a given moment which could decide specific matters such as the state of opinion regarding Chavez in Venezuela.

We are not talking here about a personal blog nor a straightforward site, but important services?

We made a decision to try and do something with the News 24 site as a test.

I know it … very critical.

It was one of our principal targets because it always carried up-to-date news particularly about those who opposed Chavez’s policies.

Was there ever anyone who said something like “I’m not carrying on, I’m getting off this train, I can’t continue in this matter which seems more like “Operation Lie” than “Operation Truth”?

It happened often, I believe. I was in charge of the highs and lows. (unintelligible) It happened because people believed they weren’t advancing their education. It was a constant complaint; we are supposed to be achieving a certain level of computer knowledge and we are wasting our time in a project which is obviously political and our classmates are getting ahead of us technically; and I think that the majority of them left because they went to a productive project, or at least that was the excuse they gave. “I prefer to be programming stuff which will definitely be my work rather than being here arguing over these sorts of answers”.

All this stuff you have been telling me about has been in the past tense because it was your experience while you were in UCI, but have you any news about Operation Truth continuing?

What I understand is that the project has mutated. They have done name changes, altered the structure and extended it. I have also understood that they have called Youth Club members Operation Truth, and have created replicas in many parts of the country. We should also set out certain details:  UCI is a university with students from all over the country and the proxies which they trained for this type of defense or warfare did not appear on the internet as university students but rather as if we were ordinary people from different parts of the country: rom Las Tunas, from Guantanamo, in order to give the impression that the whole country was responding and it was only a specialized group from UCI to represent Cuba. Also it was able to go out as if from Latin American countries.

That I know because somehow I’ve experienced it with my blog. Do you think that Operation Truth has mutated beyond the point of countering opinions, of trying to hack websites, if not the creation of sites, blogs, portals that pretend to be independent, but are totally controlled by the government? 

At first I said there were about 6, or 7 to 9 groups. There was a group specifically called “Websites,” and there was another group called “Blog Sites;” the same individuals who were in this group (unintelligible) would create a blog and would update it and would have to maintain it (unintelligible).

But, it would be a blog of an apparently normal guy; it would even have some sort of hook to get people to read it; it could be art, music, soccer or anything else that would attract people’s attention, to then get “the message” transmitted. But that was what your job.  How many times have you updated the blog this week? How many visits do you have? They were very strict; they would carry out an analysis when the blog had few visitors. Why are not you getting more visits or better ranking? And that’s how the efficiency of the individuals who were in this group was measured. It was a job.

In recent years, we have seen that the Cuban government has tended to create national versions as substitutes of very well known sites like Wikipedia, and so we have seen the birth of EcuRed, even a Cuban Facebook though I do not know what has become of it. Do you think that this is also was also one of the lines of work of  Operation Truth?

I think it’s all part of the same strategy because after graduating from UCI, I was sent to a Youth Computer Club in Puerto Padre, as everyone knows. It was then when I had the second rough experience as an employee at this Youth Computer Club where I had to write from 8 to 10 articles per month for EcuRed, otherwise it would have an impact on my wage.

On different subjects? 

Almost of anything you wanted. The point was to create an encyclopedia loading it with thousands and thousands of articles on local history… of whatever you could find.

On botany, for example?


And did you know anything about that?

No idea. Besides, what the instructors at the Computer Club complained the most about was: “I am here to do my job, teach computer skills, teach Photoshop. What do I have to do with creating articles for EcuRed?”

But that scares me because EcuRed is being distributed throughout many schools in Cuba. It’s given to our children and teens as a reference, as a database to search for information.

What would they normally do? An instructor who obviously does not have the education and perhaps not even the capacity or, specialty, nor the desire nor the vocation to write any of that, they go to a book that contains the biographies of the October Socialist Revolution and say: “How many do I have? How many do I need to write? 100 biographies? Problem solved with this book.” And they start copying the book.

And in the end, we even ended up copying from Wikipedia….

That’s the worst, and we laughed a lot about that. “What are you going to do? Look what I found here.” That’s how it was: to copy from Wikipedia changing the references.

That was something that did catch my attention since I was a teenager: the issue of why nothing spontaneous could happen in Cuba. Do you need people that defend the country? Then, give Internet to the people, and if the people believe they should defend the country, defend Communism, defend a one-party system, defend an electoral system where they do not get to vote for their president or defend whatever they believe in, then let them do so. I totally agree and will be satisfied with whatever they do, but they must do it under their own will.

And, don’t you think that this fear of letting Cuban citizens connect freely to the Internet, without ideological boundaries, is the reason why the long-anticipated fiber optic cable between Cuba and Venezuela is not working yet? 

I do not think so. I am absolutely sure because I participated in meetings and events where that was the issue that was talked about: “the country had to be prepared technologically,” in case of enemy aggression. Since they can control a so many things, they think they can even control an entire country with this cable, as if that would be possible.

First, they would have it in specialized centers where they could filter it to Cuba, so that it [the information] comes out already filtered; then they have to filter what comes out of Cuba to the world. I think they are going to do that. They won’t build roads, won’t care for our buildings; Havana will collapse, but that [the filtering of information] is definitely going to have all of the support in the world to get it done, and it is unbelievable that they do not realize that it is totally unnecessary.

I remember that one thing that greatly caught my attention was that during the elections in Venezuela we were flooded with almost all kinds of opinions, and people were speaking against Chavéz: “I do not agree with Chávez for this and that reason.” “He is giving things to the lazy, he does not encourage investment, he does not encourage entrepreneurs. The benefits that he gives us are in exchange for an ideological commitment, and so this is why I am not supporting him,” and so on.

However, we had to issue an opinion and turn it into news, starting from having many of us all posting our opinions, and then we had to say the exact opposite sometimes (changing the tone of voice to imitate a debate): “All of us here massively love and support Chávez.”

Sometimes, opinion surveys would also be carried out; for example when Chávez lost, it had been said he was not going to win. It was a operational issue, quickly: Put the surveys in there and sometimes even a name in English was made up, which was the sure winner of the survey referendum.

Distorting reality…

Constantly. That was becoming generalized.

But that is very serious because it is practically an interventionist work, changing information trends… 

But since you, Cuba, change the name of everything you do, it is not  considered interference in internal affairs like guerrillas are not either…

That is called proletarian internationalism… solidarity among peoples…

Like people who are unemployed are called “availables” and policies are called reforms, not social cuts, etc…

Private sector, self-employed… 

It’s the same, but they are called something different.

Looking at it today, how do you view all that stuff you took part in, that you got involved in with Operation Truth?

Well, the first thing I would like to say is that I don’t regret much because at that time I did what I needed to do in the circumstances of my knowledge and education, and I was very aware of what I was doing, and now, in the light of the facts, the information, the arguments, what I have read, what I have known, I am doing what I it seems to me to be rational to do.

Now, in my case, something simply happened; at that moment I was almost certain that the system was not the problem. The problem was all those people who were doing things wrong. Then experience taught me what a coincidence that my best friends, people I admired a lot, after a little while in whatever position of responsibility, weren’t any good as people or managers, or anything! Therefore there must be something which was corrupting them.

It is a cycle of loss of values which is the fault of the self-same system. The way things are, how policies, procedures and laws are designed; and, yes, this certainly has a first name and a last name, but it is at the highest level. And I asked myself, apart from the highest level, from there right down to the bottom, being in the Operation Truth project. But later — because I ended my participation in the project in the fourth year, in order to prepare myself in the fifth for my thesis — they themselves suggested it to me forcefully …

After the Alarcón incident …

After that incident they did not allow me to publish anything at all. And they said to me go off and do your thesis. But being in the UCI I came to question the government in the Youth. Why does Raúl have to be the president of the country? or, Why did Fidel have to be heading up the country for fifty or more years? I would have liked it to have been a someone from Guantanamo, or Pinar del Rio. Why had there not been other talented, morally adequate people in Cuba to participate in elections and to be chosen?

I think that in the UCI I had some things which were a bit ahead of their time.

I felt and I feel great respect for those professors and also the students who formed part of this project because they really were talented people, and there were kids who were dedicated, who lived the way they did in a given context in the university in which they felt they were doing something very useful and important. What I would also like is that those who are right now carrying out this kind of work ask themselves also if it really is worth it (unintelligible)…

A little while ago the Blogazox Cuba meeting occurred. There is a blog group which believes that they are independent and I get the impression that they don’t realize that they aren’t, and that to the extent that these blogs start to evolve, because a human being, no matter how indoctrinated he may be , always has the ability to understand, to learn and it seems to me that even those kids who do those blogs have evolved to some extent and have had to accept a bunch of things which simple reality confronts them with. They would have to cover their eyes to not see them.

I agree with that Eliecer because of the extent to which the government has to create small spaces, little bubbles of connection or of liberty in order to permit expression expression of certain opinions, so as to give the impression that in the Revolution you are allowed to disagree. To that extent, people gain the taste for criticism, speaking, signaling, having their own space in which to speak, and that is an irreversible process. I have known many blogs which started up with very fundamentalist positions, very attached to the official line, and which have changed and evolved into blogs which are truly critical up to the point where one of them has been closed down.

I think that happened recently. I have heard many opinions expressed by those kids from Santa Clara, whose activity has been much reduced, and they have also been suspended.

I think that what’s happening is this: to the extent that the guys sitting behind their desks have become aware that their soldiers are looking at other things and are learning, are listening, are making new friendships, they don’t like it. (unintelligible). that’s departing from the desired objective. And what those soldiers should understand is that in reality they have nothing in their hands; they don’t have connections, nor a personality, nor policy, nor any kind of internet and that they are simply instruments of others who can cut off their water or electricity whenever they think it necessary.

In that same event (unintelligible). I would not take part in any blogger event or whatever I might be banned from participating in where no official representative was invited.

One of the things I take part in are the activities they sometimes organize in the State of SATS where no-one tells you not to come in, not to listen, not to participate. I think there is a difference between the person who says “Let’s include people. Let’s talk” and the other who says “I have nothing to say. I think of the future and of death.” The second position doesn’t help (unintelligible) Doesn’t help those who truly want the best for the country and want to change and reinvent things.

With all my heart what I hope for is that in a future, hopefully not too far distant, I want to argue with free men, discuss with independent people. I want to argue with people who have opinions. People want to open up, no-one wants to shut up and be quiet. People want to share

I believe that in the end they will insist on that because that is truly Revolution.

Without any doubt, and you viewers too who are listening to us, one day, and it doesn’t matter if right now you are working in the lines of Operation Truth or are one of those who are being attacked by those soldiers. It doesn’t matter, one day you will be also be able to be seated on this chair. Thank you very much.

Translated by GH and Chabeli

11 February 2013

The Constitution of La Yaya and the Future Cuban Constitution / Dimas Castellanos

1352037605_conztituicion-300x168On the 29th of October of 1897 in the pasture of La Yaya, in Sibanicú, Camagüey, the drafting of what would become the last mambí Constitution came to an end. The resulting text represented a qualitative leap forward in Cuba’s constitutional history. This was due to the inclusion, for the first time, of a dogmatic part that included the most advanced individual political and civil rights at the time: habeas corpus, freedom and confidentiality of postal communications, freedom of religion, equality before taxation, freedom of education, right to petition, inviolability of the home,  universal suffrage, freedom of expression and the right of assembly and association.

This result was determined by multiple causes; particularly because the always-present interdependence between development and individual freedoms in every social project is reflected in the constitutional history of human rights. continue reading

For example: the Magna Carta imposed by the English nobility on John Lackland in 1215, the Habeas Corpus Act of 1674, the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the United States’ Declaration of Independence of 1776, and France’s Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen of 1789. These, among other documents, spread at a global level, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, put into force in 1976.

Cuba’s constitutional history began in the colonial period with the Project for an Autonomous Government in Cuba, drafted in 1811 by Father José Agustín Caballero. In 1812, Joaquín Infante, an attorney from Bayamo, drafted the Constitutional Project for the Island of Cuba, and in 1821, priest Félix Varela drafted the Project of Instruction for the Politically and Economically Autonomous Government of the Overseas Provinces. Later, during the wars of independence, in a context of contradictions between military and civil law, Cuba’s constitutional history was enriched by the mambí legislation.

On the 10th of April of 1869, the Guáimaro Constitution, in which an emphasis on civil law was imposed, was signed. This Basic Law based on a tripartite division of powers, gave the legislative power to a House of Representatives that had the authority to appoint and depose the President of the Republic in Arms and the Commander-in-Chief. The executive power was in the hands of the President, and the judiciary was independent.

Despite the facts that it was created during the war of independence and that the House of Representatives was granted authority over the Republic’s sovereignty, the Constitution’s emphasis on civil law? allowed for the rights and freedoms of all Cubans to be protected? in Article 28 as follows: “The House cannot attack the right to freedom of religion, freedom of the press, peaceful assembly, education and petition, or any inalienable right of the people.” According to Dr. Oscar Loyola, in Guáimaro, the possibility of a military dictatorship, always latent in a historical process of this nature, was programmatically eliminated.

From the 13th to the 18th of September of 1895, at the rebirth of the war of independence in Cuba, a new Constitution was drafted in Jimaguayú, which reflected the experience gained from The Ten Years War. As M. Sc Antonio Álvarez expressed, three groups of interests intersected in this document: predominance of military power, José Martí’s principles and an exacerbated anti-militarism, between those who had a pact of interests reflected in that the highest authority of the State was concentrated in a Council of Government with powers to dictate all matters relating to the civil and political life of the revolution; in other words, this body had executive and legislative powers. Article 24 limited the validity of this Constitution to a period of two years.

In compliance with this article, a new Constituent Assembly met in La Yaya from the 13th to the 29th of October. The resulting Constitution readopted the civilian character from Guáimaro. It consolidated the organization of power in civil institutions, and closed the cycle of the type of constitutionalism that had resulted from the wars of independence (Guáimaro, Baraguá, Jimaguayú, and La Yaya), which, obstructed by the American occupation and the imposition of the Platt Amendment, gave way to the Republican Period. The best evidence of the scope and importance of La Yaya is that the civil and political rights enshrined in this document were readopted and enriched in the constitutions of 1901 and 1940.

The advocates of the supremacy of militarism wondered: Why did the Basic Law include a dogmatic part whose immediate purpose was to serve as judicial instrument during wartime? The answer to this question had been already answered in several writings by José Martí, for whom the Republic had become the definition of the democratic soul of the nation.

Martí established a logical genetic relationship between war, independence, and the Republic, where the first was a bridge to reach the last one.  This is why he clearly defined the purposes of the war, so that after that conquest of immediate independence, these then would become the seeds of tomorrow’s long-lasting independence. He believed that, in times of victory, only the seeds that were planted in times of war thrive.

In his speech, “With All and for the Good of All,” delivered in November of 1891, Martí said: “Let’s close the doors to a Republic that is not founded on means worthy of the decorum of men, for the good and the prosperity of all Cubans!” In April of 1893, he expressed: “That is the greatness of the Revolutionary Party: that to found a Republic, it has started from a Republic. That is its strength: “that in the work of all, are the rights of all.” In the Montecristi Manifest, he wrote: “Our motherland must be built, from its roots, upon feasible ways that are self-born, so that a government that lacks truth and justice cannot lead it to the path of favoritism or tyranny.”

The post-1959 events are what best proves the importance of the civil law emphasis of the Constitution of La Yaya.  After 17 years of government under The Basic Law of the Republic of Cuba, the Constitution of 1976, which abolished the Constitution of 1940 and made political and civil rights were subject to the legitimization of the Communist Party as the maximum leading force of the State and society, was approved; something alien and contrary to the day when a new Constituent Assembly, elected by the people, assumes the task of drafting a Magna Carta that includes our constitutional heritage and shapes it into the reality of today’s Cuba and of the winds blowing across the universe.

Originally published in El Diario de Cuba

Translated by: Chabeli 

1 November 2012

Necessary Reminder / Jeovany Jimenez Vega #Cuba

By Jeovany Jiménez Vega

I reread the letter from the surgeons from the Havana “Calixto García” Hospital to Raúl Castro, which was published on 20 September by Cubaencuentro anonymous and undated. At the time of posting my previous post on October 1, I didn’t know that on September 28 another digital site, Cubainformación, had published what it says is the real letter–this time backed by the name of 62 surgeons of the hospital and dated August 15, 2011–in an article that also accused “international media and the so-called Cuban dissidence…” of manipulating the document. The next day, September 29, Cubaencuentro reviewed the indictment and published the full text referred by Cubainformación.

I do not think the letter made public by one of these sites differs too much in its essence from that published by the other. Some words here and there but the poverty, abuse, neglect and hopelessness they describe are unquestionable facts.

So, today I focus not on the presumed authenticity of one or other, but on fact slips into the background here, that this controversial and incredibly important document only comes to light after being published by Cubaencuentro, yet was sent to the highest leadership of the country over a year ago and this is where I ask: did these doctors received any response from the authorities and government policies to their just concerns?

Or perhaps it passed to the Internet because they never received a response to their letter? Did the authorities react with maturity and naturalness or with their usual arrogance? Do events like this finally make the Cuban authorities become aware of the imminent need to accommodate us with more respect or do they eternally perpetuate this laziness?

I hope that by this time this controversy bears good fruit. Hopefully this intolerance that has corroded life is not first and foremost any more since those who from shame have the nobility to speak aloud when others are silent out of fear. Hopefully no other Cuban will suffer what I had to suffer for saying for similar words, which I offer here as a reminder of what must change, but in continuing is the shame of our country.

(*) Letter addressed to the then Minister of Public Health Dr. José Ramón Balaguer Cabrera, on November 11, 2005, by Drs. Jeovany Jimenez Vega and Rodolfo Martinez Vigoa. (Excerpt)

…The worker subject to our Ministry has particular characteristics that must be kept in mind in order avoid falling into simplistic analysis… Whoever graduates and then betters himself, as an unavoidable human consequence, aspires to live decently from the fruit of his labor, but today our particular reality is quitepainful and different: we receive an evanescent salary that is exhausted at five or at the most 10 days, being then in the throes ofthe urgency of expenses of that kind of public charity, from the spontaneous gesture of the grateful patient who knows our imperious necessity. We speak of talented and dedicated professionals, of high human quality, working with threadbare gowns and his only pair of broken shoes, with many of his more elemental needs not covered, who has coexisted with this lamentable situation for more than a decade, burdened by shortages that would fill these pages and that we leave to the imagination.

While it’s true that some of our patients, who barely made it to the 6th Grade, earn no less than $300 Cuban pesos a month, selling candy or peanuts, others can earn that amount daily; it would be absurd to compare with the sector made up of the self-employed.

We then want to bring attention to the state sectors that interact around us, which would be valid to take as point of comparison. For example: A SEPSA custodianearns about $200 Cuban pesos a month, includingCUCs, food, and personal hygiene products. An ETECSA clerk, in similar terms, earns $ 1000 Cuban pesos a month.The MINFAR and MININT pay higher salaries than ours and for years, have been systematically implementing a policy of incentives.In all the above cases,the employee receives a uniform and a pair of shoes on a regular basis.

The list of better-paid jobs in the state sector would be a long one.So, I cannot find the answers to the following questions: If the official argument is the lack and unavailability of resources and funds, then what justifies the fact that the person who guards the door at the hospital earns three times more than a professor of Internal Medicine, who have been training doctors for decades, and even the director of the hospital, when National System of Public Health is an entity entirely subordinated to the State that centralizes such resources and funds.

Isn’t it totally absurd that a month of school pays off several times more and results more ’useful’to an individualthan 12 years of higher education? Does it make any sense that this society, which aspires to full equality, pays more back to a custodian thana neurosurgeon who is now saving lives?

What justifies the reality that an MGI specialist or a dentist or the last super-specialist of the Institute are unable to satisfy their basic needs, and when that’s not the case, they fulfill them at the expense of undertaking some other kind of work, but never from their salary as professionals?

Our workers are asked for an altruistic and selfless spirit and great human sensibility, capable of taking high doses of sacrifices, qualities that they certainly have. Unfortunately, in the chain of CUC stores, where the State sets the prices and sells products very expensively, and where many of the basic consumer goods end up being sold, the hard currency (CUC) we are charged with cannot be called sacrifice, altruism, or dignity (that would be truly touching), but simply CUC… Then, our professionals, left with no other choices, go into the street to face that other ’daily struggle’ to avoid prostituting themselves in their profession, selling under-the-counter “certificates of illness,” medicines, or receive some sort of perk.

It is such an overwhelming situation, which forces the individual to seek an alternative source of income, in many exotic and dissimilar ways that would leave one in awe: raising pigs, taking in ironing, selling pizza, ham or eggs, working as masons, carpenters, shoemakers, or simply renting the car that was awarded for participating in an international mission, for a fixed monthly price, so that they can afford to buy gasoline. And all of these activities share something in common: they are discouraging and time-consuming when placed in the balance with professional growth.They take people away from what should be their only worry: studying, which they should pay back byproviding exquisite attention to their patients, from a scientific point of view.

If today we are flying the flag of internationalism with medical missions in dozens of countries, it also thanks to the spirit of self-sacrifice of those of us who stayed in Cuba. Our workers have had to take onthe work of those who left in missions, and so a single doctor is responsible for the work previously performed by 3 or 4; there are even more dramatic cases, and on top of this, doctors try to deliver the same level of care to their patients while receiving in return the same pay, knowing that your internationalist colleague, certainly well deserved, earns several hundred dollars a month and after her/his return they will receive amonthly stipend, not negligible at all underthe present circumstances…

Under this situation, our staff had bigger expectations regarding monthly salary increases in June 2005, which resulted in true disappointment. A $48.00 Cuban pesos raise to the monthly salary of a doctor, under these circumstances, was less than symbolic.In the hallways of our hospitals and polyclinics, you could hear harsh words being said, charged with grief and resentment; insulting and offensive phrases, that we will not repeat here in the name of decency, were muttered all over the place.

Our Ministry has the moral obligation to offer a respectful response to its workers, given the extreme sensitivity of this issue. These are the same workers who, at the peak and during the saddest moments of the Special Period, remained working for $3.00 USD or less a month, holding high the honor of our work, and they deserve to know that their opinions are taken into account…

Everything that has been said here is completely true; it has been said in a measured and respectful way for a very simple reason: If justice is the supreme ideal of the Revolution, the current compensation received by our workerseven after decades of effort and dedication is neither fair nor proportionate, while other state sectors are paid several times more, the situation is not compatible with Marxist principles… ’one should get paid according to his work.’

… The problem itself is much more controversial and profound, and it will never besolved with palliative measures or timid salary increases. We can only humbly alert; those who have ears to hear, listen. Reality is much harsher than any words, and that one, even when it burns our hands, does not fit in any discourse.

There are thousands of workers… who are waiting for a response. We hope that it will be moderate and fair, well-thought and intelligent, and it will show no signs of clumsiness. The harshness of these times has not made us lose the tenderness inour hearts.We have faith in that decisions, consistent with the spirit of this Revolution for the humble, will be made, by the humble and for the humble.

– End of the Document –

P.S. Eleven months from the date when this letter was delivered at the headquarters of the Ministry of Public Health, both of us, its authors, were suspended from the practice of medicine for more than 5 years.

Translated by Chabeli

October 16 2012


Incense and Myrrh / Regina Coyula #Cuba

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday, while enjoying my coffee in the morning, the children bustling outside reminded me that it was Three Kings’ Day.” It has been a while, for my husband and me, since the suffocation of making this day happen for our son came to an end. Memorable for me, because I believed in the Kings for a long time, but also felt for my husband who, from having been so poor, knew they did not exist. In Rafael’s case, his 2nd Grade teacher decided to cut off this illusion for the entire classroom.

Yesterday, the children got new toys, but without being thankful to Melchior, Caspar or Balthasar. Powerful daddies gave their children Xbox, battery-operated cars, bikes, and the list goes down to the common rubber balls and the pseudo-Barbies from the ’Everything for $1.00’ stores.

Except for street-vendors of plastic toys such as small cars or furniture for dolls and for the slow circulation of certain toys that eventually are sold in Cuban pesos instead of CUC, buying toys in CUC is a problem, especially since what were charmingly called “the basic,” “the non-basic,” and “the additional rationed toys,” disappeared, and even toys themselves for a time.Yet, in the past few days you could see children in toy stores choosing their presents and taking them home, especially on the eve of the 6th.

But, what about the ’Kings?’ Those were forced into exile along with Virgin Mary and Mickey Mouse when we began building Communism.

Mickey Mouse made a comeback in the cartoons pirated from Disney Channel. Virgin Mary came back, invoked by atheists in recent times. Even the birth of the son of the Virgin got his holiday, a concession by Pope John Paul II. However, the star of Bethlehem turned out to be a scientific supernova.

The Three Kings have become a sort of urban legend.There is talk about a cavalcade by the Kings a few years ago; you hear that this year they appeared in some parts of the city.I do not think this ban comes from Santa Claus, this chubby man omnipresent since Christmas has no longer been categorized as an ideological deviation.The Kings do their magic clandestinely, since the effort to dissipate them began with the invention of a Children’s Day, many months away from January 6th.

While disguised, the old traditions loom shyly, without the charm of the grass and water for the camels.

Translated by Chabeli

January 7 2013

What Mariela Castro Hides About the Night Clubs of Havana / Wendy Iriepa and Ignacio Estrada #Cuba

Havana, Cuba – These are some of the realities that Mrs. Mariela Castro hides, leaving the LGBT community in absolute deprivation of all rights.

A number of night clubs that hosted parties for the LGBT community have been closed in the past few days. To cite some examples:

– Due to a general restoration, ’El Café Cantante,’ took over the space of ’Divino’ leaving it without its usual site.

– The public club ’José A. Echeverría’ has a number of regulations, which, in the first place, forced the ’Ibiza Project’ to change its name, and eventually it was moved to ’El Colmado’ in the municipality of Centro Habana, a site in precarious conditions for the activities of the LGBT community.

Also, ’La Mamba,’ which operates at this same location (El Colmado) on Fridays is looking for a new space to continue organizing these kinds of parties.

– Las Vegas Cabaret is in the process of analyzing its role since it had always been a place for the elite in the capital, and it has been transformed like the palace of impersonations in the city, with real international impact.

In regards to ’meeting sites’:

– The very well known tendedera, located across from the Capitol, in Old Havana, has been under restoration along with the emblematic headquarters of former Government, with a great concentration of policemen and celebrities.

– Central Park, on the side of the movie theater ’Pairet,’ young people walking by are required to show their IDs, simply because they are in a tourist area and may be considered potential hookers or hustlers in to the eyes of the policemen.

– Fraternity Park, surrounded by bus stops, now has the highest level of outdoor lighting in the capital.

– Cafeteria, also known as the Bin Bon, is actually the only place from which the authorities have not been able to eliminate the presence of the LGBT community. However, they are vulnerable to abuses from the authorities on a daily basis.

In other words, we are going back to the era of prohibition. The problem lies in that many of the night clubs had stopped throwing “de Cheo” (boring) parties and had specialized in LGBT community parties only. The ’Karachy’ is closed, as well as ’Asia’ in La Víbora.

There are still a number of open locations.

We recommend you subscribe to text messages and get your information from handouts.

Parties are currently shifting locations and are not taking place in their usual spaces.

Like we said before, the main night clubs in this situation are:

Ibiza, La Mamba, Divino, and El Olimpo.

November 9 2012

Cubans Throughout the World / Rebeca Monzo #Cuba

Upon arriving in this corner of France and reuniting with my family, whom I had not seen for seven years, I had the great pleasure of receiving a visit from the son of a very dear friend, whom I had first seen when he was born. Later on, as you might imagine, the subject of the far-off homeland came up, as well as the problems and frustrations that come with abandoning, almost against your will, the place where you were born. This is his case.

This Cuban is not resigned to remaining in forced exile. Life has played him some dirty tricks, so he is undocumented here. They cannot repatriate him, as he would like, because Cuban authorities repeatedly refuse him entry. The last time he was in Cuba, he remained in prison for four months for refusing to leave the country.

This man, who is still young, has two names and a head, so he never stops thinking about the misery to which his homeland is subjected. He has dedicated his free time — which unfortunately is all that he can do since he does not have papers and can work only sporadically — to investigating Cuban issues in-depth.

I was truly impressed when he showed me photos, articles and a wealth of details, to which we Cubans on the island do not have access, regarding the strange accident in which Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero were killed.

For this reason I am uploading the video that my friend provided for your consideration.

Site manager’s note: This video is not subtitled but here is a summary of the contents: The person speaking, a friend of Rebeca’s, is Israel Alejandro Cabezas González. He has put together the evidence he shows in the video, with regards to the death of Oswaldo Paya and Harold Cepero in a car crash. He believes that the photo of the car — driven by the Spaniard Carromero — was “fixed,” that is altered, and as a point of comparison he offers a photo that appeared in the Spanish press. He says that the official report of the crash was prepared to match the “fixed” photos.

Using Google maps he shows where the crash occurred, and the little collection of houses located 2 km before the crash. He believes that the “operation” was planned there and that the “supposed ambulances” were already waiting there.

The farmer speaking in he video says he was biking from the nearby town to the rice fields where he works, the entrance to which is directly across from the crash site. While he was biking a car passed him and he saw the dust cloud, based on which Alejandro estimates he’s about 1 km (half a mile) from the crash. By the time of the crash he was just meters away and arrived there in 2 to 3 minutes. He said people were already there taking each of the 4 men out of the car.

The person speaking in English is Jan Modig, the Swede who was in the car. He says, “The second memory I have is that I found myself in some sort of ambulance,” which means it wasn’t an ambulance… it was ‘sort of an ambulance’. Alejandro also says the foreigners were saying “why did you do this to us?” and he believes it was a huge premeditated operation to kill them.

He says they took “the Swede” and Carromero (the Spaniard who was driving) away separately and they didn’t know what happened to Oswaldo Paya. Paya was sitting where he received the direct impact from the crash, but that he served as a sort of ‘airbag’ for Harold Cepero who ultimately also died. Alejandro says that since they were being hit from behind everyone was wearing their seatbelts [the official version is that they were not] and that Harold was alive after the crash; he had a very small fracture of the femur.

When they arrived at the hospital — Alejandro goes on  to say — State Security kicked the regular doctors out of the hospital and brought in “G2” military doctors, and that he hopes Cepero’s body was not cremated because he did not die of natural causes.

Alejandro’s personal version of what happened was that somebody who was G2 (State Security) infiltrated Carromero and Modig’s visit and told G2 where they were going. G2 followed them from Havana and also there were more G2 agents waiting for them in the collection of houses, where everything was prepared, including the ambulances and doctors.

Translated and video summary by Unstated and BW and Chabeli

January 4 2013

Reconstructing History / Mackandal – Manuel Aguirre Lavarrere

In the act of remembrance for the victims of the Independent Party of Color held in Central Park, at the statue of our apostle José Martí, Miguel Barnet, intellectual and ethnologist was in charge of the words of apology. With a solid document, Barnet laid out the intricacies of the tragedy and the anti-black sentiment of an era that ended with the massacre of 1912.

It was a very well deserved act for those thousands of people who did not see their dreams come true and who died only for demanding the recognition of their rights.

Especially now, after a recent publication of a book that seeks to discredit the Independents of Color, this is a good opportunity to plant our feet firmly on the ground and analyze the book’s material  from the point of view of its true intentions.

I am referring to the book La Conspiración de los Iguales [Conspiracy of Equals], by the historian Rolando Rodríguez, who was not original, not even in choosing the title. With a text that does not do justice to the issue at all, he tries to reconstruct history in a very positive way, but in the end he reveals his personal intentions as a manipulator of history and as an agent of the regime because this book is very well designed to serve their interests.

Rolando Rodríguez has been, so far, the only historian who has had the nerve, and at the same to the courage, to place himself on the side of repression and in favor of a constitution that excludes people. However, the most disturbing aspects are the fact that this book has been written by an agent of the Cuban government and that the regime has invested thousands of pesos to make this text available to the public.

The book, rather than a historical analysis, is a warning, not only for those who in Cuba restlessly fight against discrimination regardless of the government, that is to say the Citizens for Racial Integration, the Rosa Parks Feminine Movement, or the Juan Gualberto Gómez Movement for Racial Integration, it applies to any unofficial political party or independent civic project; other than those of the ruling elite it serves no other interests, such as those of the Aponte Commission of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC).

The book creates a dividing line for those who may have the courage to propose any amendment, any public demand: anyone who does not respond to the interests of the regime will face the consequences.

And Rolando Rodríguez will be there supporting intransigence, as loyal servant and historiographer watchdog.

Translated by Chabeli

Published by Primavera Digital – August, 1st, 2012

The Privileged Ones / Mackandal – Manuel Aguirre Lavarrere

The privileges granted by the regime to the Cuban military elite, behind the back of the people’s will and stepping over any consensus from the citizens, have as solemn goal to buy the loyalty of this elite.

Bought loyalty is not acting in a reasonable and conscious way, which would be the right thing to do. Give the level of misery and hardships that the country is facing, the military elite should be willing to give up their privileges and live under the same hardships that the majority of the people, who they claim to defend, suffer from. But, unfortunately that is not how it is. The armed forces, far from protecting the interests of the citizens, are the loyal dogs of a ranch called Cuba.

The thirty-five new colonels, personally promoted by President Raúl Castro, are living proof of what this article emphasizes.

They swore to be loyal to him and the Party. They do not care about the people or the country’s path toward democracy. They are loyal to him and the Party, shamelessly, like a dog with a bone.

Cuba deserves a better fate and leaders fully committed to the honor that is gained from freedom and political plurality.

The manipulation of patriotic morality and of the motherland itself when only a few receive privileges from those who have even taken from the country the sense of its own history.

A disproportionately large army is ready to repress, imprison, and kill for a blind loyalty that often turns against themselves.

These privileges granted by the regime have created a new class that sucks away everything from the people who are exploited even in matters of the dues they pay to the union which repeatedly end up in the hands of the military. The same thing happens to the money from wages and remittances. In hard currency stores, owned by the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), the constant changing of prices on the products, the abuse of the customers, and the threatening authoritarianism are part of the bitter daily routine.

The so-called “reliable” are Communist Party militants, who wear a uniform that protects them from all suspicions, as well their children and relatives, after having been involved, more than once, in corruption scandals. Without generating any profit, they suck it all in, being real good-for-nothings and parasites embedded in the heart of the motherland.

These privileges are precisely why a large part of the population rejects the police as much as the military.

We must question openly this new classist, racist, and insatiable elite of those who are the first and loudest to shout patriotic slogans, to the point that with their gaping mouths it seems like they are going to eat the Revolution, with their little flags and everything.

Experiences from events that took place in similar societies after the collapse of Communism tell us that those who hold power are the ones who later become the owners of corporations and public goods, forming a solid pressure group that will continue working towards increasing their personal wealth at the expense of people’s sacrifice.

With no force based on reason, but with reason based on force and money in their pockets, the dreams of the motherland and the fate of every citizen are in their hands.

Who are those who give them these privileges, never granted before by any other government? Do they have the moral authority to criticize anyone?

Published by Primavera Digital, July 14, 2012.

Translated by Chabeli