Prior Censorship, Decree 349 and the Constitutional Project of the Cuban Communist Party / Cubalex

Cubalex, 11 September 2018 — Decree 349/2018 sets up a system of prior censorship of cultural and artistic activities and other forms of expression, violating the freedom to carry out creative activities and the right to develop the human personality. It also offends against freedom of thought, belief and religion: and the right to hold opinion, to associate and to peaceful assembly.

In the Constitutional Project of the Cuban Communist Party, there is recognised, among other things, in relation to all citizens (although not all persons) the right to education, to culture, and its comprehensive development. Every person has the right to participate in the cultural and artistic life of the country. Men and women have equal cultural rights and obligations. Citizens should protect the natural resources and the cultural and historical heritage of the country. continue reading

The state recognises that the forms of artistic expression and artistic creation are free, but affirms categorically that its content must respect the values of a socialist Cuban society. This statement is a tacit recognition that prior censorship will be employed to supervise the content of the forms of artistic expression and artistic creation.

According to the Committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in its General Observation 21: The right of every person to participate in cultural life (Article 15 paragraph 1(a)), and also the other rights established in the International Agreement on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, imposes on the states three types or levels of obligation:

a) the obligation to respect;

b) the obligation to protect, and

c) the obligation to comply.

The obligation to respect requires the Cuban state to refrain from interfering, directly or indirectly, in the enjoyment of the right to participate in cultural life, which includes the creation, individually, or in association with others, or in a community or group, which implies that the state should abolish censorship of cultural activities imposed on the arts and other forms of expression. In other words, it is necessary to repeal Decree 349 and provide a constitutional project which may be supported by all of us.

(1) Art. 43 of the draft Constitutional bill

(2) Art. 45 section 1) of Article 91 of the draft Constitutional bill

(3) Section h) of the draft Constitutional bill

Translated by GH

Habeas Corpus Proposed in the Constitutional Reform is Ineffective / Cubalex

Habeas Corpus will be elevated to constitutional status

Cubalex, M.sc. Laritza Diversent — Article 50 of the constitution, as proposed to the National Assembly by the Cuban Communist Party, will recognise Habeas Corpus. This guarantee against illegal arrest was the subject of parliamentary debate. The Deputy for Baracoa in Guantanamo province, Tamayo Mendez, made reference to this precept.

“Any person who is deprived of his liberty,” he read. “Here we are affirming that it was foreseen that someone may be illegally penalised,” he added. “No, not penalised, but illegally deprived of their liberty,” he was corrected by Deputy Jose Luis Toledo Santander, member of the constitutional editing commission. continue reading

“What is being addressed here is the protection of the right of an individual who is deprived of their liberty to due process as established by law. This process exists in the Law of Legal Procedures,” explained Toledo Santander.

Due process” for Habeas Corpus and the authorities’ practices

In effect, Habeas Corpus is regulated in domestic law, but offers no protection against arbitrary detention, nor against enforced disappearance.

For example, one of the “processes established by law” is that of denying Habeas Corpus, if, during the arrest, a “sentence of or order for a limited period of imprisonment” was decreed. Every year, the Cuban state and its agents undertake thousands of arbitrary detentions as a punishment for exercising freedom of expression, meeting and association. 

Additionally, it requires that “the place where the person is held be identified, as well as the official or his agent or the functionary who is holding him.” The government agents employ pseudonyms, wear plain clothes and do not identify themselves. As far as human rights defenders are concerned, they do not complete any detention paperwork, to isolate them and make it impossible to identify their location, opening the door to their enforced disappearance.

The tribunals limit themselves to verifying that the required procedural criminal documentation exists, and reject pleas for habeas corpus, without requiring the police officials to produce the person who has been detained and to explain when and why he was detained. It is unlikely they would agree to an applications for oral hearing.

Awarding constitutional status to a guarantee which does not comply with international standards does not constitute any advance in human rights, and is obviously ineffective.

M.sc. Laritza Diversent

Translated by GH

Decree #349 is "Against the Interests of Artists" / Cubalex

Cubalex, 23 August 2018 — According to Pedro Edgar Rizo Pena, in an article entitled “Demythologising Decree 349,” what the “activists against 349″ have not troubled themselves to analyse (perhaps due to lack of legal understanding, or not co-operating in reading and interpreting it) is that the decree promulgates the basis for the legal provisions which regulate self employment  in the country… that is to say, this fact destroys the argument that the decree acts against the interests of artists and their creative expression.”

I completely disagree with what the writer says. Decree 349, in its first “Insofar as,” indicates that it updates Decree No.226 (but in the Final Disposicion it revokes it) where this section expressly recognises its application to breaches of regulations and provisions currently in force relating to provision of artistic services in public spaces or premises, in labour matters and in regard to cultural, artistic and literary policy. It does not mention self-employment, and nor does Decree 349 expressly refer to it. continue reading

Nor does it refer to the Labour Code, as did its predecessor, by way of Law No. 49/83, which was repealed by Law No. 116/2014 (the current Labour Code), which authorises the Ministry of Culture (Article 76) to establish the procedure and the entities authorised to evaluate the eligibility and professionalism necessary to carry out artistic work, as well as the form of remuneration for artists.

It does act against the interests of artists and their artistic work

If Decree 349 does not act against the interests of the artist, what is the meaning of the offence mentioned in Section e) of Part 1 of Article 2. I quote: “In the offering of artistic services, there are contraventions … the person who performs artistic services in the absence of authorisation to carry out artistic work in an artistic position or occupation.”

Subsequent to the entering into force of the new Labour Code, the Ministry of Culture (MINCULT) promulgated Resolution No. 45, of 16th June, 2014, “Regulations for the evaluation system for workers in artistic fields.” This established an Artistic Technical Council or evaluation tribunal, whiich assesses the quality of work, qualitative development of the ability and skill of the individual or collective, and awards or withdraws the professional designation of artists (be they graduates of artistic teaching, general teaching, or amateurs) for artistic festivals, genres and specialities, and artistic responsibilities.

The Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television authorise institutions to make and market artistic productions and services. Only these entities are authorised to establish employment regulations with artists and groups of artists, according to professional performance. They have to apply for permission when they wish to contract an artist who has no evaluation for a particular performance or piece of work. It is forbidden to enter into employment relations with artists lacking an evaluation, who are not graduates of the artistic teaching system (they can be reevaluated after a year). An artistic group which loses its evaluation is dissolved.

There is no legal relationship with the self-employment regulations

Finally, Decree 349 broadens its coverage from “public places or institutions” to “public places or institutions which are or are not state-controlled.” The unhindered discretion and legal uncertainty is increased when the government does not define what is meant by “public places or institutions which are or are not state-controlled.”

It also widens the range of those to whom it may be applied. Decree No. 226 was limited to those individuals performing on behalf of a state, private, or mixed entity. Self employed persons (in the non-state sector) were not included because they are not entrepreneurs and therefore there is no legal reason for the state to consider them as entities (see the constitutional project glossary of terms).

Those individuals are authorised to undertake an economic activity, which, in the majority of cases, they undertake in their own houses. Clearly they carry out alterations to these business properties (hairdresser, bakery, restaurant, etc.) but legally they remain private residences. The state does not classify them as businesses or see the value of the property in that way.  There is no justification for considering the place where they work on a self-employed basis to be one of the “public places or institutions which are or are not state-controlled,” let alone as “businesses.”

First published in Cubalex

Translated by GH

Without Guarantees of Due Process, Detentions Always Appear Unjust / Cubalex

Cubalex, M.sc. Laritza Diversent, 3 August 2018 — The constitutional reform will recognise Habeas Corpus, as it is applied in domestic law. An obviously ineffective procedure. It does not provide protection against arbitrary detention or enforced disappearance. Nor does it comply with international standards in terms of due process.

“No-one who is imprisoned considers that it is in order,” was  José Luis Toledo Santander’s cynical comment. “Everyone detained by the police considers himself innocent and to have been unfairly detained,” adds the deputy and member of the editing commission of the constitutional text. “That implies,” he concludes, “that every person detained by the police would be able to seek a writ of Habeas Corpus.”

Abuse of power and excess of discretional authority

The agents of police and security (Ministry of the Interior) have minimal training and excessive authority. After being recruited and a 6-month course, they are ready to exercise power and enjoy the impunity guaranteed by their uniform and their licence. continue reading

Whether on the orders of a superior, personal dislike, or a battle for territorial control — it’s all the same. No-one who has a business escapes the payment of tribute to the authorities. The evidence presented and declarations to a tribunal, whether true or not, carry more weight than the law itself.

In such circumstances, it is logical that everyone detained by the police considers himself unfairly detained. That’s the logic in a country where guarantees of due process do not exist.

Do you know that the police can interpret and apply, acting as judges, 27% of the offences in the Penal Code?

Without remission of the case to a tribunal, they are authorised to judge it, and apply a fine. When they exercise this power, they do not inform the detainees that, in the event of their accepting it, they are recognising their guilt (loss of the presumption of innocence) and abandoning the right to be judged by a tribunal.

Absence of independent, impartial tribunals

Do you know that the Committee against Enforced Disappearance (an office of the United Nations) is concerned that the subordination of the tribunals to the National Assembly and the Council of State affects the independance of the judiciary?

Yes, judges are subject to all types of political influence. Both of these state organs are charged with appointing, promoting, suspending, and dismissing them. A judge can be dismissed from a tribunal, for not being willing to join the Cuban Communist Party, which subjects them to conflicts of interest and intimidation.

Total absence of the right to defence and therefore the presumption of innocence

Did you know that the national tribunals only accept legal service contracts issued by the Collective Law Firms (Legal practices supervised by the Ministry of Justice)?

Yes, in practice they are obliged to contract defence lawyers from an organisation which is unique in the country and ideologically committed to the political group holding power in the country. This situation affects the right to freely select your lawyer.

Nor are the ONBC lawyers are not independent. They are subject to interference, pressure and undue influence from the authorities who intervene in the penal process, which prevents them from performing dilligently and fearlessly, acting against the interests of their clients.

First published in Cubalex

Translated by GH

In Debate: Replies to Doubts About Decree 348/2018 / Cubalex, Laritza Diversent

Together we can. No to Decree 349. A law that makes art a crime..

What are “artistic services?”

Cubalex, 2 August 2018 — Artistic services are those offered by government organisations authorised to contract artistic workers. Artistic services may be requested from these entities. As I understand it, they are like agencies which employ artists or groups of artists. An individual or a business contracts the service, and pays the organisatioon. Then, the agency pays the artist. (Resolution 44/2014 “Regulations governing work arrangements for those whose work is of an artistic nature.”)

Is this terminology only used for people who are paid for their work as artists, or is it for all artists who show up in a place, if it is an independent place, like ours, where they aren’t paid to turn up?

According to Resolution 54/2014 “Regulations governing artistic work evaluation”, AN ARTIST is a person who interprets or carries out one or several works in accordance with each appearance and speciality. continue reading

To work professionally in each artistic field, a work evaluation is essential, apart from those exceptions established by the employment legislation in force for this sector (Article 11)

The artistic evaluation is confirmed by way of the issuing of the appropriate Evaluation Certificate, and is independently authorised for each speciality or each artistic position on an individual basis for each artist, and for groups of more than one artist, without prejudice to the individual pay guarantee (Article 10)

The regulation imposed by Decree 349/2018: One may not work as an artist, or carry out artistic activities without government authorisation

In accordance with Decree 349/2018, only state-authorised artists can offer artistic services, on an individual basis or on behalf of a group, and payment for work carried out is only permitted for such people.

Only people with authorisation to carry out artistic work in an artistic  position or occupation can offer artistic services, on condition that they have a signed “established contract”, with a state institution which is authorised to contract artists and to approve their offer of artistic services.

If an artist provides his services without the authority of an employing organisation which contracts with him, then an offence is committed and he will be fined. Additionally, any instruments, equipment, accessories or other goods may be seized, the performance or relevant screening immediately cancelled, any authorisation to perform independently may be cancelled, and the employing organisation may apply disciplinary measures.

Do you know where the Cuban cultural policy may be found?

The Cuban cultural policy should be all the regulations imposed by the Ministry of Culture, a government entity of the Central Government Administration of the Republic of Cuba, charged with the direction, guidance, control and execution, within its operational ambit, of the cultural policy of the state and Cuban government, in order to guarantee the defence, preservation and enrichment of the cultural heritage of the Cuban nation. The Mincult (Ministry of Culture) has a website where the cultural policy is explained.

M.sc Laritza Diversent, Executive Director of Cubalex

First published in Cubalex.

Translated by GH

More About the Constitution / Fernando Dámaso

Arlequín. Héctor Catá.

Fernando Damaso, 12 July 2018 — The 1940 Constitution, considered one of the most democratic, advanced and well-balanced constitutions in the world, was prepared by important and well-known representatives of Cuban society, politics and economics, selected by way of free and honest elections, to form the Constituent Assembly, in order that each party could publicly set out its constitutional programme.

It ended up with seventy-seven selected delegates (42 opposition and 35 government), including statesmen, intellectuals, lawyers, polemicists, parliamentarians, experts in international law, workers’ leaders, and political leaders, representing all ideological and political perspectives, from the most radical to the most conservative. Although some historians say there were eighty-one, I am going on the figures provided by Dr. Carlos Marquez Sterling, which I consider the more accurate. In the end it was signed by seventy-one delegates. continue reading

All the debates were public and transmitted on the radio, with the press giving its opinions and debating the issues, putting things before the public and creating an atmosphere of patriotic fervour and real popular participation and discussion.

What is happening now, as in 1976, and its subsequent reforms, ends up as a totalitarian reform, with a project put together by a chosen group of Party and government officials, whom the people don’t know and, most of them having no public reputation apart from representing the different current national ideologies and politics. The process is run by the ancient Party and government directors, like an updating for the present day economic situation, without touching the policies, which are dogmatically maintained, with the objective of holding onto power for as long as possible.

They consider that a Constitutional Assembly is unnecessary because the National Assembly of Peoples’ Power has within its functions that of drawing up or reforming the Constitution. It is well-known that this doesn’t serve present-day Cuban society, but only the monopoly Party, to which it is completely subservient.

The public don’t know what is being debated either, as discussion is held behind closed doors, with only skimpy information provided later by the official press. Everyone knows that the so-called popular participation, opinions and suggestions, are swamped by a massive formal exercise, so that most people have no idea what the Constitution stands for, and, even less, its legal complications, having to just get on with accepting without question whatever is proposed, as has been the custom for the last sixty years.

It seems to have been forgotten that constitutions are not academic documents or bureaucratic formulas, but wide-ranging social pacts, which are routed in vigorous controversy, and in which consensus may be found. It is by way of such processes that constitutions are validated and acquire their relevance.

The current process, which excludes any democratic debate or participation by all Cuban social points of view, makes for a second rate constitution, incapable of achieving the importance of the 1940 version.

Photo: Arlequín. Héctor Catá.

Translated by GH

Free Iliana Hernandez! / Angel Santiesteban

 

Iliana Hernandez

Ángel Santiesteban, 14 July 2018 — Iliana Hernandez screams from her punishment cell. This sister sleeps in jail without having committed any crime, apart from, in the regime’s eyes, thinking differently. She knows about sacrifice. Of having left a free country to confront the government. In Spain, where she is a citizen, she would have no problem getting by comfortably.

Nevertheless, here, we have her fighting for our universal human rights. We should express our gratitude to her by thinking spiritual thoughts. It’s our only way to be with her where the dictatorship has her locked up in darkness. I phoned her house at night and her mother could hardly speak for crying. I told her she should feel proud; but how can you tell a mother to feel proud that her daughter is locked up. It’s asking too much. Free Iliana Hernandez!

Translated by GH

Juan Juan ‘AL MEDIO’ Interview with Yadira Escobar / Juan Juan Almeida

Following is a translation of the first 40 minutes of the above video. Many many thanks to TranslatingCuba.com’s longtime collaborator ‘GH’ for this yeoperson’s effort!

Juan Juan Almeida (JJ)

Very good evening. How are you doing? Canada orders that the families of Canadian diplomats who have moved to Cuba must return to their country. But the Cuban government, and the official press, is concentrating on the reception of General Raul Castro in Lima, Peru at the American summit.  And they are also concentrating on an interesting meeting which – and I am reading this –  which is known as the Meeting of the Democratic International Committee of Women which will take place in Pyongyang.

And, to be honest, I see very few connections between the North Korean Republic and the word “democracy”. We will talk about that, and many other things, with the person we have invited today, who is a young Cuban American lady, who, just by mentioning her name, will arouse emotions in all the social media.  This is Juan Juan Medio, and we will start in just a minute. continue reading

As I started saying, Canada is withdrawing  the families of its diplomatic personnel from Havana for security reasons and rumours have it that they are doing it because of all the commentaries about the supposed sonic attacks and because they are worried about the symptoms being suffered, or that have been suffered,  by ten of  their officials in Cuba. For that reason they are withdrawing part … well, not part … but the families of their officials  in Cuba.

And it’s strange really because – in my opinion, obviously – we have heard a lot about those sonic attacks which took place in Havana, but really, as far as I am concerned, after reading everything, or nearly everything, they have published in the official and unofficial media, I still find it hard to believe the whole story, or at least the story we have been told. Why? Well, because, I think we could have believed it completely in Fidel Castro’s time. Fidel Castro was a man who was reckless and daring.

So, I think that Cuba, at that time, was capable  of doing that, and a lot more. But Raul Castro is a different person. Raul Castro, Alejandro Castro, and all that group of people who is now in charge of the country …   I feel are very much cowards and I would find it difficult to believe that they could authorise or carry out those sorts of actions.  Not just against Canadian diplomats … we know the commercial interests that exist between Cuba and Canada … they are very very important – one of Cuba’s principal commercial partners.

Also, I very much doubt that there was this kind of action against North American diplomats as they say has happened  … I personally find it difficult to believe … and really I don’t have all the information … not all the information. But I continue to think that at least the story, as it is, shows an absence of evidence. There are far more questions than answers.

We will be talking about this, and many other matters here with today’s guest, who am delighted  to invite to join me here now, and introduce her properly, as God would expect, and as she deserves.

Yadira Escobar (YE)

Hi

JJ

Welcome. How are you?

YE

Very well

JJ

A great pleasure to be with you and first of all of course to ask how you are … apart from the obvious, that you are a very beautiful woman … obviously very well. But, the rhetorical question … how are you?

YE

A pleasure to meet you in person. Very happy to be here with the Diario de las Americas … and let’s see …

JJ

Your first time here?

YE

Yes, yes …

JJ

The first thing I would like to know … I have seen many of your videos in the social networks … they are practically viral … and I’d like to know … is it a performance, a personality you have which you are trying to put over, or are you … or were you …the person we have seen in the social media. What difference is there between you and the person in the social media?

YE

Well, the difference is not what I make. The only difference is between what I am and what some malicious people describe. The difference is that you publish your creative material… not the image that some malicious people .. in the networks people maliciously … there is in Miami  an attempt to destroy some peoples’ reputations and they in fact put obstacles in your path.

JJ

(Laughs) Obstacles in your path! The first time I saw you in the social media was in a video which was … if my memory serves me correctly … dressed like Flash, with a gun in your hand falling behind some trees, or something like that.

YE

Yes

JJ

And shooting at a teddy bear. And later I saw you in another video, similar to that, dressed as a soldier in olive green with a military helmet. And that was a big contrast with your appearance in another, when you were speaking out against arms. This confuses me a bit when I try to define you as a person.

YE

Let’s put in a … whatever you like …whatever compartment you fancy …

JJ

I am not wanting to compartmentalise anyone. But I’d like to know are you in favour of armed struggle, or against armed struggle … because at first you spoke well as a soldier … how do you position yourself?

YE

I am against violence. What happens is that we are used to the social networks and propaganda and violence  in popular culture. I am saying that the emotion is so strong about putting an end to all the violence that exists in this planet. And I condemn any form, any manifestation of violence. So I say to you that to put an end to violence you have to have strength. Because, to be quite honest, smoking marihuana on the beach, a hippy with a flower, will not end violence.

JJ

Well, in a sense it will …

YE

It’s a fantasy in your imagination. You have to take a position in your community in favour of good, in favour of peace, in favour of love, of beautiful things … which are very scarce …  you know, to interrupt you,  … the video of the helmet is not a uniform …  it was with a Guess brand shirt … the men love me in olive green …my brother says the shirt is a man’s shirt.

JJ

It looks very good on you

YE

Thank you  The video I made which, sincerely, deals with the effort we need to make to promote peace.

JJ

So its nothing of the olive green or the intention  to show the symbolism that many people would assume … you see it in Havana

YE

… and on safari in Africa …

JJ

But anyway …  when did you leave Cuba?

YE

I was 6. In ’94. And I would have arrived in Miami before ’94, if a certain official – Montero – had not kept my family for four years … and do you know what was the worst thing? The official Montero offered my father a proposal. Pay me and I will give you the white card (which permits you to leave Cuba).

JJ

Corrupt

YE

And do you know what was the most tragic part of the story? My father didn’t pay him … it could have been a trap.

JJ

Definitely

YE

My father didn’t pay but in the end we left Cuba …  the worst part of this story of an example of corruption and abuse of power is that this official went himself to the United States – I don’t know whether he is in New York, or Tampa, or wherever, but he is living in the US. The people who do the most damage … I tell you … the worst is not to be a communist … but to be a repentant communist. It’s a disaster … with their uniforms, they say they will do what they want. They have their privileges. They get their social security cheque when they have never contributed anything to society.

JJ

It’s an interesting question. You went back to Cuba after you left?

YE

After 15 years  … you go, after a while you go back … a political refugee … when we left Cuba we left with pain in our souls … that my last night there in ’94 …

JJ

How do you remember your departure from Cuba?

YE

Traumatic. Traumatic. I also think it was a miracle because we were country folk from Camagüey against Havana, in the Special Period. You go in the middle of the night with your suitcases. We got in the bus …a magic thing. That night, we slept by the Havana airport entrance on the floor in the night until early morning, because we could not risk missing the flight

JJ

You did it, or you would have nothing … there was just one flight.

YE

I woke up, I saw we were outside, I saw people were coming , I cried. I said look at El Moro (famous castle on the route to Havana) – it will be the last thing you will see in Cuba.

JJ

Because you went on the highway to get to the airport. Just asking, because El Moro is a little way from the airport.

YE

Yes. When we were in the plane, I looked through the window I said, I can’t look.  I was saying goodbye to my grandparents. So, when we got here, in 2000, when I said we had gone, I heard stories  … the kid came from Havana and went back again. What?! Went back?! How did I go back again? Are you mad? mad?! A communist!

JJ

Yeah, right – everyone who goes back is a communist! You had every right to go back. Its your country. Your country didn’t support or welcome you but we are Cubans, and we can return.

YE

It’s a fight. How can you continue with the fight? How will the country improve?

JJ

Quite right – it’s a struggle. You know what caught my attention when you said it, and now I think of it some more …  When you said you were a country girl from Camagüey. When I met him in the lift and I asked you father back there which part of Cuba are you from? He didn’t look like a country person from Camagüey. More like someone from Paris. But you say “we are from Camagüey” …

YE

Look …he is very proud that he is a country person.

JJ

But not a rural person from Camaguay.

YE

No, of course, I am not just a country girl from Camagüey, I am from La Avenida  de los Martires (a relatively nice address),  but I am in constant contact. Like things produced on the farm, cheese, milk, all kinds of products, so I am continually in contact with the farmland.

JJ

Now, finally, have you returned to Cuba?

YE

Few times. After 15 years of exile, Fidel goes, Raul comes. One of my grandparents had died, the other not in good health …

JJ

In 2006 …

YE

It was in 2008. After 15 years, without any fantasy of a plan for going back. In 2008, the was no Fidel Castro. My father had problems. But it is better to reunite with your family than be trapped in fear. My grandfather died in the end … and we couldn’t go there every three years … and we went in 2008. I was pleased. We had left a Cuba which no longer existed In 2013 we could see the difference. in 2008 we went to a little place deep in the heart of Cuba. And we got there in a rented car.

JJ

When you went back to Cuba … from my point of view, there are many different Cubas. There are many Cubas.

YE

Yes, that’s true

JJ

There are many Cubas. The Cuba that many intellectuals visualise or try to see or talk about. There is another Cuba  that the tourists see. There is another Cuba that the opposition and the dissidents see. Another that we see. That the musicians see. There are many Cubas for different people to see. There are many positions from which to view our country.  But which is the Cuba which you see, or have seen, when you go?

YE

The Cuba I have seen … the first time I  visited it in 2008 after 15 years of seeing the Yuma (meaning the United States) with the perfumes, the colours, the plastic  … because the US has a beautiful attractive  face …  when I  went in 2008 the first thing that hit me was … I know that making comparisons with other countries in the world  isn’t right …  it has its ecosystem, its work, it has vaccines, the people don’t fall dead in the street.

JJ

They are still poor, but in good health.

YE

Yes. They are poor and they are still poor  … Yes they survive but what impressed me was seeing this poverty …  and I cried, I  was crying … I am obsessed with the theme of Cuba because I  love it.  In the night I met a friend of mine in Havana. I took a photo of a farm in Cuba and it got to my heart. A little indistinct photo of my palm trees. It touched my heart. I tell you … the most precious thing that we have is our island, with all its problems   … what we have to do is improve it.

JJ

The palms that I love. But i sometimes think that you are idealising a bit. This image of Cuba  … when I left Cuba, I did something illegal. What I did first, I went in a bus from the province of Granma. I was looking at all the Cuban countryside … the pines, the palm trees, and I was moved by nostalgia … I knew i would not return. I looked at the palms with lots of nostalgia thinking i will never again return, will never again see the palms, and when I arrived here I saw there are more palms here than in Cuba and they are more beautiful too.

YE

More beautiful? More beautiful than in Cuba?!

JJ

Yes when you go to a hotel like the Breakers in Palm Beach … the palms are beautiful

YE

But they are foreign palms … come on!

JJ

If there were not many things, but one thing which, with certain changes you would leave as it is, what is that?

YE

To preserve … I like security … I like that my grandparents can walk in the street without having to worry and walk normally. Cuba is a third world country. I can’t say that Cuba is a safe country for my grandparents … I would like more security. Cuban security is in danger

JJ

You think that Cuba is that insecure?

YE

You can’t compare …

JJ

Compare with what?

YE

No, without making comparisons … you can’t compare today’s Cuba with yesterday’s in terms of security. Because now with a bigger dose of capitalism, and a greater inequality, people can’t walk with iPhones, with … there is a privileged class in Cuba and a class …

JJ

There always was.

YE

Yes, but … more exhibitionist.

JJ

Well one thing about Raul Castro is that he allowed the doors to open.

YE

And he wants more.

JJ

Of course. Everyone wants more.

YE

They want more. They are trying to create a type of underworld in which … I don’t want to defend it, but … I want the day to arrive that the marginalisation caused by lack of education, with no chance to escape, comes to an end. I think that the most vital thing is that every Cuban has at least one chance in their life … to move forward. That the poor person gets a chance to go to university or he will remain there, stuck in the mud.

JJ

The press,  or many people in the social networks, make a big thing out of the violence in Cuba. But really I don’t know about that many cases of violence in Cuba. And the press in Cuba  report many cases of violence. But really there are only a  few.

YE

There are few but these few cases may be a signal of something which is coming. You have to think not just of the country you come to but  where are you going with that. I am not going to watch the culture of the barrios with the “what nice chicks” and all that. And that is why i am against arms, because the worst would be to introduce arms into Cuba. Now the gangs, the kids, inoffensive because they only have little knives  … that they should be armed, go around armed like the ones in Mexico.

JJ

No no I don’t think that will happen. First because they don’t have arms. The police do … but put arms in the hands of the people … from the retired military people or could be some stores that they have robbed … and they end up in the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. But I don’t see many arms in Cuba … or much violence. But lately more arms to do with drugs which could to lead to more violence.

YE

Something that i would definitely take away is the limitation … this prison without bars … the inability of the civil society to form groups. Because  there are people who don’t want to form political groups, like for example a group that was mentioned to me to protect animal rights and have nothing to do with the state … but it is on the margins of illegality

JJ

There are groups …

YE

Yes there are some which have no connection with the state, but, once again, they are not protected by the law because it is prohibited. I think that should be permitted because the civil society each time gets more legal spaces to express itself vigorously.

JJ

Definitely. I think that if something would change … radical …it is the law, the constitution. The Law of Civil Association permits prisons … the Law on Investment, Business Law … all that  … all … to change the constitution. I think, in my opinion. But do you think that, Yadira, with your knowledge and the experience you have now,  if it would be useful, or if you would like to participate in politics in Cuba, in a position in the government?

YE

Well, one thing is the future, because, right now that isn’t possible.

JJ

No, no, but hypothetically … in a future Cuba …

YE

I don’t  know … I am not resident of Cuba …

JJ

Well suppose you went back …

YE

Obviously i would like to participate in a future Cuba. In politics, because I think that …  I was not brought up in the United States …  in a Cuban community … here you are seen as communist exiles … they say yes, I fled Cuba, … syndicalists, marxists reds, … but I am in Calle Ocho with them … and therefore I say that I don”t want to break the laws of etiquette … but it seems to me that i could help, because I am a nationalist, a centrist nationalist, who brings at least a little inspiration to raise Cuban dignity, a bit. I think i could help. we will have to wait and see if they open a space for people like me who have this interest.

JJ

And you would like that?

YE

Yes, I certainly would.

JJ

In everything we have seen of you … that has been demonstrated … as a dissident, or member of the opposition … how to you see the possibilities of representing a particular group of Cubans? What do you think is the possibility of leading a group … something political?

YE

Right. I don’t know if you should call them dissidents. I mean, if I have a complaint the people say that it’s a dissident … but the people who have most impressed me … I have said … are not from the government, with no connection with the government … you are a Cuban, 100% clean … you defend your honesty … but you know, they are not exactly well known. They aren’t  people … I shouldn’t say their names, because they have not taken me into their confidence. They are young people. They have their complaints, their criticisms, but have not lost their sense of Cubanism and they say to you I want this for Cuba … more or less what they want, their nationalism, not to break the social order, in order to start over again from zero.  Life is short, take what is theirs, working to a certain extent, and improve it. To improve things as best they can, to improve the economy, it wont be the best politics in the world, the economy is broke.

JJ

But, but, but …

YE

But they are all similar, Juan,

JJ

What I see personally … me … me… in my opinion … I don’t see in any of them … again, I repeat , in my opinion, I have not seen a project which produces anything. The housewife working in her house who says “ok i will do that but what is in it for me?

YE

Yes. suspicious of an imaginary collective which comes up with a deluge of complaints with no platform at all. You know why they have no platform? Because they have no proposals.

JJ

I don’t know them …

YE

I would say what they are proposing … they criticise the embargo …  but their discussion is not about the embargo, it is …. I have heard this since I was a child and it is something in Miami and doesn’t produce any result … except to annoy them over there. However much we have here and however much we want change in Cuba …  and we love Cuba … there are 11 million people who can collectively go up the mountains. The people aren’t stupid. They are you and me. They are normal people. If Cubans want to change the way things are, they will do it.

JJ

Would you like to take charge of the people?

YE

I am not the Trump of Hialeah … I don’t want to inherit from Fidel Castro and nor to I like Donald Trump,  and I want … to serve you, the people. To be a representative. You are sovereign … all of you, the 11 millions, really have the power … they remain neutral re: their agendas.

JJ

The platform of Rosa Maria Paya who talks about a plebiscite … that there should be a plebiscite … I don’t see how they could implement that. But, the intention seems very laudable and  it seems she speaks well and that Cubans could decide for themselves …

YE

Look, regarding La Paya and her father, these kind of people are trying to get signatures … to become an opposition accepted by the state. But the reality is they always have to make their proposals … their reasonable demands, and definitely annoying other opposition groups. But I don’t think Miami would vote for Paya and her people. I don’t think that people in Miami would be allowed to vote, because they always have to put their proposal and reasonable demands. Want to put the opposition to one side. The most irrational event would be a plebiscite. Because …

JJ

They can legitimise them there, but i think that a good option would be that I could say I do not agree that they are legalised and I have the possibility or option to vote against you and say I don’t want to go there . That seems to me probable . If you want for your own reasons to gather signatures to get into Cuban politics  …ok, but I don’t want to get into that because unfortunately there is nowhere in the world where politics is carried out in the street. Yes, proselytising, but politics happens in parliament and you have to get in there to speak up there in the name of a particular group in the community. In my personal opinion I don’t like the word “help”. The cuban exiles need representatives in the Cuban parliament … and why not?

YE

Obviously. the Cuban parliament should have space for those who don’t agree. In any parliament there needs to be a dissident voice. But, to get into Cuban politics and to do things which affect 11 million people  … to have a lot of power  … to get into the assembly, to get into government …

JJ

you could get in …

YE

… no I can’t get in …

JJ

you were modelling in front of the Capitolio … very beautiful, very beautiful …

YE

Yes, that has to do with returning to my previous image …

jj

Going out of the Convention Centre, which is ugly, going to the Plaza de la Revolucion to the seat of the Assembly, which is also hideous,  and going to the Capitolio which is a beautiful building …

YE

Yes yes yes, but for those people …

JJ

you could have the palms as well

YE

Ha ha yes wearing a palm brooch  … for this opposition to get into the assembly I think there has to be a minimum requirement … with finance from another power …

JJ

For me personally, I don’t like it very much.

YE

Obviously

JJ

It sounds small town. It seems it doesn’t transcend other cultures which have been very nationalist … Hitler for example … in Germany at that time …

YE

laughs

JJ

No, I am not comparing Cuba with that … there is no way that I could disrespect the Jews like that … impossible …

YE

There would be no genocide like that

JJ

No, no, … I am not into comparing Fidel Castro with Hitler – nothing like that.  But i think that nationalism stays, remains, very provincial … and we are more than that … we are in a global world … we are not just Cubans – although they have robbed us of that many times … but also Caribbean people, Latin Americans ..lots of things … 39:37:13

Translated by GH

Cubans Air Their Views on Miguel Diaz-Canel / Ivan Garcia

Miguel Díaz-Canel (white shirt and raised arm) and his wife Lis Cuesta, surrounded by State Security agents, go to vote at their electoral college in Santa Clara, on Sunday, March 11, 2018. Taken from USA Weekly.

Ivan Garcia, 20 April 2018 — Summer 1993. When night fell in Falcón, a little place next to the Central Highway, crossed by the Sagua la Chica and Jagüeyes rivers, people were sitting by their front doors, telling stories, and drinking home-made rum distilled with cow-shit.

Those were the difficult years of the “Special Period“, and in Falcón, like in the rest of the country, with officially-decreed twelve-hour-long power cuts which turned Cuba into a dark and silent island, people killed time like that, trying to make the summer heat more bearable. continue reading

Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, the great-grandson of an Asturian, Ramón Díaz-Canel, who emigrated to Cuba in the mid-nineteenth century looking for a better life, was born in Falcón, in Placetas, Villa Clara, some 320 km east of Havana.

Falcón is an idyllic spot, where you can hear the cocks crowing in the distance. Most of its 6,000 inhabitants raise cattle, pick tobacco, and grow fruit, root plants and vegetables. The main celebrations are the parades, which go through the Sagüeros y Jagüeyeros river neighbourhoods. The Falconers, including Díaz-Canel, still remember the floods of 18th and 19th August, 2008, when many people had to run for a nearby hill, because of the fierce rains of the tropical storm Fay. There were no fatalities or injuries, but important material possessions were lost.

Antonio, who is retired and a native of the area, tells us that “some years back, Díaz-Canel was slim, wore his hair long and liked American music. His family and he were, and are, good citizens. Before he was elected First Secretary of the Party — a kind of mayor — in Villa Clara, he held an important post in the Communist Youth Union. But the man came home in the blackout and played guitar for his CDR bodyguard or talked about sports, to anyone.

He was well thought of in the nine years he administered Villa Clara, a province with 13 councils and just over 8,000 inhabitants. Elpidio, a resident in La Esperanza, Ranchuelo, Villa Clara, remembers that, “The fellow went about all over the city on his Chinese bicycle, and, in spite of the shortages, he was always worrying about the people there. A programme started on the local radio called High Tension and listeners could phone in and report their complaints. He was the first Cuban politician to authorise a night centre with performances for homosexuals and transvestites”.

In 2003, he was promoted to First Party Secretary in Holguín province, 800 km northeast of Havana. Daniel, a Holguinero, now living in the capital, recalls that “In Holguín, Díaz-Canel was not as spontaneous as he was in Villa Clara. He stopped smiling, and put on weight, like the other party leaders and government functionaries. He talked in bureaucratic jargon”.

In Holguín he met his present wife, Lis Cuesta Peraza. He did something not all that common in the macho behaviour of the Communist bureaucrats: instead of having her as a lover, he divorced the mother of his two children and married Cuesta, a professor in the Instituto Superior Pedagógico José de la Luz y Caballero. “Hopefully she will become the First Lady. That would give her prestige, because presidents don’t look so good if they are alone, like single people or widowers. Better to be accompanied by a lady, especially if she is well-prepared, like her”,  says Mercedes, a retired teacher.

In 2009, Díaz-Canel was appointed Minister of Higher Education, a post he held until 2012. At that time he used to wear a typical white guayabera the uniform of the Chinese creoles [there has been a substantial Chinese population in Cuba since the mid 19th century]. “In those three years as a Minister, I don’t recall Díaz-Canel doing anything out of the ordinary. On the contrary, he continued plodding along on the same old socialist treadmill, quoting stuff from Fidel, and repeating the refrain that the University is Only for the Revolutionaries”, says Sergio, an engineer.

The olive green autocracy, an insane system of personality cult, never showed any sign of providing good quality politicians. Fidel governed. The rest of them applauded and followed orders. In July 2006, Fidel had a gastrointestinal perforation and, in a historial arbitrary act, appointed as his successor his brother Raul, a natural-born conspirator with dictatorial obsession, but who, out of habit, worked on a team and listened to other points of view.

According to the gossip merchants, Castro II likes people who are like him. Whether it was because of his appearance, or his CV, what we do know is that, when he took over from his brother, he had already looked carefully at Díaz-Canel, a guy who had some forty-year-old women sighing over him.

In 2012, when he appointed him as Vice President of the Consejo de Estado, Raúl put him on the ladder to the presidency. Six years have passed, but Díaz-Canel still looks a bit nervous in public.

“He behaves as if he is still living in Falcón”, says Antonio, a retired chap. “Sometimes he looks ill-at-ease, or acts like a fool”, says Yadira, a university student. “His behaviour is contradictory. I remember he was the first leader to show up with a tablet at a party meeting”, adds Victor, another student. In the opinion of Rogelio, a private taxi driver, “One day Canel talks like a liberal, and the next day like a dictator”.

One good thing people in Havana do know is that, thanks to Díaz-Canel, ICRT transmits live the games between Real Madrid and Barcelona. “The man is a Barcelonista to his dying breath. People like that get high blood pressure when Barcelona loses. I think that when he finds his feet as President, they will put out live transmissions of the NBA and the Big Leagues. He loves sportS”, says a state TV producer.

The Puerto Rican journalist, Benjamin Morales, from El Nuevo Dia, wrote last April 17th: “Guaracabulla, in Placetas, has a ceiba tree there marking what is said to be the centre of the island, and, from this week, it could also be said to mark the centre of Cuban leadership, when Miguel Díaz Canel, its most famous son, becomes the first president not called Castro Ruz and who also was not a guerilla”.

After seeking opinions on the street — which did not include those of Antúnez, a well-known opposition figure in Placetas — Morales continued: “The people are  overcome with enthusiasm, but don’t let themselves get too carried away, because they understand that change is good, but only when it doesn’t affect people’s well-being”.

For most people in Havana, who spend all their time trying to put food on the table for their families and to survive the shortages of Caribbean socialism, the much-proclaimed presidential succession has not fulfilled their expectations.

“It’s more of the same. Seems like more Castroism, by another name, setting us up with “Canelism”. I don’t expect much from him. If he manages to sort out the disaster that Cuba has become, they’ll have to put up a statue to him”, says Diana, a bank employee.

Miguel Díaz-Canel could just as easily turn into an Adolfo Suárez (Spain’s first democratically elected prime minister after the Franco dictatorship) as become another Nicholas Maduro (current president of Venezuela). We’ll have to wait and see.

 

Translated by GH

Cuba: Avoiding Reality / Iván García

From the Central Havana Scenes series, produced in January 2018 by the photo reporter Juan Suarez for Havana Times.

Ivan Garcia, 9 March 2018 — From the loudspeaker of a hot filthy state-owned bar in Diez de Octubre, a thirty minute drive from central Havana, Micha’s voice is blaring out — he sings reggaeton like a dock worker.

“Twist round tight on your toes,” Micha sings. A couple of mulatas with fat stomachs, with their faces stuck in the plastic cups of cheap beer in their hands, move their hips to the rhythm, up close to a fat guy blinged up with chains round his neck. continue reading

They are pissed. Like almost everybody in the windowless stinking bar which seems like a sauna at midday. It’s a working day. But the bar is packed, and, in between shouting and swearing, the regulars discuss the Caribbean Series and Alazanes de Granma getting knocked out. Or talk about under-the-counter business. Or women. Or nothing. And they down one beer after another in the wretched bar in Havana.

Please, don’t discuss politics here. These people have had enough of it. They reply with slogans, like “there is nobody who will fix it, and no-one who will end it.” They take it as read that Fidel Castro’s revolution will last 100 years — at the very least.

“I’m outa here”, says Eduardo. “Plumber in a team with the Havana Water Company”, he repeats with emphasis. When I can, I pinch stopcocks to sell later to a private guy who has a licence to sell plumbing things. Half of the money, 200 or 300 pesos, I spend on food to take home. The rest of it is for drink or cheap prostitutes. Nothing left after that, dude. If you don’t chill out, the system drives you mad,” he adds, while he buys a round of beers, and casts a lecherous eye over the mulatas dancing one reggaeton after another, as if they were dolls on a string.

“They’re happy. When they give you the eye, a hundred cañitas (refers to coins, not drinks in this context), and they all gather round”, the plumber says, as if he’s teaching me something. He looks at the clock and adds, “And if not, you go off with another one. After three in the afternoon, they close in on the guys with no bread and for ten cuc you can have sex both ways”.

The best description for these groups of Cubans who are trying to get away from everything, from misery, from a nothing future, and from the revolutionary chanting (although they make out they are not political), was given by Carlos Manuel Álvarez, probably the best Cuban writer nowadays: he called them the tribe.

There are tribes located on the bottom rung of the poverty ladder. The people who rummage around in the refuse. The crazy street people. The homeless tramps. The incurable alcoholics. The people who touch themselves up in public. The cheap night-time prostitutes. Or the indifferent people who always ask what’s available at the convenience store or the butcher’s, but look vacant when you ask them about anything to do with politics.

These people have switched off. Floating. They survive watching soap operas, dancing reggaeton and boozing. In private, they complain. But, when they are in front of a foreign reporter’s camara, they pretend to talk about other stuff. And, they go and vote, so as to not stick out, and join in the Primero de Mayo processions, because “it’s party time”.

Two kilometers away from the dirty state-owned bar where Eduardo is hoping to make out with a local prostitute, there is an elegant and expensive air-conditioned private bar called Melao, where a Cristal beer costs 2.50 cuc, and a caipirinha made with cane sets you back 5 cuc. In the bar, various girls quietly alert the barman, who yawns if someone comes in, and they flirt with any customer who walks by.

It’s a different tribe to the other one, because it has a slightly better life style and culture than the poor people drinking state beer or cheap rum in the state bars. In this tribe,

you meet football specialists (Florentino, if you are looking for a substitute for Zidane, take a look around Havana). Guys with fitted shirts, tight pants, hairdos with too much gel, and shiny pointed shoes, who closely analyse for you the four-three-four play arrangement and explain to you that Cristiano Ronaldo is now rubbish, and that the future is Mbappe or Neymar.

Perfect jacks-of-all-trades. People skilled in getting you to offer them a  beer. Looking for chicks and drugs, who please whoever has the cash. They are a human equivalent of the iPhone Siri. They talk about anything. Apart from politics.

“What do you think about the next elections? How would you rate the Cuban government? What about Miguel Diaz-Canel? Those topics get in their way. So, they come over as cynics. “Change the record, my friend.I t’s swimming and keep an eye on your clothes. Find out how to make money without getting any mud on you. I’ve had it with politics. I’m into partying and pachanga,” says Adonis, a young night-lifer.

The Miami press is more interested in Gladiador’s problems than analysis of the Cuban political and socio-economic situation. When they emigrate, they don’t change their spots. They remain indifferent, apolitical, and frivolous, just like on the island. They care about buying the latest car or iPhone, seeing if they can come up good in the Miami lottery or win some money in the Everglades casino.

Nearly all of these urban gangs are allergic to talking to dissidents. They look the other way when they repress the Ladies in White, or independent journalists. And, to distance themselves from the Castro opposition, they call themselves socialists, neocommunists, social democrats, liberals, evangelists, masons, followers of santeria cults …

Nevertheless, the security folk, who are always ahead of things, don’t waste any time in labelling them. They are all counter-revolutionaries: they don’t respect the guidelines from the country’s highest leadership.

You can understand the indifference of lots of people, and that they use sex, alcohol, football and reggaeton as an escape valve from the madhouse they have had to live in for 59 years. But, for honest thinking people, the avoidance of reality can only be explained by one word: fear.

 

Translated by GH

The Virtual Wall of the Mexican Embassy in Havana / Iván García

Mexican Consulate in Havana.

Iván García, 8 February 2018 — It was Sofia’s fifteenth birthday. Between her parents and relatives living abroad, they saved $3,700, enough to pay for a week in a four star hotel in Cancún.  After finding out via international media about the brutal violence devastating nearly all the Mexican states, they decided to change their planes and go to Punta Cana, in the Dominican Republic.

“But the Dominican Embassy requires a guarantee from a resident in the country if you want to go there. And we didn’t know anybody there. We decided to give Mexico a try. What a business! In theory, it is a straightforward process. You make an appointment, which is free, on the embassy website  in Havana.  You download a pdf form which you can fill in at home or at an internet room. And you should get an appointment for the interview in two or three weeks from the consulate. continue reading

“But, in practice, the site is blocked. We tried at all hours up to early morning. When we went personally to the embassy, they told us that was the only way you could do it. It was then that we realised the web of corruption that had been set up between the Mexican officials and the Cubans in the area,” we were told by Pedro, father of the fifteen year old, who then added:

“People we know, who travel to Mexico as ’drug mules’, told us don’t even try to do it online, and that the surest way is to pay 300 or 350 Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) to someone living near the embassy, who will guarantee you an appointment and a ten year visa. I wasn’t interested in a ten year visa, or working as a mule. I only wanted a visa for a week for my daughter’s fifteenth. We ended up going to Veradero [in Cuba].”

For the last month, I have been looking into this matter, which doesn’t just affect the Mexican embassy. Some people interviewed have said that the Panama diplomats charge under the counter bribes to Cubans who want to do illegal things.

“You pay $300 or $400.  They like foreign currency, although they also accept convertible pesos. If you pay, you almost certainly will get your visa for ten years, which is fabulous for those of us who are up to this kind of ’business’, as it guarantees you enough time to be a ’mule’. You get back the cost of the bribe on the first or second trip. These kind of bribes are normal in Central America (except Costa Rica), but most of all in Mexico, where corruption is a way of life,” says Alberto, who has been earning his living moving illegal stuff around for the last seven years.

According to the news agencies, in 2016 Cubans spent more than $100 million buying things in Colón, which is a city situated at the entry to the Panama Canal.

But let’s go back to the Mexican Embassy, at 518, Northwest 12th Street and the corner of 7th Avenue, in Havana’s pleasant Miramar area in the west of the capital. An elegantly-dressed lady who says she has worked in a Cuban Ministry, thinks that “it’s a good transaction for both parties: as well as getting you your appointment at the consulate, I can guarantee you a visa for ten years. Do you know how much money they charge you for that type of visa? Seems to me that 300 CUC is cheap.”

When I ask her how much money I need to pay the consular official, she smiles before answering. “Listen honey, are you a journalist, or a policeman?” What you want is a visa. And I am the person who can help you get it.”

A source told me that at least two Mexican officials receive money for illegal activities. “In the embassy surrounds there have been scuffles between people having to wait their turn, but the police deal with it swiftly. There are people who have been swindled and there was a case of a man who complained to the G-2 [Cuban State Security]. But nothing happens to these people. They have diplomatic immunity. The worst that can happen is they are kicked off the island.”

Several times I called the Mexican Embassy on the phone to get their comments. Not one official replied.

Generally speaking, the embassies of first world countries in Cuba don’t have these problems. The government has tried to point fingers at corrupt US officials, but has never been able to show any evidence.

Someone who is friendly with Latino diplomats tells us “The US Embassy runs like an atomic clock. With the Americans, there is no sex. They are incorruptible. Even the ones who pay accounts for $20 have to get them authorised by the government. All the to-do with appointments and visas is dealt with by the embassies and consulates of the Latin American countries, the ones who tell us publicly they are our brothers, but in practice put a thousand and one obstacles in the way to stop Cubans going to their countries. But the Mexican officials are the most corrupt.”

On this site, dozens of  people, giving their names and last names, have left comments about the allegedly corrupt arrangements. That’s what Yirina Delgado did: “I know that you don’t care about my opinion here, because lots of people complain and don’t see any improvements, or even get a reply from the embassy. You are jerking people off  who want to get a visa. The web page works up to the moment when you are due to get it,  and then it is blocked … stop playing around with people and defrauding them.”

As far as she is concerned, says Elizabeth Gutiérrez, “It’s a lack of respect … I can’t get an appointment. They do that so that later they can sell you one on the side.”  Others complain they have been ripped off.

Yolanda, who is a housewife, goes to Mexico every year, where her children and grandchildren are. She makes it clear that the corruption in the Mexican Embassy in Cuba “is nothing new in a country where there is systemic corruption and the most corrupt are the politicians and the police. Once I heard about a mayor who applied for a position, who said publicly, “I have stolen, but not very much.”

Cubans who work as “mules” are ready to pay 300 CUC under the table to get a 10 year visa to Mexico. But, for Sofía, the fifteen year old girl, her parents decided not to go to  Cancún, because they do not accept the corrupt procedures.

Translated by GH

The Death of a Young Man Who Fell Into a Coma Because of Medical Negligence in a Cuban Jail / Juan Juan Almeida

Raidel García Otero

Juan Juan Almeida, 31 January 2018 —  The young Cuban, Raidel García Otero, who was reported on Friday to be comatose, as a result of alleged medical negligence and irresponsibility on the part of the Cuban prison authorities, died on January 23rd at 3:10 pm, in the company of his family and doctors in the Salvador Allende hospital in Havana.

A hospital source told Martí Noticias that he “Died as a result of a multiple organ failure.  His organs were collapsing up until the point when he was pronounced clinically dead. I want to scream, I want to cry.” continue reading

His sister,  Mariela García Otero, submitted a formal complaint to Doctor Sara Infante, Head of Medical Services in the Ministry of the Interior, on the basis of medical negligence in the prison

García Otero, a 29 year old economic technician in a military company, had been under arrest, as the subject of a restraint order, in the Valle Grande jail since October 27th.

Last January 15th, his mother Delia Otero, and his father, who worked in the administration section of the official Juventud Rebelde newspaper, were worried as they hadn’t received their usual Monday call. Therefore, they phoned the prison and were told that the kid had a cold.

A family friend told Marti Noticias “On Tuesday, January 16th, one of Raidel’s companions rang the family and told them the young man was in a bad way and hadn’t received proper medical attention. His parents went to the prison but got no information, and they wouldn’t let them see him either.”

The friend said that it wasn’t until the Friday of that week that the prison phoned to say that the young man had been admitted to the Salvador Allende Hospital, in Old Quinta Covadonga, in Cerro.

The evidence said that at 2:00 p.m. on Friday, January 19th, García Otero was moved, in critical condition, from Valle Grande prison to Covadonga.

The last medical report on 23rd January, at 2:00 a.m.,  to Martí Noticias, said that the young man had necrosis of the legs, brain damage, and was entering organ failure.

The deceased prisoner’s twin brother, Reinaldo García Otero, explained that he “suffered multiple failures and was receiving blood transfusions.”

He added that “His legs were black, none of his organs were responding, he was in a bad way, and was in a coma from when he entered the hospital.”

A military spokesman, identified as Lt. Henry Mendoza, spoke to Radio Martí  about the medical attention he had received: “This comrade, this ill person, received  substantial medical attention, from when he fell ill until he passed away, and the appropriate drugs were  administered.”

On being asked what medicines were administered, he replied “I can’t say what the drugs were, I am not a doctor, I am just  duty officer Lt. Henry Mendoza.”

Translated by GH

Cuban Emigration Carries On / Iván García

Photo from El Nuevo Herald.

Ivan Garcia, 26 January 2018 — When it seems that all the doors for emigration to a first world country are closed, that the blue Cuban passport is not welcome at most border crossings, and putting yourself into a boat to get to the United States is not just useless but suicidal, Mayra, a university student, puts together her emigration strategy spending many hours surfing different websites looking for a gap through which she can squeeze out.

Between 1962 and 1994, the traditional way for Cubans wanting to leave Cuba illegally was to build a flimsy wooden boat able to survive the strong currents of the Straits of Florida, drop anchor, and be rescued by a US coastguard, which automatically got you US residence. continue reading

Following the summer of 1994, with the migration agreements signed by Bill Clinton and Fidel Castro, they tried to impose some order and security for illegal maritime immigration. They agreed to approve 20,000 family reunification visas a year. And, to put a brake on the exodus of the boat people, although they didn’t know how many people had drowned and were lying in the Straits of Florida, the Washington officials had the idea for the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, a rather cynical version of American benevolence.

If a boat is captured in the open sea, the people are sent back to Cuba with an undertaking that they will not be put in jail. If they have managed somehow to enter US waters, then bingo!, they open the revolving door to get into paradise.

In January 2017, Barack Obama repealed the wet foot/dry foot policy. Following the island authorities’ actions to make migration more flexible, starting in winter 2013, Cubans started to arrive by plane, as well as by sea or land (crossing borders).

Between 2013 and 2017, if we add to the 80,000 Cubans who emigrated with pre-approved paperwork to join their families (20,000 each year), those who travelled thousands of miles from Ecuador and Central America to the US border, around 800,000 Cubans emigrated from their country in the last four years.

There began to appear in the social networks instructions on how to avoid dangerous journeys , and dozens of tricks on how to hide your money. It all started in cyber cafes or wifi hotspots in parks in all the provinces of the island. Future emigrants got in touch with people-traffickers or middlemen, who advised them about the journey.

People began to burn their bridges. They sold their houses, cars, motorbikes, and domestic appliances to get money, or they saved what they made running small private businesses. In many cases, their relatives sent them the money through Western Union.

But, after January 2017, the overland marathon to the United States stopped. Donald Trump, a record-breaking tweeter, withdrew sixty per cent of the consular officials, because of the supposed acoustic attacks on US diplomatic staff located in Havana.

Now, those people wanting to emigrate to join their families have to go via Colombia, at much greater cost. In one year, the number of Cubans getting into the US fell dramatically. More than 50,000 Cubans entered the US in the 2016 fiscal year and, according to the State Department, in 2017 the new policy reduced informal immigration from Cuba by 64% in comparison with 2016.

But thousands of Cubans have not stopped wanting to emigrate. Three times a week, Mayra, the student, trawls the internet, looking for “a scholarship or summer school, anything, which lets me go abroad, preferably to a first world country, and then weigh up the chances of moving temporarily or permanently.”

The Cuban academic world is like the sinking of the Titanic. To the tune of the songs in praise of Fidel Castro, and while the boat is sinking, hundreds of professors, postgrads, doctors and scientists, are individually trying to get an internship or attend a conference organised by a higher education organisation abroad.

“It’s every man for himself. One way or another, everyone who has contacts calls them up to get a scholarship or a post in a foreign university. The ideal is the highest level US academic network. But a place in a German, Swiss or Nordic university isn’t bad either. Or in Chile with its economic stability, which is fashionable. Also Mexico, with all its problems of violence, has for many years been the destination for many Cuban intellectuals and university professors,” comments an academic.

Information, cybernetics, software and automatic control specialists are also creating opportunities for personal development and distance-based work contracts. Those without university degrees are also looking for shortcuts.

That’s what Luis Mario, an auto mechanic, is doing. In his opinion, “although the pickings have slimmed down, and emigrating the the States is a pipe-dream, you have to keep looking worldwide for other viable options for getting out of Cuba. I am looking at four possibilities: a two year work contract in Uruguay, the Dominican Republic or in Chile, because the authorities in Chile are pretty easy-going on the Cubans.  And, if none of those three works out, the fourth option is marry a foreign woman who lives in Kansas.”

The average Cuban doesn’t let himself be pigeonholed with a specific endpoint. Obviously, Miami or Madrid are ideal. “But, if you can’t get into the United States, look somewhere else. Spain isn’t a bad place, because, although Cubans going there are illegals, the immigration police concentrate on the Africans and Arabs. You can get to Spain via Italy. You buy a package trip for a week in Italy, and the embassy issues you with a month’s European visa, and then you go to Madrid or Barcelona by train. Spain is hot, but it’s ten times better than Cuba”, says Silvio, from Pinar del Rio, now living for a year with his wife in Valdedebas in Madrid.

Yeni, an ex-prostitute, on vacation in Havana, says “what every prostitute dreams of is getting out of Cuba. Thanks to my Chilean boyfriend, six months ago I set up in Valparaiso.”

You can find Cubans as far away as Canberra, the capital of Australia, or in a kibbutz in Israel. “The problem is adapting to the languages, food and customs. I have been in Qatar seven years, and I can tell you I wouldn’t change it for any other country in the world”, says Cesar, from Bayamo, Oriente.

Although you can of course choose where you go, thousands of Cubans planning to emigrate prefer the United States. And one city, Miami. The same culture, the same climate, and 2.5 million countrymen talking at the tops of their voices in the Publix supermarkets. And if you stop at the Key West lighthouse, some say, you can smell Havana.

Translated by GH

For The Ordinary Cuban, Things Could Get Worse In 2018 / Iván García

Sign: “Thank you Fidel, we celebrate the 59th anniversary of the Revolution” Sign: “Happy Prosperous New Year 2018”. (Source: Juan Suarez taken from Havana Times)

Ivan Garcia, 4 January 2018 — The initial surprise is making him more and more angry and likely to lose his temper. Sitting in a black leather armchair in the living room in his house, 43-year-old Armando, a qualified physical education instructor, first moves his head from side to side, then smiles cynically, until he blows his fuse and shouts rudely: “Marino Murillo is a complete dick-face. With that bunch of shameless crooks for officials, Cuba cannot be fixed.”

Armando was watching an edited summary on TV of the eighth session of the National People’s Power Assembly which took place on 21st December just gone, put out after 6 pm on the Cubavision channel, pre-recorded in the Roundtable slot, to the whole country. continue reading

In one of the exchanges, Marino Murillo, ex Minister of Economy and Planning, known as the Economy Czar, explained how difficult it would be to abandon the dual currency, and touched on future regulations on private work and non-agricultural co-ops, as well as looking at new customs rules to put a brake on what the government considers illegal business. Armando couldn’t contain himself while he was listening to Murillo.

“What a fat fucker with his fat face and fat neck! More controls on private business, people flogging cheap trash and non-farm co-ops. He shamefacedly told us that  the General (Raul Castro)  told him that when they started the reform programme they didn’t know how complicated it would be. Right, and who pays for his inefficiency and ignorance?” Armando asks himself. To which he replies: “Nobody. And they keep going with the tired old tale that currency reunification is a slow business, and that we will have to wait for prosperity and decent wages. And it’s quite clear that none of the National officials have any problems with their housing or with getting food. They don’t care how long it takes to sort out the dual currency.”

Habaneros like Armando are the exception. None of the 10 persons we talked to had seen or read about the contributions by the deputies in the one-tune parliament. And more than that, they’re not interested.

“I’ve got high blood pressure. Do you think I’m gonna pick a fight with that lot, while they’re planning how to fuck us all? That’s why we Cubans are trying to find out whatever way to fuck the government. It’s an unofficial war. You rob me paying shit salaries and I rob my customers giving them short weight. They took away my sales licence for farm products, so I sell stuff informally. I don’t bother to fight these old farts. They have full pockets. I look for the way to make money and look after my family,” says Disney, a clerk on a private farm.

The economic and social strategies and policies dictated by the olive green brigade is not something that ordinary Cubans talk about. People’s passivity is alarming.

Zulema, who goes 8 to 10 times a year to Mexico or to the Panama Canal Zone to buy clothes and smartphones to sell them again in Cuba, says you shouldn’t pay any attention to the Cuban leaders. “If you get to tied up with them you get worn out. You can’t follow their rhythm. As far as I’m concerned, these old guys who have been in power for over fifty years are not going to get to me. Every time they close things up more and you have to look for whichever gap you can squeeze through.”

In more measured tones, Carlos, a sociologist, explains that there is an alarming disconnect between the government and the people. “They speak one language and the people speak another. People have lost confidence in their leaders and see them as a pain, a bunch of officials who only want to make problems, stopping them bettering themselves, moving forward, getting a better life. For quite a while a large part of the population have been coming up with whatever ways they can working for themselves and taking their own risks. The government’s decrees are a waste of breath. Nobody takes any notice of them.”

The island seems like a drifting boat. The perception is that the mandarins who run the country’s destiny are disorientated. They look tired and lacking in initiative. They don’t know how to connect with the people. They’ve lost the plot.

Because of this Yanet, her husband, and three kids over 18 only think about drinking beer they buy in bulk in a stinking state bar ande cheap rum they get for 20 pesos a bottle in any government store. While they are drinking in their propped-up house, they have reguetón full blast on the radio. Four friends play dominos on an untidy table, and a couple who are pissed dance drunkenly.

In a dented cooking pot, they are preparing a meat soup with pork bones. “There’s nothing else here. Today we party, and tomorrow … we’ll see. What am I hoping for in 2018. Same thing as 2017 — nothing. With this lot, we’ll have to go hungry. They have their fridges full of stuff to eat, and next year and the next, and the next it will be the same for them, and for us it will be worse. In Cuba things always get worse. This country is a disgrace,” says Yanet, while she moves her hips to the reguetón rhythm.

People who don’t have anything to lose just float. Day to day. Without worrying too much about the future. Not even a hurricane or a North Korean missile will change their brutal indifference. “Something very strange is happening in Cuba. Like in some parts of Africa, the only thing that interests many people is their family, their possessions and their surroundings. Patriotism and political awareness has faded away for most people,” explains Carlos the sociologist.

Damian, a university student, hopes to emigrate, one way or another. “If it isn’t next year, it will be the one after. My main aim is to get out of this madness.” Lots of Cubans also want to get out and more than a few work and act like zombies. If their objective in 2017 was to have two meals a day and four pesos in their pocket, for 2018 it’ll be the same thing.

And they couldn’t care less if it is Raul Castro running the place, or his son Alejandro, or Miguel Diaz-Canel, or Bruno Rodriguez or whoever. They lost their faith and hope a long time ago.

Translated by GH

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara’s Right to Believe and Practice His Faith / Mario Lleonart

Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara

Mario Lleonart, 16 December 2017 — Another flagrant violation of religious liberties took place in Cuba on 14 December 2017, when Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara’s pilgrimage to the San Lázaro shrine was stopped, according to information provided by his wife, Yanelys Núñez Leyva.

Otero Alcántara was detained on the orders of the Cuban State Security, which is what  repeatedly happens with violations of  the right to religion and faith. The arrest occurred at Carlos III and Belascoaín, around 10:30 pm. He was taken to the Aguilera police station, in Lawton, after he started  his religious activity which involved going in a penitent spirit to that place of worship for the traditional festival they celebrate there every December 17th. It’s obvious that his arbitrary detention was in order to keep him locked up during the course of the celebration.

Whether or not we agree with Luis Manuel’s religious belief, we should all agree that he has a complete right to believe in and practice his faith. The unjust and arbitrary violation of his fundamental right, which absolutely all of us have, from baptism, “to believe or not to believe,” and “to believe in accordance with our own understanding.” Everyone in Cuba who has religious faith (and who doesn’t have it?) should stand by Luis Manuel, because to stand next to him is to defend your own faith.

Translated by GH