A Chavez Supporter Denounces “The Castros’ Deception” / 14ymedio

Advertisement greeting arriving passengers at Havana’s José Martí International Airport Terminal 3. Poster reads “Cuba: A Healthcare Destination for All.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Havana, 29 July 2015 — On June 30, 2015, the pro-Chávez website Aporrea posted a disturbing testimonial about the Cuban healthcare system, with a title that says it all: “Ninety Days in Havana: You Have to be There to Know The Truth.” The Venezuelan Nelson Jesús Lanz Fuentes, a regular contributor to Aporrea, and a great admire of Hugo Chávez, narrates the ordeal he went through first in his country, and later in Havana, where he accompanied his son with the hope that Cuban doctors could save his leg.

A traffic accident left the son of Lanz Fuentes, a resident of the Venezuelan city of Guarenas, with severe injuries to one of his legs. His tibia factured in three places and the doctors from Venezuela’s public health system inserted a plate in his leg to help regenerate the bone. However, the operation caused an infection resulting in a terrible diagnosis: infected pseudoartrosis and osteomyelitis of the right tibia, and a dermoepidermal ulcer with bone exposure. Venezuelan doctors in private practice recommended a very expensive treatment that did not guarantee good results. continue reading

Lanz Fuentes, who in recent years has been very critical of Nicolás Maduro’s administration (which he accuses of false socialism) posted an open letter to the President on Aporrea, complaining bitterly how Venezuela dares call itself a socialist country when his son might lose his leg “because of commercialized private healthcare and an ineffective public health system.”

In the same missive, he asked the Venezuelan government to give him permission to exercise his right to travel with his son as stipulated in the healthcare agreement between his country and Cuba because Lanz Fuentes sincerely believed that “Cuba is the only country in the world where the leg could be saved.” He was convinced that “socialism only really exists in Cuba, where every citizen receives free healthcare regardless of medical condition.”

Lanz Fuentes wish came true when on March 30, 2015 he flew to Havana, after being “fast tracked” with the backing of a bureaucrat for the Cuban–Venezuelan Healthcare Agreement.

Like all Venezuelans, Lanz Fuentes’ son was sent to La Pradera International Healthcare Center (built as tourist center at the beginning of the century), which receives patients in accord with the Cuban–Venezuelan agreement. From there, patients are dispersed to different medical facilities according to their pathology. Upon being diagnosed with acute osteomyelitis and infection of the tibia, Lanz Fuentes’s son was transferred to Havana’s Frank País Orthopedic Hospital where he was to undergo emergency surgery as per the Cuban doctors’ recommendation. The diagnosis was completely confirmed at the center, but the urgency ended there.

Thirty days after being admitted, Lanz Fuentes’ son had yet to be operated on. His treatment was reduced to treating the infection with antibiotics. The official rational was a lack of a bed in sterilized room. After complaining for several days and promises broken, Lanz Fuentes reports that a doctor finally confessed that “the truth is my son will have to wait between three and five months. Foreigners who pay in cash and in US dollars get preference.”

Disillusioned, Lanz Fuentes admonished the doctor for his response, and argued that the Venezuelan people already pay the Cuban government with their oil. So since Cuba has incurred a debt of billions of dollars with his country, Venezuelans should receive care first. Lanz Fuentes’ angry reaction resulted in his son being transferred to Havana’s Fructuoso Rodríguez Orthopedic Teaching Hospital in El Vedado.

“We spent 45 days locked up in a beautiful resort. We were allowed to move around freely within the compound, but we could only leave it on Saturdays, from 2:00 to 6:00 PM, and on Sundays from 9:00 AM to 6:00 PM. From Monday to Friday we were locked in there,” protests Mr. Lanz as he recalls the days he spent at La Pradera International Healthcare Center. On top of being confined, Lanz Fuentes had to accept the fact that patients who paid in cash and in U.S. dollars enjoyed priority over Venezuelans, since their care was “free of charge.”

But with all that, the worse was the “bill.” Although he had been assured in Venezuela that the agreement with Cuba guaranteed free healthcare, Lanz Fuentes was charged for antibiotics, medications and vitamins, as well as for all meals and hospitalizations. He was handed two bills for US$7,800 each his son’s expenses, and another one for US$4,800 for his. Lanz Fuentes states: “What this means is that, for the stays of all of us who turn to Cuba, the Cuban government is very well compensated by its principal ally and pimp, our Venezuelan government.”

It took just a few months in Cuba for Lanz Fuentes to fully understand “the absolute truth about the current Cuban reality, all the lies that the Maduro Government tells us about the Cuban government, and the fantastic propaganda machine that the Castros use in order to keep deceiving the rest of the world.”

Translated by José Badué

Eighty Percent of Las Tunas Province Is Facing Soil Erosion / 14ymedio

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 28 July 2015 — Experts have just confirmed what peasants in Las Tunas Province already knew due to the declining yields of their harvests and the degradation of their land. Eighty percent of the province’s arable land has already eroded, and another 28% is facing desertification. According to reports appearing in the official Cuban press on July 28th, this problem is a result of “changes in rain patterns, and inadequate management of the province’s farmable lands.” continue reading

Specialists from this eastern Cuban province’s Communist Party Agricultural Affairs Committee estimate that 445,000 acres of previously fertile land are now ruined, accounting for 11.67% of the of the island’s deserts. According to the report, climate change combined with a growth in farming in the so-called “vulnerable zones” will only exacerbate and spread the environmental damage.

Top and subsoil erosion, poor drainage, salinization, and compaction are among the negative results of soil degradation. Consequently, the region’s agricultural output has dropped significantly.

The government experts stress that uncontrolled forest fires, the burning of harvest leftovers, the absence of crop rotation, deforestation, and the excessive use of machinery are some of this situation’s other causes. Las Tunas Province has a naturally dry climate, from where it takes name.* Nevertheless, this reality has only been worsened by the current predicament.

The loss of arable land is worse on the northern border with Camagüey Province. According to Amado Luis Palma, an expert from the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment, “(northern) Las Tunas Province is beginning to resemble Cuba’s only semi-arid region, the desert corridor between Caimanera and Maisí, in Guantánamo Province.”

*Translator’s note: “Tunas” are a type of native Cuban cactus that grows wild in the province.

Translated by José Badué

Havana’s Pools: That Blue Water Yonder / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

The José Martí Stadium Pool, on Havana’s Avenue of the Presidents. (14ymedio/Javier H.)
The José Martí Stadium Pool, on Havana’s Avenue of the Presidents. (14ymedio/Javier H.)

14ymedio bigger 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 21 July 2015 — Now 67 years of age, Juan Carlos recalls how when he was a kid he climbed up on a roof and from there spied on the pool of an adjacent exclusive Havana hotel. He was fascinated by what he saw, but Juan Carlos’ family’s financial limitations kept him from enjoying all that magnificence. The slogan “The People Have a Right to Sports” had firmly taken root by his teens and early adult years. Consequently, Juan Carlos got to splash around in several pools, and for free. However, his memories of those blue waters now come back to haunt him. Today, all the pools near Juan Carlos are either in a state of total ruin or way beyond his budget.

Currently retired, Juan Carlos insists that “access to pools in July and August should be a human right.” When summer heat waves make Cubans sweat so profusely, “there’s nothing better then taking a dip to cool off,” he says, with a confident half-smile. continue reading

The lack of chlorine, paint, failing pumps, and lack of maintenance has led to all the “Closed” notices appearing on many of the capital’s pools

After touring those places in Havana where kids once frolicked loudly as others pirouetted before plunging in, it is obvious that pools are no longer affordable to all. Public pools are the most dilapidated. The lack of chlorine, paint, failing pumps, and lack of maintenance has led to all the “Closed” notices appearing on many of the capital’s pools.

Whoever walks under the blazing sun up the street leading to the University of Havana’s Calixto Garcia Hospital would undoubtedly be upset when coming upon the faded blue paint on what used to be the University Stadium’s Swimming Pool. Lying there empty, deserted for no reason, rests the place where once upon a time students practiced their strokes, and where swimming meets between the University’s departments were held.

The same thing has happened to El Pontón, a sports and recreation center on the corner of Oquendo and Manglar Streets in Downtown Havana. El Pontón used to house two pools, one for laps and the other for diving. The latter had a thirty-foot-high diving platform. Yet all that remains of these pools is an enormous pit full of trash through which the floodwaters in this low-lying area are drained off.

“This was once full of kids,” recalled an elderly man who was trying to do his morning exercises in the midst of overgrown weeds on a field which many years ago was a baseball diamond. “A lot of us from the area would bring our kids here so that they would learn to swim,” he remembers. “I now have a fifteen-year-old granddaughter. If she falls in the water she’d drown. She’s never had the chance to swim in a pool, not even to just learn how to float.”

Pool in a privately owned restaurant near the U.S. Embassy. (14ymedio/Javier H)
Pool in a privately owned restaurant near the U.S. Embassy. (14ymedio/Javier H)

On the list of destruction on which appears El Pontón, one can also find the José Martí Stadium, located on the Avenue of the Presidents just a few yards from the Malecón. Youngsters now use the empty pool for soccer matches. It is also not uncommon on some nights for couples to use this pool for lovemaking under the twinkling stars. “The only thing missing in this pool is an avocado plant growing right in the middle of it. Maybe when that happens they’ll finally realize they need to fix it,” complained Fidelio, a resident of nearby “E” Street, who goes for a run on the stadium’s dilapidated track every morning.

A few blocks from the José Martí Stadium stands the Havana Riviera Hotel, opened in 1957 with twenty floors and 352 guest rooms. This enormous hotel has a pool that can be enjoyed even by those who are not guests. Admission costs 15 CUC for adults and ten for children, with a snack included that is actually eighty percent of the total price. Juan Carlos would have to not touch one single cent of his pension for a whole two months in order to enjoy such a luxury.

Aside from offering dining services and lodging in their homes, many families advertise the use of a pool as an added attraction.

Notwithstanding all the bad news, our retiree is not giving up. He asked a friend with Internet access to find him a private pool. Three days later he was handed a list with more than fifty options, almost all of them in the more upscale districts of Vedado, Miramar, and Casino Deportivo. “This one is the pool I told you about!” Juan Carlos exclaimed, with the same eagerness that as a youngster he felt when first spied on those distant blue pool waters from a rooftop. However, now he cannot afford to enjoy it.

Aside from offering dining services and lodging in their homes, numerous families also advertise the use of a pool as an added attraction. These houses are usually rented out for “fiestas de quince” (15-year-old girls’ birthday parties), weddings, or for the arrival of an émigré relative whose family wants to welcome him in one central location where they can all enjoy a relatively lavish get-together. In Havana’s most centrally located neighborhoods, enjoying a day of dips in a pool, with a couple of beverages included, and perhaps a light lunch, costs no less than ten CUC per person.

After touring all the pools he swam in his youth but that now lay in ruins, Juan Carlos also had to rule out the hotel and private home offers. The excessive prices are a reality he cannot ignore. Nevertheless, a friend lent him a 67-inch diameter inflatable pool. Last weekend he set it up on his balcony, filled it with a few buckets of water, and sat in it with a bottle of Cuban Bucanero beer in hand. He looked like a teenager. The next day, Juan Carlos was informed that a neighbor had snitched on him to the police for “excessive use of water from their building’s tank.”

Translated by José Badué

Authority as Exemplified by Elpidio Valdés / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

Elpidio Valdez
Elpidio Valdés

14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Havana, 18 July 2015 —  I remember it as if it were yesterday when my old man took me to see the first Elpidio Valdés feature film in 1974. Having just debuted in the city of Santa Clara, we had to jump through hoops to find a taxi willing to take us all the way there from the town of Encrucijada. Thanks to the help of one of my father’s many friends, we were able to sneak into the Cubanacán Cinema, now long gone. Around the corner and in front of an improvised ticket booth set up for these types of events, a large police unit tried controlling half of Villa Clara Province that had descended on the Provincial capital for the movie’s premiere.

I have seen that film around fifty times. I doubt there are many who can beat my record. Whenever it played in Encrucijada’s movie house, I would go see it the four nights in a row of its run.

I was and still am a fan of this fictional military leader of the Cuban Wars of Independence. It is no wonder I stored all the Elpidio Valdés animations from before 1990 on my computer. On top of that, I also own a copy of the quickly-forgotten series Más se perdió en la guerra, or Más se perdió en Cuba,* the title changing depending on whether it was distributed on the island or in Spain. continue reading

However, and in the spirit of René Descartes, I decided a while back to take on the task of doubting everything as far as possible so I could take ownership over the truth that allows me to reason on my own without prejudice or imposed dogmas. This is why I have also chosen to analyze Juan Padrón’s greatest creation according to my own criteria.

Since I do not want to bore my readers, I will only highlight the following thoughts. Authority figures are beyond reproach in all the Elpidio Valdés cartoons. Throughout this character’s adventures in the fight for Cuban independence, it is clear that the struggle’s leadership exists in a different reality than the rest of the characters. It is never the brunt of jokes, not even indirectly. All other characters can certainly be ridiculed, but certainly not the leaders of the cause. Now compare the reverence given military leaders in Elpidio Valdés to the treatment afforded the renown comic book characters Astérix and Obélix, both of whom enjoy national hero status in France.

Gallic chieftain Astérix is simply another pathetic member of his tribe. He threatens his wife with a rolling pin, is even less eloquent than Cuban Vice-President Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, and more unintelligible than “Cantinflas”. Astérix never manages to effectively lead his subjects, since they are in fact his equals.

Is the image of a leader projected by Elpidio Valdés compared to Astérix’s an illustration of the anthropological damage inflicted on Cuba by the long-drawn-out Castro regime? Or is it perhaps the exact opposite, since the Cuban impulse to bow down to authority existed way before the arrival of the current regime? This may also help explain why this dictatorship seized control so effortlessly.

It is no coincidence that the two most successful dictators of Cuba and Spain went to great lengths to present themselves as beyond reproach. In other worlds, their success was linked in no small measure to the impeccable personae they projected. This should make Cubans cognizant of the fact that our respect for authority is an age-old social disorder inherited from the Spanish founders of our culture.

Whether it is due to an anthropological pathology, or the reinforcement of the preconceived notions of the majority, the Castro regime has only reinforced our sacrosanct view of authority, which evidently existed in Cuba even before 1959. In light of this, we are faced with a dilemma far greater than just having to overthrow a dictatorship; we are being called to launch a cultural revolution.

Please do not think that I am calling for anything to be erased from our past. Whether Cubans like it or not, Elpidio Valdés epitomizes a quintessential part of our culture, much like the whole corpus of Greco-Roman literature ­– which despite echoing the common justifications of its age for slavery – is still part of the Western canon. What all Cubans need to do is study our overall culture, and Elpidio Valdés in particular, using Cartesian doubt. By simply applying methodological skepticism, Cubans would automatically understand why we submit to authority as we do, a fact that distinguishes us from the French in every single segment of society.

*Translator’s Note: Literally “More was lost in the war,” and “More was lost in Cuba,” respectively. Meaning “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” this expression refers to what is known in the U.S. as the Spanish-American War. The former term is more common in Cuba, while the latter is used most often in Spain.

Translated by José Badué

The Cuban Government Unveils Its Version of Google / 14ymedio

The search engine "CUBA" is on redcuba.cu
The search engine “CUBA” is on redcuba.cu

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 July 2015 — The launching of a new Cuban Internet search engine was barely mentioned on official websites or on tonight’s national newscast.

However, it was reported that on the occasion of the Tenth Congress of the Communist Youth League, a new search engine would be launched. “Unified Contents for an Advanced Search” (“Contenidos Unificados para Búsqueda Avanzada, or “CUBA”), is meant to serve as a Cuban version of an alternative to Google.

Available through redcuba.cu, the CUBA portal provides a search engine for websites using the .cu domain. According to its developers, the idea behind CUBA is to link all websites located on Cuban servers unto one site, thus providing the user a “faster and more efficient” search engine.

This website now joins the Cuban government’s growing trend of creating imitations of the most important online resources and social media. The island already has Eucred, mimicking the free content encyclopedia Wikipedia, “La Tendedera” (“The Clothes Line”) competing with Facebook, and an alternative to the illegal “weekly packet” nicknamed “La Mochila,” or “The Backpack.” Still, none of them are as popular as the originals. continue reading

The CUBA project was developed at UCI, the University of Information Science, over three months, two of which were focused on sorting all of the country’s websites. Its developers guarantee that from the moment of its launching, it contains 500,000 indexed web pages, and among these are 6,695 using the .cu domain.

Ariagna González, director of UCI’s Center for Internet Studies and Development, told the official press that CUBA’s design is adaptable to different types of electronic devices, be they computers, tablets, or smartphones. It will allow the user to retrieve information posted on Cuban servers, and could also be an alternative for people who only have access to intranets, such as Infomed and Cubarte. Several computer users who spoke to 14ymedio agreed that “while it’s not the internet, at least it [CUBA] makes searching Cuban websites easier.” Gloria, a 34-year old user of the Cubarte intranet said that for years now she has needed “a search engine that could help me find everything from a theater group to a “Joven Club,”* and now I’m hoping to do so with this new tool.”

Others, like sixteen-year-old Anthony, are a bit more wary when it comes to recently launched CUBA: “Honestly, I prefer Google. This new search engine is like reinventing the wheel, but for the Internet. All the search engines we need have already been invented.” Anthony was connected to WiFi on Havana’s La Rampa Boulevard when 14ymedio asked for his opinion.

CUBA’s technology is based on the Orión search engine developed by UCI in 2013. In order to publicize the existence of this new tool, all “Joven Club” staff is being trained on how to instruct users on all the resources available through it. Apart from its home page, CUBA offers direct access to sites dedicated to sports, entertainment, news, health, art, and the humanities.

The real test for the search engine’s developers will be the upcoming school year when it is projected that 295 high schools and 329 trade schools throughout the whole country will be connected to the web. The plan includes connecting middle schools, special education schools, and daycare centers to the Internet before 2017, and elementary schools one year later.

Nevertheless, CUBA’s principal obstacle will be overcoming the public’s misgivings, since it seems they are more interested in using original sites than their Cuban versions.

* Translator’s Note: “Joven Club de Computación y Electrónica,” or “JCCE,” is a nationwide network of computer centers, where users only have access to the Cuban intranet. There are currently over 600 such centers throughout the island. Nevertheless, much of the equipment is obsolete, and the use of the Internet is closely monitored.

Translated by José Badué

Delegates to Cuba’s National Assembly Blame the “Weekly Packet” for Drug Use in Schools / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Singularidad-paquete-contenido-digitales-httpfalcowebbcom_CYMIMA20140913_0008_1614ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 13 July 2015 — Ten official caucuses of Cuba’s National Assembly of the People’s Power* convened last weekend to discuss –among other things – the state of the country’s senior citizenry, and the use of drugs in schools. This gathering at Havana’s Convention Center was a working prelude to the July 15th’s opening of the eighth session of the National Assembly.

The caucuses also examined Cuba’s housing problems. They reported that from December 2011 until this date, more than 424,000 credit applications for housing improvements have been approved by the government, totaling 4.4 billion Cuban pesos. Still, the delegates in attendance criticized the pervasive irregularities and illegalities hampering production, transportation, and the sale of construction materials. continue reading

A delegate from Ciego de Ávila Province, Antonio Raunel Hernández, reminded his colleagues that 19% of the current Cuban population is older than sixty years, and it is anticipated that by 2025 that figure will reach 30.5%, making the island the oldest country in Latin America. Faced with this challenge, delegates agreed to launch programs ­­­– within the framework of senior citizen homes – focusing special attention on those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and other ailments requiring special attention.

Children also took center stage in last weekends’ meetings with a discussion on the urgency of improved training for childcare specialists. Martha Elena Fleitó, First Vice-Minister of Labor and Social Security, stated that of the 1,726 childcare professionals in the country, 34% of them work in Havana. The increasing propensity among Cuban parents to opt for private daycare facilities has raised alarms about the conditions of their State-run counterparts.

The Economic Affairs Caucus reported that revenues to the State’s budget last year rose to 47 billion Cuban pesos. At the moment, there are 498 cooperatives in the country, of which 204 focus on gastronomy and other services. According to Tania Duconger, President of the Customer Service Caucus, 95% of these enterprises are “turning a profit.”

While Cuban national television did report summaries of the topics discussed, many viewers lamented the lack of a “National Assembly channel” where speeches, reports, and debates could be followed live. Among the numerous topics for discussion, one that aroused enormous interest is the consumption of alcohol and drugs in schools. Although barely ever mentioned in the official media, this consumption is increasingly common in the country’s educational institutions.

The caucus meetings disclosed that with each passing year Cubans who smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol are younger and younger. Several deputies attributed this to newscasts and audiovisual materials that reach the youth through “el paquete” or the “weekly packet,” where they learn about celebrities who consume drugs. Therefore, a new law will be passed requiring the expulsion of young people over sixteen who consume or distribute alcohol and drugs in schools.

At the meeting of the International Affairs Caucus, Josefina Vidal, Director General of United States Affairs at the Foreign Ministry, gave a synopsis of events after the announcements of December 17, 2014. Ms. Vidal confirmed the opening of an embassy in Washington on July 20th, and also said: “On that day we will be ending the first phase of the process we initiated with the United States.” Nevertheless, she warned that the process towards normalization of relations between both countries “would take some time…We have yet to discuss very complicated matters that have accumulated over the past five decades.”

Translator’s Note: According to Cuba’s 1976 Communist constitution, the “Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular” is the single-chamber legislative branch of government. All its delegates are Communist Party members, nominated by their local Party branches, and elected unopposed through obligatory universal suffrage. The National Assembly, which seldom meets, serves as a rubber stamp for the decisions of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Translated by José Badué

A List of Cuban Political Prisoners / 14ymedio, Martha Beatriz Roque

UNPACU activists being arrested. Screen shot from Youtube
UNPACU activists being arrested. Screen shot from Youtube

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Martha Beatriz Roque, Havana, 11 July 2015 — What classifies as a political prisoner is a cause for disagreement among the Cuban opposition. There are varying opinions about who has been jailed for political reasons or not, despite the criteria established by the United Nations and other organizations that concern themselves with these matters.

There are several lists of political prisoners compiled by various organizations circulating in and outside of Cuba. Said lists do not come from any specific dissident groups, but rather from individuals who publicize them. I unsuccessfully tried for all parties to agree on one list. Unfortunately, some individuals who have control over the names of political prisoners refuse to even listen to what others who made their own lists have to say.

Then we also have several groups of lawyers who do not actively contribute to lists of political prisoners, and who do not endorse the ones we have now either. continue reading

When the Cuban government wants a dissident off the streets, it accuses him or her of any crime. Moreover, when an officer of the law beats an opposition figure, the victim ends up accused of assault. Nevertheless, there have been cases in which opposition members were considered political prisoners when their incarcerations have had nothing to do with their political activities.

Twice in recent months, Jaime Cardinal Ortega y Alamino has stated that there are no political prisoners in Cuba. However, he later asked for lists of names of those who might now be incarcerated for political reasons to be forwarded to him. Due to the lack of consensus among the opposition, by now Cardinal Ortega must have several lists, including some containing names of individuals who have committed crimes not even remotely linked to the internal opposition movement, nor whose objective has been the nonviolent democratization of the country.

Several people have spent too many years in jail, and should be freed. Others have been given excessive sentences forbidding them from earning any privileges during their incarceration. These individuals should be classified separately from political prisoners, although we should still advocate for them. We should also continue speaking up for those on the list of prisoners with shorter sentences, namely those unjustly jailed for supposedly having a “special proclivity to commit crimes,” or “dangerousness.”

The Cuban government has never wanted to accept the existence of political prisoners in the country. It wants dissidents to be perceived as common criminals, mercenaries, terrorists, or anything else that would discredit both them and their oppositional activities. Its objective is to multiply political prisoners by zero.

In order to demonstrate how vitally important it is to come to an agreement on the lists of political prisoners and draw up only one that would have the approval of all the opposition, several inquiries have been conducted. We have contacted leaders of organizations, relatives, dissidents, and even some of the individuals whose names appear on the lists. Regardless of all the hard work, we have not always gotten the necessary responses nor reached any real conclusions due to a lack of understanding. Therefore, a commission should be created to analyze each case individually by evaluating the testimonies of witnesses and relatives.

The objective of the information below is not meant to disparage the work of any organization, and much less to belittle any prisoner. Only when we finally understand the importance of collective analysis, can we then reach an appropriate conclusion. I am sure that after each case is closely examined, we will all realize how important it is for us to work together.

It cannot be ruled out that there are no other prisoners jailed for political crimes just because they do not appear on any lists we examined. Cuba’s authorities do not allow access to prison statistics.

I wish to thank the support of the members of the Cuban Network of Community Correspondents (Red Cubana de Comunicadores Comunitarios), without whom it would have been impossible to gather the following data. I would also like to thank in particular Arnaldo Ramos Laururique, member of the Group of 75 and prisoner of conscience.

List of Political Prisoners Gathered from Several Different Organizations:

Coalition of the Opposition of Central Cuba (Damarys Moya Portieles, president)

  • Léster Castillo Rodríguez, sentenced on August 24, 2015 to one year for “dangerousness.”
  • Deibis Sardiñas Moya, sentenced on June 26, 2014 to three years for “dangerousness.”

United Anti-Totalitarian Front (Guillermo “Coco” Fariñas, president)

  • Joel Bencomo Rodríguez (not Díaz, as he appears on another list), sentenced on October 1, 2014 to two years for the crime of “disrespect.” The police have tried transferring him to a forced labor camp, but Mr. Bencomo refuses to budge.
  • Justo Miguel Fariñas Quey, sentenced on May 8, 2014 to six months in jail plus six months house arrest for his role in thwarting José Alberto Botel Cárdenas’ attempt on Guillermo Fariñas’ life. His sentence was made public before the last list was completed on June 19th. Still, his sentence was not noted.
  • Librado Linares, president of the Cuban Reflection Movement, and member of the Group of 75.
  • Yoelsi Llorente Bermúdez, Óscar Luis Santana López, and Miguel Ernesto Armenteros Hernández have been incarcerated since May 16th, waiting trial for “attempting against the State and resisting authority.” After these four individuals were expelled by the police from a discothèque in the town of Santa Isabel de las Lajas, about a hundred people gathered in the town’s main park for a spontaneous protest. All were arrested. Of the hundred, forty were given summonses ranging from thirty to fifty Cuban pesos.
  • There are five prisoners in the Cienfuegos Province’s Ariza Prison.
  • Vladimir Morera Bacallao was transferred to Havana’s National Hospital after ending his hunger strike. He was arrested during the April 2015 municipal elections for putting a sign in front of his home that read “I vote for freedom!” Mr. Morera’s trial is still pending.

The Opposition Movement for a New Republic [MONR]

  • José Díaz Silva, the organization’s president, expressed to Jorge Bello Domínguez from the Cuban Network of Community Correspondents that the person who appears on the list as a political prisoner from his organization, Job Lemus Fonseca, no longer belongs to his group. Mr. Lemus had been ousted from the MONR, and the crime he is accused of is non-political.

Patriotic Union of Cuba [UNPACU] (José Daniel Ferrer, president)

There are fourteen discrepancies in the lists of prisoners associated with UNPACU:

  • Edilberto Arzuaga Alcalá, was sentenced to one year on February 15, 2015. He had been fined five thousand Cuban pesos for drawing graffiti in the town of Santa Cruz del Sur, Camagüey Province. Arzuaga refused to pay the fine. After protesting in front of Santa Cruz del Sur’s Poder Popular*, [People’s Power] Mr. Arzuaga was arrested.
  • Ariel Eugenio Arzuaga Peña, was sentenced to six years for “attempting against the State.” UNPACU did not exist at that time, so it would be ianccurate to classify him as a prisoner of this organization. At the time of Arzuaga’s imprisonment on March 17, 2011, UNPACU’s president José Daniel Ferrer was also incarcerated. Therefore, Mr. Ferrer does not have any personal knowledge of the charges brought against Mr. Arzuaga, although he does have testimonies from the group “Factors for Change,” and other sources. Mr. Arzuaga is currently held at the San Blas forced labor camp in Granma Province. San Blas is what the government calls a “plan confianza,” or “confidence-building strategy.”**
  • María del Carmen Calá Aguilera was arrested on April 24, 2015 in Holguín Province. Ms. Calá was accused of “attempting against the State” after insulting the doctor responsible for the death of her son, a non-political prisoner who died in jail from negligence.
  • Darián Ernesto Dufó Preval, Ricardo Pelier Frómeta and Yoelkis Rosabal Flores, were detained on May 15, 2014, in the town of Caimanera, Guantánamo Province, accused of “conspiracy to commit murder” after staging a sit-in demanding the release of Johane Arce. Some lists incorrectly state “they are still pending trial,” but these four men have already been tried and convicted for “incessant disorderly conduct.” Mr. Dufó was sentenced to two years of incarceration, Mr. Pelier to three, and Mr. Rasabal to four.
  • Yuselín Ferrera Espinosa was arrested on September 24, 2014, and sentenced to one year of incarceration for “causing injury to another person.” As Mr. Ferrera was enjoying a recording of the hip-hop duo Los Aldeanos, a member of the Communist Party ripped the cables off his sound system. There were no injuries, nor any medical documentation stating the contrary.
  • Mario Ronaide Figueroa Diéguez incorrectly appears on a list as having been arrested on December 2, 2012. According to UNPACU president José Daniel Ferrer, the exact day of Mr. Figueroa’s detention –along with ten other activists– was November 27, 2012. The political police told them that if they left UNPACU they would be released. Mr. Figueroa accepted the offer, yet was rearrested at the beginning of December of 2014. The rest of the group appeared on the list of 53 prisoners that was shown to the government of the United States.
  • Aracelio Ribeaux Noa was arrested in the town of Playa de Aguadores, Santiago de Cuba Province, accused of “physically assaulting prison guards.” According to the list, Mr. Ribeaux has been jailed since November 27, 2012. However, he had been freed on January 8, 2015 along with the rest of the group of 53 announced by the Cuban government. Mr. Ribeaux was an UNPACU member when guards of the Vigilance and Protection Corps caught him drawing graffiti. He refused to leave with them, but a few days later, a retired major from the Ministry of the Interior bayoneted Mr. Ribeaux, injuring his hand. He was taken to the hospital, where a few days later the political police sent him a message ordering Mr. Ribeaux not to press charges against the retired major, but he responded that he had already done so. He was then arrested in May. The authorities told Mr. Ribeaux that if he abandoned UNPACU and dropped the charges against the former Interior Ministry official, he would be freed. There are no official documents charging Mr. Ribeaux with any crime.
  • Emilio Serrano Rodríguez, incarcerated since February 7, 2015, is accused of “illegal commercial transactions” (he is not an “independent salesman” as the list says), and is still awaiting trial. An UNPACU member, Mr. Serrano had come to the defense of two Havana women who were licensed street merchants as the police were harassing them. These women, Sonia de la Caridad Mejías and Melkis Faure Echavarría, were at that time members of UNPACU.
  • Carlos Manuel Veranes Heredia, from the town of Caimanera, Guantánamo Province, was sentenced to one year incarceration on May 17, 2015. He is still being held at the provincial jail. Mr. Veranes was first informed he had no charges pending, yet one year later was arrested, given a summary trial with no defense lawyer, and convicted for the crime of “disrespect.”
  • Amado Verdecia Díaz, has been imprisoned since October 20, 2014. The police began harassing him in August 2013 by informing him that his driver’s license had expired. When Mr. Verdecia proved them wrong, the police told him that his problem was his poor driving skills. He was then arrested during a protest in the city of Palma Soriano, Santiago de Cuba Province, but was later released thanks to the pressure of UNPACU activists. Ten months later, Mr. Verdecia was arrested, tried, and sentenced to five years for “attempting against the State.” According to UNPACU’s José Daniel Ferrer, Mr. Verdecia’s crime was volunteering his car for the organization’s needs.
  • Santiago Cisneros Castellanos, a peasant and member of UNPACU, went to a store on July 21, 2014 to buy the bread ration allotted to him. When he arrived he was informed that all the bread was gone, and he responded that he was going to file an official complaint. His local delegate to the “Poder Popular” accused Mr. Cisneros of being a counter-revolutionary and told him that bread was meant only for revolutionaries. When he arrived to file his complaint at the offices of citizens’ services in the town of Cruce de los Baños, Santiago de Cuba Province, Mr. Cisneros was arrested and accused of the “attempted murder” of his local “Poder Popular” delegate, and for “possessing a firearm.” His trial took place on June 15,, 2015, and his sentencing is still pending. Mr. Cisneros does not appear on any list because those who have compiled them do not believe his crime is political in nature.
  • Yosvany Arostegui Armenteros has been incarcerated in Camagüey Province’s Cerámica Roja Prison since January 8, 2015, the same day as the group of 53 was released. Mr. Arostegui is accused of “attempting against the State” and “menacing.” Although he has a history of being treated for psychiatric disorders, Mr. Arostegui owns a horse and a cart he used to distribute UNPACU leaflets. The authorities organized an act of repudiation in front of his home, pelting it with excrement. As is the case with Santiago Cisneros Castellanos, Mr. Arostegui does not appear on any list.
  • Eglis Heredia Rodríguez was returned to prison to complete a sentence of eight years and six months, with the right to occasional supervised visits home. According to UNPACU president José Daniel Ferrer, Mr. Eredia’s sentence is not related to his role in the opposition, as is stated on a list. Mr. Eredia is not a political prisoner, but he did join UNPACU upon being released from jail. He was serving a sentence for burglary with forced entry.

Democratic Alliance of Eastern Cuba (Rolando Rodríguez Lobaina, president)

  • Yeris Curbelo Aguilera was incarcerated for three years for “disrespect and disobedience.” He has been serving his sentence in Guantánamo Province’s Combinado Prison since February 19, 2015.

The Juan Wilfredo Soto García Human Rights Movement

  • René Rouco Machín, the organization’s president, appears on one list as serving a sentence for “disrespect” since August 4, 2014, and on another as serving four years for “attempting against the State.” Independent journalist Daniel González Oliva reports that Mr. Rouco is serving both sentences. On December 17, 2014, two officials from State Security paid him a visit at the Escalona Forced Labor Camp. Mr. Rouco refused to speak with them, still he was forced to meet with the officials, where they proceeded to beat him and break his arm. Mr. Rouco was subsequently accused of “attempting against the State,” and sentenced to four more years.

The José Martí Current

  • Rolando Joaquín Guerra Pérez is an opposition member and leader of The José Martí Current. According to one of the lists, while attempting to leave Cuba on a flimsy vessel, he was intercepted by the United States Coast Guard on November 6, 2012, and then repatriated. Mr. Guerra was awaiting trial for larceny, but escaped from the Canasí forced labor camp where he was being held. A few months ago, and without even informing his relatives, Mr. Guerra was tried, found guilty of several offenses, and sentenced to six years. He is currently housed in in the prison of the town of Melena del Sur, Mayabeque Province.

Other Cases

  • Juana Castillo Acosta, her husband Osvaldo Rodríguez Acosta, and her son Osvaldo Rodríguez Castillo were found guilty of “attempting against the State,” although some lists accuse them of “attempting to murder police.” Mrs. Castillo was originally given five years. She was mistakenly listed as serving her sentence under house arrest. Mrs. Castillo’s sentence was actually commuted to a forced labor facility she can commute to from home. Her husband, Osvaldo Rodríguez Acosta was sentenced to nine years, and her son Osvaldo Rodríguez Castillo to seven. Currently, the son is being allowed occasional supervised visits home.
  • Ricardo Hernández Ruiz belongs –according to one list– to an organization that no longer exists, Camagüey Unity. Virgilio Mantilla, who was the organization’s president, says he has no connection with the prisoner, who also does not belong to any opposition group. José Luis S. Varona, a dissident nicknamed “Pescao” (Fish), stated that Mr. Hernández is being held in a forced labor camp in Camagüey Province. According to Daysa Durán Galano of the Rosa Parks Feminist Movement of Camagüey, Mr. Hernández tried to leave the country illegally through Guantánamo Province in order to reach the U.S. Naval Base. Five people who are now free accompanied him.
  • Yosvani Melchor Rodríguez is a young man who returned to Cuba illegally after having lived in the United States for one year. He was sentenced to twelve years of incarceration for human trafficking. Mr. Rodríguez’s codefendent, Jorge Luis Sánchez Carcassés from Santiago de Cuba, is now free. Mr. Melchor’s mother, Rosa María Rodriguez reported that her son is mentally retarded and is not a member of the Christian Liberation Movement. He is currently incarcerated in the Toledo 1 Prison, has been allowed to return home twice on supervised visits, and is waiting to be paroled.
  • Mauricio Noa Maceo has been incarcerated since August 6, 2010 for “‘ideological diversionism (divisionism),’ illegal economic activity, and accepting stolen property,” according to the information on one of the lists. Mr. Noa was tried on December 9, 2014 and was sentenced to three years imprisonment after having served more than four years. He is supposedly waiting for his appeals trial, but the deadline has passed. A prisoner only has a few days after a trial to appeal, and the bench has 45 days to respond.
  • Santiago Roberto Montes de Oca Rodríguez appears on several lists. Mr. Montes de Oca is simply classified as an “activist” without specifying to what organization he belongs.
  • Ángel Santiesteban Prats, a writer, does not appear on all the lists, although he is certain he submitted all his documentation, and that on February 26, 2013 –two days before reporting to prison– Amnesty International contacted him to confirm that he was indeed a prisoner of conscience. Currently there are those who doubt that Mr. Santiesteban is a political prisoner. He was sentenced to five years of incarceration for trespassing and causing bodily harm.

There are other persons who should appear on the lists since their legal status have yet to be clarified. For instance, take the case of Egberto Ángel Escobedo Morales. He was imprisoned on July 11, 1995 to a term of twenty years for “espionage, enemy propaganda, and stealing secret military counterintelligence documents.” Mr. Morales was released on December 29, 2010, after a 75-day hunger strike. First he was informed he had been pardoned, but then was told that due his improper behavior, he was just being paroled. He has yet to receive an official document signed off by a judge.

Translator’s Notes:
*Literally, “The People’s Power.” The local Communist Party government offices.
** A “reeducation” forced labor camp.

Translated by José Badué

Reporter Pulls Food Prices Out of His Hat / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 9 July 2015 — A few years ago an official reporter for the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, when he was a correspondent in Venezuela, wrote fanatical features about the late Venezuelan leader. Upon returning to Cuba he set about “clarifying,” in dense articles, the functioning of agricultural markets and other issues related to domestic trade. It’s the same as the article about ground turkey and “floor mop” steak.

Now, calculator in hand, he rambles on about prices in the agricultural markets. In an article entitled “Sofrito Continues Just Like Before” he states that “the Cuban family, between January and March this year, had to pay 1.10 pesos per pound for garlic and 76 cents for onion, the same as in 2014.” He adds that “a sweet potato, which before cost you a peso, now costs you four cents more.” continue reading

I really don’t know which top hat he pulled these prices out of; they are completely unrelated to reality. First of all, garlic is not sold to retail consumers by the pound, but by the head, a small one selling for from 2 to 4 pesos. A pound of onions has fluctuated between 10 and 15 pesos, and one sweet potato has risen to between 2 and 2.50 pesos.

He admits something that is undeniable, “prices of almost all agricultural products have continued to rise,” but he blames “low production, the existence of private restaurants and cafes, tourism growth, and declining imports, which have caused supply not to meet demand, generating higher prices.”

Next he tackles problems he can’t solve, and develops a strange thesis “on the impossibility of generating an algorithm to determine, with some degree of certainty, the correspondence between supply and demand for modeling prices in the agricultural market,” followed by other convoluted notions, “in my opinion,” as he habitually repeats.

“Sofrito continues just like before” because the system doesn’t work and is unable to solve the problem of feeding the Cuban people, as has been more than demonstrated by 56 years of failures.

This, presumably, the reporter doesn’t say.

Stirring Up the Book Publishing Hornet’s Nest / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenechea

The Havana Book Fair. (14ymedio)
The Havana Book Fair. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Santa Clara, 7 July 2015 — The printed edition of the weekly Vangaurdia* dared mess with hornets. In her article “Let him who does not know you buy you?” the young journalist Laura Rodríguez Fuentes identified several inconvenient truths that will surely make waves in the tiny world of Cuban letters.

According to the journalist “many people ask if publishing houses are really thinking about the public for whom their publications are intended.” Her response, while only inferred, is of course no. Ms. Rodríguez continues: “An assessment of what is published is urgently needed, while opinion polls on topics, genres, and authors should be disclosed nationwide.”

After acknowledging that “except for children’s titles, the quality of many books is poor,” Ms. Rodríguez goes on to scrutinize Cuban publishing marketing strategies. With plenty of evidence to support her claims, she states that these policies are too focused on yearly book fairs. continue reading

Ms. Rodríguez continued by shoving a stick into a hornet’s nest and shaking it violently with the following paragraph: “Effective book publishing policies cannot be focused on writers who want to have their books published just because. They should focus on the consumer, the reader.”

State-sanctioned authors control Santa Clara’s publishers for their own ends. Despite the efforts of qualified editors such as Isaily Pérez and especially Idiel García of Ediciones Sed de Belleza (Thirst for Beauty Publishers), it is the clique of authorized writers that decides who can and cannot get published, while guaranteeing they will be published first. In order to ensure their place in the “publishing strategy,” these authors will write anything and on any subject.

The fact is that this clique is more concerned with making money than having its work disseminated. Such was the case in recent events in the town of Remedios. Several writers, who were not paid immediately for their work on a special publication commemorating the town’s 500th anniversary, behaved very uncivilly. According to off-the-record sources, even the police got involved as fists flew in middle of a brawl worthy of the worst Havana slum.

It seems none of the authors involved cared much about the significance that comes with being part of such a publication. Their only concern was cold hard cash and the fleeting moment.

Ms. Rodríguez concludes with the following observation: “There should be a direct link between opinion polls and the titles offered at book fairs. Book publishing should not be centered on favoritisms, but rather on consumers’ preferences and wishes.”

We could not agree with her more.

* Translator’s Note: The official newspaper of Villa Clara Province’s Communist Party’s Central Committee.

Translated by José Badué

Camagüey’s San Juan Festival, Somewhere Between Fun and Indecency / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

The floats, pulled by tractors, in the festival of San Juan. (14ymedio)
The floats, pulled by tractors, in the festival of San Juan. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Henry Constantín,Camagüey, 28 June 2015 — Saint John the Baptist, or San Juan in Spanish, was a man who used river water to baptize those who wanted to purify themselves, yet he ended up decapitated for criticizing Galilee’s corrupt rulers. Ironically, now almost two thousand years later, San Juan’s feast day is celebrated in Camagüey with a public festival organized by the city’s authorities (some of whom are also corrupt), and with plenty of diluted “baptized” alcohol.

One of the San Juan Festival’s aims and outcomes is to defuse the bottled-up but growing discontent and dissent of the preceding year, and it accomplishes its goal with the joyful “decapitation” generated by alcohol, music, and parades. continue reading

The opening of my 2004 article about the San Juan Festival – a June tradition that always brings joy to the people of Camagüey – was a bit less critical. Nevertheless, it was censored and consequently not published in Adelante, the official newspaper. I was accused of promoting religion for mentioning San Juan in the opening sentence. Now is my chance to get even, although I must admit that there were not many differences between the festival of 2004 and 2015.

The government organizes everything – which is not much ­­­­– with the support of the self-employed, who are the real organizers of most of the entertainment

Just like back in 2004 – and as is the case in nearly all Cuban towns sponsoring public festivals – this year’s San Juan Festival started with the closure of specific streets and squares, where dozens of food and trinket stands, stages for musical performances, trailers carrying beer kegs, and carnival games were placed.

Floats, conga lines and dance troupes filed by in the early evening and after dusk. This year they were very colorful and rhythmical, although some of the musicians and dancers seemed off beat and to have a blank look on their faces. As always, the music and sale of food and beer went on until dawn. This was especially the case at the location where the great Cándido Fabré’s orchestra was performing.

Most students and State employees are grateful for the festival because the afternoons of the week of June 24th become de facto time off. Most people just leave their workplaces.

The government organizes everything – which is not much ­­­­– with the support of the self-employed, who are the real organizers of most of the entertainment, and who also provide what is consumed, transportation, and even the pubic restrooms. Yet our festival has its own peculiarities. We have San Pablo Street, historically and instinctively preferred by homosexuals, reserved for the street carnival.

Then there is Capdevila Street, which is synonymous with overwhelming vulgarity. We have a famous conga line, “The Commandos,” and the events start with a traditional inaugural in which the president of the local government delivers an official proclamation.

On the eve of San Juan’s Day, neighbors get together and make a large stew, which gets weaker every year, as do the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, which are responsible for preparing the meal. This year, the CDR’s were so kind as to distribute rotting cattle bones to homes on several blocks.

At sunset, thousands of people pour out onto the streets, but most return home after taking a stroll or before the break of dawn. These are then followed by young people, groups of inebriated friends, and lovers. Walking on the streets where the festival takes place with a wallet or cellphone at that time of night is extremely dangerous.

Year after year, Camagüey’s San Juan Festival walks a very delicate tightrope between popular merriment and criminal bedlam.

Year after year, Camagüey’s San Juan Festival walks a very delicate tightrope between popular merriment and criminal bedlam. Rivers of pungent urine flow from the streets adjacent to the musical bands, from the beer kegs, and even from the walls of private homes. Later on it takes days to disinfect whole neighborhoods. Merry men and women of all ages hide in the dark to relieve their bladders, turning the simple acts of opening one’s front door or looking out the window into unpleasant surprises.

In the pre-dawn hours and in the areas reserved for dancing, it is not uncommon to see women in the crowd with their babies asleep in their strollers, accompanying their husbands who cling to their easily recognizable beer cans. No matter the time of day, the areas set aside for shopping and public consumption of beer are packed with minors, who with or without adult supervision witness and sometimes participate in all the rituals of adult nightlife: the consumption of alcohol and tobacco, public sex, lewdness, urination and defecation, and nighttime delinquency.

For some time now, Camagüey has been ravaged by violence, and the San Juan Festival only exacerbates the problem. Once festivities kick off on June 24th, the city’s residents start echoing the usual warnings: “Be careful out there!”; “Don’t go out at night!”; “Don’t ride your bike!”; “Make sure you lock the door!”; “Make sure to leave your money at home!”

According to older people, this year’s San Juan Festival was not as nice as those of yesteryear. Thousands of citizens of Camagüey stayed home, out of fear, indifference, or lack of money. Those who tried enjoying the festival did so despite the awful conditions caused by scarcity, stench, and danger. Still, the San Juan Festival is the only opportunity the people of Camagüey have in the whole year to forget about their gray lives, their limited hopes, and their bitter struggle for survival.

Translated by José Badué

Chronicle of a Visit Postponed to Jagüey Grande / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

Eliécer Ávila

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, Havana, 28 June 2015 — Last Friday afternoon, my wife Rachell and I were going to the city of Jagüey Grande in Mantanzas Province. Several friends were waiting for us there to spend a weekend together talking and discussing future projects. We were going to see Alexey, a motorcycle mechanic and computer genius, as well as Carlos Raúl, a young pastor whose temperament and values make him stand out. Nevertheless, our planned getaway ended far differently than we initially intended, and not because of our will.

We were faced with several organizational challenges before we left the house. We had adopted our second puppy the night before and she was in very bad shape. Moreover, Rachell had to work until five o’clock and run like a marathoner in order to meet all her obligations and get home just in time to leave. Nonetheless, luck was on our side and we quickly caught a bus leaving Havana.

Along the way we were also planning on visiting Playa Larga Beach for the first time to enjoy some relaxation. However, a highway patrol car and two State Security agents cut our dreams short when they stopped the bus on which we were traveling as it entered Jagüey Grande. continue reading

A highway patrol car and two State Security agents cut our dreams short

They ordered us off the bus and forced us into a Soviet World War II ambulance with a sign reading “Maintenance.” We were then transferred back to Havana as we sat on toolboxes. Before that, all our belongings were taken from us, as they uttered the only phrase they echoed throughout the whole journey: “There won’t be any Somos más in Jagüey Grande.”

We experienced moments of both fear and love inside that steel box. It felt like it was falling apart every time it hit a pothole, while its back doors were barely kept shut with wire. The return trip took two hours, but there were moments when adrenaline helped us surmount the hunger, the discomfort, and the abuse we were enduring. Nothing bonds people like sharing a just cause and enduring the ensuing consequences.

We were then taken to the police headquarters of Havana’s Cerro district, and there began the agonizing process of confiscating of all our belongings. Underwear, toothbrushes, deodorant, lipstick, phone chargers, and of all things, two sanitary napkins were confiscated. In short, an endless list of “tools of delinquency.”

The police officer in charge of this painstaking search did not hide his discomfort at having to inventory all that stuff. He was from Guantánamo Province, a large, pleasant, polite man. His attitude towards us undoubtedly troubled the State Security Agents. The same occurred when I was detained in Santiago de Cuba, and the police officers who recognized me tried to greet me, but the head honcho in charge that day ordered them to stay away from the detainee.

After the seizure of our possessions was complete, they took Rachell to a one-person cell, and they put me in a group cell. It was packed with men who seemed like they had been there for several days, sharing the unbearable heat and darkness. It did not take more than five seconds for the obligatory question: “What are you in for?” “Because I think” I replied.

He reiterated, “The Communist Party here has created mechanisms for people to express themselves and complain about anything they want.”

The youngest man there approached me and said: “Oh wait! Wait! That’s why your face looked familiar! You’re from the UCI [University of Information Sciences]!” And he added: “Man, you really let him have it!”* He gave me a friendly embrace and started laughing. He later told me he was in a rock band, and that they ended up fighting the police on “G” Street in Havana because they would not allow them play their music there, while constantly harassing them for identification papers. It was a short conversation, because once the others joined in, the officer in charge of political crimes ordered that I be taken to a one-person cell.

A while later I was transferred to an office so that an individual who introduced himself as Captain Marcos could “have a talk” with me. This young man said the most absurd things one could ever hear. “Eliécer! In that absurd democracy you like, there are thousands of Houses of Representatives, Senates, and Congresses! So to make any decisions, they all have to agree! That’ll never happen here! Can’t you see what they’re doing to Obama?”

Captain Marcos reiterated: “The Communist Party here has created mechanisms for people to express themselves and complain about anything they want.” He also sarcastically asked: “Have you seen any demonstrations? Don’t you get it? (…) The people support this Party and the Constitution. So you and the four little crazies who follow you, and we know who they are, aren’t getting anywhere. You don’t represent anybody,” he stated authoritatively.

I managed to respond that if things were as he said, that no one listens to us or pays attention to us, then why don’t they leave me alone and let the people decide? Why do they keep the people of Jagüey Grande and the whole country from knowing who I am? Of course, he would not answer my questions.

Instead, Captain Marcos repeated that it is they who will always be in charge in Cuba, to which I replied: “That hasn’t happened anywhere in the world.” I further provoked him by assuring him that, “One day there will be a democracy here.” He responded with the threat that I would be thrown in jail. While I showed Captain Marcos that I wanted to be a young man of today, he spoke like an old man of yesteryear. While I was trying to help repair Cuba, he was amazed that I would think there was anything political to fix.

Exasperated with me, Captain Marcos ordered me back to the dungeon. Now it was Rachell’s turn. Surely the interrogator thought it would be easier to pressure a woman, but instead, at one o’clock in the morning, Rachell – who had not even had a cup of coffee all day – gave him a lesson on courage and convictions. I overheard when they returned her to her cell, accusing her of disrespect. I blew her a supportive kiss from behind iron bars as they led her past my cell.

An hour and a half later, all our belongings were returned, and we were released.

In closing, I would like to tell Raúl Castro that it was a great honor for me to have been sent to one of his dungeons because of my beliefs. If he recalls the past, he will know what I mean, and that I will not give up.

Luckily, history never stops.**

Translator’s Notes:

*In 2007, Eliecer who was then a student at Cuba’s University of Information Sciences and actively engaged in coordinating support for the Castro regime on the Internet, was chosen to engage in a dialog with Ricardo Alarcón Cuba’s former ambassador to the United Nations and then president of the National Assembly. A video of this event later went viral worldwide; a version with English subtitles is here. Ultimately, Alarcon lost his post in the National Assembly. Eliecer’s account of his subsequent transition from regime supporter to democracy activist is here.

**Eliecer is referring to Fidel Castro’s speech at his trial after leading the assault on the Moncada Barracks in 1953. Entitled La historia me absolverá (History Will Absolve Me), in his speech Castro said it would be an honor for him to endure Fulgencio Batista’s dungeons, that he would not give up, and that unstoppable course of history would inevitably prove he was right.

Translated by José Badué

The Siege of Tania Bruguera Is Lifted / 14ymedio

The artist Tania Bruguera at the front door of her home. (Yania Suárez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 29 June 2015 — Last Friday, June 26th, a police official paid a visit to Tania Bruguera to inform her that the charges against her were being temporarily lifted. The artist refused to sign the offer, and demanded that the charges be permanently lifted, without any restrictions on her returning to her own country.

This information was made public by a message sent through the #yotambienexijo (“I also demand”) platform nearly six months after Bruguera was detained while preparing to give a performance in Havana’s Plaza de la Revolución. At the time of her arrest on December 30th, the authorities also confiscated her passport, without which she cannot leave the country.

Bruguera decided to launch the Hannah Arendt Artivist Institute during the Havana Biennial. For more than one hundred consecutive hours, she led the reading, analysis, and discussion of Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism. The event was ignored due to relentless police pressure, a very noisy street repair right in front of the artist’s home, and the subsequent arrest of Bruguera and several companions.

In the text published last Monday on the #yotambienexijo platform, the artist explained that the deal offered her “is unacceptable blackmail, whose intention is to control my art and silence me as a citizen.” Meanwhile, she is suing the Cuban Ministries of Culture and of the Interior for damages incurred during last December’s events.

Links to #yotambienexijo sites:
Restaging of Bruguera’s Tatlin’s Whisper 6 in Times Square in NYC

Translated by José Badué

Diary of an Alcoholic / 14ymedio, Hector Reyes

Patients’ beds in the rehab ward of Santa Clara Psychiatric Hospital (Photo: Héctor Reyes)
Patients’ beds in the rehab ward of Santa Clara Psychiatric Hospital (Photo: Héctor Reyes)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Hector Reyes, Santa Clara, 13 June 2015 — His story starts with a bottle and ends in a psychiatric ward. More precisely, it ends in the rehab ward of Santa Clara Psychiatric Hospital. With the help of pills and shots, Néstor will try staying for 21 days in order to escape alcoholism’s downward spiral.

The room where the young man is hospitalized does not have a refrigerator, or a television, or lockers to store his belongings. It has only one bathroom without water. Once in a while, one of the six men confined in that small space with only a one working fan, asks out loud “Why?” but nobody in that “cage” answers him. continue reading

Routine is part of the treatment. Wake up, take medications, doze off until breakfast, wait for the meeting with the therapist, snack time, lunch, and more medications. Everyday is the same for three weeks in order to prevent any attempt to fill in the hours with rum and hard liquor. The drugs used to combat addiction range from Carbamazepine to one dose of dextrose per day.

Treatment also requires isolation. Psychiatric patients have the right to freely visit their homes, but alcoholics can only leave the premises if accompanied by a medical staff member. Roque Tejera, another patient hospitalized in that same room believes that being locked up and medicated seems to help. Meanwhile, from a bed at the far side of the room, Lian Morales says that psychotherapy is what gives him the most strength not to relapse.

“I’ve been here six months, and every time I get out, I go back to getting drunk,” explained Orly Ferrer, as he shooed away the flies buzzing all over the room. His story is corroborated by the testimony of doctors and nurses who have seen many patients promise not to drink anymore, and then end up hitting the bars.

Alcoholism ranks among the ten top causes of death in Cuba, and according to official statistics, 45.2% of the population above fifteen years of age consumes alcohol, especially those between 25 and 42.

Alcoholism ranks among the ten top causes of death in Cuba, and according to official statistics, 45.2% of the population above fifteen years of age consumes alcohol

A few months ago, psychiatric expert Dr. Carmen Beatriz Borrego Calzadilla told the official press that the consumption of alcohol is most prevalent among the youth. The health professional stated: “Among adolescents, the consumption of alcohol is often associated with self-determination, fun, entertainment, and modernity.”

Some enter rehab because of family pressure, from families undone by the ravages of alcohol and violence. Others, such as Néstor, sought medical advice in order to be admitted to rehab after a disastrous drunken spree. The Psychiatric Hospital’s emergency room policy states that if a patient arrives on his own will, he will be admitted, if there is a bed available.

They come because they have consumed everything, from rum bought with convertible pesos to homemade concoctions. Noel Ponce, another alcoholic in rehab, says that one of his methods consists of pouring concentrated honey in a sealed tank with a valve. He explained: “You attach a coil to it and heat it up until it bubbles and secretes alcohol.”

Alcoholics from the lowest economic strata, such as retirees and the unemployed, rely on all types of moonshine to quench their daily thirst for alcohol. For many, even the mouthwash available at pharmacies ends up being a way of getting plastered.

Alcoholism is rarely discussed in Cuba, and when the domestic media does focus on it, it almost always does so superficially. The majority of television spots on this issue emphasize its connection to traffic accidents. Programs with a more psychological bent, such as Vale la pena (It’s worth it), attack consumption without mentioning the reasons behind it.

Alcoholism is rarely discussed in Cuba, and when the domestic media does focus on it, it almost always does so superficially

In many Cuban television series and movies there is often an alcoholic, a funny character zigzagging as he urinates from one lamppost to the other. Conversely, the documentary Havana Glue tackles the situation in all its extent and gravity. This movie, directed by the young filmmaker Lupe Alfonso, takes in the opinions of artists, intellectuals, and the average citizen about the consumption of alcohol in Cuban society. It has yet to be broadcast on national television.

In order to help the patients out of the situation they find themselves in when they enter the rehab ward, doctors also recommend physical exercise. Santa Clara Psychiatric Hospital has a room fitted with exercise machines that improve physical and mental health, apart from keeping the patients busy. One of the room’s attendants said: “This space is too small. They should give us the space used for the emergency room.” Due to lack of space, they cannot use the treadmill or the rowing machine.

The other part is made up of psychotherapy, based on the approach of Alcoholics Anonymous, a program that began in 1935 with a New York businessman who began talking to other drinkers about his struggle with sobriety. Today there are more than 100,000 AA groups in about 150 countries.

“Personally, psychotherapy overwhelms me, it depresses me,” commented one of the patients who shares the room with Néstor. Some of the stories shared during sessions raise important issues, while others are heartbreaking or hilarious. The volume increases as the minutes go by and the patients vent.

Since the medical authorities refuse to release statistics, the weight of the problem in rural areas cannot be measured. Six young rural men have just ended up in this small, hot ward of Santa Clara Psychiatric Hospital. When they get out of here, they will return to their small towns, where due to a lack of recreational options, the bottle has become an inseparable companion of social interactions.

Translated by José Badué

Fariñas Speaks Before the Victims of Communism / 14ymedio, Jose Badue

Guillermo-Farinas-Victimas-Comunismo-Maria_CYMIMA20150613_0001_16 14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Badue, Washignton DC, 13 June 2015 — Despite a temperature of 97º F (36º C), and unbearable humidity, about one hundred representatives of nations and peoples – including a Russian LGBT association – who have suffered the nefarious consequences of Communism, met at the corner of New Jersey and Massachusetts Avenues at 10:00 AM before the Victims of Communism Memorial. continue reading

It was very sad, but at the same time very interesting to see so many diverse people united by the same tragedy. While I was speaking with a group of Cuban former political prisoners, reporters from TV Martí and Diario de Cuba approached us. Since I had already explained to the ex-political prisoners that I was there to do my part for 14 y medio, one of them remarked how beautiful it would be in a future Cuba where free journalists would be able to compete in their coverage of whatever they chose to cover. Those old men still are a source of inspiration. They never stop dreaming.

 Fariñas gave a very moving speech. He thanked the Cuban former political prisoners there in attendance for their struggle and sacrifice. Fariñas did not give a prepared speech, as is usually his style, and as his English interpreter told me. When Fariñas concluded, all those present gave him a resounding standing ovation.

Fariñas Dedicates His Award To All Cuban Political Prisoners / 14ymedio

Guillermo-Fundacion-Memorial-Victimas-Comunismo_CYMIMA20150612_0003_1614ymedio bigger14ymedio, Washington, DC, 12 June 2015 — In a ceremony that took place yesterday in Washington, DC, the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation awarded the 2015 Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom to Cuban opposition figure Guillermo Fariñas. The dissident used the opportunity to dedicate the award to “all the (Cuban) political prisoners of the ’60’s and ’70’s, when nobody listened,” as he stated to 14ymedio. continue reading

In a meeting with the directors of the Foundation, Fariñas thanked them once again for “not forgetting the thousands of Cubans who have been executed, arrested, tortured, or who have died in the sea trying to escape from Communism.”

Alexander Podrabinek, a Russian human rights activist and journalist, was also awarded the 2015 Truman-Reagan Medal on Friday afternoon. The dissident has been the victim of several incarcerations, and has undertaken his work under the unrelenting surveillance of both the Soviet régime and Vladimir Putin’s authoritarianism.

Before the ceremony, Fariñas, winner of the European Union’s 2012 Sakharov Prize, met with Senator Robert Menéndez, Democrat from New Jersey. He also met with Congressman Albio Sires, Democrat from New Jersey, and the Floridian Congressional members, Carlos Curbelo, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Mario Díaz-Balart.

The first event of the day was a luncheon dedicated to the “triumph of freedom,” where Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was the featured speaker. The final speaker for the night was Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, Democrat of Ohio.

The Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom was created in 1999 to honor persons and organizations that have demonstrated a lifelong commitment to freedom and democracy, and against all forms of tyranny.