The Cuban Army Exhibits its New Acquisitions: Russian Ural-4320 Trucks and Chinese Howo Trucks

The model that circulated in the Cuban East is identical to that used today by the Russian army for tactical and transport work in Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. (Granma)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 6, 2022 — Despite their legendary secrecy, the Cuban Armed Forces showed off two of their brand new Ural-4320 trucks, a Russian-made military SUV whose latest model has already been received by the Island. The images of two troop-transport Urals, crowded with young soldiers — or ’pioneers’ [students] with flags, in some towns — and published by the official press, did not go unnoticed by fans and weapons specialists.

The Ural-4320 went out “for a walk” during the so-called Caravan of Liberty, a kind of symbolic reproduction of the route followed by Fidel Castro in January 1959 to Havana, and which several historians describe as a “theatrical” delay to increase the effect of his arrival in the capital.

Televisión Cubana filmed in detail the journey of the two trucks through municipalities in the east of the Island. Gleaming, they presided over the fleet of smaller military vehicles that, on both sides of the street, were received by a crowd sympathetic to the regime. The SUVs parked in the central square of the town and waited for the local secretary of the Communist Party — or the municipal governor — to commemorate Castro’s passage in a ceremony.

More discreet, behind the Ural, came Sinotruck Howo tactical trucks — made in China — of the ZZ-2167M4327A series, which until now were not known to be in the possession of the Cuban military. There is no public record of the purchase of these machines, and this is the first time that the Armed Forces has exhibited them. continue reading

The Russian company UralAZ has been manufacturing heavy trucks since 1941, during World War II. Castro was responsible for his Soviet allies systematically sending him the trucks that, in the opinion of the experts, make up the now-deteriorated motor pool of the Armed Forces.

Cuba has, according to observers, old Ural-375, ZIL-131 and other Ural-4320 trucks, but of an earlier model — although quite recent — that it has now received from Russia. They also have Ukrainian KrAZ-6322 trucks, invoiced after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The model that circulated in eastern Cuba is identical to that used today by the Russian army for tactical and transport work in Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The 4320 series has been manufactured since 1978, for transport, cargo and as tractors. Its automotive drive is 6×6 (three axles and six wheels), and uses the YaMZ-236 (V-6) or 238 (V-8) engine, powered by diesel fuel. The most recent model, however, uses a Ural-375D engine. These can carry 5.5 tons of weight.

In addition to Cuba, there are several countries that buy Ural-4320 trucks. Russia has also sent them to Angola and Greece, and in Latin America to Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Guatemala and Uruguay.

The Cuban Armed Forces do not usually renew their weapons, and the official data are extremely ambiguous; however, several reports from other countries have revealed that Cuba has regularly requested defensive material, riot gear and weapons from other nations.

In December 2022, a report for the first half of that year revealed that the Government of Spain blocked the sale to Cuba of 2,500 cartridges of tear gas and 40 anti-riot light, sound and smoke devices, for a combined value of 350,000 euros. The reason for the refusal was the “lack of respect for human rights” on the part of the Government of the Island.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

‘To Write the Biography of Lezama is to Write a History of Cuban Culture’

“Lezama himself said: ’I don’t have a biography.’ He defended the autonomy of the literary work.” (Facebook/Casa Museo José Lezama Lima)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, 2 January 2022 — In a calm voice, Ernesto Hernández Busto (Havana, 1968) says that, at the funeral of José Lezama Lima, an alleged spy filmed everything with a camera. The video, which no one has seen, must have been hidden in the secret archives of ICAIC [Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry] or in a drawer of Villa Marista since that summer of 1976.

Lying on a tomb, with the apparatus on one shoulder, the unknown person recorded the faces of the mourners: Cintio Vitier, Ángel Gaztelu, Fina García Marruz, Raúl Roa, Ambrosio Fornet, Raúl Hernández Novás, Heberto Padilla and countless writers, officials, enemies and troublemakers.

From that moment on, says Hernández Busto, each of those present defends a different story about Lezama. Multiple anecdotes, opinions formulated at coffee time, plagiarized, misunderstood, distorted, forgotten and redone by his disciples. It is a complex region, in which the biographer always advances at his own risk.

Exiled in Barcelona, since the late nineties after several years in Mexico, Hernández Busto has been accumulating material for decades to write the first biography, in the strict sense, of Lezama. The book has become a kind of legend, and the author has only offered fragments to tempt the reader. Judging by these chapters — published in magazines such as Rialta, El Estornudo and Hypermedia — the Cuban project is cathedral, absorbing and does not even exhaust the Lezamian universe.

Lucid, Hernández Busto understands the magnitude of his commitment, in conversation with 14ymedio: “Whoever writes the biography of Lezama has to write, in reality, a history of Cuban culture, especially the republican one of the twentieth century. And perhaps also the history of a city: Havana.” continue reading

The problem is no different from that of those who established the canon of the sacred scriptures, speculates Hernández Busto. You have to face testimonies, contrast versions and sayings, consult multiple manuscripts, often apocryphal, as the evangelist Lucas does in El Reino [The Kingdom], the novel by Emmanuel Carrère.

“It is an unstable territory, because you have to differentiate gossip from history, always mixed with biographical anecdotes. A good example are the circumstances of his death and burial, told by various sources. That lack of definition turns any story into quicksand.” The writer also looks for the details, objects and evidence that give solidity to the text (such as knowing that Lezama’s funeral limousine was a 1959 Cadillac, a symbolic and ominous number).

“Moving between myth and exaltation is very uncomfortable, a constant doubt,” says Hernández Busto, who enjoys the challenge of collecting testimonies and detecting, after much research, who takes the right step in the labyrinth of versions. “The challenge is to make an English biography, more focused on the vital circumstances than on the works themselves; hence the provisional title: José Lezama Lima: a biography.”

The origin of this volume was a series of interviews he conducted, years ago and with a small recorder, with friends of Lezama, such as Father Gaztelu and José Triana. It was Triana’s wife, Chantal Dumaine, who provided him with several photographs of the burial where, in fact, the stranger appeared on the camera. “In a world of versions and assumptions, the discovery of a photo like this allows many things to be clarified,” he says.

Over time, the work grew in volume and difficulty. “A fundamental problem has been what to expose in the body of the text and what to place in the footnotes, which sometimes become small essays,” says Hernández Busto. The advances he has published attest to that temptation: with the secondary characters — the father, the mother, the sisters, the friends — another book could be composed.

To this must be added that it is intended to trace the biography of someone who distrusted the biographical exercise. “Lezama himself said: ’I don’t have a biography.’ He defended the autonomy of the literary work and repudiated Sainte-Beuve [whose critical method privileges the life of the author]. However, there are few more autobiographical books than Paradiso. That novel is a bit like the biography of a city, Havana, and a country, Cuba. Of course, in Paradiso, the biographical is recreated, used for a larger project, sublimated if you want. But all the scaffolding of the novel is deeply biographical,” he argues.

“The scarcity of biographies is a characteristic of the Cuban canon,” laments Hernández Busto, which is why he sometimes looks for neutral readers, outside the “Cuban world,” to evaluate the text. “Every time I finish writing a chapter,” he says, “I consult with friends, with people who met Lezama or lived during that time, but also with non-Cuban friends, who may have the perspective of a common reader. It is difficult to find the tone of the story while still being exhaustive.”

“If Lezama’s life is so interesting, it is because it includes two big unanswered questions,” Hernández Busto calculates: “Lezama and the Revolution, Lezama and homosexuality. Sex and politics. They are two great taboos, not only for this writer but for a culture and an era. Perhaps, after all, they are impossible to solve. But it’s worth trying.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

‘With the Years You Learn That You Don’t Have to Dissent’

The scars that the Quinquenio Gris (The Five Grey Years) and the decades that followed left on Delfin Prats weren’t easy to conceal. (Omar Sanz/OnCuba)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Xavier Carbonell, Salamanca, Spain, 29 December 2022 — The only mention of Delfín Prats in the Historia de la Literatura Cubana [History of Cuban Literature] is a piece of critical sanitation, a general cleansing. Lenguaje de mudos [Language of Mutes] (1968), explains the text, was “a book that, for short-term reasons derived from an extremely deficient cultural policy… did not circulate.” The following sentence, dedicated to the collection of poems, Para festejar el ascenso de Ícaro [Celebrating the Ascent of Icarus] (1987), is followed by a great ellipse of twenty years and, after another tasteless comment, a sudden cut, a silence.

Published in 2008 and hatched much earlier, the third volume of this Historia – La Revolución (1959-1988), heroically reads the subtitle — is the most condescending and also the most ambiguous, because it does not refer to the deceased poets of modernism, nor to the chroniclers of war or even to the old authors trampled by Castro’s memory. If Volumes I and II are the “Cuban Book of the Dead,” Volume III is the “Book of the Living” and — as in the apocalypse — only those whose names are inscribed in its pages will be saved.

Time did not allow me to meet Delfín Prats, but I did get to know his contemporaries in Santa Clara, that charming city of poet-spies, chameleon editors, portable storytellers and professional flatterers. There his name was invoked by authors who had produced, after 1970, mediocre books with some daring ideas – more sexual than political — which fell under the scythe of the parametradores* [censors].

They presented themselves with those war wounds, just before clearly drawing the border between then and now. Justice had been done to them and, if there were mistakes, they were always personal, of a barely “defective” cultural policy. If they hated someone, it was Pavón or his provincial tyrants. It was not the Revolution that rejected them, it was the men.

The rehabilitation of Delfin Prats was, however, a more delicate operation and required tact. The documentary Entre el esplendor y el caos [Between Splendor and Chaos] — it was never known if it was an independent film or a commission from the Holguín telecenter — brought to light the image of a trembling writer, of a bohemian past and Soviet days, who resorted to rum as an anesthetic and isolation as the only way to survive. continue reading

Prats commented on his nights in Havana — avoiding mentioning Reinaldo Arenas, for whom he was a friend and finally a whistleblower — and warned the journalist not to put much pressure on him: “If I see a threatening situation, I get drunk and fade into the background.”

The scars that the Five Grey Years and the following decades left on Delfin Prats were not easy to hide. How to appease that nervous subject, who said on television: “If you ban a book in your country, those who are outside want to win over the author to their cause. And then, “it is possible that for some years it was thought that I, because of those open approaches of my youth, was going to be a poet of dissent.”

Luckily, his survival instinct led him to nuance everything, and he retouched the phrases like the most experienced censor. “Over the years you learn that you don’t have to dissent.” And also: “The poet only has to take care of his words.” As for the rest, “it’s better to leave it to the politicians.”

It has shocked me to see the Prats who won — in the opinion of those who kicked, spied on and lobotomized him — the National Prize for Literature. He remained impeccable. He is an old man in a blue guayabera, more wrinkled, if possible, gray and finally still. He is different from the cursed poet of the documentary, the young man who wore a ushanka [Russian fur hat] in Moscow and, of course, that boy who claimed to be called Hiram, to hunt his lovers on La Rampa.

“It is the testimony of a wreck, the shreds of a man,” Jorge Ferrer wrote on Wednesday, when he learned of the prize that was just given to Prats and that he, cowardly, had accepted.

Delfín Prats – “alcoholic and depleted,” according to Arenas – after the exhaustive and late cleansing of his memory, will finally be able to spout that “he always had someone powerful interceding.”

*Translator’s note: *Parametrados / parametracion: From the word “parameters.” Parametracion (parameterization) is a process of establishing parameters and declaring anyone who falls outside them (the parametrados) to be what is commonly translated as “misfits” or “marginalized.” This is a process much harsher than implied by these terms in English. The process is akin to the McCarthy witch hunts and black lists and is used, for example, to purge the ranks of teachers, or even to imprison people.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Cuban Medical Staff Abroad Falls From 30,000 to 23,000 in a Year

Cuban doctors stationed in Mexico, as part of the Henry Reeve Brigade. (Minrex)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 4 January 2022 — “Internationalism is a principle that has characterized Public Health in Cuba since the beginning of the first Cuban medical collaboration, in 1963, in Algeria,” the Cuban Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday on its Twitter account. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs left a significant fact about it yesterday, much celebrated this Wednesday by the official press: “At the moment, 23,792 Cuban collaborators work in 56 countries.”

The figure, which has given such good economic returns to the coffers of the Cuban State, has only diminished in recent years. In the last 12 months, the fall has been pronounced, as in 2021 it was announced that 30,407 health workers were placed abroad, specifically to 66 countries. A year earlier, during the outbreak of the pandemic, the figure was somewhat lower, with 28,000 doctors present in 58 nations.

The data were similar in the previous two years, although the presence was more global, with more than 30,000 doctors in 2019 and about 28,000 in 2018 in up to 67 countries. However, in 2015, 2016 and 2017, the volume of health professionals serving abroad (62 and 67 countries, depending on the year) was spectacular and double the current one, with more than 50,000 people.

Accordingly, the State’s accounts are suffering. According to official data, collected in the statistical yearbooks published by the National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), 4.349 billion dollars were received in 2021 for the export of health services abroad, and a year earlier it was 3.997 billion compared to 5.382 billion in 2019 and 6.300 billion in 2018.

In 2017, the year that marks a before and after, 9.628 billion dollars were received. The figure is an average, since, according to the official press, in 2014 about 8 billion convertible pesos (CUC) were obtained from abroad, a figure that according to former Minister of Economy José Luis Rodríguez could amount to an average of 11.543 billion dollars between 2011 and 2015, which reflects the progressive decrease. continue reading

It is difficult to confirm exactly the number of professionals who leave each year and, of them, how many do so as part of the international agreements that the Island maintains with other countries, and how many are in the contingent of doctors specialized in disaster situations and serious epidemics, known as the Henry Reeve Brigade.

In the first case, the program has been running for 59 years in which, according to the authorities, more than 2 billion patients have been treated in 165 countries. In the second, the brigades began in 2005, and 13,467 professionals have been part of them, deployed by 55 nations in which emergency reinforcements were needed. In that group there would be those displaced by earthquakes or epidemics such as Ebola between 2014 and 2016, and, more recently, COVID-19.

Due to the pandemic, Cuban doctors were in more than 40 countries, some of them never visited before, such as Italy and Andorra.

The reputation of Cuban doctors in international missions has degraded to the same level as their income and staff. The wave of right-wing governments throughout Latin America after Donald Trump was elected US President only increased the damage to the official business. In a few years, billion-dollar contracts were broken with Bolivia, Ecuador and, in particular, with Brazil.

At the same time, what was previously an open secret on the Island began to be known: the exploitation of the healthcare workers. Doctors, nurses and other staff sent abroad receive a high salary in the context of the Island — an incentive that has maintained its value since the private sector began to put larger salaries in the pockets of many Cubans than the state — but they barely keep 15-20% of what the receiving governments allocate for each of them. The rest goes to the state coffers.

In addition, doctors have revealed on numerous occasions how they are prevented from relating to the native population of the countries where they are placed, how they are urged to create propaganda on social networks while being prevented from demonstrating against the government and the surveillance that the brigade chiefs — often with military rank — maintain on them. Salaries, in addition, are paid into the Island’s accounts that are confiscated in case they leave the mission, something that is increasingly common despite being penalized with eight years of prohibition of return and, potentially, with prison sentences.

Thanks to these escapes, the increasingly numerous testimonies that have been given have allowed human rights organizations to denounce the condition of these contracts as slavery. All this, as well as the multiple complaints from professional unions in the destination countries and denunciations of the way in which their governments cover national positions with foreign personnel, have generated a loss of prestige.

To this is added the high number of Cuban healthcare workers who emigrate. With the current data, the Government can fear that, as has already happened with tourism, the lucrative business of doctors will escape their control, with the consequent loss of foreign exchange.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Brazil Will Resume ‘Mais Medicos’ Without Confirming Cuba’s Participation

Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro conditioned the permanence of Cubans in Mais Medicos [More Doctors] on their receiving their total salary, among other things. (EFE)
14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 5 January 2023 — Brazil wants to resume the Mais Medicos [More Doctors] program as soon as possible, but collaboration with Cuba, at least as a priority, is up in the air. The Secretary of Primary Care of the Ministry of Health, Nésio Fernandes, said in an interview published this Wednesday by Folha de Sao Paulo that Brazilian professionals will have priority.

“The agenda to resume Mais Médicos is immediate. We want to place doctors in all Brazilian municipalities in a short period of time,” he explained. In the absence of more details, the program, on this occasion, will consist of trying to cover the demand with health workers registered in the regional councils. If they are unable to do this, they would turn to Brazilians trained abroad and foreigners.

What is not planned, he said, is to “repeat the collaboration with Cuba in the previous way, but to do it with the participation of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO, the Latin American arm of the World Health Organization).”

The Mais Medicos program was launched in 2013 by then-President Dilma Rousseff with the aim of attracting professionals to rural areas, where people suffered from a lack of medical assistance. The positions had to be filled with local and foreign personnel, for which workers from different countries registered as volunteers. continue reading

However, the Cubans were sent in a “package” within a collaboration scheme with PAHO and ended up being by far the largest group. In its five years of operation, more than 20,000 professionals from the Island treated 113.3 million Brazilian patients, according to official data.

In 2018, and already before assuming the presidency, Jair Bolsonaro presented on numerous occasions his intention to cancel the agreements with Cuba, which he considered a way to inject money into the Island regime in exchange for doctors who, at times, lacked professionalism. The then-president proposed to make direct and individualized contracts.

Faced with the imminent rupture, Cuba went ahead and announced that it was leaving the mission. At that time there were more than 8,000 Cuban doctors in the country, out of the total of 18,240 places. Of these, 2,500 decided to “desert” and stay in Brazil, and some even aspired to the new positions.

To take advantage of this offer, Brazil decreed a provisional measure, consolidated as a law, by which Cubans were incorporated into Bolsonaro’s program if they passed an exam known as revalidation. After passing it, they could apply for a license to work throughout the national territory.

The agreement with Cuba in Rousseff’s time, according to the Brazilian press, divided the remuneration, which at that time was 12,000 reais (about 2,200 dollars), into three parts: 70% went to the Cuban State, 5% to PAHO and the remaining 25% to the medical workers.

President Bolsonaro introduced a plan known as Medicos pelo Brasil [Doctors for Brazil] that, according to Nésio Fernandes, “has failed” and maintains inland municipalities and peripheral areas without assistance.

In November, the senator of the Workers’ Party (then in the opposition and now in power with Lula da Silva), Humberto Costa, told the Brazilian press that the new Mais Medicos will change with respect to its previous format. “We want a project, a program that has the principles of Mais Medicos, to ensure that these gaps in medical care can be filled. Now, our design is still going to be built, because today there are a significant number of doctors,” he said.

“There are doctors who graduated abroad and have not yet been revalidated; there are Cuban doctors who stayed in Brazil, and there are doctors who graduated and are not being absorbed by the labor market. Then, a similar program could be implemented, but with a predominance of Brazilians,” he added.

The official Cuban press has received the news with joy, although it has avoided including in the note the express mention that an agreement like the previous one is not foreseen. Perhaps because Havana wants to maintain discretion for the moment about a future lucrative agreement with the Cuban Medical Services Marketer.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Private Businesses Revive Around the U.S. Embassy in Havana

In the area, businesses that have been languishing for years due to the lack of activity at the diplomatic headquarters, are rubbing their hands. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 5 January 2023 — There were 20 minutes to go until 9 in the morning, when the U.S. Embassy opens in Havana, and there were already about 200 people lining up this Thursday, a day after the resumption of the delivery of immigrant visas in Havana. That, not counting those who were already inside and the two large rows of cars that stretched along K Street.

In the area, businesses that have been languishing for years due to the lack of activity at the diplomatic headquarters, are rubbing their hands. “It’s been five very hard years,” admits Mileydis, who with her mother runs a small bag storage business near the embassy. “Just when the consular procedures were closed, we had embarked a few months earlier on repairs to improve the premises, and the whole expense was for nothing because everything was paralyzed.”

After that time, “many cafeterias in this area, which survive from the clientele who come to their visa appointments, were closed, and in many cases the owners ended up leaving the country,” laments the 41-year-old woman, who saw her Havana coastal neighborhood languish. “Only people who come for the interview or go to the funeral home [at Calzada and K] come to this part of El Vedado, but without them there are not many customers.”

The crowd, in fact, is alien to the place. Most, even, have expressly arrived in Havana to carry out the procedures. “We are not from here,” they answer when asked about a place to find a coffee.

Street vendors proliferate in the area, although they still lack the life of yesteryear. A woman, in front of the park, sells snacks. Another man who proclaims peanuts aloud is called over from the cars for some food.

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Two police officers escort a woman who comes out every now and then with a list in her hand and calls the applicants by name and surname to form a group of between 30 or 40 people. When they are all there, she leads them inside. Many are just waiting to pick up their visa in the afternoon, while others are coming to their appointments for an interview, which the embassy began on December 29.

The faces are younger than usual. The restart of the family reunification program in May last year has rejuvenated those who are now waiting. Many retirees who took advantage of this method to meet with their children who are already established in the United States have already passed their procedures, and now the majority of people are something else. Among the lucky ones of the day, a family with a child left the building smiling, with the papers in their hands, and hugged those who were waiting for them nearby to congratulate them.

Although inside the embassy there is now a bag for certain belongings, Mileydis still experiences joy at being able to resume her task. “It still seems to me a dream that we have been able to reopen the business and also that they are reopening some places that offer coffee, breakfast and snacks,” she says. “This was a desert; even the home restaurant at the corner has had a very bad time, and it has a tremendous view from the terrace and has appeared in a lot of magazines.”

Mileydis has taken over from her mother who is now too old “to stand there holding the wallets of people who come to the embassy,” giving them a number to identify their belongings and placing them on a large shelf in the room on the ground floor. “Now I am at the front of the business, and I hope that in the coming months we will get out of the hole that we are in now.”

The place is just one more in the fragile network where there are also private accommodations for Cubans who travel from the provinces to go to their consular appointments; for the self-employed who devote themselves to filling out, for other people, the mandatory digital forms for consular procedures; and even for the parking attendants who take care of motorcycles and vehicles.

“It’s weird the things you miss; I was even nostalgic for that commotion of people. Luckily they’re back,” Mileydis says with relief.

Many of those who have reached the area around the consulate are also members of various Facebook groups in which Internet users exchange suggestions and recommendations for the consular interview. From how to dress, what are the best places to rent a room for those who come from another province, to tips on how to behave in front of the immigration officer.

Those groups have been in turmoil in recent months, and the mood that runs through many of their members is hope. “Now they are going to step on the accelerator and process all pending cases,” say some optimists, while others calculate when their interview will be from the time elapsed since another, who has already scheduled his consular appointment, presented the documents for the immigrant visa for the first time.

“No low-cut clothes, no eye-catching earrings,” advises one of the moderators of a group of parents applying for a family reunification visa. “Quiet in the line, everything must be well-organized there, not like a line to buy chicken,” says the woman who also recommends “speaking loudly and clearly” through the speaker inserted into the thick glass that separates the applicant from the immigration officer. And above all, “you have to present yourself as someone who is very enthusiastic.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Independent Yorubas Announce the ‘Increase in Social Indiscipline’ in Cuba

The Miguel Febles Padrón Independent Commission  published its Letter of the Year 2023 on Monday. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 3 January 2023 — A day after its rivals of the ruling Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba, the independent commission Miguel Febles Padrón published on Monday its Letter of the Year 2023, in which it predicts “the loss of freedom due to the increase in social indisciplines,” the arrival of favorable trade agreements and pacts between military powers.

On the positive side, they announce growth in the food sector, technological advances that will solve problems and the development of biotechnology, although they anticipate “concerns  and uncertainty as a result of future changes,” and natural disasters at sea.

“War generates instability in some, while others benefit,” adds the text in the section dedicated to events of social interest.

Letter of the Year 2023 of the Miguel Febles Padrón Independent Commission. (Facebook)

Among the recommendations, the santeros ask that disrespect in the home be avoided, that mothers improve the “behavioral training of children” and that the storage of decomposed food be avoided. On a more general level, they urge “establishing agreements in all sectors of the economy” and improving the restoration of homes. continue reading

It is the second consecutive year that the separated priests of the Yoruba Cultural Association, more related to the ruling party, publish their own letter. This fact has raised criticism among some faithful who are upset with the religious division, although there are some adherents who believe that this or the other is the “true” letter.

For the Miguel Febles Padrón commission, the ruling divinity this year is Yemayá, and as a companion, Orishaoko, who in Santería syncretizes with San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of  farmers. Meanwhile, for the Yoruba Cultural Association, Obatalá governs, and its companion is Oshún.

Rancell Montero, vice president of the association, who disseminated his Letter of the Year the day before – on Sunday – emphasized the need for a “change of mentality” in the country’s authorities and in “the base” of society in the face of “new times” of the economy.

In addition, he insisted that change is necessary for the “development of new socio-economic perspectives” of the country. “We are not yet prepared, and there are not all the necessary conditions for that change. And that goes from the country’s own management to the base,” he added during the press conference this Monday in which the essential ideas of the document were developed.

“We are going to find new elements, and this requires thinking about the new times with another type of vision, and it requires preparing all the economic infrastructure of the country that is adapted to that need for development that we have in the current conditions,” Montero continued.

Despite the differences, the two Letters coincide in their omen of natural disasters, although the Yoruba Cultural Association extended the possible causes to hurricanes and warned of great “economic and human losses.”

The priests have also anticipated an increase in violent criminal activities and robberies, and they recommend taking precautions with property.

In addition, they warned of the worrying trend towards population aging and the mass exodus recorded in the last year, which also leads to a fall in the birth rate. Likewise, they predicted an increase in alcohol consumption in the population and asked for more information about the damage associated with it.

Traditionally, the Letter of the Year of the Yoruba Cultural Association has been considered more favorable to the Cuban regime, although this year many voices say that the letter of the independents has been even more related to the Government.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The United States Plans a Program of 30,000 Monthly Visas for Migrants from Cuba and Other Countries

Some 1,000 migrants surrendered to the Border Patrol in Eagle Pass (Texas) at the beginning of December. (@BillFOXLA)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 5 January 2023 — A new U.S. immigration program will facilitate the granting of up to 30,000 visas each month to Cuban, Venezuelan, Nicaraguan and Haitian citizens. The program also provides for the deportation of migrants from those same countries who are trapped in the attempt to cross borders, Reuters reported.

Two US officials and one Mexican official reported to the agency that Joe Biden’s government will offer more details this Thursday. According to the officials, the precedent on which the program was based was a policy that Biden implemented in October for thousands of Venezuelan citizens to enter the United States legally if they had someone to answer for them — a “sponsor” — in the country. The launch date of the new program is scheduled, according to Reuters, for next week, although the Biden Administration has not officially confirmed this.

On Wednesday, Biden said he wanted to observe “what is happening” on the border with Mexico and explained that the trip would be imminent, although he was still organizing “the details.” “I’m going to give a speech tomorrow about border security, and they will hear more about it,” he said.

According to Reuters, Biden may visit the city of El Paso, Texas, which declared a “state of emergency” in December due to the avalanche of migrants arriving at the end of the year. Biden will also be in Mexico City on January 9 for a meeting with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador and the Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau. continue reading

The ease of migrants to enter the country illegally has been one of the aspects most criticized by the Republican opposition. Disorder, mistreatment and disrespect for human rights at the border have been frequently denounced by non-governmental organizations.

“A more orderly and humane system for the treatment of migrants is the president’s goal,” the three officials told Reuters. Since the end of 2022, the situation has become more complicated for the crossing of Cubans, Nicaraguans and Haitians who travel the Central American route to the southwestern border of the United States.

Several months ago, Reuters learned from an anonymous official source that revealed the agreement, by the Cuban government, to again accept deportations by air of migrants detained at the border with Mexico, although it clarified that the measure would only apply to “occasional groups.”

The Biden Administration saw the measure as a “new but limited tool to stop the number of Cubans crossing the border,” according to Reuters. At the moment of the report, Havana and Washington had resumed bilateral talks, in particular on the immigration situation, aggravated by the exodus of more than 220,000 Cubans who arrived in the United States by land in 2022.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Justice for the Expropriations by the Cuban Communist Regime Will Come in 2023

The Carnival Lines cruise ship ‘Adonia’ arriving at the port of Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Elías Amor Bravo, Economist, January 4, 2023 — The Cuban communist regime has to prepare for this year. It has just begun, and the first blow of the many that will arrive as the months go by has already fallen. I am referring to the decision of a federal judge in Florida who, based on Title III of the Helms Burton Act, has ordered four cruise lines that included Cuba in their itineraries to pay more than 400 million dollars for alleged damages to the U.S. company, Havana Docks, which had the concession to use some of the docks in the port of Havana, before the triumph of the Revolution.

Little by little, justice advances and legitimate rights are recovered. There are two initial considerations that provoke the wrath of Cuban communists. First, that history ends up providing justice for actions that trample on the rights of any individual or legal entity. And second, that the regime of Havana has to change the discourse, because it must assume that compliance with the laws, no matter how much they don’t like them, is the key to any legitimate government action.

For Havana, this judge’s decision is one more “villainy” on the list that the U.S. launches toward Cuba, in one of the hardest years in the history of the so-called “revolution.” But more will come, and even if the names are changed, it is still the same regime in power. They, and they alone, must assume the responsibility for restoring the rights trampled on by the Cuban government. continue reading

We are facing an impeccable judicial decision that establishes that the four cruise companies Carnival, MSC S.A., Royal Caribbean and Norwegian, which use the port facilities of Havana, committed “acts of trafficking” that are perfectly typified in Title III of the Helms Burton Act, so that no one can say they were deceived.

Using the port facilities that had been confiscated by the Cuban communist regime falls within that category typified in the Law. In addition, the court decision established that they carried out “forbidden tourism” practices by bringing American travelers to Cuba and using the port facilities of Havana.

And here we have the Cuban communist leaders who wake up to a reality that will end up providing justice, because it is not possible to raise a political regime with propaganda and lies announcing the arrival of justice, when at the same time, vandalism and criminal acts against property rights are committed from power, which are permanent and never expire when exercised by their legitimate owners.

What does it matter that it was not Fidel Castro, but his regime that ordered confiscations and nationalizations, if it is the same now as then? If the sovereignty of the regime at that time was to take over the rights of private property, then the time has come to restore the rights and prevent such practices from being maintained without punishment.

Removing history is not what should be done, but looking to the future knowing that outrages were committed that have to be compensated so that the economic system can continue to function. And the worst thing is to misrepresent the facts. The confiscation action of the revolution was so rapid with the economic interests of U.S. citizens in Cuba, that this country did not have time to react.

It is not true that the issue of nationalized properties would never be negotiated, nor that it prohibited the affected companies from negotiating. The social pressure and the disturbances of that time were so alarming that many managers had to escape the country on the first flight, leaving everything behind.

Then when some procedures of the commission of claims were negotiated, there were so many requests for compensation that the regime recognized only 5,911, but there were four or five times more (since many were eliminated on the fly), and many others do not even appear in the files. The processes established by the revolutionary regime were so slow and cumbersome that they immediately led to protests from those affected.

Then, to top it all off, the regime, far from recognizing its attacks and the most absolute contempt for private property of the first moments of revolutionary fervor, dictated Law 851, complementary to the Fundamental Law of 1959, which established the principle of forced expropriation due to public utility, through which it took ownership from Cubans in several phases that reached to 1968 with the so-called Revolutionary Offensive.

It should not be forgotten that all legislation confiscating property rights arose from an absolute lack of legitimacy, based only on the revolutionary decision to legislate giving the ongoing process a constituent character, when it never had it. In this illegal and illegitimate way, the private productive capital of the nation was destroyed, and the processes of compensation for the enormous amount of nationalized property were annulled or delayed over time.

To gain time, the communists devised bonds of the Republic, junk bonds devoid of solvency and certainty (they would be paid over 30 years at an interest of 2% per year, a financial mockery), issued by the regime, that were not in the interest of the expropriated parties as a means of payment.

At the same time, experts were appointed to assess the confiscated assets who, from the first moment, had no choice but to obey the communist slogans. Not even the fund created in the National Bank of Cuba, called the “Fund for the payment of expropriations of goods and companies of nationals of the United States of America,” contributed to solving a conflict that has lasted 63 years.

The reason? Very simple. That fund, non-existent at the time of its creation, would be financed every year by 25% of the foreign currency that corresponded to the sugar purchases that the U.S. made each year from Cuba. That is, the regime intended that the U.S., after the outrages committed against its nationals, would continue to pay for the sugar harvest.

It was impossible, because from the first moment, the U.S. stopped buying “Cuban white gold,” ending favorable economic relations that existed for more than 30 years. And the communists blame their northern neighbor for making the compensation for confiscations impossible with that decision. It’s too much nitpicking.

The sanction of cruise ships decreed by the Florida judge sends two messages to the Havana regime. First, the litigation has not died, and it remains present until the thousands of citizens and companies are compensated for the theft of their property rights. Sovereign justice is here to fulfill this mission. And second, that the fine transfers to potential investors of the Cuban regime with whom they have to talk and agree on any economic decision that has a future in a democratic Cuba.

And of course, as could not be otherwise, Cuban communists can only stamp their feet. In a demagogic way, the communist state press wonders how it is possible that, in the country of freedom, there exists one “forbidden tourism” and another “authorized,” and they thus question the freedom to travel. Foolish argument. The first thing they have to understand in Havana is that the governments of all countries maintain restrictions or recommendations to nationals so that they don’t travel to certain countries, and there are many reasons. It is not surprising that the U.S. wants its citizens to travel safely abroad.

The communist regime of Havana is insecure, by nature, because it does not respect the division of powers, and all decisions are political and go through the single-party regime. What security do those who travel to such a country have? In addition, for more than four decades, which Cubans could really travel abroad and where? None. It was the years of the Cold War, when the Havana regime banned the exit, and Cubans fled the prison island as best they could. It should be remembered that the freedom of departure came a few years ago, with Raúl Castro.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Cuban Government Congratulates Itself that Blackouts will Return but Only for Two or Three Hours a Day

The Minister of Energy and Mines, Vicente de la O Levy, during his visit to the Cienfuegos thermoelectric plant. (CanalCaribe)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Madrid, 4 January 2022 — Cuba will again suffer blackouts between January and April, although they will be shorter, more localized and in order to do maintenance so that in May, the National Energy System (SEN) is prepared for the start of the high consumption season with the increase in temperatures. This was reported on Tuesday in statements issued on Noticiero Estelar [Star News], by the Minister of Energy and Mines, Vicente de la O Levy.

This would close, if completed, the cycle started by Miguel Díaz-Canel on May 25, 2021, when he promised that at the end of that month “things” — in reference to the lack of electricity — would improve. A promise not fulfilled with the only exception of December and in the hope of what will happen in the coming months.

The Cuban president, who postponed the recovery of the SEN at various times, ended up setting the end of power cuts for the last month of the year and, in fact, it has been — although data from the Electric Union itself confirm that demand decreased at this time — supported in large part by the decrease in industrial activity and, above all, by the cold front and its cool temperatures, which made it possible to dispense with the air conditioners and fans that consume so much energy.

The Government is aware of this impact from the climate, even if it is difficult for it to admit it. On Tuesday, O Levy explained the maintenance program, which will be more intense in February because, according to his analysis — spoken in a slip of sincerity — “it is one of the coldest months and needs help.” Quick in self-correction, the minister added without hesitation, “although the results are not due to the weather; they are due to the work on the electric plants.”

The minister said that from January 5, and for ten days, unit 3 of the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes de Cienfuegos thermoelectric plant will leave the SEN, and when it is reincorporated, unit 4 will be removed for a large maintenance of 90 days. In addition, O Levy said that it will be necessary to stop Felton unit 1 again for small maintenance because, although it has been contributing 245 MW (of the 260 maximum) since December, uninterruptedly, the need for some new interventions has been detected. Unit 2, it should be remembered, has been under construction since it caught fire in June and is still in the disassembly phase. continue reading

“That means that several maintenances will coincide in some units, especially in February,” the minister explained. However, he argued, with apparent conviction, that the situation is far from that of last year. “We are estimating that there may be hours of impairment now, with a slight difference from the previous year, which coincide with a resuscitation of the economy,” he said before mentioning the large industries that are going to be back on track.

“That was not planned when we had 10 and 12 hours of blackout; now we are talking about two or three hours a day. And not for everyone and not in all the provinces. If there is an exit from a large unit on that day, there will be an impact,” he said.

O Levy added that this is based on simulations that they have done and which, not even in the worst case scenario, reflect the situation experienced last year. In addition, he said that the incorporation of two large engines in the Moa and Mariel plants, along with the energy from the new Turkish patanas [floating electric plants that generate 140 MW] will add to the SEN. “The incorporation of more power is one of the lines of action of our strategy,” he argued.

The minister made these statements during a visit to the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes thermoelectric plant, where he took the opportunity to talk to the workers and praise their work. “The collectives have remained united, working with excellent quality,” he told them.

Other planned interventions are the incorporation of 40 engines adjacent to the Cienfuegos Oil Refinery, which at one point had only two working, he explained. “We follow the same strategy at the Cruces fuel oil site. We have to be clear about how many engines have to enter the month of January, how many have to enter the month of February; how it is concretized with what we have in hand,” he said. The goal is that, when demand begins to rise in May, everything will be in full condition.

However, reactions on social networks to the minister’s video show that citizens, when talking about blackouts, do not trust promises at all. “Well, it smells like a blackout, a deficit, alumbrones [a word coined for the rare moments when the lights are ON] or whatever you want,” wrote one woman. “Maintenance every two months. If what they want is to begin the blackouts, they shouldn’t justify it so much,” added another.

The Russian news agency Sputnik, on Tuesday, reported that Iran had an interest in building thermoelectric power plants and cited statements by Mohammad Ali Farahnakian, advisor for international affairs of the Minister of Energy, allegedly collected by the Tasnim news agency, although its existence has not been proven.

In December, Miguel Díaz-Canel toured the largest energy-supplier countries for the Island: Algeria, Turkey, China and Russia. With them he achieved some future-looking agreements which could attempt to improve the situation of the SEN, but Cubans are not so sure, judging by comments like that of a user who ironized: “Let them try not paying Turkey and you’ll see.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Honduras Hires Cuba’s Services to ‘Rebuild’ Its Education System

Moment of the signing of the education agreement between Honduras and Cuba. (Twitter/@SECAPPH)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Olea Gallardo, Havana, 2 January 2023 — Honduras will receive 10 Cuban “high-level education professionals” to help develop a new academic curriculum design that “will completely change the educational model.” This was reported by the Government of Tegucigalpa after the signing of an agreement between the two countries, last Tuesday.

The agreement will last for three years and aims to “contribute to the design and implementation of the process to transform education from the perspective of curriculum, beginning with the establishment of cooperative relations between the two countries.”

The Secretariat of Strategic Planning of Honduras, together with the Secretariats of Education and Cultures, signed the agreement with the Ministry of Education of Cuba, announced through a promotional video published on social networks: “Our educational system will be universal, inclusive, participatory, secular and scientific. Just as it should be and not like the one that is being applied.”

In the photos, a good-looking young white woman details in just under two minutes, smiling and with exaggerated gestures, the importance of the agreement. “The system prioritizes four aspects of teaching: literacy, universal access to education, the importance of teachers and education focused on social change,” she explains, referring to education in Cuba. continue reading

Honduras, she continues, “will take as an example this system, which is one of the best in the world, and will make the exclusive system inclusive, and we will begin to raise the cultural level of the population by deepening values such as solidarity and cooperation, taking as a starting point the thought of General Francisco Morazán [founding father of Honduras, nicknamed “the Simón Bolívar of of Central America”], and thus we will eliminate social discrimination through education, and we will be equal.”

The speaker emphasizes that “the Cuban school system transmits its knowledge and achievements to 43 countries, and Honduras will now be one of them.” Although the Ministry of Education of Cuba does not currently have updated figures on its international missions, in 2013 it did make public that those countries had a total of 2,326 teachers, then the highest figure recorded, and they intended to increase it in the following years.

At that time, the largest group (423) was in Venezuela, the country with the highest presence of Cuban educators, followed by Equatorial Guinea, with 221, and Angola, with 219. By 2015, Angola had 1,400 teachers.

South Africa and El Salvador are other nations with which the Island has signed educational agreements. The export of professionals — mainly doctors but also teachers, engineers, sailors, architects and even artists — is the main source of funding for the regime, and is considered by several international organizations, such as Human Rights Watch and Prisoners Defenders, as forced labor.

In Honduras, another educational agreement with Cuba is in force, which advises on the Honduran national literacy program with the system called Yo Puedo [Yes I Can], exported to countries such as Mexico.

That agreement was not without controversy, and, in the face of complaints from national teachers, the Honduran Deputy Minister of Education, Edwin Hernández, had to clarify that Cuban teachers would not teach and that “they would only be a support.”

“What we will have is advice; that is, Cuban teachers of high technical level are going to advise us on establishing the program in the country; those who are going to teach literacy are Honduran teachers,” he said last August, while clarifying that his department had not yet “generated expenses for the consultancies.”

“The investment in the Cuban assistance, in relation to the results that this is going to bring, will be minimal,” said the official.

Both countries signed a “memo of understanding” last July, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Honduras and the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Strategic Investment of Cuba. Although the details have not yet come to light, the Honduran Foreign Secretary, Eduardo Enrique Reina, declared: “With this memorandum, we open up the possibility of moving through new paths of collaboration in science and technology, literacy programs and the exchange of scholarships, among other things.”

Tegucigalpa approached Havana again after the electoral victory of Xiomara Castro, former first lady and wife of former Honduran president Manuel Zelaya, deposed on June 28, 2009 when he promoted constitutional reforms that the law prevented him from doing.

Before her election as the first female head of state, the media and the opposition had warned that Castro’s program followed a chavista* plan of “national rebuilding,” something that, in the light of the newly signed agreement, seems to be true.

*Translator’s note: Chavista — i.e. after former Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

2022, a Fertile Year Outside the Island for Books Linked to Cuba

The year was characterized by a growing interest among international readers in Cuba, its situation and its history. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 1 January 2022 — The return of Detective Mario Conde, the adventures of Federico García Lorca in Havana and a fast-paced essay on the concentration camps on the Island marked the route of the Cuban book in 2022. 14ymedio proposes an account of the best titles from authors residing inside and outside the country, published in a year that was characterized by the growing interest of international readers in Cuba, its situation and its history.

A new crime novel by Leonardo Padura, Personas decentes [Decent People] (Tusquets) was on the best-seller lists in Spain for several weeks. The uncertainty and tension of the thaw between Cuba and the United States is the scenario to which Mario Conde, the now-aged former policeman of Padura, returns.

The same Catalan publishing house launched this December Cómo conocí al sembrador de árboles [How Met the Tree Planter], a collection of stories in which Abilio Estévez offers the “testimony of a failure.” The book, according to its editors, aims to “respond to the secret of a country in danger of extinction.”

The effort to recount the Island also encourages the characters of Retratos en la orilla [Portraits on the Shore] (Artistas Martínez), by Daenerys Machado Vento, named as one of the best young storytellers in Spanish by Granta magazine. The pieces of this volume deal with reconstructing the stories of a generation – that of those born in the 80s – dispersed in exile or stuck in the country. continue reading

The panorama of the essay has been more fruitful than that of any other genre, undoubtedly led by the reissue of the formidable Mito y revuelta [Myth and Revolt ] (Turner), by Ernesto Hernández Busto. Through nine portraits of such controversial authors as Ezra Pound, Vasili Rozánov and Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Hernández Busto enters the territory of “reactionary” writers, considered cursed or controversial by critics.

Although published in 2021, this year readers were finally able to access El árbol de las revoluciones [The Tree of Revolutions](Turner), an essay by Rafael Rojas on the cartography of Latin American revolts and the influence of the Mexican and Cuban revolutions on the region.

In El cuerpo nunca olvida [The Body Never Forgets] (Rialta), the killer essayist Abel Sierra meticulously exposes the horror of the Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) and its imprint on Cuban history. It is a “detained investigation” – according to Rojas – of one of the biggest “national traumas” after 1959.

Why didn’t Severo Sarduy return to Cuba? This is the question posed by researcher Oneyda González in Severo secreto [Secret Severo] (Rialta), a kind of choral biography of this canonical author that reproduces the interviews made for the documentary of the same name released in 2016.

Eros y política (debajo de la mesaEros and Politics [Under the Table], by Juan Abreu, passes the knife over the political and journalistic fauna of Spain, the country where he lives in exile, with devastating vignettes of figures such as José María Aznar, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, Pablo Echenique and Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo. Abreu’s prose dilutes the border between the public and the private, and enriches the biography of the portrayed with his fulminating style. Hilarious and profound is also Nuestra hambre en La Habana [Our Hunger in Havana], where Enrique del Risco – in the words of Yoani Sánchez – “crudely portrays the national obsession around the dinner plate and casseroles.”

Living in Rome since his youth, maestro Alvar González-Palacios, a rara avis in Cuban essays about art, published this year Sólo sombras [Just Shadows] (Elba), a group of biographical sketches of characters as disparate as Borges, Karen Blixen, Cavafis and María Félix.

The autobiography of academician Roberto González Echevarría, Memorias del archivo [Memories from the Archive] (Renacimiento), addresses the life trajectory of this Cuban professor at Yale University and his relationship with intellectuals such as Alejo Carpentier, Severo Sarduy and Harold Bloom.

The actor Actor Alexis Valdés published, through Vintage Publishing, El miedo nos hizo fuertes [Fear Made us Strong], about his hard childhood in Havana and the personal reasons for his career.

The thirty years of the publication of Antes que anochezca [Before Night Falls] (Tusquets), by Reinaldo Arenas, motivated the launch of a commemorative edition – with a new cover and revised text – of one of the most moving books in Cuban literature.

Todo Paradiso [All Paradise], a volume that brings together the novels Paradiso and Oppiano Licario, by José Lezama Lima, with a foreword by José Prats Sariol, is from Verbum, one of the large publishing companies of this year. The book fulfills the Lezamian project of merging both stories into parts of the same story.

That same publishing house, based in Madrid, brings together Toda la poesía (1994-2021) [All the Poetry] by the novelist Pedro Juan Gutiérrez, an undoubtedly indispensable text as a complement to the narrative work of the matancero writer.

During the Guadalajara Book Fair, Anagrama announced that a Cuban, Carlos Manuel Álvarez, had won its Chronicle Award with the book Los intrusos, [The Intruders], a “mixture of reportage, testimony, profile and memory” about the “long encampment” of the San Isidro Movement in 2020.

Among the foreign writers who dealt with the Cuban theme this year, it is worth highlighting the Barcelona native Victor Amela, author of Si yo me pierdo [If I Get Lost] (Destino), a novel about the days he spent on Federico García Lorca Island. The author of Poeta en Nueva York [Poet in New York] spent three months in Cuba in 1930, which he defined as “the happiest of my life.” Esclava de la libertad [Slave of Freedom] (Grijalbo), a historical novel by Idelfonso Falcones, reflects on the slave phenomenon of the nineteenth century in Cuba and its return in later times.

Cuban Privilege (Cambridge University Press), On U.S. Foreign Policy towards the Island, by academic Susan Eckstein, motivated a heated controversy during her presentation in Miami, in addition to several protests in the vicinity of the International University of Florida, where it was debated by politician Orlando Gutiérrez-Boronat.

The academic reflection in the United States about the Island deserved the Pulitzer Prize for Ada Ferrer, with Cuba: An American History, which also addresses the link between the two countries from their founding to the successive thaws between Havana and Washington.

About the essay Locura nuclear: la crisis de los misiles en Cuba [Nuclear Madness: the Missile Crisis in Cuba] (Turner), by historian Serhii Plokhy, (born in Russia, grew up in Ukraine and now lives in the United States), Cuban Jorge Ferrer has written that it is not only “the most comprehensive study” of the warlike tension between Cuba, the United States and the Soviet Union in 1962, but a kind of instruction manual  about “how to negotiate on the edge of the cliff.”

Knowing Russia better, the roots of its conflict with Ukraine and its relationship with the Island has led to numerous approaches to the culture of that country. Jorge Ferrer himself translated this year, for the Acantilado publishing house, the exceptional novel En memoria de la memoria [In Memory of Memory],by the writer María Stepánova, which explores “the trail of a life, the repository of a century of existence in Russia.”

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Grand Master of the Freemasons of Cuba Denounces a ‘Coup d’état’ of Cuban Counterintelligence

Francisco Javier Alfonso Vidal, second on the left, along with José Ramón Viñas Alonso, first on the right, and two other master masons, at an event in Veracruz, Mexico. (Facebook/José Ramón Viñas)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 January 2023 — Master Freemason Francisco Javier Alfonso Vidal, leader until Tuesday of the Grand Lodge of Cuba, reported in a public letter the reasons that led him to quit his position and leave the country. Signed in the “Greater East” of the United States, a country where he has applied for asylum with his wife, and addressed to his temporary substitute, Armando Guerra Lozano, the letter denounces the infiltration of State Security into the Cuban Masonic leadership and his intention, for several months, to remove himself from his post.

On Tuesday, the Grand Lodge of Cuba published a circular in which it explained that Alfonso Vidal had not returned from Mexico, where he was a guest of the Freemasons of Veracruz, and described his escape as an “unexpected and masonically regrettable event.”

From the United States, the former Grand Master defends himself from those who accuse him of “abandoning his mission” and recalls that he was elected as a representative of the Cuban Freemasonry in an “unquestionable” ceremony from the legal point of view, in addition to pointing out that at no time did he violate the Masonic principles of succession, as say the Masons infiltrated by State Security, he alleges. He clarifies that he is leaving because of the impossibility of fulfilling his duty, as defined by the Masonic statutes, with the “total transparency, autonomy and necessary freedom.”

The position of Grand Master, assumed at the moment by Armando Guerra Lozano — in accordance with Decree 634, the last one signed by Alfonso Vidal — carries the responsibility of remaining in the position until the celebration of a partial election during an extraordinary session of the Masonic directors. continue reading

However, says Alfonso Vidal, there is a faction related to the Government of Havana within the Grand Lodge, managed by counterintelligence officers, which intends to place in office — in violation of the legislation, he says — a candidate favorable to the regime.

“I am aware that my dismissal from office was being orchestrated through an Extraordinary Session in order to create a fictitious circumstance for Deputy Grand Master H. Fernando González García to illegally occupy the position,” Alfonso Vidal denounced in his letter.

González García, according to the Grand Lodge circular, was also abroad, but will return, they say, on January 5. The former Grand Master suspects that his return is motivated by that goal.

Alfonso Vidal considers that the special circular of the institution — initialed, in fact, by his substitute — was out of place and manifests a “total contempt for the Masonic Legislation,” in addition to manipulating his decision not to return to Cuba and labeling his attitude as “bad.” To say, moreover, that they had not communicated with him in the last two weeks is not a “coherent motivation” to assume his resignation without a document issued by the former Grand Master himself.

“What was the ’serious abandonment of the position and functions entrusted’ if all witnesses can attest that I participated in every day of work in our friendly power [the Mexican lodge]? They don’t have an honest answer, I know,” he says.

The former leader of the Freemasons questions those who try to effect what, in his opinion, is a “coup d’état,” with the intervention of counterintelligence agents of the regime “who claim to be Freemasons.” “Everyone and each of those who find themselves signing, looking for support, trying to win the support of representatives, lodges, opinion leaders, who spent days trying to send me an intimidating message, all are collaborators and perpetrators of the crime of treason to Freemasonry and will pay,” he denounced in his letter.

The extensive document also describes in great detail the “attacks” on Cuban Freemasonry in recent months, and relates them to the active work of several of its members in denouncing government repression during the protests of July 11, 2021 and those of the summer of 2022.

He mentions, for example, the open letter to Díaz-Canel sent by Master José Ramón Viñas Alonso, in which he offered “his opinion on the call for confrontation between Cubans that made everything worse,” earning him pressure from State Security to make a retraction.

Another case is that of his predecessor in the position of Grand Master, Ernesto Zamora, who refused to attend a meeting with Díaz-Canel from which they intended to exclude José Ramón Viñas Alonso, whom the authorities had “regulated*” shortly before, preventing him from traveling to the United States.

And finally, in December 2021, Alfonso Vidal recalls, the regime considered intolerable the intervention of Grand Speaker Luis Steve Ocaña in which he invited Cuban Freemasons to get involved in politics.

“When one is elected to Grand Master it’s not all that one imagines it to be, with the pressure that it represents to be in charge of the fraternal destiny of more than twenty thousand brothers. Obstacles appear that one has to overcome,” Alfonso Vidal said in defense.

“The fact that the Sovereign Grand Commander [José Ramón Viñas Alonso] became a nuisance for the Cuban Government and the organs of repression, and seeing that he received in many cases expressions of support that were not only Masonic but also from outside the order, State Security went on a mission to take him out of the middle,” he explained.

The short-term intention, says Alfonso Vidal, was to force him, as Grand Master, to expel Viñas Alonso from the order “under some pretext.” He also said that he had mentioned this situation to Viñas Alonso on a trip they made together abroad — once their ban was lifted — “because I did not consider it safe to do so inside Cuba.”

Faced with his refusal to accede to the pressures of counterintelligence — an individual who identified himself as Poll made more than 70 intimidating phone calls in one day — Alfonso Vidal made the decision not to go out without company. In addition, he received several police summonses, in which an officer told him that for more than 40 years State Security has been working on Cuban Freemasonry with its infiltrators.

Fernando González García, the current Deputy Grand Master who will return to Cuba on January 5 “running to comply with orders” is one of those agents, in the opinion of the former dignitary. Other members of the Masonic leadership are part of the “conspiracy” against José Ramón Viñas Alonso, he says: Ernesto Zamora, whom he accuses of having apologized to the Communist Party for his opposition to Díaz-Canel, and the current treasurer of the Great Lodge, Ernesto Navarrete, who “is a policeman,” and who he suggests is managing the Masonic funds in an irregular way.

Taking advantage of a business trip to a lodge in Veracruz, he and his wife decided to request political asylum in the United States, alleging that they have suffered systematic harassment by State Security in its “masonic hunt.” His son, however, remains in Cuba. For his part, says Alfonso Vidal, José Ramón Viñas Alonso — the main objective of counterintelligence — is “resisting harassment.”

*Translator’s note: “Regulated,” as the term is used by the government, means forbidden to leave the country.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Leader of the Cuban Freemasons Escapes in Mexico, Reports the Grand Lodge

Francisco Javier Alfonso Vidal was elected to the position in March 2022. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 January 2023 — The Grand Lodge of Cuba reported on Monday that Grand Master Francisco Javier Alfonso Vidal did not return to Cuba from Mexico after an institutional trip he made in the company of his wife. The leader of the Cuban Freemasons had received an invitation from the Grand Lodge of Veracruz and was to return to the Island on December 21, but “abandoned his mission,” according to a special circular from the Cuban Masonic board.

Before embarking on the trip to Mexico, Alfonso Vidal temporarily delegated his functions as Grand Master in Armando Guerra Lozano, Grand Master of Ceremonies, in order to “be absent from the national territory” at the invitation of Mexican Freemasons.

“During the activities related to his trip, communication with the elected Grand Master was lost,” the statement stays. “Since that moment, attempts to communicate with the Brother have been unsuccessful, which denotes a tacit resignation from his position, also constituting a serious total abandonment of his position and entrusted functions.”

The leadership assures that it does not know the current whereabouts of Alfonso Vidal and his wife, and describes the fact as “unexpected and masonically regrettable,” while guaranteeing that it will not have a negative impact on the work of the Grand Lodge of Cuba, which has, they affirm, “the ability and determination to continue our work and for which we know of the the willingness of all Cuban Freemasons.” continue reading

Another high-ranking Masonic dignitary, Deputy Grand Master Fernando González García, was abroad when he heard of Alfonso Vidal’s escape. The statement says that he “has announced his return” for January 5.

The letter, signed by the acting Grand Master Armando Guerra Lozano, and by Grand Secretary Carlos Alberto Pírez Benítez, has circulated on several digital platforms linked to Freemasonry in Cuba.

Francisco Javier Alfonso Vidal had been elected Grand Master of the Great Cuban Lodge in March 2022 and was already serving as treasurer of the institution. His election, carried out by the Masonic Parliament, was held after several postponements due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The U.S. Embassy in Cuba Resumes the Consular Services Suspended Since 2017

Havana, where migration has played a central role. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio/EFE, Havana, 4 January 2022 — The U.S. embassy in Cuba resumed its consular services for all categories of immigrant visas on Wednesday after a pause of more than five years, during the Donald Trump Administration in the White House.

Interviews for those interested in obtaining a visa for the United State began on December 29.

The announcement was made at the beginning of November, after a meeting in the Cuban capital that included the Deputy Secretary of State for Consular Affairs, Rena Bitter, the director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ur Mendoza Jaddou, and the Cuban Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carlos Fernández de Cossío.

Months earlier, Washington explained that visas provide the opportunity for eligible people to apply for a “safe and orderly” migration route.

The resumption of operations comes after a few months of timid rapprochements between Washington and Havana, in which migration has played a central role. continue reading

In addition, it has coincided with the largest exodus of Cubans to the northern country in recent history. In the last twelve months, 283,189 Island nationals have been arrested crossing the border between Mexico and the United States; on average, more than 775 per day.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Coast Guard has arrested more than 6,182 Cubans on the coast of Florida from October 1, 2021 until September 30, 2022, when the last fiscal year ended.

The U.S. government issued 23,966 visas to Cubans during that period. Washington complied for the first time since 2017 with the 1994 bilateral immigration agreement, which stipulates the delivery of a minimum of 20,000 visas per year to the citizens of the Island.

Before the resumption at the diplomatic headquarters in Havana, Cubans were forced to carry out immigration procedures in Guyana, which meant an extra economic burden that not many could afford, in addition to facing several irregularities.

At the same time, the U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services is increasing its staff in Havana to “effectively and efficiently” process cases and conduct interviews.

On September 1, the U.S. embassy in Cuba began processing pending applications for the Cuban Family Reunification Parole Program, suspended since 2017.

The hiatus at the embassy originated after unexplained health problems of American personnel were detected in the legation.

President Trump accused the Cuban government of being responsible for “acoustic attacks” on diplomatic workers on the Island, which he used as a pretext to break the “thaw” that had been driven by his predecessor, Barack Obama (2009-2017) and former Cuban President, Raúl Castro.

Havana, for its part, denied any responsibility in the case and launched a commission of experts that did not find scientific or criminal evidence linking the symptoms with possible sonic attacks, microwaves or other deliberate action.

Over the months, more than 200 U.S. diplomats and officials stationed in half a dozen countries — from Cuba to China, through Austria, Germany and Colombia — reported similar symptoms. Some could not continue exercising their functions.

In January of last year, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency ruled out that the incidents described were the result of a campaign by an enemy country, as was speculated.

Translated by Regina Anavy

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.