Under a Strong Police Operation, Cubans Venerate the ‘Patroness of the Incarcerated’

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Diego Rodríguez, Havana, 24 September 2021 — Surrounded by metal fencing to control entry and with a strong police operation reinforced at each corner, this is how the Church of La Merced in Old Havana looked on Friday. Despite the rigors of the pandemic and the rain, hundreds of devotees came to this temple to place a candle before the “Patroness of the Incarcerated.”

Located in the neighborhood of San Isidro, the church is frequented by both the Catholic faithful and those who worship the greater orisha Obbatalá, with whom Our Lady of Mercy is syncretized in Santería. Dressed in white, the faithful arrived early on September 24 to pray specifically for those locked up in prisons.

The location of the church could not be more perfect. San Isidro has been the center of Cuban rebellion since Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and other activists founded the Movement that bears this neighborhood’s name and that has led loud, rebellious acts. Today, the artist is in prison, as are other members of the group, and the State Security closely monitors the area.

For many Havanans, this impoverished section of the Cuban capital is considered the site where the spark that fueled the popular protests of July 11th started. Although the first demonstrations took place in San Antonio de los Baños, Artemisa, civil disobedience had begun to take shape much earlier, in a humble house on 955 Damas Street near the Church of La Merced. continue reading

San Isidro has been the center of Cuban rebellion since Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and other activists founded the Movement that bears this neighborhood’s name and that has led loud, rebellious acts

San Isidro is also a neighborhood where a thin line stands between any young person and prison. Poor, largely dedicated to the illegal market, and with fewer economic opportunities than those in other more prosperous municipalities, many neighborhood families have one or more relatives who have been convicted by a court.

In a country with more than 90,000 incarcerated people, this is not unusual; in proportion to its population, Cuba has the largest number of prisoners in the world. Increasingly worrisome, the regime has unleashed massive arrests and judicial prosecutions following the demonstrations calling for “Freedom” and the end of the current system.

Hence, so many have come today to the altar of the patroness who “liberates, consoles and protects” all who are deprived of their freedom, on this her first Feast Day after the events of July. This is also why the police appeared so nervous around the Church and why the plainclothes officers patrolling the building looked questioningly at anyone who approached.

Along Cuba Street, the fencing, patrol cars and police motorcycles blocked access to vehicles from two blocks away on either side of the Church, although these areas were open to pedestrian traffic. “They are there watching because they know that during these religious events anything can happen, such as requesting freedom for the prisoners and more so now,” a young man commented to this newspaper.

Along Cuba Street, the fencing, patrol cars and police motorcycles blocked access to vehicles from two blocks away on either side of the Church

After crossing the police fence, visitors were required to form a line to place flowers and candles on a railing at the chapel. Church staff then arranged the offerings closer to Our Lady of Mercy. It was possible to enter a second queue to get closer to the statue but “without taking photos”, clarified a young man to whomever he saw with the mobile phone in hand.

In any case, it was of little use to try to send an image or a video as the internet connection barely worked. “As soon as I arrived, everything got very slow, I couldn’t even send audio,” commented a young man who was waiting to leave his flowers. “I don’t know if it’s because it’s cloudy or because they have deliberately slowed it down in this area, in case something happens,” he added.

Along Cuba Street, the fencing, patrol cars and police motorcycles blocked access to vehicles from two blocks away on either side of the Church (14ymedio)

For those who could not reach the chapel, there were always gestures of remembrance and veneration in their own homes and on social media networks, which this Friday were filled with photos of candles, white clothing, and cotton candy or rice pudding, foods traditionally offered to the African orisha. Calls for amnesty for political prisoners also abounded.

One of those who spoke out for the incarcerated was the singer Haydée Milanés: “Today, on the day of the Mercy, Obbatalá, I ask for peace for all Cubans. I also ask for freedom for political prisoners. Incarceration, persecution, repression, censorship, will never be the way. May Obbatalá’s blessing reach us all.”

Text of Tweet: Surrounded by metal fencing to control entry and with a strong police operation redoubled in each corner, this is how the Church of La Merced in Old Havana looked on Friday. Hundreds of devotees came to this temple to place a candle before the “Patroness of the Incarcerated”

Translated by: Silvia Suárez

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.

Cuba: When They Hijacked the Applause

Blackout in Havana, where government buildings are the only ones that remain illuminated. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 24 September 2021 — The blackout on Tuesday night was brief, but as soon as it got dark a man’s voice was heard shouting, “Why don’t you clap now?”

He was speaking directly to neighbors who at nine o’clock “honor” the doctors engaged in the fight against the pandemic. To clarify, in this neighborhood these are the only neighbors who, in addition to clapping forcefully, shout, howl and hit metal objects, as if instead of entertaining the health workers they were provoking an enemy.

In addition to clapping forcefully, they shout, howl and hit metal objects, as if instead of entertaining the health personnel they were provoking an enemy

Twenty-seven years ago, when I was writing a column titled Letters from Havana in the German weekly Wochenpost, I published an article for foreigners, explaining the meaning of a blackout. At the time, I did not consider myself an independent journalist, but as a freelancer, which seemed more elegant to me.

I began my dissertation by narrating the joy that erupted in any neighborhood the moment the lights come on, forgetting about people trapped in elevators, interrupted television shows whose viewers had not been able to see the end of the day’s episode of their favorite novela, students who could not do their homework and, of course, people who were unable to cook because their cooking appliances were electric.

On one occasion I recounted an incident involving impatient neighbors who threw bottles and garbage from their balconies at midnight because the electricity had not been restored according to schedule. To conclude, I added, continue reading

“But that happens very rarely.  Almost never. What always does happen is the chorus of relief, perfectly coordinated like a gigantic orchestra, with which the people of Havana console themselves when the lights come on.”

Today, that text, which would be taken as confrontational from the official angle, seems to me light, complacent, folkloric.

The same view of Havana, in this case illuminated. (14ymedio)

I am not saying that people aren’t happy when the electrons resume their travel through conductors, that is, when the lights return. Of course they are, but the enthusiasm is not the same and neither is the anger manifested the moment the blackout arrives.

The chauvinistic vanity that convinced us that we are part of the “civilized world” also made us believe that we were not to be compared with the 780 million people on this planet who currently live without electricity.

Those are “the others,” we live in the Northern Hemisphere, also in the Western one.  As if that were not enough, here we created a socialist revolution with our sight set on that Leninist definition that “communism is the power of the Soviets plus electricity.” According to statistics, our access to electricity is 99.8%, but they fail to add the adjective “guaranteed” to the noun “access.”

The last one was short and partial. The houses in the neighborhood were dark, but in government buildings, generators were activated immediately. In the Plaza de la Revolución the lights remained on

From our balcony on the 14th floor you can appreciate the magnitude of the blackouts. The houses in the neighborhood were dark, but in government buildings, generators were activated immediately. In the Plaza de la Revolución the lights remained on.

The forecasts are not favorable. Power plants suffer from lack of maintenance and technological obsolescence; the fuel that powers them threatens to become more scarce every day and even the cables show signs of fatigue.

The irritation caused by these blackouts undermines citizen enthusiasm. Furthermore, it even diminishes the desire to applaud the sacrifice of doctors, because among other things, in a subtle but evident way, the propaganda has politicized this tribute, extending it to those responsible for the darkness.

Translated by: Silvia Suárez
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Cuban Organizers of the Peaceful Marches on November 20th (20N) Expect 8,000 People in Holguin and Santa Clara

Poster announcing the marches planned for November 20th

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 23September 2021 —  This Thursday in Villa Clara, about twenty citizens joined the Archipelago collective in its call to peacefully demonstrate on 20N. In addition, the thirty signatories joined the initiative this Wednesday in Holguín.

As playwright Yunior García did in Havana, citizens from Villa Clara and Holguín submitted a document notifying local authorities of their intention to march peacefully “to demand that all rights of all Cubans be respected.”

In the text they also request “the liberation of political prisoners” and that a resolution to differences in their ways of thinking be achieved through “democratic and peaceful means.”

As detailed in their requests, shared on the Archipelago’s social networks, in Holguín the march would last about three hours and would begin at two in the afternoon. Around 5,000 people would participate, marching from Loma de la Cruz to the city’s statue of José Martí. In Villa Clara, the demonstration would go from the Train Station – where, they say, “José Martí will be offered flowers at his monument” – to Loma del Capiro, passing by the church of Carmen. Some 3,000 people would participate. continue reading

In their requests they also point out that they expect “the right of the press–national and international, official or independent–to inform adequately and truthfully” be respected.

“We request that authorities guarantee: the full exercise of our human and constitutional rights; the protection of protesters against those who try to prevent peaceful demonstrations; and the normal telecommunications service during the march,” write the signatories of both texts reiterating that there is “no law that prohibits, regulates or limits the full exercise” of this type of activity on the island.

In their requests they also point out that they expect “the right of the press–national and international, official or independent–to adequately and truthfully report on the organization and development of the march.”

The group insists that the demonstration is taking place “after extensive and in-depth discussions with various members of civil society” and after the Government’s decision to open the country to international tourism on November 15. It clarifies that, therefore, the planned security measures “promote the peaceful and civic nature of the march, with absolute adherence to public order and the health measures imposed by the covid-19 pandemic.”

By sharing the documents on their social networks, they announced that in the coming days “citizens of the entire country will present similar documents to the authorities of their locality.”

The initiative to march on 20N began in Havana last Tuesday when a group of artists and intellectuals — known as Archipelago — who participated in the spontaneous demonstrations on July 11 (11J), requested authorization for the peaceful protest. The document was delivered to the capital government and in addition to García Aguilera, was also signed by filmmaker Raúl Prado Rodríguez, actor Reinier Díaz Vega and editor Miryorly García Prieto, among others.

Hours after the plans for the 20N march were made public, the regime called for a new, world-wide caravan to “demand the end of the US blockade” against Cuba.

Officialdom reacted quickly. This Wednesday, hours after the 20N march was announced, the regime called for a new, world-wide caravan to “demand the end of the US blockade” against Cuba and “the lifting of the sanctions that punish the Cuban people.”

As reported to the official press by the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the Peoples, the caravan is promoted by Cuban émigré Carlos Lazo. Lazo leads the Puentes de Amor (Bridges of Love) initiative, and recently traveled to the island from the United States, where he resides, to meet with Miguel Díaz-Canel.

The Government also mobilized State Security to defame Yunior García Aguilera through a letter on its Facebook page “Razones de Cuba” in which they call the playwright “egocentric,” “hypocritical,” “lacking national values,” “an instrument of the enemy” and “ungrateful for all the projects “the Revolution” that “he wishes to overthrow” has subsidized and awarded him.

García Aguilera, a native of Holguín and a resident of the Cuban capital, was one of the 30 artists who, on November 27 following a spontaneous demonstration in front of the Ministry of Culture, participated in the meeting with Vice Minister Fernando Rojas.

The playwright has been very critical of the regime’s repression on social media since July 11, showing solidarity with those detained after the protests. “How similar are all dictatorships! It doesn’t matter with which color they are presented to us or with which hand they give the orders!” wrote the playwright who was also arrested that Sunday along with other creators in front of the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television.

After being released, he made public his resignation as a member of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (Uneac) by stating that he could not “continue to belong to an organization that turns its back on a considerable part of the people and chooses to show obedience to an abusive power of attorney. ”

As a result of July 11, García Aguilera met with singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez after urging him through an “open letter to the owner of a lost unicorn.” Following the meeting, according to the playwright, Rodríguez promised to “advocate for the release of all the prisoners who participated in the protests,” something characterized by the singer-songwriter himself in a later writing, where he referred to the “non-violent.”

Translated by Silvia Suárez

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 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.