Colombian Navy Rescues More Than a Dozen Cubans on the Caribbean Sea

The group of immigrants rescued by the Colombian Navy. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14YMEDIO, Miami | July 23, 2018 – The Colombian Navy rescued 21 “undocumented” immigrants off the coast of the San Andrés archipelago, more than 400 miles from Colombia’s Atlantic shoreline, according to a statement issued by that country’s military.

Thirteen of the immigrants were Cuban nationals, while the other eight were Ecuadorians.

“The undocumented immigrants were being transported by two Colombian nationals aboard a motorboat named ‘Black Moon’ traveling in the area south of the island of San Andres,” the authorities said. continue reading

According to the statement, the migrants received medical attention at a military health facility when they reached land.

The migrants were turned over to Colombian Immigration, while the alleged traffickers were handed over to the country’s Attorney General, and the boat in which they were being transported was confiscated.

The border guards at San Andrés Station have rescued 38 undocumented migrants this year and captured five people allegedly linked to immigrant trafficking.

The Colombian coast is part of the route undertaken by thousands of Cubans, Haitians, and Africans who every year try to reach the southern border of the United States. Although the “wet foot, dry foot” policy was repealed by former President Barack Obama, many Cubans continue to arrive on U.S. soil hoping to get political asylum.

Two weeks ago, 62 emigrants from Bangladesh, Brazil, Cuba, Eritrea, and India were thrown into the waters of the Colombian Caribbean by traffickers who were transporting them on a boat to Central America. A Cuban died on the dangerous crossing, authorities said.

Translated by Tomás A.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

GPS Use in Cuba Increases Despite its Prohibition

GPS has never been sold in Cuban stores, and its importation has been strictly regulated on the Island. (gpsetravelguides)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernández, Havana, July 16, 2018 – The screen stands out in the middle of the dilapidated communal taxi. A small arrow marks the path the vehicle is following through the crowded streets of Camagüey and the driver reassures the passengers. “I don’t know where it is, but this device tells me,” he explains and caresses the TomTom GPS, which has never been sold in Cuban markets and whose importation is tightly regulated on the island

Along with USB drives, external hard drives, smart phones, and Wi-Fi antennas, satellite geolocation devices for land or sea navigation have become common in Cuba. Among motorists, cyclists, or rafters, the desire to know exactly where one is has made Satellite Positioning Systems (GPS) a highly appreciated tool.

But the Customs General of the Republic warns that the importation of these devices requires prior permission from the National Office of Hydrography and Geodetics. Obtaining authorization for a private person is almost impossible. “If you belong to a company or are a foreign resident you must bring a letter explaining why you need a GPS,” an agency employee explained via telephone. continue reading

“We don’t give that permission unless the person first proves that it will be used in a professional task endorsed by some institution or a duly accredited project,” the official said. The law provides for confiscation of the device and a fine for those possessing a GPS “that entered the country without permission or was purchased without appropriate papers,” she added.

The official wasn’t able to confirm to this journal whether the restrictions on  importation and use are due to security issues. “I can’t go into that in detail,” she said. A retired Interior Ministry official anonymously confirmed to 14ymedio that “those devices were banned at a time when it was feared that people would transmit detailed locations of military sites or houses of leaders of the Revolution.”

“I sell a Garmin GPS with all the maps of Cuba for 200 CUC,” says an ad on a popular classifieds website. A phone call is sufficient to flesh out the details. “This is the latest on the market and anyone who wants to provide taxi service professionally has to invest and buy a GPS,” says the seller. But he explains that “you won’t have any import papers, so if the police stop you, hide it.”

Among those seeking to exit the Island illegally, satellite positioning devices are almost as precious as the boat, motor, or rehydration salts that they tenaciously search for in order to leave the country. “A GPS makes the difference between being lost at sea or reaching a safe harbor,” says Víctor Alejandro Ruíz, a Cuban living in Tampa who managed to reach the U.S. on his sixth attempt to cross the Straits of Florida.

“I made it after selling all my belongings and buying a GPS. Before I always had problems,” he recalls now, three years after touching the U.S. coast when the wet foot/dry foot policy was still in effect. “I didn’t have to pay anything to the owners of the raft to let me join the expedition, because my payment was bringing the GPS.”

After arriving in the US, Ruiz became even more of a “GPS fanatic” for vehicles, he confesses, and managed to send one to the cousin he left behind in Cuba. “I sent it via a “mule” and although Customs found it, the lady gave them a few dollars more and they let it go,” he says. “Now my cousin is using his Garmin GPS and that has solved a ton of problems.”

Ruíz’s relative recently updated all the road maps in the device through another informal-market trader who “for 20 convertible pesos included everything, even the potholes in the street,” jokes the rafter. “Even though they are tightly controlled, just as with the parabolic antennas, you can’t buy them in stores or legally bring them into the country, but everyone has seen one.”

Foreign diplomats based on the Island and foreign media correspondents, who are authorized to import them, have found a lucrative business in reselling these devices to nationals. At least three drivers with TomTom or Garmin GPS confirmed to this journal that they had bought them from foreigners who finished their stay in Cuba.

Recently the news outlet Cubanet told the story of Shannon Rose Riley, an academic from the Humanities Department of San Jose State University in California, who visited Santiago de Cuba on the dates of the Fiesta de Fuego. The American brought a positioning device that works through the SPOT satellite system and that hikers and travelers usually buy when they go to remote places.

State Security subjected her to an intense interrogation and threatened to jail her if it was determined that she was using coordinates emitted by the device to send information to the government of her country.

In December 2009 Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba while working as a contractor for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The main accusation against him was that he had introduced satellite telecommunications devices that he delivered to the Jewish community of the Island. Gross was sentenced to 15 years and released in 2014, after the announcement of the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana.

The banning of these devices no longer makes much sense since many smartphones recently introduced to the market include positioning tools. Even without the ability to communicate with a satellite, some of these phones manage to tell the user where they are thanks to “telephone signal triangulation.”

“A mobile phone without GPS can provide location information,” confirms Yipsi Gómez, a computer graduate who works in a computer and cell-phone repair shop in the Cerro neighborhood in Havana. “The location can be obtained through the cell towers, by determining the intensity or time that radio signals are delayed between one and the other,” she says.

“When we have the data signal turned on, and even if we don’t have access to the internet, we can see in the maps on our mobile phones the point where we are, even if it’s not as accurate as when we receive the information from a satellite,” explains the young woman. “Most people who use a positioning system in Cuba do it that way, but it works poorly in areas with little mobile coverage.”

“Every day there are more devices that include a satellite locator, and they are continually getting smaller,” adds the computer expert, while showing her Garmin Forerunner sports watch with GPS.

Translated by Tomás A.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

“We’ve Been Investigating Ivan Garcia for Five Years” / Iván García

Ivan Garcia (l.) and Raul Rivero (r.) in a Miami cafeteria on September 17, 2016

Iván García Quintero, Havana, 19 March 2017 — When the summons arrived for an interview with a police official, the girl’s puzzled family thought it was a mistake.

Let’s call them Kenia, Pedro, and Camila. They are neighbors of mine and prefer to remain anonymous.

Kenia was summoned to a police station on Finlay street, in the Sevillano District, near the State Security barracks known as Villa Marista.

“When I arrived, the man started harassing and threatening me, saying that I hung around with foreigners. Then he wanted to get information about Ivan García, ’a known counterrevolutionary that we’ve been investigating for five years.’ He wanted to know details about his private life, about where he got the money to repair his house. He also asked my opinion about his work as an independent journalist. At one point he described him as a ’terrorist’ and said that both he and his mother were ’conspirators.’ continue reading

“I was in a state of shock. I told him that he is a friend of mine and my family, and that if what he said is true, why didn’t he arrest him. The officer who interviewed me— young, hostile, and with a military haircut — replied that for now they had no evidence, but they were contacting people like me to collaborate with them and give them more information. I refused to be an informant,” says Kenya.

They were more direct with Pedro. “They accused me of giving confidential information to Ivan Garcia. I told them that I had been retired for four years. They threatened to open a file on me for collaborating on some of the news stories written by Ivan. At the end of the meeting, they warned me to be careful not to say anything to Ivan, because ’he might get off scot-free, but you, Pedro, old as you are, you could die in jail.’”

Without providing any evidence, they issued Camila a warning for harassing tourists and prostitution. “I didn’t sign it. But they told me that if I keep associating with Ivan I will be prosecuted for prostitution. I was accused of pimping and, together with Ivan, of controlling several prostitutes who, in return for money, offered information about their work. All that is a scandalous lie. Out of fear, I promised to delete Ivan’s phone from my contact list. ”

All three were warned that they would soon be summoned again. I told them that when they were, to let me know so I could go with them. If you want to know about me, cite me; it is despicable to intimidate innocent people.

In March 1991, four years before I began writing as an independent journalist at Cuba Press, I was detained for two weeks in a cell at Villa Marista, the headquarters of the State Security Department. They accused me of “enemy propaganda.” I was never tried, but beginning in 1991, for whatever reason, I was detained.

Then there was a period of less harassment until October 22, 2008, when at the intersection of Prado and Teniente Rey, a Colombian colleague handed me some books sent by Ernesto McCausland, a prestigious Colombian journalist, writer, and filmmaker (deceased in 2012). The Colombian and I were arrested by the police and placed in a patrol car. He was released immediately, but they took me to the station at Zanja and Lealtad and kept me in solitary confinement for 11 hours. I recounted this in State of Siege.

Two years later, August 2010, brought the first harassment by Military Counterintelligence. I was then writing for Elérica, which published three denunciations, the first titled Citación oficial. Three years later, I would again be harassed by the secret police. On February 18, 2013, Diario Las Américas published, on its front page, “Las Américas Journalist harassed by the Cuban government.” Continuing evidence of this remains posted on the blogsite Desde La Habana.

State Security knows where to find me. They have my phone number and the address where I live. I wait for them.

 Translated by Tomás A.

This Time I Reached Pinar de Rio / Somos+, Eliecer Avila


Somos+, Eliecer Avila, 26 April 2016 — The last time I tried to meet with several families in this province I was forcibly  “deported” by State Security agents, who told me I was “persona non grata” in the territory. It is very likely that no citizens had heard of the action taken against me, because today I noted the astonishment and indignation of many upon learning those facts. “You are welcome here and everywhere,” I was told by the wonderful people who welcomed me this time.

Obviously, State Security and the Communist Party do not represent the views of the vast majority of the Cuban people. I think they no longer represent even those of their own members. So they try at all costs to prevent the average Cuban from encountering the new proposals. This repressive and fearful weapon can delay the process, but never stop it. continue reading

Those who think differently and want to work sincerely and responsibly for the nation will always find a way to reach the people, because that love, support, and popular respect energizes us to continue fighting for a better future.

We have always been convinced that there are more of us, and that is now becoming increasingly apparent. We are seeing a slow but steady loss of fear. We are surprised by the number of people openly expressing their views. Logic and reason are opening a path through the thorns of hatred and unthinking force.

I congratulate the Center for Coexistence Studies for the work performed during these 8 years of labor in the formation of civic consciousness and human values.

We continue fertilizing the land with love and fresh, clean water, so the most beautiful garden in the Caribbean will bloom again, for everyone.

Translated by Tomás A.

Yes You Can / Somos+

Somos+, Ezequiel Alvarez, 18 March 2016 — The struggle of an unarmed people, under a totalitarian dictatorship armed to the teeth, becomes a psychological battle of attrition. Since it is impossible to change a powerful system by a frontal attack, other tactics must be used.

The first step is the formation of a resistance capable of promoting changes, gaining the confidence of the people by offering them an alternative means of fighting.

Demonstrating with concrete actions that they can fight, seeking the formula that proves the existence of a resistance, able to fight and survive despite oppression, persecution, and all the system’s attempts to extinguish the anti-dictatorship spotlight. A resistance composed of patriotic believers in the cause who are willing, despite the obstacles, to put themselves forward at the historic moment for the common good of the nation. continue reading

The next and vital stage is the demoralization of the oppressive forces of the dictatorship: a dictatorship whose participants recognize that they are part of a corrupt system, and that they are fighting against the well-being of the people, can lose interest in participating and supporting the dictatorship in power.

So when the forces loyal to the dictatorship refuse to be part of the oppressive system, then the dictators lose power—against forces, which though lacking tactical capabilities have the moral strength, support, and sympathy of the people. The psychological structure that maintained the continuity of the dictatorship in power crumbles, and new alliances and loyalties forge the new power structure.

Assuring ourselves that a structural basis exists for the implementation of a democratic system, which resolves the problems and addresses the concerns of our people for freedom and progress, must be the work of the democratic resistance in order to advance the country to a better future.

Translated by Tomás A.

Another Prisoner Swap? / Mario Lleonart

Mario Lleonart, 30 October 2015 — Once again the name of Ernesto Borges Pérez returns to the public arena, generating new expectations about his release. He has served more than seventeen long years of the thirty to which he was sentenced, after his death sentence was commuted at the prosecutor’s request. Ernesto’s advance disclosure thwarted the illegal infiltration into the U.S. of twenty-six Cuban spies, of the hordes frequently sent there. But at the cost of seventeen unrecoverable years from Ernesto’s valuable life. Everything indicates that he is the bargaining chip long set aside to trade for the spy Ana Belén Montes.*

Ernesto may finally go free and benefit from his heroic action, which by any measure was invaluable, whatever the price paid. I hope that the answer to the prayers we have raised for so long finally arrives. Ernesto’s parents Yvonne and Raul, elderly and ailing, can still experience the greatest happiness of their lives. His brother Cesar, and Paola, his only daughter, in exile, can laugh again. And he, with his tremendous human virtues, strengthened in prison, can still be of great benefit to a world greatly in need of heroes like him.

*Translator’s note: The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency analyst convicted in 2003 of spying for Cuba and sentenced to 25 years in prison. See, e.g. “New Revelations About Cuban Spy Ana Montes.”

Translated by Tomás A.

The Remake / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 28 October 2015 — The Cuban authorities applaud the “victory” obtained in the vote for the lifting of the blockade-embargo at the United Nations. It’s actually their twenty-fourth Pyrrhic victory since 1992, when they lost the substantial Soviet economic subsidies, and began to be bothered by the blockade-embargo, which they previously didn’t care about and treated as a joke.

These 24 Pyrrhic victories have not advanced one iota the cause of ending the blockade-embargo because the resolution that was approved is not binding, that is, there is no mandatory compliance; the countries vote according to their current interests, so a vote in favor of ending it does not affect its relations with the United States, and a vote in favor of keeping it would affect their relations with the Cuban government. It’s all nothing more than sheer political opportunism, without much real significance. continue reading

Submitting the measure one more time as a remake, in a time when meetings and talks are being held between the two countries, with the aim of solving this and other ongoing problems, constitutes an error of Cuban diplomacy. Progress in the lifting of the blockade-embargo and the solution of other problems can only be achieved at the negotiating table, where give and take is required. What happens at the UN every year is pure comic theater: it only causes laughter.

But with this remake one wonders whether the Cuban authorities really want to put an end to the blockade-embargo, or if they are doing everything possible to see that it is maintained, so they can continue using it as a smokescreen to hide their demonstrated ineptitude and incompetence.

In this country of magical realism, everything is possible.

Translated by Tomás A.

Shortages in Cuba: A Deliberate Strategy? / Jeovany Vega

Jeovany Jimenez Vega, 19 October 2015 — In Cuba the shortage of goods, including basic staples, has been a continuous phenomenon in all retail chains for decades, so repetitive that it seems  incorporated into the very genome of the regime, and has become one of the hallmarks of the laziness, inefficiency, and mediocrity of the economic and military dictatorship of the Castros.

Many alternative websites inside and outside of the island have warned about the phenomenon so constantly that, given its magnitude, even the official press has had no option but to recognize the severity of the problem on more than one occasion. It is not news to anyone that the official voices blame this disaster on the American embargo—which they have inexorably called a “blockade” even though right in front of their noses are windows adorned with goods coming from all four points of the compass. continue reading

Thousands of times we have been victims of the onerous consequences of living under an autocracy that exercises its monopoly over the entire national network of commerce. This unnatural and comfortable position has allowed inept and lazy despots to flaunt their irresponsibility by gambling with the most pressing needs of my people, and we have witnessed over and over how they raise prices without explanation, or how many times they leave a particular product on the shelves for years because due to its poor quality the only way to get rid of it is to force its sale.

But what is happening today in Cuba seems to be different and I suspect that this time something more is being arranged behind the scenes. During the past year we have witnessed a worsening of this phenomenon to an unexplainable extent, and we have seen a greater shortage than usual, perhaps the most acute and long-lasting since 1994. All Cubans have observed this in their own place of residence, and have also learned that the situation is the same, if not worse, in other locations.

Especially in recent months the shortages have been so apparent and widespread, have gained such intensity throughout the entire country, and have been so prolonged that it makes one suspect that this is not just another cyclical crisis of scarcities in supply—recognized even by the deaf-mute State newspaper Granma—but this time we could be facing a crude tactical maneuver to achieve a specific short-term goal. This is something happening against the tide, during times in which there should be relative improvement, given the winds that have blown since last December 17 (the day the United States and Cuba announced the resumption of relations). But from the thinking and actions of the olive-green clique, they seem not to perceive it like that, and everything indicates that they have preferred to reset the sails according to their unhealthy inclination of maintaining control at all costs.

A very simple fact demonstrates the profound contradiction: in accordance with the license granted by Congress, Cuba imported $710 million in food directly from the United States in 2008, but in 2013, in contrast, it imported only $348 million, and in the first half of 2015 it decreased even more, buying only $119 million. So they consolidated this decline at the same time as they were advancing the secret negotiations with the US government during 2014, and then, paradoxically, intensified it after the proposed bilateral thaw was made public.

So the questions arise: Could it be that our military autocracy is convinced of the imminent fall of its strategic ally in Caracas at the next elections and is preparing us now in order to minimize the inevitable impact that the suspension of the Venezuelan subsidy will cause? Or maybe the assertion of US Congressman Rodney Davis is coming true, about the impending monetary unification in less than a month, and the Cuban government finds it necessary, for some mysterious reason, to have a record of minimal wares then available for sale?

Or maybe it’s all merely a tactic designed to maximize the psychological perception of improvement when the clique unveils its next opening, while freeing for sale all the merchandise that today is deliberately hidden, in order to “prove” that this systemic shortage always was, indeed, the fault of the “Yankee criminal blockade” and no one else?

Maybe they don’t want to give us any breathing room in case the elections of 2016 do not produce a Democrat successor to guarantee the continuity of the process initiated by Obama. Or they’re just afraid to risk that we would demand some changes in the rules of the game too quickly for Raul Castro’s taste (he is addicted to “changes” without haste and with many delays), or that we would too quickly sniff the aroma of the proposals from the North that ultimately they are not willing to allow.

Maybe it’s one or all of these reasons. But aside from all the speculation one thing is without doubt: the Cuban dictatorship’s short- and medium-term plans include none that even remotely contemplate any real improvement in our standard of living, much less any effective opening to commerce that would in any way empower the Cuban people; and to accomplish them, there is nothing like promoting this perpetual shortage, which after all has demonstrated its undeniable effectiveness in dividing the attention of the masses and preventing them from focusing on uncomfortable issues. No one doubts that the evil intentions on Havana’s Mt. Olympus are more than sufficient to devise such a mean-spirited strategy .

Translated by Tomás A.


Building the Base for a Just Law / Somos+

Somos+, 14 October 2015 — Today the formal work began on the formulation of a Proposed Electoral Law, gathered from a political, generational, and regional diversity. The lawyers carrying out the initiative requested the presence of Somos+ at the table as part of the essential input from young people. Our national leadership accepted the collaboration immediately, as we are honored to seriously and responsibly participate in the construction of alternatives that can be presented to the people and advocated at all levels, from the activist movement to academic, legal, and intellectual spheres.

The first day focused on a thorough study of existing legislation at different levels, and an analysis of the cultural and historical context that determines its implementation and maintenance. This knowledge is key to avoid falling into superficiality, and to ultimately propose a result of a quality that is viable and that responds to the needs of the nation and the practical political modernity into which we must introduce ourselves. continue reading

Somos+ brought to the meetings a series of proposals starting with public and transparent financing of the parties from the outset, in an impoverished country where at the outset there may not be available capital, the decisive variable in a competition that looks for talent, true capability, and a commitment to the accelerated development of the country. Another point that we will advocate is the right of Cubans living in other countries to cast their votes as part of a special electoral district. This has been used with excellent results in several countries in  the region including the Dominican Republic. Other specific topics to be discussed these days are the development of campaigns, the role of the media, the institutional referee and its powers, etc.

Through our blog we will offer you updated information about the process and we welcome your views and contributions about this, which can be put on the table through our representatives.

General Council


Translated byTomás A.

A democracy of course! . . . But how good? / Somos+, Kaned Garrido

Somos+, Kaned Garrido, 12 October, 2015 — We Cubans know that we want a democracy, and from now on we must chart the course for it to be one that we can be proud of, because not all democracies are of the same quality.

There are countries that hold elections to decide who will govern them, yet also suffer poverty, injustice and violence in the streets. Is the ability of the people to vote enough to make a nation great?

Many believe that because democracy coexists with hunger in poor countries, democracy is insufficient to solve the problems. The 2013 survey by Latinobarómetro* found that 19.2% of Latin Americans had no preference between a democratic or an undemocratic regime. Another 14.9% believed that in some circumstances an authoritarian government can be preferable to a democratic one. continue reading

This skepticism runs throughout the Third World. But instead of renouncing democracy, it is necessary to differentiate its forms and focus on building better ones. This has worked for the most developed nations, due to their having higher quality standards.

Mikel Barreda, a professor at the University of Catalunya, conducted a study to measure the quality of democracy in 19 Latin American countries. He found Chile, Uruguay and Costa Rica are the countries with the highest quality of democracy in the region.

What defines the quality of a democracy?

Political rights and civil liberties are fundamental. According to the reports of Freedom House, Europe ranks in first place in terms of freedom, with 86%, and the Americas in second place, with 71%.

Satisfaction with the system, and electoral participation, are critical factors; democracies where most people vote are better qualified. The turnout defines how included citizens are in the decisions of their governments.

Corruption and abuse of power seriously degrade societies, so mechanisms for accountability are essential. Institutions are needed that exercise political control over governments and oversee their management.

There is also vertical accountability. The press, citizens, and NGOs can make demands regarding the responsibilities of governments. So an underlying assurance remains that if the institutions are corrupt or unresponsive, the citizens can bring about justice.

How can we achieve a democracy of high quality for Cuba?

The literature on this topic is extensive, but clearly certain factors play crucial roles in determining the democratic quality of a country.

Freedom of expression and civil rights are essential to ensure the proposal and debate of ideas. No ruler, doctrine, or thought can be shielded from discussion. It will always be possible to reform what is wrong, to improve what should be changed.

The countries that often lead the worldwide democracy indexes are Scandinavian: Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. Without obstructing freedoms they have facilitated the greatest possible equality among their citizens. Without major differences in political and economic power, democracy manages to be more equitable. When the interests of the people are more connected they often find common ground. Empathy and compromise flow in the debates.

Institutions should provide spaces for the spectrum of all political and social positions, ensuring the possibility of fair participation and competition in elections.

We also need a system of solid parties, that is, parties strongly institutionalized, with a vision and a commitment to the long term. This way there can be an effective accountability of work done by civil servants, because the parties assume responsibility to the voters.

We will have to work hard to create the institutions we want, so that it is not an isolated democracy, made for the elites. It must be built with the participation and opinions of all. We cannot repeat the history of other countries that imported their democracies without having the foundation of a political culture to support them.

We have to build it ourselves, with the acceptance and commitment of everyone, with their colors and differences . . . a Cuban democracy.

*A public-opinion survey of 20,000 people in 18 Latin American countries. The survey is on-line here.

Translated by Tomás A.

A Dubious Decision / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 10 October 2015 — At a time when many Cuban youths, adults, and even elderly are choosing to  emigrate, it is noteworthy that a Cuban who has lived in Canada for a decade, with a wife and young child, posted on Facebook his decision to return to Cuba. Maybe he has been influenced by the ongoing process of improving relations between Cuba and the United States, or even the recent visit of Pope Francis. Hope springs eternal, but in this case, all that glitters is not gold. Cuba, a decade later, continues frozen in time.

The profound economic, political, social, and moral crisis persists, compounded by a climate of corruption and violence; wages continue at the poverty level, failing to  meet the minimum needs of citizens; prices of necessities are rising geometrically; the health system is fine for foreign tourists, and for exporting professionals to other countries, but is poor within the island, with deteriorated hospitals, lack of hygiene, a shortage of experienced doctors and nurses, and insufficient drugs; education is of low quality, carried out in inadequate teaching facilities, lacking maintenance and materials; and citizens lack the most basic rights, being subjected from cradle to grave with the most absurd ideological bombardment.

Everyone is free to decide what to do with his or her life, but when a wife and child are involved, you also have to think about them. To exchange Canadian security, development, and democracy for Cuban insecurity, poverty, and totalitarianism, is a very dubious decision.

Translated by Tomás A.

Quo Vadis* Francis? / Mario Lleonart

Those of us who lived through the repressive crackdown that took place in Cuba in 2012 during the visit of Benedict XVI have never received a response from the Vatican, although it was informed of the facts. Jose Conrado—the priest who is a maverick within the Catholic Church in Cuba, like a modern-day Father Bartolome de las Casas**—met with many of us on March 29, 2012, in the home of Ismael de Diego, to share experiences of what happened during the papal visit to Cuba, the police crackdown called “Operation Vow of Silence.” The priest expressed regret and personally delivered letters and videos to the Apostolic Nunciature. But they didn’t even give him the courtesy of a response. As a result of this crackdown some activists were detained for more than two years without even the formality of a trial. continue reading

When those repressed in Cuba met months later, on February 11, 2013, the date of Joseph Ratzinger’s resignation, something which hadn’t happened for almost six hundred years, we speculated that among all the reasons why the Pope took this momentous decision, even if the smallest of all, was his silence about what had happened to us.

Before the announcement of the new Pope’s visit this time, many of us thought the story would be different. As an indication of this, on July 16, 2015, Cuban Civil Society Open Space sent a letter by way of the Apostolic Nunciature to Pope Francis suggesting that he “receive a representation of Cuban civil society, as had happened during your recent apostolic trip to Latin America, in a private audience during the busy schedule of your anticipated next visit to Cuba. This symbolic gesture could mean the inclusion of all Cubans, especially those of us pushed to the margins of society and treated as second-class citizens because of our way of thinking or for proposing peaceful, non-violent alternatives.” This letter was delivered in person that same afternoon by Father Jose Conrado, accompanied by the prominent Catholic layman Dagoberto Valdes, and me, and was received by the Secretary of the Nuncio.

Regrettably, our letter did not receive a positive response and the Pope did not hold private meetings, except with Fidel Castro, the victimizer, to whom he extended a harmful and very undeserved legitimacy. To make matters worse, and contrary to that spirit, what actually happened was that across the length and breadth of the island at least 250 peaceful activists were arrested. The four activists who managed to break through police cordons to try to reach the Pope to respectfully express their feelings and deliver a letter were seen live by the entire world, and to date they remain in a maximum security prison. In addition to this there were hundreds of illegal house arrests and communication blockages similar to those enforced during the 2012 “Vow of Silence” operation when Benedict XVI visited.

Weeks in advance the regime began preparing this crackdown, using international media to defame and circulate false information in order to create confusion. An interview with agent Raul Capote by Russian media was disseminated worldwide. Agents employed by the regime did the same on social networks with apocryphal stories on Twitter trying to instigate religious hatred and bias the Catholic clergy against Cuban civil society, warning of phony “sabotages” against the papal visit.

In his homily the Pope expressed messages of mercy and peace worthy of being taken seriously by Cuban society and by those who misrule. But the latter did not give any sign of receiving the message, and even exploited his visit, as they had that of Benedict XVI, to carry out, as usual, something quite the opposite. While representatives of the regime sported  guayaberas and hypocritical smiles, their henchmen returned to execute behind the scenes, as in 2012, a genuine witch hunt.

Still the Vatican and Pope Francis could help greatly by issuing some statement acknowledging the above facts, which we never got from the pontificate of Benedict XVI. But maybe Francis agrees with the former president of the National Assembly of Cuba, Ricardo Alarcon de Quesada, who when interviewed by Jackie Nespral of NBC said dismissively that “the Pope is a busy man and cannot waste time with people and issues that are not important.”

*Latin for “Where are you going?” The reference is to an apochryphal encounter by the Apostle Peter, fleeing persecution in Rome, with the risen Jesus. When Peter asks Jesus this question, Jesus answers “To Rome to be crucified again.” In response, Peter returns to Rome, and his own subsequent martyrdom.

**16th-century Spanisn cleric who championed Native-American rights.

Translated by Tomás A.

Spanish post
25 September 2015

Two Lies and One Meddle / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 5 October 2015 — Cuba’s government continues imposing three conditions to continuing the restoration and normalization of relations with the U.S.: the return of “illegally occupied” Guantanamo; the lifting of the blockade; and the end of Radio and TV Marti. These are two lies and one impertinence that could even be considered meddling.

First, it is good to clarify that Guantanamo Bay has never been illegally occupied by the United States, but that it is the product of an agreement between governments, signed in 1903 and ratified in 1934. The misnamed “blockade” is nothing more than an embargo, which has been weakening since the Carter days and that the Obama administration has further eased in recent years in Cuba’s favor, except for some portions of it such as those relating to bank loans. As for the requirement that Radio and TV Marti disappear, it is a broadcast station (like many others that exist in different countries, including our own) whose disappearance or continuation depends solely on internal decisions of the U.S. government.

These silly demands seem more like roadblocks imposed by the island regime to buy time so they don’t have to answer to the Cuban citizenry and the world for the absurd measures and the imposition of laws and decrees that plunged Cuba into a complete political and economic disaster, which the current president also participated in is responsible for.

It would be healthy to courageously confront our own successes and failures, to turn that page once and for all and not continue blaming others, to be able to advance the restoration and normalization of relations, which would greatly benefit the country and its citizens, preventing the stampede of escaping Cuban young people.

Translated by Tomás A.

The Mass and Repression in Revolution Square / Ivan Garcia

Papa-en-Cuba-Misa-y-represión-_ab-620x330Ivan Garcia, Havana, 21 September 2015 — Almost everyone in Cuba remembers what they were doing on January 21, 1998. Stephen, who works in a steel factory southeast of the capital, recalls that he walked more than nine miles to attend the Mass of Pope Wojtyla in Revolution Square, the sacred precinct of the olive-green regime.

“I come from a Catholic family, but when Fidel came to power they stopped going to church out of fear. John Paul II was a kind of personal liberation, the reunion with my church, God, and Jesus. Afterward, travel to the island has become fashionable for the Vatican. The visit of Benedict XVI, like that of Francis I, seemed quite bland to me. More media hype than anything else,” says Stephen, as he goes to Mass with a portrait of the Virgin of Charity, Patroness of Cuba. continue reading

After midnight on September 19th, public transport service in Havana was interrupted. Sandy and his fiancee Agnes, regular salsa-dancers in a Vedado nightclub, had to change their plans.

“It’s become routine that when the government decides to stage a march or a mass event, the buses stop running. People with money should go by taxi or hired cars that charge hard currency. It’s an arbitrary imposition. We have to stay home or walk to where we want to go,” says Sandy angrily.

Although the visit of Pope Francis was a significant event, the omnipresent social control exerted by the state toward its citizens irritates quite a few Cubans.

“They treat us like we’re first graders or mentally challenged. Good or bad, what we can do depends on the government. And a lot of us are already tired of obeying rules and regulations,” said Marcial, sitting on the porch of his home in Ayestarán, within walking distance of Revolution Square.

When the sacred choral music began on the makeshift stage in front of the National Theatre, flanked by the marble statue of Jose Marti and the 3-D image of Che on the Interior Ministry, Yordanka and several friends, with pictures of Jorge Mario Bergoglio and yellow-and-white Vatican flags, began to quietly recite The Liturgy of the Word. They were reading a handout distributed by enthusiastic volunteers from the Catholic Church.

“Of course I believe in God. Also in the Afro-Cuban deities, like almost everybody in Cuba does. My companions and I didn’t come out of devotion as much as out of compliance with ETECSA, our company. Those who attended were given a snack and a soda, which some later sold for 40 pesos,” admits Yordanka.

The presence of police officers dressed in plain clothes was evident, betrayed by walkie-talkies in hand, nervous surveillance, muscles forged in gyms, and hands deformed by the practice of martial arts. Also assembled were hundreds of members of combat associations, paramilitary organizations usually involved in acts of repudiation and beatings of dissidents.

Hours before the homily was to start, dozens of opponents of the regime and the Ladies in White were arrested or barred from attending the ceremony. Berta Soler said that on Saturday the 19th, “Martha Beatriz Roque, Miriam Leiva and I were invited to the Apostolic Nunciature, where many people went to greet the Pope. Neither Martha nor Miriam could get there. In my case, when I was on my way an unnecessarily large State Security detail detained me along with my husband Angel Moya.”

Once the greeting time had ended, the three were released. Around five in the morning on September 20, some twenty women of the Ladies in White organization, including Berta, were taken to different police stations to prevent their attendance at the Havana Mass.

“I wonder how the Pope and the Vatican will react. The dictatorial regime violated their right to grant permission to those citizens who could attend His Holiness’s events. It’s a sign, another one, of the government’s intolerance. I hope that public opinion will take note,” said Angel Moya, a member of the Forum for Rights and Freedoms.

It has become routine for the Castro autocracy to hijack religious, sporting, or musical events for their own benefit, whether it be a papal Mass or a concert by Juanes.

Designing an artificial landscape has its cost. Religious commitment is nonexistent when the people attend almost under compulsion, in order not to be “marked down” and to look good at their workplace, especially if they are guaranteed a good snack and are given credit for having worked that day.

Before Pope Francis finished his brief homily, hundreds of people began to leave to go home. And if the purpose is for all to remain well with God and with Castro, the average Cuban feels like a bit player in this story.

So the response from citizens is apathy, facades, and double standards. Pope Francisco probably saw some of that.

Iván García

Exclusive video of the arrest of 3 people before the Papal Mass in Cuba

Univision Video shows the moment when two dissidents are able to approach the Pope and talk with him, are then separated from the Popemobile, and while they are subjected to being controlled, they shout anti-government slogans. It also shows three dissidents being subdued, including a woman, and finally shows the five detainees being arrested. At the time of this writing their whereabouts were unknown.

Translated by Tomás A.

It Is Time to Demand Our Freedoms / Somos+, Richard Cores

Somos+, Richard A. Cores, 15 September 2015 — In a moment of reflection, I remembered the wise words of a great hero and civil rights leader in United States history, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He said “freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

I thought of all those Cubans who want to say publicly what they really think, and who cannot because of fear of being persecuted or punished by their own government. Those Cuban citizens who want to be free to express themselves freely, whether in words, in artistic works, and even in books, which germinate in their minds, only to wither and die when they are never published. These rights, which are enjoyed by most civilized people throughout the world, were also recognized by Cuba (at least at the United Nations headquarters in New York) on February 28, 2008, when the Cuban Foreign Minister at the time, Felipe Perez Roque, signed two international convenants on human rights. continue reading

By signing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the signatory states (including Cuba) agreed to:

(Article 1) Respect and protect the rights of its people to self-determination and to freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

(Article 9) The right to freedom, personal security, and to not be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention.

(Article 12) The right to freely leave and enter one’s own country.

(Article 18) The right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, including the freedom to manifest one’s beliefs in public and private.

(Article 19) The right to freedom of expression; to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing, or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of one’s choosing.

(Articles 21 and 22) The right to peacefully and freely assemble and associate with other people.

There are other items of utmost importance, including those contained in the second accord, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (also signed by Cuba), which requires the signatory states to protect the right of every person to a fair wage, and other freedoms, which are continually violated and trampled by the Cuban government while it says it protects them.

Our national hero José Martí said “You take rights, you don’t ask for them; you grab them, you don’t beg for them.”

My reflection is not tainted by hatred, by empty complaints, much less by defeat. Indeed, I feel that today more than ever it is necessary to have a spirit of hope based on concrete ideas and sound principles that will bring tangible changes to the Cuban people.

Enough of apathy, failure, and injustice! It’s time to believe again that change is possible. This is the perfect time to demand from the oppressor, as Dr. King said, that freedom they did not want to give the Cuban people. It is time to demand the right to a public and respectful debate to discuss openly and without fear of reprisal issues of just governance, a prosperous economy for everyone, a better educational system, free access to the Internet, and many more.

The only way this can happen without bloodshed or fomenting more violence is through civil dialogue and forming a new collective, civic, and coherent consciousness among the Cuban people. Perhaps some will view this approach skeptically, but I believe it will surely bring lasting fruit in the near future.

I do believe in a Cuba full of talent, of innate strength, and of young people who clamor to see a modern country, developed and prosperous, even though they do not yet know how to make these changes. That is the need we want to meet with fresh perspectives, common sense, and a sound foundation. Let us welcome the change and the hope that will replace the conformism and apathy in young Cubans so that they will demand what rightfully belongs to them.

Translated by Tomás A.