Carlos Varela: “Cutting the Wings of Freedom of Expression Cannot Continue”

For Varela it is time to sit down and talk, because “the people of San Isidro are also part of this country.” (Facebook / Olivia Prendes D Espaux)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 26 November 2020 — One week after the start of the hunger strike at the headquarters of the San Isidro Movement to demand freedom for Denis Solís, sentenced to eight months in a summary trial for an alleged crime of contempt, signs of solidarity continue to arrive via the activists of many influential voices in the art world.

One of the most recent voices to join has been that of singer-songwriter Carlos Varela, who in a post published on his Facebook wall expressed his concern about the hunger strikes that several of the activists are continuing: “If I don’t write these words, I would be denying myself and my story. ”

“I don’t know any of the San Isidro kids personally, but that’s not what matters today. Any human being who is willing to die for a cause, whatever it may be, deserves to be listened to with respect. I am human, so don’t ask me to look the other way. I will not be complicit in the silence of the choir,” he wrote. continue reading

He said that several decades ago, “when those kids from San Isidro were only children or had not been born,” he went through something similar. “They wanted to turn me off too, erase me, marginalize me, censor me and, like a large part of my generation who could not bear the pressure, invite me to leave Cuba.”

For the musician, a member of the so-called Cuban Nueva Trova it is time to sit down and talk, because “people from San Isidro are also part of this country,” while denouncing the acts of repudiation as “infamous gestures” that are “a national shame.”

“When will William Tell’s grandchildren be heard? ” he wondered, paraphrasing his most popular song.

“A good part of my songs were born, surrounded by threats and conjectures, in the warmth of censorship and the silence of others. When will William Tell’s grandchildren be heard?” he asked himself, paraphrasing his most popular song, written at the end of the eighties and dedicated to the generation that fled the island en masse during that decade.

Another of the voices that publicly joined in to support the San Isidro Movement was that of singer Leoni Torres, who published on his social networks the need to express his feelings “about what is happening with the MSI youth group.”

“It pains me to think that after so many years we are still unable to dialogue and that hatred continues to prevail. Cuba belongs to everyone. Ideas do not have to be identical; we do not have to think the same. It is everyone’s right to be able to express themselves freely without being punished,” he said.

Meanwhile, at the headquarters of the group, located on Damas Street in Old Havana, there is no news at this time on the health of the strikers.

Carlos Manuel Álvarez, director of the magazine El Estornudo, (The Sneeze) who, after returning to Cuba from New York this Wednesday joined the 13 activists who have remained inside the building since last November 16th, denounced Thursday a possible Government maneuver to get him out of San Isidro.

Carlos Manuel Álvarez, director of the magazine El Estornudo denounced Thursday a possible Government maneuver to get him out of San Isidro.

According to a live broadcast, on Wednesday night, Health authorities called his friend Mónica Baró, whose address he had given to authorities at José Martí Airport upon arrival in Cuba, to tell her that the PCR COVID-19 rapid test they performed when he entered the country, compulsory for all international travelers, “had showed altered results.”

Perhaps they could not communicate directly with him, he recalled, because his telephone number, which he provided to officials on the immigration health form, was being blocked.

Baró was warned that Álvarez should go to a health center in Miramar before midnight this Wednesday to repeat the exam because, otherwise, they would go look for him at San Isidro. “I did not do what was requested, so it is likely that this second option will happen at some point,” said the journalist.

“It seems to me that behind a medical excuse there is political manipulation to get me out of here,” he argued, in addition to insisting that before traveling to Cuba his PCR test was negative, so “there is less risk of me spreading the virus than the tourists who traveled on the flight.”

“I’m not going to get out of here or give in to such crudely orchestrated pressures,” he said. “I am willing to do a PCR again but under certain conditions because the bond of trust with the Cuban state has been completely broken.” And he explained that he cannot trust a political power whose propaganda apparatus tells “lies and defamations,” such as he has had “contact with international terrorists from Miami,” that “he is a “CIA agent” or that he is “violating the isolation that is imposed on residents or tourists who arrive in Cuba from abroad.”

Thus, the conditions that Álvarez is demanding to take another PCR test is that health personnel go directly to Damas Street #955, specifically accompanied “by my mother or my father because they are both doctors and they know exactly what the procedure is.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

“A Worthless, Everyday Object is an Accomplice to Express Myself”

“I was interested in art since I was young, inspired by a super picturesque character who lived in my neighborhood, on the exact same block as me,” confessed Nelson Jalil. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana,22 November 2020 — Nelson Jalil was born in Camagüey in 1984 and graduated from the Higher Institute of Art (ISA) in Havana, where he now has his studio in Nuevo Vedado neighborhood which he shared with his fellow countryman Lester Álvarez initially, who later went to live in Madrid. Now he has more space but he misses his friend.

His pieces are woven from their title to their form, they are of such beauty that it makes you want to take them home and hang them on a wall. In the midst of canvases with broken pencils, burned books, a bonfire, a spiral staircase and a tremendous downpour in the background, 14ymedio spoke with Nelson Jalil this week.

Question: Looking at a group of pieces, I realized that your work and the creative process that leads to it have a lot of play, is that right?

Answer: This approach is quite exact. It is one of the ways in which I come close to the creative process in a general sense. I see it closely associated with the idea of leisure and, by extension, the idea of play. I told a friend some time ago that when I had a problem, I would close the studio and would solve it. When I recover that mental space that allows me to focus on the process that is creation, I would return. In the end, taking into account the way in which I operate with these objects that are small and the way in which they are assembled while I observe and deal with them, is very similar to the way in which a child interacts with a toy. continue reading

There is an initial idea that is very generally related to the interest I have in exploring the ability that these everyday, ordinary objects have to embody or express certain situations, spaces, or even human relationships

Q: What comes first, the object or the idea?

A: There is an initial idea that is very generally related to the interest I have in exploring the ability that these everyday, ordinary objects have to embody or express certain situations, spaces, or even human relationships. I gradually land that general idea, and from the way in which the objects are shaped when they begin to go in different directions, then more specific ideas arise and I can talk about a specific experience. This way, I go from a general interest and then I start to manipulate objects, to observe them and to interact with them, as if the same object were expressing that other concrete idea to me.

Q: Is this something that comes from when you were a kid?

No, I was not interested in working with objects until just a few years ago. I did a bit of everything, especially in one’s period of studies, when one experiments almost with all bases, with all media. Periodically, one becomes obsessed with a medium and another and already then when that interest arises, it becomes a discovery. From that point, I became more and more absorbed in the use of objects, until today.

Q: What was your first approach to art and the idea of being an artist?

A: My interest in art started when I was young, influenced by a super picturesque character who lived in my neighborhood, exactly on the same block as me. He was your typical character, half alcoholic, an ex-boxer who lived in very precarious conditions. They called him El Croqueta, he picked up pieces of dolls or Indian heads from a neighborhood handicraft workshop, soaked them and sat with some chopsticks pretending to be molding, thus in a very artistic pose. I would stop on my way to school and I would always sit with him and we would talk, to me. He was a great sculptor, to me, he was Rodin.

“After leaving school, I spent two years working intensively on a series of drawings, which was like the journey of that highly narrative photographic work I had done at ISA,” said Jalil. (14ymedio)

That was my first contact, from there I started to mold a little with clay, to draw. Then I got to know the very good art collection in the Camagüey museum, where my mother worked for a while, and visited the collection frequently. That was the moment when I started to draw formally, with the intention of entering art school.

Q: How do you remember those years at the Camagüey art school?

A: When I studied there it was not called as it is today, Vicentina de la Torre Academy of Art. We studied in what we call the old school, the process of change was quite sad.  Previously, it was a spectacular space, a colonial house that shared the building that was the old cavalry barracks of the Spanish Army with the provincial museum. It had very nice wooden stairs, there was a lot of freedom, there were few students. Then came this madness of the renovated art schools and they had put everyone in uniform, they locked all the doors, the students had practically no access to the workshops, it changed a lot.

Q: And then the Higher Institute of Art arrived … what did that change mean?

A: The ISA was a discovery for me, it was not the best moment of the school by far, the whole crisis that the class programs had suffered when nobody wanted to teach had started, but it was a multicultural space. Training in the provinces, in the case of Camagüey, was much more technical and there were also several teachers who were concerned about the creative training part but it was still an even more limited vision, in the sense that we only had a couple of references.

On arrival at ISA, that spectrum opens up, starting with students from all over, with greater or lesser cultural background and different types of information, and I began to discover that what I thought was art was nothing more than a very specific way of understanding art, and teachers thought more or less the same way. Suddenly you learned that so-and-so had used a poem as the text of the discussion of his graduation thesis or that Whatshisface had written a diary… that began to dismantle a series of concepts for me stiffer than one brings from the province.

When you arrive at ISA, that spectrum opens up, starting with students who came from all over with greater or lesser cultural backgrounds and different types of information

Q: You belong to a generation of many artists who have opted for more conceptual art or installation rather than painting. Do you see any specific reason for this? How was it in your case?

A: This is cyclical, as always happens, people get bored. There are different periods, and the teachers are also influential. I remember anecdotes from moments when ISA students who wanted to paint had to practically hide because others made fun of them, I think It was in the 90’s. There have also been periods when they have solidly painted.

I painted very little at the ISA, I especially drew and, for two or three years, was absorbed with photography but lost my interest later on, to such an extent that even I was amazed. It was as if that language was completely exhausted for me and suddenly not had nothing to say about the subject. If at that moment in my life someone had told me that I was going to end up involved in installation projects like the ones I have done or the ones I have in mind, I would not have believed it. The conditions of the ISA were a bit rough for me, so I worked more with projects that I could take with me, more mental processes, those requiring less space.

Physical spaces were there, but it was when the restoration of the school was under way, and there was a certain chaos. This is not a justification, many people took up painting at that time, it was more of a personal process.

After leaving school, I spent two years working intensively on a series of drawings, which was like the transition of that highly narrative photographic work that I had done at ISA. Then I began to explore painting a little from these drawings, so that when I began to work with objects, both installation and assembled objects and painting, the two began to come out simultaneously, probably the result of the maturation of everything this previous search process that has been consolidating.

Q: It is also remarkable that there is a lot of influence of oriental culture in many artists of your generation, why do you think this is?

A: I think there are many things I do not want to question here, but in a general sense, for the younger generations the system that comes from this Judeo-Christian heritage has fallen into crisis for many and if the current access is added to it, we have to something that for other generations was much more unknown…

It is well known that if your curiosity or interest is of a spiritual nature, obviously there are useful tools that have been tested over the centuries. It is like having a box full of tools and you can try to connect with that specific area of knowledge you identify with more, and that does not necessarily have to be what you have received as a family inheritance.

“For me, the fact that the institution becomes a filter that determines who has a career and who doesn’t is fatal,” says Nelson Jal (14ymedio)

Several years ago, through friends who also come from the art world, I began to investigate these processes, where one almost always begins to do a little yoga and some meditation and I finally ended up being interested in a specific method that comes from of the tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. It was quite close to me and I connected with that type of practice.

I see that some artists intermingle very well, but in my case, I do not practice a type of art that is traditionally understood the way it is done in these cultural contexts, quite remote for me. I understand it more as a method of self-recognition and search that eventually expresses itself subtly through some idea that I can outline in my work.

Many of the most interesting ideas that I have had have come to me as distractions, everything is intermingled in an intermediate zone, which has to do with the creative process, but you are not making art in the formal sense, a very oxygenating processes that helps to continually review many processes most people are not aware of, especially on an emotional and spiritual level. A super useful tool.

Q: What are the latest works you have done, and how do you present them?

A: These are two groups of works that I have been developing, I do not even collect them or present them as a series. They are two groups, in two different supports: in paint, oil on canvas and a series of installations, in many cases, objects assembled in small formats. I was mentioning that I have developed them simultaneously, at first it was a bit tentative, it was difficult for me to talk about it because I was imbued in the process of discovering the possibility that all these objects offered me. It was extremely inspiring, but at the same time there were some things that I was not very clear about but, as always happens, the same work process reveals information or a certain type of knowledge that emanates from the same creative exercise.

I have been investigating the possibilities that ordinary objects, seemingly of little value which I stumble upon, offer me, or those that convey situations or behaviors that are intrinsically human.

In some cases, the objects are quite anthropomorphic, and in others, they are the result of some human action or behavior in some way. Obviously, the object is a pretext or an accomplice to express all these kinds of relationships.

Q: Have you been able to obtain the necessary sustenance in Cuba to make a living from art?

A: In my case, I have had the opportunity to sell works periodically without being fully inserted, in the sense that I have worked with the odd gallery dealer or through a dealer who has been in contact with me, or someone who reaches out and contacts me directly, which is a very good possibility. It is super random, it is unpredictable. In my case, it has happened intermittently, few artists aren’t well established enough to foresee when and how a specific work will be managed, although there are artists in that situation, obviously

There are people who can suggest or put you in contact with someone and it has been a bit like that in my case. I am not moving from here, whoever wants to come and see me, let them come. My job is to produce the work, whoever wants to do something with it, will simply pick up a phone and call me, I don’t think it’s more complex than that, I don’t think it’s the artist’s job to go around trying to force himself into the most necessarily appropriate space.

Q: Do you think that the arrival of mobile data and the possibility of having the internet at hand can help with that?

A: A few years ago, most of the artists who lived in Cuba couldn’t even have a website. It was absolutely impossible to upload an image of their work to any space for someone who was not physically in the same site as you to see it. Having access to a platform that allows this is a great advantage. I think it is more at the promotional level. It has been very interesting for me because of the kind of people I have met, artists that I admire who have connected with me, people I never envisioned having contact with.

Q: What impact do you think Cuban art in these times have had in the new independent spaces that have emerged?

“I painted very little at the ISA, I especially drew and spent two or three years absorbed with photography, which later ended up disinteresting me in such a way that even I feel amazed,” Jalil said. (14ymedio)

A: That is good, of course. The fact that the institution becomes a filter that determines who has a career and who does not is fatal for me. If the institution does not feel like recognizing an artist, either because it considers that he or she has no talent or because he is a complicated artist with a type of rebellious discourse or for whatever reason, it is terrible that he does not find another opportunity. I think it’s fantastic that there are other ways, because this filter is very dense in institutional spaces.

Q: How did you experience the phenomenon that the arrival of Decree Law 349 generated in Cuban art?

A: The first thing I did was read the letter that a group of artists had written, it was handed to me by Lester Álvarez. It seemed to me the same as to the rest of the artists who signed it, that it was dangerous to formalize those levels of censorship. I was traveling at that time, and just when I returned, these meetings had already begun. I think everything that happened was terrific because it somehow stopped what could have taken place if this decree was implemented with all the force and impunity with which it was planned.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

“Every Time There’s More of Us and They Will Not Be Able to Get Us Out of Here”

Los Quimbos is a community built spontaneously in Alquízar starting in 2005, by migrants from the eastern provinces of Oriente, especially Guantánamo. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Serafín Martínez, Havana, 18 November 2020 — “My husband and I built my little wooden house with dirt floors and inspectors immediately arrived. I paid two fines of 500 pesos and another of 2,000 pesos, doubled, for illegal occupation of the land. But I did not leave.” This is how Kirenia Alganza Torres recounts her first encounter with the authorities in Los Quimbos, a marginal community in the municipality of Alquízar (Artemisa).

Several years went by until, on November 9th, the authorities returned to remove the neighbors from their homes. “They told us that we were illegal and that this land belongs to the Alquitex factory, which needs it. Overall, I don’t know what they want it for, because the factory has been closed and idle for a long time and I won’t leave until they give me a house or legal land I can build on,” says this 39-year-old woman who has five minor children and works as a cleaning assistant at a school in the area.

Kirenia is one of the founders of Los Quimbos. “I had been treated for several years as a mental case, even for suicide attempts due to my critical housing situation. It was all for naught, until I decided to come here, as soon as I found out that people were building here,” she says. continue reading

Los Quimbos is made up of 100 marginal homes in which more than 500 people live, without water or sewage, and many without electricity. (14ymedio)

In the first eviction attempt, they took 26 of the original settlers of the Mirtha Farm, but they still have no electricity or water. “At least I got the electricity from an overhead line,” she adds.

This community was built spontaneously, starting in 2005, by migrants from the eastern provinces, especially Guantánamo. They began to settle illegally in lands surrounding the textile factory known as Alquitex, officially named “Rubén Martínez Villena,”,attached to the Ducal Textile Company of the Light Industry Business Group.

They named it the same as the precarious houses on the outskirts of Guantánamo, in turn named after the quimbos of Angola, the miserable huts that Cuban soldiers got to know during the military intervention of the African country.

Los Quimbos de Alquízar are made up of around 100 marginal homes where over 500 people live without running water or sewers and many without electricity. The residents also live under permanent siege from the authorities, who have demolished several shacks and heavily fined the residents of the community.

In addition, residents of Los Quimbos live under permanent siege from the authorities, who have demolished several shacks and heavily fined the residents of the community. (14ymedio)

The on-going harassment has not prevented the permanence, the roots and the extension of the community due to the lack of housing.

“I’m not leaving here because I have nowhere to go,” says Idelfonso Rodríguez, a 27-year-old rickshaw driver, who states: “Since I built my little house, the inspectors arrived and ate me alive with fines: 500 pesos for misappropriation of the land, 1,000 pesos for not demolishing and 300 pesos for illegally connecting to the electricity. I have not been able to pay the fines. I don’t have a ration card.”

Rosaida, 50, came from the Oriente province four months ago because of a marriage that soon ended, and she was left alone, on the street and unable to legalize her change of address. “I was desperate. I couldn’t go back, so I built my little house, made of wood, cardboard, and dirt floor. I don’t have water and now I don’t have electricity. I do my necessities outside on the patio when it gets dark. I bring big jugs of drinking and cooking water from far away. I use firewood for cooking and the inspectors cut off the light from the overhead lines. I don’t have a ration card and eat whatever is around,” she says.

The woman swears that the governor of Alquízar, Miguelito Rodríguez, wants to deport her to Oriente, “although on his last visit he put his hand on my shoulder and told me that everything was going to be ok,” she adds. “I suffer from a nervous condition and I don’t have a husband.”

“Since I built my little house, the inspectors arrived and fined me: 500 pesos for misappropriation of the land, 1,000 pesos for not demolishing and 300 pesos for illegally connecting to the electricity. I have not been able to pay the fines. I do not have a ration book,” says Idelfonso Rodríguez, a 27-year-old pedicab driver. (14ymedio)

René, 72, is also inflexible: “I am disabled, I’ve had surgery on my leg and I have a rod in it. Still, I work as a custodian at the Zorrilla farm. I live alone and they want to get me out of here. Where to go. This is my house and I’m not leaving here.”

Another disabled person, as a result of a traffic accident that caused paralysis, is Eddy Reyes Frómeta, age 55. He lives on a patch of land adjacent to that of his sister, Mirtha, and they both arrived 17 years ago from Baracoa, Guantánamo. “Two years ago, they knocked down my little ranch, the policemen put me on a bus, they released me with my belongings in some sacks and dumped me off. A few days later I returned and they have not been able to get to me anymore. Every time there’s more of us and they will not be able to get us out of here,” says the man.

His sister Mirtha, who lives with her son, narrates: “On Monday of last week, when the inspectors came to get us out, they put numbers on our houses. I don’t know if that is good or bad. I cannot return to Baracoa. I don’t mess with anyone and I’m not leaving here.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Small Private Businesses Celebrate a Successful Fair in Cuba

Gretel Bormey has seen a great opportunity in Amarillo Coworking to get in touch with other entrepreneurs and potential clients. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 November 2020 — Gretel Bormey was attending to her clients with care this Sunday at Amarillo Coworking, housed in what was previously the Casa Brava, a private boutique hotel located on Calle 2, between 21 and 23, which was forced to close due to the pandemic. The exposition space started last July and this weekend it hosted an event at this Vedado house aimed at bringing together entrepreneurs like Gretel.

Bormey & Daughter is the name of Gretel and her father’s family business. “He is a chef de cuisine and has many years of experience. I am a trained translator, but since I was a child, I have been watching him cook, I practically grew up in a kitchen. Our initial idea was to provide catering for small events, I always had the idea to also launch a parallel line to catering at some point, to offer certain products that are not available here or are not known in the popular culture”, she stated.

The pandemic acted as a reagent. Event cancellation led Bormey & Daughter to put catering aside for another time and make way for products more suited to the new reality: sauces, homemade sweets and frozen items. continue reading

Some of the brands that participated in the bazaar were born with Covid-19 and have developed only through social networks. (14ymedio)

“We thought that, in this situation in which we are confined to our homes there is a shortage of so many things but especially food items, we could offer people things that are different, that are fresh, healthy, quality products and that is what we do,” Bormey said.

Their list of products includes pesto, made with basil and spinach; garlic and curry mayonnaise; and chutney. They also make fish croquettes or ones made with spinach that they grow themselves in their backyard.

“It is an herb that contains no chemicals, that is grown and cared for with a lot of love. We also look for fish, my father has a boat and that is his hobby. We use fresh fish to make the croquettes. Of course, we would like to be able to offer many more products but the situation is a bit complex and sometimes our creativity is limited by what we can get in the market,” she laments.

Bormey & Daughter started in mid-September, limited to home deliveries. “Following hygiene measures at all times, we always use antibacterial gel to try to protect us and our clients,” she clarifies. So far, her business balance is very positive. “People place repeat orders, and that means that they like the product and that they have been incorporating it into their usual diet,” she highlights.

When Gretel Bormey found out about the Amarillo Coworking celebration event through social networks, she did not want to miss it. She was surprised by the number of initiatives that emerged in the context of the pandemic and that there are “many people making delicious things, promoting healthy eating.”

The entrepreneurs exhibited their products, such as food, masks, ornaments or bags, between 10 in the morning and 6 in the afternoon. (14ymedio)

“We thought it was a great opportunity for our emerging small business to interact with other similar enterprises and learn what they do and establish alliances. These have really been very good days,” she says while having curious people who come to her stand sample her product, spread on a slice of bread.

Saily González, founder of the project, explains to 14ymedio that this is “the first physical co-working space for entrepreneurs in Cuba,” a place for business owners to exchange experiences and offer their best products to the public.

“The first part of the pandemic was difficult, but even more difficult was to open and to have to close again. We had a lot of uncertainty, few sales and a lack of interaction,” discusses González.

Some of the brands that participated in the bazaar were born because of Covid-19 and have developed only through social networks. “They are doing online sales but have not yet had physical interaction in the community. In my experience, when you, as the person behind a brand, interact with the community, it is very powerful because it personalizes brands and helps the entrepreneur generate a sense of community, that was the idea of establishing the bazaar. It was basically setting up the space and making the call,” she says in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the day.

The event, which was held between last Friday and Sunday, welcomed more than 20 small businesses over the three days during which they showed their products to the public, such as food, masks, ornaments and bags, between 10 in the morning and 6 in the afternoon.

The exhibition started last July, and it hosted an event this weekend aimed at bringing together some entrepreneurs. (14ymedio)

The clients who arrived, most of them as a family group, visited the house’s rooms taking in every detail. Towards the back, in one of the rooms was stationed Havana Dehydrates, a product that has only been in existence for three months.

“So far, we have worked with four fruits: pineapple, coconut, banana and lemon. The process we follow is quite traditional, completely natural, we do not add any chemicals or sugar to our dehydration process. We have a gas oven with pressurized air. Depending on the oven and on the cut of the fruit, the process takes between 10 or 12 hours. We market our products in the form of chips, dice, slices,” explained a young woman to each person who approached.

On Saturday, Caridad León arrived at the house, hand in hand with her daughter, her son-in-law and her two granddaughters. She bought two face masks, curry mayonnaise and pesto sauce; and she did not stop praising the nice product packaging, their design and their quality. “I am happy, it is very good to see that young people want to do these beautiful things, it is inspiring. Filling one’s belly cannot be all there is.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

Journalist Miriam Celaya Has Become ‘Regulated’ and Cannot Leave Cuba

On Friday Miriam Celaya joined the list of ‘regulated’ citizens who have been banned from leaving Cuba. (Radio Martí)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 November 2020 — Independent journalist Miriam Celaya has joined to the list of regulated citizens this Friday under a ban on leaving Cuba. The 14ymedio columnist and contributor tried to apply for an extension of her passport but came across the news that she cannot travel abroad.

“I went to extend my passport early at the office of the Directorate of Identification, Immigration and Foreign Matters (DIIE) in Centro Habana and there they told me that I was regulated so I was unable to complete the process,” Celaya comments to this periodical.

The official who communicated the situation to Celaya was unaware of the reasons for the travel ban and recommended that she go to the headquarters of the DIIE to inquire about the causes, although the reporter intuits that her opinion columns, very critical of the Government, could be behind the measure.

“I have been ‘regulated’ for writing, for my work as a journalist and for what I share on social networks.” Celaya adds that the sanction can also be a punishment “for having defied State Security in March of this year,” when she received a summons from the political police and refused to answer their questions. “They wanted to question me but I told the officers I met with that I had nothing to say to them.” continue reading

Celaya adds that the sanction may also be a punishment for having defied State Security in March of this year, when she received a police summons from the political police and refused to answer their questions

The journalist also has Spanish nationality obtained in 2010 through the so-called Grandchildren’s Law and planned to spend the end of the year with her family in the United States, a project that she’ll have to postpone indefinitely, since the authorities usually do not divulge how long the sanction will be in effect.

Some 200 people are on this blacklist, established by the Cuban authorities. With these travel bans, the Government violates the right to free movement of citizens, which is enshrined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also in Article 52 of the Cuban Constitution.

Those affected by this ban also note that, in January 2013, an immigration reform came into force that significantly relaxed the procedures to travel outside Cuba, as the old “exit permit” was eliminated. At that time the the foreign press described this move as part of the reforms leading to greater openings by Raúl Castro.

However, the list of opposition voices banned from leaving the country has been increasing over the years. At first, State Security prevented dissidents from traveling, through arbitrary arrests or by intercepting them on their way to the airport, but since 2018, the strategy of informing them of their status when passing through the immigration window at the airport or when renewing their passport has become more common.

Translated by Norma Whiting
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Two Ladies in White who Filmed Matanzas Protests Were Fined 2,000 Pesos

Ladies in White Sissi Abascal and her mother, Annia Zamora. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 11 November 2020 — Two Ladies in White, Sissi Abascal and her mother, Annia Zamora Carmenate, were fined the high amount of 2,000 pesos by the authorities. Abascal and Carmenate published on their social networks the images of the protests that took place last week in the town of Carlos Rojas, Matanzas. The townspeople were protesting the lack of electricity, and the protesters demanded restoration of service from the authorities.

Both were summoned this Tuesday to appear at the Jovellanos Police unit for an interrogation, information that was released by Leticia Ramos on her Facebook profile; Ramos also belongs to the Ladies in White. In addition, she recalled that the previous Saturday the secretary of the Jovellanos Communist Party “threatened to make Abascal Zamora disappear” for filming the protests.

Opposition member Félix Navarro detailed that during the interrogation the “investigators” wanted to know “the name of the person who advised both Ladies in White to go to Carlos Rojas Park on the day of the protest and the reasons for a mobilization of such nature.”  continue reading

Annia Zamora was warned how difficult jail would be since she was in poor health. “But Annia told them that others with different health conditions have also been unjustly deprived of their liberty and they have not been interested.”

He explained that they were trying to put the blame on the two Ladies in White for “instigating the population to yell at [the authorities] and to mob the place” and said that both of them “were secretly threatened with jail, with the intention of intimidating them.”

Annia Zamora was warned how difficult jail would be since she was in poor health. “But Annia told them that others with different health conditions have also been unjustly deprived of their liberty and they have not been interested.”

The leader of the Ladies in White Movement, Berta Soler, also criticized the town of Carlos Rojas for having had a State Security operation since the day of the protest, and for the fact that when the opponents returned to their homes after the interrogation, they found State Security agents surrounding their houses.

Shouting “Liars!”, residents of the town of Carlos Rojas surrounded various officials and military personnel during a protest last Friday, November 6, after spending several hours that day without electricity.

In the video, filmed overnight and widely disseminated on social media, dozens of people are seen surrounding various officials, including one dressed in a military uniform, to demand the restoration of electricity service. “We are tired of lies,” Abascal Zamora forewarns one of the directors who, among complaints and demands about his management, cannot articulate a convincing answer.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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While the Government Proposes to Limit Acopio, Farmers Want to Eliminate It

Farmers believe that the new measures support only “on paper” what they had already been doing. (Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Olea Gallardo, Havana, 6 November 2020 — Measures announced on this Thursday’s Roundtable TV program suggest a tentative relaxation of the agricultural market.

For example, private farmers will be able to sell part of their production on their own, provided that they first comply with Acopio’s* agreed deliveries. This is what emerges from the convoluted words of the Minister of Agriculture, Gustavo Rodríguez Rollero, during his television speech: “Products that, due to their logistical or financial problems of collecting and trading entities cannot be purchased in accordance with the provisions established in contracts, may be sold through other forms of commercialization”.

This will resolve a frequent complaint of Cuban farmers: that Acopio lets part of the products rot by not having the means to collect them. continue reading

The minister stated that with this new policy “the country intends to make the entire collection and marketing system more flexible, and eliminate the monopoly role of Acopio, the Business Collection System”.

“This month, the product balance is 100,000 tons, that is, we still have a product deficit of over 50,000 tons that we have not generated”, acknowledged the Minister of Agriculture

Rodríguez Rollero acknowledged that agricultural production is far from meeting the basic needs of the population: “30 pounds per capita per month, per inhabitant, some 154,000 tons of agricultural products, whether meats, vegetables and fruits,” the minister explained. “This month the balance of products is 100,000 tons, that is, we still have a deficit of over 50,000 tons of products that we have not produced.”

To try to alleviate the severe food crisis that Cuba is plunged in, the Council of Ministers announced other provisions. Among them, flexibility in the hiring of workers by “individual producers, landowners and usufructuaries (leasers), those having the legal right of enjoying the profits of property belonging to another”, the approval of “tax incentives” and the “recovery of bovine livestock.”

“This does not affect or benefit us in the least,” Rolando Villegas, a farmer from the Guane area in Pinar del Río, tells 14ymedio. “The crops that are a distribution monopoly, such as the tobacco that we produce, continue the same way, as is the case with coffee growers and those who grow cocoa or potatoes”, he warns.

“In addition, the goals that Acopio sets for us to sell to the State are high and prices are low. Many times, we have more losses than profits to meet those amounts”, Villegas points out. “what little remains after complying with these standards often goes to our families’ self-consumption, and there are farmers in this area who for years have had direct agreements with paladares (private restaurants) and food businesses” for direct sales.

“What is the difference?” a farmer asks himself. “That now we can declare on paper what we have been doing for a long time”

“What is the difference?” a farmer asks himself. “Now we can declare on paper what we were doing a long time ago,” he says. “I did not watch The Roundtable program yesterday because we didn’t have power, but some friends told me that they were going to announce the death of Acopio but it didn’t happen, it’s still alive, kicking and screwing us.”

Raúl Castro’s government had already implemented similar measures in 2011 aimed at opening up the field, but reversed them in 2016 without offering an explanation.

Cuba imports more than 60% of the food it consumes, as well as a large amount of agricultural consumable goods, and Cuban producers have been asking for a relaxation of the rules for the countryside for years.

Last April, with growing shortages due to the closure of the borders due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the League of Independent Farmers and the Cuban chapter of the Latin American Federation of Rural Women launched the initiative “Without the Countryside There is No Country” which asks the Government for five concrete measures to liberalize agriculture: freedom for production and distribution, freedom to set market prices, freedom to import and export without State mediation, elimination of taxes for ten years and delivery of permanent property titles to all producers.

*Translator’s note: Acopio is Cuba’s State Procurement and Distribution Agency

Translated by Norma Whiting

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(Fear + Lie + Division) x Complicit Silence = Oppression in Cuba

Alberto Reyes Pías (David Ramos / ACI Press)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Alberto Reyes, Camagüey, Cuba | 1 November 2020 — Life takes turns from time to time. I had different stories in mind. I had meticulously collected many parochial anecdotes from this month on my cell phone, but life is capricious, unpredictable, even strange, we could say. And the anecdotes are gone, my cell phone died in a downpour and took many things to its grave.

I usually go to two relatively close towns on Sunday afternoons: Caonao and Tabor. A couple of weeks ago my transportation was a moped. It was threatening rain, but when it was time to leave, not a drop had fallen. I went to one town, then the other. Upon returning, a light drizzle began, which a short while later turned into a steady rain and ended up being a torrential downpour, charged with electricity.

With cane fields to the right and to the left, the only option was to keep going, trying not to end up on the ground. Lightning and its administration belong to the Lord of the heavens, so better not worry about what we are not given control of. For technical reasons related to humidity that I don’t know too much about, the electric moped began to accelerate by itself, while I focused on maintaining my balance.

My tunnel vision prevented me from realizing the possibility of cutting off power by turning it off. In horror, I saw a bus coming at full speed, then a car, then another bus, bouncing in the puddles. My mind shot up. Paralyzed on the moped, which had taken on a life of its own and was going at full speed down a muddy road, I was soaked to the bone, with my helmet moving in all directions … my mind went blank. continue reading

Later, the moped’s engine suddenly died. Afterwards, they explained to me that the safety brake had engaged, but I didn’t know it, so the second stage began, dripping water, moped in hand, walking, as lightning flashed right and left.

In such a condition, there are only two things to do: complain and curse the galaxy or think. And I thought, I thought that beyond my passion for serving my people, things would not have to be like this, I thought of all the people who experience similar situations in each downpour, because they have to walk on foot, or ride a bicycle or a horse cart, I thought of so many people with precarious houses where it rains more inside than outside, and I thought I could have had an accident, I could have died, and that there were things that I had never spoken. And I was afraid, not of dying, but of dying without having said what was inside my soul.

I love chemistry, and I am seduced by reactions. For a long time, every time I think about the situation my people are in, a chemical formula comes to mind that explains why my people are the way they are, and my formula is this:

(Fear + Lie + Division) x Complicit Silence = Oppression.

We are afraid, we are born in fear, we grow in fear, we live in fear.

Fear is a feeling of insecurity in the face of something that can harm us and that we cannot control. Fear is automatic and uncontrollable, and like all sensations, it is not manageable by one’s will.  The efficacy of fear does not lie in our emotions, but rather, it works because it paralyzes one’s willpower. Fear kidnaps one’s will by telling it horror stories.

Cuba is a big prison where, if you behave badly, they put you in a smaller one

We don’t have much power over the fear we “feel,” but overcoming paralysis and acting on what we want to do depends on our decision. Willpower is not subject to feelings, and that is our strength. Doing something can perfectly coexist with the fear of doing it.

Cuba is a big prison where, if you behave badly, they put you in a smaller one. And, at the end of the day, it’s still a prison and we feel controlled. We are afraid to say what we think, to say what we want. We are afraid that, one way or another, they will interrupt our education or our jobs, that they will make our life more difficult than it already is. We are afraid of being summoned and “reprimanded”, warning us of our “bad behavior”.

And meanwhile, we continue singing our national anthem and repeating that “to live in chains is to live immersed in dishonor and ignominy”. Let’s put it another way, let’s see if we understand it: what we are saying is that “living without honor, without respect, without virtue, is to live as slaves”. And doesn’t slavery equate to living in fear of saying what we believe and think? And isn’t slavery not being able to make decisions about our own lives and about our country’s life? And isn’t slavery being limited to just surviving or leaving our country?

Let’s understand it once and for all: we will always be afraid, and we will never act if we do not learn to live in spite of our fears if we do not act according to our conscience while our fears flow through each one of our veins.

I always wanted to say this: Communism is a big lie. Everything is a lie. Goebbels, Hitler’s ideologue, said: “A lie, repeated a thousand times, turns into the truth.”

Cuba is like a great theater, where we lie to each other as part of a play that no longer needs to be rehearsed:

That we are a medical power: a lie.

That our education system is extraordinary: a lie.

That we are internationalists out of sheer generosity: a lie.

That our National Television News displays people’s reality: a lie.

That the demonstrations on May 1st and July 26th are normal and voluntary: a lie.

That the rapid response brigades are nothing other than the spontaneous reaction of angry people defending their Revolution: a lie.

That we do not have political prisoners: a lie.

That human rights are respected in Cuba: a lie.

That opposition and dissent do not exist: a lie.

That we unconditionally support socialism as a people: a lie.

That we believe that the electoral system is the best in the world: a lie.

That a dignified old age life is guaranteed: a lie.

That we are happy here: a lie.

Cuba is like a great theater, where we lie to each other as part of a play that no longer needs to be rehearsed

But we are used to lying, and we are afraid of the truth, and we teach our children to act in this coarse show, truly hoping that one day “something” will happen that will allow us to exist and not pretend, without realizing that if we all said what we believe and what we think, if we all spoke the truth, this system would collapse.

Divide and conquer. We cannot deny that the ancient Romans were wise. One of the greatest successes of the communist system is to have brother against brother come to blows, creating a network of espionage and urban accusation that plunges us into continuous paranoia. No one trusts anyone and we all take care of everyone, because no one knows “who you are talking to”.

We shield ourselves from our neighbors, co-workers, even our own family members. We calculate each word, each reaction, and like snails in their shells, we expose ourselves more or less according to the environment, but always with caution, always lowering our voices when faced with certain issues, always afraid of “selling ourselves on a platter” to someone who later will report, not for money and not even for conviction, but because he believes that this is the way he can best survive.

And in the midst of all this, silence. We see, we hear, we know … but we do not speak. As passive spectators, we wait for others to talk, and we spy on the reactions to what they say, ready to turn our eyes the other way, so as to not compromise.

And here, I cannot help to painfully say that I suffer my bishops’ silence. It is not true that the Church has not spoken, it is not true, because we are all the Church, and many lay people, priests, religious, and some bishops, personally, have said what we think and we are continuing to say it.

But the bishops are a body, they are a defined instance we all observe, waiting.

And here, I cannot help but painfully say that I suffer the silence of my bishops

This country needs a change, it needs a transition, it needs to live and stop dragging its existence, and at this moment, in my opinion, only the Catholic Church is in a position to lead a dialogue and propose a transition.

There are many people pushing in the right direction, many committed, tenacious and courageous people. There are many people abroad supporting these people and fighting for this transition, but they do not have the power to bring about internal change from where they are.

Internal opposition is divided, without understanding that, like the legendary Voltus V, it can only be strong if individual claims are put aside and worked as a whole. When I have traveled abroad and been asked how opposition in Cuba is, I shrug my shoulders and can only say: “I don’t know”, because it is not clear to me where to look, and people do not have a handle on any concrete proposal. The opposition would be much more effective if it were united. If they agreed, we could all look to it then, not only with more confidence but with more clarity. After all, one way or another, everyone seeks this land’s freedom and, if they worked together, they would find much more support from people who need and yearn for a different path.

The Protestant Churches are divided, some in favor, others against the system, and they do not have a single body to coordinate a social project.

That is why our people look to the bishops, and expect a clear position in favor of justice and freedom; in short, the Gospel.

Vargas Llosa tells in his book La Fiesta del Chivo, about Trujillo’s dictatorship in the Dominican Republic, the moment in which the bishops positioned themselves against the dictatorship.  I don’t know if the anecdote is historical or not, but Vargas Llosa places in his Catholic protagonist’s lips that phrase, full of pride: “At last, my Church speaks!

I don’t know what reactions this chronicle may bring, nor do I have bigger expectations, but I have said what I had hidden between my chest and my back.  Now I can continue to go to towns in my moped, whether it rains or anything else.  Now I am at peace.

This is today’s Cuba too.

Editor’s note: Alberto Reyes is spiritual director of the San Agustin Seminary and pastor in Esmeralda (Camagüey). This article was originally published on the author’s Facebook page.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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Fable about “Military Interference” and Realities Around Remittances

A man tries to withdraw money this Thursday at an ATM on the outskirts of a Metropolitan Bank in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 November 2020 — In recent days an opinion column was published in this medium about an alleged interference by the Cuban military in the US elections, which will be held this Tuesday.

Judging by the statements of its author, Emilio Morales, a Cuban-American economist and director of the Miami-based Havana Consulting Group, it is a plot orchestrated by Cuban intelligence through social networks, with the complicity of the international press “with the clear objective of interfering in the next elections on November 3rd”.  In this way, he assures, “the Cuban government joins the group of enemy countries that have tried to interfere in the US presidential elections, such as Iran, Russia and China.”

As basis for the conspiracy, Morales points out the statement published on the Facebook page of the Fincimex company in response to the sanctions of the US State Department, especially President Donald Trump’s recent provision prohibiting US financial companies from transacting remittances with those companies of the business structure of the armed forces that appear on the State Department’s restricted list, which – in fact – directly affects the leader of remittance transfers: the Western Union company. continue reading

Morales points out the statement published on the Facebook page of the Fincimex company as the basis of the conspiracy, in response to the US State Department sanctions.

The Cuban communiqué declares that remittances “will be totally interrupted”, which up to now is wishful thinking, while at the same time it places responsibility on the US government for the interruption of the remittance service between the two countries. Nothing that has not been said for decades ad nauseum, but that now, according to the Cuban-American economist, endangers Donald Trump’s eventual re-election.

It would be extensive and possibly unproductive to get into a debate about the real capacity of the Cuban dictatorship to influence the election results of its northern neighbor beyond its wishes or intentions to do so, although it is appropriate to point out how contradictory it is to equate the scope of the cybernetic adventures of the clumsy pro-Castro networks with the real influence that two global political powers such as Russia or China can exert.

Equally questionable is the widely held assumption that the Castro dictatorship has an interest in being part of the pro-Biden campaign, as if Cuba’s survival or recovery depended on the success of this candidate, or as if the Democrat could control the miracle of saving the Castro regime from the final crisis of the socialist experiment.

Obviously, anything goes when it comes to Miami politicking, because in the electoral circus it is not necessary to have arguments or reasons. Stirring emotions is sufficient to achieve schizophrenia. Thus, paradoxically, Morales commits the same sin that he accuses the innocent Castro regime of, using the sensitive issue of remittances to lobby for Donald Trump, his favorite candidate.

Now, although it is fair to admit that the pro-Trump measures to suffocate the Castro regime have an undeniable devastating effect on the leadership of power, mired in the greatest economic crisis and lack of liquidity of its existence, the truth is that Cuba’s ruin was already fait accompli, after six decades of managerial incompetence and failed experiments in a tightly centralized and inefficient economy. And that failure is so profound that it will not be reversed regardless of the success of either candidate.

Morales commits the same sin he accuses the not-so-innocent Castro regime of, by using the sensitive issue of remittances to lobby in favor of his favorite candidate: Donald Trump

At the same time, it should also be acknowledged that none of these measures has favored Cubans, rather the opposite. The principle that “what’s bad for my enemy is good for me” is far from being fulfilled for ordinary Cubans on any shore, who are mere hostages of the political tensions and rampages between the two governments.

However, although Morales focuses his attention on the imaginary powers of the Cuban dictatorship to place an important disruption in the results of the elections of November 3rd, I personally consider another edge of his article much more relevant, since it is directly related to Cubans’ interests: the assumption that there is some alternative way to send remittances to Cuba, eliminating the mediation of “the military.”

In an interview with Univisión last October, Emilio Morales himself stated that if Cuba used other ways to process remittances, such as the Metropolitan Bank, the Credit and Commerce Bank (Bandec), the Popular Savings Bank or even the Cuban Postal Service, these could continue. In his opinion, it is about the existence of service providers in Cuba, other than Fincimex, and it does not belong to the Ministry of the Armed Forces or the Ministry of the Interior.

This brings to the fore an error of principle common to all the defenders of this new Trump punishment aimed at taking the military business community out of the game, which is to say, the Castro power: they forget that in a totalitarian regime, such as the Cuban one, the separation of powers or financial entities independent of the Government do not exist.

This means that all the “alternatives” mentioned by Morales and many other remote analysts are equally innocuous, because they are the property of the regime. And the fact is that the Castro financial system is carefully designed so that the dollars that enter any Cuban bank or institution inevitably end up in the hands of the dictatorship.

An additional independent circumstance is that Cubans residing in Cuba may get their family remittances through any other agency – the latter quite possibly tentacles of the Castro regime abroad, as other shell companies have been, including some inside the US territory- in the end, once the money is in Cuba it will be spent at the markets and other establishments of the state commercial monopoly, among them the chains that also belong to the Cimex military company. In other words, the same process is repeated: all money roads lead to the Castro coffers.

The same process is repeated: all money roads lead to the Castro coffers

Nor do I agree with Morales when he considers that “the cause and effect relationship generated by the inevitable family separation that the process of emigrating from the country entails, affecting thousands of Cuban families today, is the fundamental basis that the induced dependence on these shipments which thousands of Cubans still living in Cuba have today”.

In reality, without denying the effect of remittances in this regard, the induced dependence of Cubans long precedes the start of the remittances, and is based on the elimination of private property and of all large and small businesses at the beginning of the so-called “Revolution”, on the demonization of wealth, on extreme nationalization, on the persecution of those who prosper by their own effort, on the parameterization of poverty, considered a virtue, and in the promotion of a social parasitism, very alien to Cuban culture and idiosyncrasy, among many other absurdities, typical of the imposed economic model.

To say that economic and political freedoms, both endorsed as inseparable rights, is the only way to dignify the life of Cubans on the island based on their work and income is obvious. We already knew that. However, enhancing the entrepreneurial character in Cuba does not go through the decisions made by the current US president or the tug of war in relations between the Palacio de la Revolución and The White House. The last 60 years of failed policies on both sides have shown this.

In any case, magnifying the interest of the US administrations in solving the Cuban crisis is not only naïve and tends to underestimate the capacity of the natives of this island, but it also keeps in foreign soil a matter that (also) belongs to Cubans by right. All interference is open to criticism, be it those of the Castro regime of those of foreign governments towards Cuba.

Ironically, there is nothing that looks more like a Castro regime enthusiast than a Trump fanatic.

Of course, there will never be a lack of illuminati who will, though from a distance, tell those who continue to live in Cuba through thick and thin which president of their host country is better to free us from the dictatorship, or what we must do. The latter, at least, we already know. What neither side has figured out is how to do it, that is why the regime has always ended up winning the game and politicians on both sides have ended up mocking us, whether we like it or not.

Without a doubt, distance and elapsed time since a person emigrates results in misplaced references, reality of the original country to be distorted, and sometimes a certain sense of intellectual and moral superiority in relation with those “who stayed behind” to be forged. These are other fissures among Cubans that are never mentioned and that can’t be attributed to the Castro regime directly.

Perhaps that sense of knowledge acquired upon emigrating is what inspires Emilio Morales to imagine interference by the military arm of the Castro power cupula in the elections of its most tenacious enemy, and to conclude: “that desperate movement clearly shows that when Trump tweets, the dictatorship shakes”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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The Onion of Mistrust

The relentless persecution unleashed by the state to enforce the insane rules imposed on peasants is only successful on television. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 31 October 2020 – When my neighbor Manolo assured me that the absence of onions in the market was the consequence of the confiscation against a private onion warehouse in the Mayabeque province at the beginning of July of this year, it brought to mind a book I read when I was 18, Logical Errors.

In the text, published in 1964 by Political Editing under the authorship of the Soviet academic A.I. Uemov, there is a concept that has stayed with me until today: “The link that the person establishes between thoughts may or may not correspond to the real relationship that exists between them.”

Indeed, it is difficult to relate with any degree of logic that the thousands of tons of the confiscated vegetable (valued at 47 million pesos) still have an impact on the lack of this appreciated ingredient making Cubans cry today, when they realize it’s nowhere to be found in their kitchens. continue reading

However, there is a real relationship between the act of confiscation and food waste. The 30 people behind bars subjected to police investigation is what is causing repercussions here because it is not a mathematical link but something that living beings of almost all species have learned through experience.

This old lesson teaches us that the feeling of trust takes time to settle into a sense of security, but distrust sets off alarms that immediately activate defense mechanisms against danger.

The trust we develop towards a person, a commercial brand or a government, is built over the years, but mistrust arises, like a warning flash, and it surges because we have been surprised by a suspicious gesture in one who had seemed a friend; or because of a slight change in flavor in the product that we had liked since we were children; or the breach of the promises with which politicians come to power.

Onion farmers must first ensure that their seedbeds are protected; a couple of weeks later, the seedlings need to be transplanted to furrows, but first the land has to be properly cleared, watered and care taken that the crop won’t be affected by weeds. Finally, the harvest will come. All of this has to be done standing up in full sun and not sitting in an air-conditioned office.

It seems obvious that to commit to planting onions you have to be convinced that the work you do will be rewarded with an adequate financial remuneration, in addition to a deserved social recognition. If product marketing involves restrictive rules that limit profits, it only remains to try to skip the rules or plant something else. When the rules, in addition to being absurd, include disproportionate punishment, the project will be abandoned.

The relentless persecution unleashed by the Cuban State to strictly enforce insane rules imposed on farmers is only successful on television programs, where the seized merchandise is shown, and in courtrooms, where sentences are handed down, but the distrust generated in producers leaves a sequel that translates into my neighbor Manolo’s apparent lack of logic. Yes, our food cannot be well flavored because of the police operation in Mayabeque.

The worst thing is that once trust is lost, the time it will take to regain it is incalculable. We will have to continue crying over the onions.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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Within Days of the Start of the New School Year, Cuba’s Parents and Teachers Differ in Their Concerns

Classes resumed on September 1st in all provinces except Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 29 October 2020 — How many students will be allowed per classroom? Will all classes be indoors? Will there be a regular supply of water in the bathrooms? Parents’ questions grow a few days before the start of the school year in Havana. There are also many doubts from teachers, who try to resume instruction, interrupted last April by the pandemic.

In recent days, and in order to organize the return to the classrooms next Monday, November 2nd, teachers and directors have called special meetings to report on the measures that will govern going back to classes. The classrooms that have been deserted for months were filled this week with anxious and demanding parents, who expressed their concern about the sanitary conditions of the premises.

This Wednesday, in the municipality of Plaza de la Revolución, several schools convened a meeting with families. The main objective was for parents to know the new regulations and to become aware of how the evaluation plan will be carried out. Although these meetings do not normally manage to get everyone to attend, this time, few were absent. continue reading

“The new measures ‘guide’ parents not to enter schools and children to not even peek through the gate, so everyone has to bring their snacks from home”

If eight months ago parent-teacher appointments were characterized by  the teachers asking the parents for cleaning supplies for the classroom, raising money to buy fans or selecting a delegate to represent families, now it is different. The fear of Covid-19 contamination rules the pace of the meetings.

At the José Luis Arruñada school, the seventh and sixth grade classrooms were full, everyone wanted to know how the center was preparing to receive the students. The teachers insisted the water supply would be guaranteed for the children to wash their hands, a promise that failed to convince the parents, who are aware of the hydraulic problems that affect the property.

For decades, one of the most repeated complaints in Cuban schools — along with the poor quality of the lunches or the low level of teachers — has been related to the problems of health infrastructure, along with the lack of personnel or cleaning supplies. This last task, as a rule, is assumed and financed by the parents themselves.

“I’m going to bring soap, so don’t worry about that,” said the sixth-grade teacher when questioned by those summoned. “I will be here very early. The new measures ‘guide’ parents not to enter schools and children to not even peek through the gate, so everyone has to bring their snacks from home,” she said.

Parents’ greatest concern was about classroom hygiene and how teachers were going to guarantee the necessary distancing to avoid contamination. “I am responsible for everything that happens within the school. There will always be a teacher to accompany the student in each bathroom, turn on the water at the sinks and make sure that distances are maintained,” she explained.

Teachers will be overloaded with matters of classroom hygiene, and it’s already generating doubts in the sector. “They told us that it is our responsibility, but I am also at risk. I cannot solve what has been a problem for years in just a month,” a second-grade teacher, who is evaluating whether or not to continue teaching, commented to this newspaper “because now we will even have to play the role of doctors.”

“No child who has respiratory symptoms, fever or discomfort, will be allowed to attend school”

The early detection of children with respiratory symptoms, supervision of students’ hand-washing several times a day, controls to maintain social distancing and the responsibility of concentrating in the coming months on the material that should have been taught before the summer are some of the new responsibilities that burden teachers.

One of the teachers in charge of the sixth grade said at the meeting, “No child can come to school with respiratory symptoms, fever or malaise. In the case of allergic or asthmatic children having a crisis they will have to go through their family doctor to be examined and return with a note signed by the doctor.” She also recalled that wearing masks is mandatory and specified that each child must bring three masks to guarantee changing it at least after a snack and lunch.

Clear regulations have not been announced about the number of students that will be allowed per classroom, a weak point in education in Cuba, where the exodus of teachers to other, better paid sectors has forced class overcrowding in recent years. Nor has the use of television broadcasts to support teaching been announced, nor the systematic cancellation of periods in subjects such as English, computers and physical education.

Skepticism that some area schools should be closed, due to a possible re-outbreak, also hovered over the meetings this week, in a country where several provinces that began the de-escalation had to return to strict quarantines and the cancellation of teaching work. The field that opens as of next Monday is an unknown one for everyone.

In the meetings at the Arruñada school and in the face of fears unleashed by the coronavirus, few parents directed their concerns towards academic issues, and nor did the teachers explain how they are going to make up for all these months without education and the delay that this means in the lesson plan. Teaching seems to have taken a back seat, replaced by ensuring the health of students.

Clear regulations have not been announced about the number of students that will be allowed per classroom, a weak point in education in Cuba, where the exodus of teachers to other better paid sectors has forced class overcrowding in recent years 

Thus, the school director tried to calm the anguish, and in a smaller previous meeting with all the parents she assured: “Don’t worry, we have fixed the sinks in all the bathrooms and whenever a child wishes to wash his hands, he will be given permission to do so.” Some attendees wanted to verify this statement, but it was impossible because all the bathrooms were locked.

According to the authorities, it has been planned for this course to end on December 7th, at which time the new 2020-2021 school year will begin. In addition, details have been given about the calendar for revaluation exams in the case of junior high school students who have failed some subjects or want to improve their grades.

“At the moment, the initial grades are the only ones wearing uniforms. The school guidelines we have pertain to the rest of the students, and consist in the distribution of bonuses in December for such a time when the new school year starts, when everyone will already have their new uniforms,” explained the eighth-grade teacher. She also specified that in the case of students whose uniforms no longer fit, they will have the option to wear blue pants and a white pullover.

After each meeting it is inevitable that parents congregate outside the schools to share their impressions and doubts. A few meters from the entrance to Arruñada, at a former nationalized religious school currently under state administration, the faces this Wednesday afternoon showed more concern than relief.

One of the mothers was wondering how to make up for lost school time. She said she was convinced that when the new course begins, they will rush through all the content. “Just in case, I already got a private tutor for math, because I know that now they will want to blast from beginning to end and there is a lot of content,” she said.

“My son really wants to start,” said another. “He has a lot of energy and can’t wait to see his friends, so let’s see how distancing is going to be respected.” “Look at us, we are adults and here we are, not even keeping a meter and a half,” replied a father. “Going back to school is not a good idea, not yet,” another one was heard saying, seconds before the group dispersed.

In a few days they will be back in front of the schools with their children hand in hand and a bunch of questions still unanswered.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

Price Maximums Set for Agricultural Products in Havana

Agricultural markets in Havana are increasingly underserved or maintain high prices. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 October 2020 — Meats and vegetables sold by the self-employed in Havana will have maximum prices set from now on. The resolution, published by the government of the capital on Friday, was immediately criticized.

These prices “seem set by business owners of agricultural products and not by the State”, claimed a citizen of the capital when reading the new resolution published by Tribuna, the official Havana newspaper. “For example, pork rib at 35 pesos and shoulder at 50 pesos, what lack of respect!”

As specified in the document, the standard governs retail sales and establishes the maximum value for meat products, sausages, smoked products, pork, meats, fruits, grains, vegetables and vegetables that are marketed in the supply-and-demand (i.e. not rationed) and non-agricultural cooperatives markets or those sold by street vendors.

In establishments managed only by self-employed workers, where they have “incorporated a component of services, which give added value”, such as peeling and cutting of meats or pickling of the products they sell, “up to 40 % above the approved price has been established”.

“This is going to result in products disappearing. It is true that prices are prohibitive, but we already experienced something like this last year when they imposed price caps and we stopped seeing a lot of merchandise which one could obtain only by traveling to the fields,” lamented a customer of the Vedado neighborhood market on 19 and B streets, this Friday afternoon.

Hours before the measure had been made public, an Internet user published on Facebook several images of a Havana market where a pound of tomatoes cost 50 CUP, and one of peppers, 60 CUP

Hours before the measure had been made public, an Internet user published on Facebook several images of a Havana market where a pound of tomatoes cost 50 CUP, and one of peppers, 60 CUP. “When did wages increase that I have not heard?” a woman stated sarcastically, who criticized that a worker had to work between two and three days to acquire each of these products.

“What was happening was an abuse and there were already people who even had to give up sweet potatoes, which became very expensive”, a retired woman who frequently visits the market on San Rafael Street in Centro Habana told 14ymedio. “I hope this makes sellers reconsider,” she says.

In recent months, as the capital entered the resurgence of Covid-19 infections, it fell into a deep crisis from which it has not emerged. This newspaper has confirmed how the main private markets in the region remain practically without products.

At the beginning of September, with the intensification of measures to stop the spread of the pandemic, empty pallets, closed markets and long faces were part of the landscape due to the establishment of controls on access roads in the capital, which hindered supply sourcing from privately managed businesses.

Almost a month after the strict regulations were lifted, reality has not changed much and, given the shortages, prices continue to skyrocket.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

The Emblem of Biran: The New Man, Castro-Style / Miriam Celaya

Young Cubans drinking rum in a public place (File photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 October 2020 — It was the serial murderer, Ernesto Guevara –“Che” to his friends, if he had them, and also to his cult followers, whom he does have — who defined the original concept of “New Man” as a kind of superhuman being, a permanent revolutionary, whose mission in life would be to lay the foundations for an inescapable end: communism, which one day would impose itself on the entire Earth.

As is often the case with such epiphanies, the baby’s father was destined not to attend his birth. It is known that all faith needs martyrs, and ironically, Guevara himself was the sacrificial lamb before the communist Castro altar. Only the death of the ideologist, eternal guerrilla of failure, would guarantee the perpetuity of the myth.

And so, invoking the hidden corpse, buried in a nameless grave, the Castro catechism incorporated the insane idea of materializing a humanoid model of a pure revolutionary, an individual dedicated entirely to working every day and hour of his life in pursuit of a socialist transformation without sensing it as a cold, sacrifice detached from material and personal ambitions, austere, disciplined, intransigent, implacable against the enemy (anyone who does not embrace the cause, but especially the Yankee imperialism) to the point of being willing to kill or die for such a cause, including placing the communist utopia above family. continue reading

At the same time, the new social prototype had to be unconditional, blind and obedient towards its leaders, especially towards the “maximum leader.”

Fortunately, the projected New Man never went beyond one of the many concepts ingrained in the extensive Castro-communist taxonomy.

Unrealizable because of its dehumanizing and unnatural nature, the gestation of the Guevaran New Man ended in abortion. It could not have been otherwise, given the numerous flaws in its origins, such as the insurmountable fact that there never existed a single pure revolutionary among the makers of the socialist project, and their servile sounding boards, to take on the task of training the new generations in the purity of the communist ideal.

It was even less likely that the children of a traditionally hedonistic, fickle and festive people were willing to become such rigid and bitter subjects as to renounce their personal ambitions and the pleasures of life. Definitely, the Guevara New Man was not possible, or at least Cubans were not the appropriate raw material for its construction, as was outrageously demonstrated in the 1980 stampede, when hundreds, or perhaps thousands of communist youth militants stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana, or left Cuba in flotillas that followed the route from Mariel to Florida.

However, it cannot be denied that many Cubans of the new generations, who grew up during the revolutionary process not only preserved the negative characteristics of our idiosyncrasy, such as the tendency to impose our own opinions over those of others, to admire and follow the leadership of a strong man, or to let passion prevail over reason. They, however, incorporated all the vices typical of totalitarian societies: simulation, double standards, fear and corruption as survival mechanisms, accusation, escapism and indolence.

Thus, from the very beginning of the Cuban social experiment, which has lasted for more than 60 years, another category of man emerged and consolidated, almost spontaneously, as a collateral result, not foreseen or defined in the official discourse: the Castro-style New Man, whom neither all nor even many of them are, but they do make a great racket and are very destructive.

And that anthropological malformation is not limited to the narrow Cuban geography, but has also been transferred as it is to the other side of the Florida Straits, spreading its tentacles through different waves of emigrants, with greater inflection among those who inhabit Miami, that other Cuban capital beyond the archipelago.

Because it turns out that, despite the colossal leap that presumes leaving dictatorship conditions behind and waking up every day in one of the most solid and long-lived democracies in the world, the Castro New Man who emigrated took with him and still has that “little Fidel” very deep inside of him that does not allow him to renounce what he left behind: he carries in his soul the soldier of the despot.

And thus, from the other shore, he offends, insults, stones and discredits everyone who differs from his political preference; he applauds the “rallies of repudiation” — both virtual and physical — orchestrated against the adversary; he finds a “strong man” to uncritically follow and deify (with the same blind and irrational passion as those who followed F. Castro then and today follow his heirs); and he assumes, without embarrassment, the same Castro principle of “who is not with me, is not only fundamentally wrong, but is also against me.”

These days, when the heat of the electoral contest reaches unprecedented levels of polarization, verbal violence and debauchery in the midst of Miami’s Cubanism, when we see that some of our countrymen are demonstrating in favor of harsher and harsher measures that directly affect their compatriots back home, when I hear that they call “the sheep” to rise up from within Cuba, though from the safety and comfort of their distance — despite the fact that most of them never raised their voices against the dictatorship while they lived here — when they talk about stopping the remittances and phone recharges, they applaud lists that are the sad imitation of the snitch planted in the national DNA by the regime that they say they detest, I cannot avoid the evocation of that murderer of Cubans who one day imagined the “New Man” and the caricature that resulted: the Castro-style new man.

This is the one that immortalizes among us and on either of these two shores the ill-fated emblem, born in Birán* almost 100 years ago.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro’s birthplace

Translated by Norma Whiting

 

Hair Tied Up, Life in Cuba Without Shampoo

Lines to buy shampoo at a store in Havana’s Nuevo Vedado neighborhood. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 23 October 2020 — Washed faces and hair up in a bun or spruced up with a scarf. It is the maximum beauty treatment that women can aspire to in a country where not only are creams and makeup scarce, but where even shampoo is not available. Emilia Domínguez is 63 years old and she declares that she is no longer up for dedicating every day of her life to “the comings and goings of waiting on lines” but that she cannot go on without shampoo or toothpaste one more day. She lives with her daughter and teenage granddaughters, all with long hair.

“I gave up on talcum powder, creams and my hair a long time ago, I cut it very short as soon as the pandemic started when it became impossible to buy any hair color products or shampoo. At least in the ration card there is a section where you can buy a tube of toothpaste from time to time, but shampoo has been missing for months,” she told this newspaper while waiting on line at one of the Nuevo Vedado markets, located on Calle 47.

In front of the store there is a long line with more than a hundred people waiting and hoping to be able to buy shampoo. It is 3 PM and the heat of the sun is dreadful. The people look for shelter or rest under a tree or on a bench. continue reading

In the absence of this common and accessible product in all parts of the planet, Cuban women are forced to invent all kinds of alternatives

“I have washed my hair with aloe vera, with soap, bath gel, whatever I am able to find”, says a young woman who is waiting with a friend who also has her story to tell: “You see me blonde like this, but ever since I’ve been 15 I have always been a redhead, the problem is that the hair color I use has disappeared from the map and I’ve had to make do with the first thing that fell into my hands.”

Although the government assured the people last September that the Suchel Camacho company “stabilized” production for the national market, the truth is that this did not translate into a greater supply on the shelve of stores that take Cuban convertible pesos (CUC), which are the stores most Cubans have access to.

“In the CUC stores, there is hardly ever shampoo, gel, soaps, toothpaste, hair color or moisturizers. All the stores where those products can be found are those that sell in MLC [freely convertible currency, i.e. US dollars for the most part] and we do not have access to that. The only thing that remains for me is this, to hunt around and stand on line for three or four hours,” laments Emilia Domínguez.

An Internet user, resident of Isla de la Juventud, commented about one of the articles assessing Suchel Camacho’s production, published by the official Cubadebate site. She stated that on the day Suchel Camacho’s “Dayli” brand of products (shampoo and conditioner, cologne and deodorant) were marketed in her locality, “they were sold in hardware stores at affordable prices but the lines were 25 days ago.”

“I concocted an avocado paste with a recipe that I found on the internet. First, I would wash my hair with anything, soap or bath gel, and then I would put on the cream that I had prepared. That way, my hair would not be stiff”

She explains that she was in line to make her purchase from 6:40 am to 5:00 pm but that in the end “everything was gone” and she had to leave empty-handed.

Others, with a higher purchasing power than most, have solved the problem with offers that circulate on social networks. “I bought a tube of toothpaste for 6 CUC (roughly $6 US) and a bottle of shampoo for 12,” says 21-year-old Mary. “My brother lives in the United States and helps me with remittances from time to time, that’s how I can pay the current prices. He told me that as soon as flights are normalized, he will send me a good reserve with a cousin of ours who visits at year’s end.”

She commented that, before she could make that purchase in the informal market recently, she had to get creative to keep her hair soft and silky.

“I concocted an avocado paste from a recipe that I found on the internet. First, I would wash my hair with anything, soap or bath gel and then I would apply the cream I prepared and that way, my hair would not be stiff. The Government thinks that life stopped with the coronavirus but no, at home you have to scrub every day, wash, clean… I have had to continue working in person and need deodorant, shampoo and toothpaste.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

Police Fence in the Porch Where a Family is Sleeping, in Fear of a Building Collapse

The residents of the property have had to take their belongings out to the porches. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 October 2020 — Several members of a family, including small children, have been sleeping in the porches in front of the Capitol for more than a week, for fear that the building where they live will collapse.  The building is in very bad condition, and is located on Paseo de Martí between Dragones and Teniente Rey, in Old Havana.

Yosniel Enríquez Suárez, one of those affected, tells 14ymedio they made the decision to move to the porch with all their belongings for fear of being crushed by the debris that falls from the ceilings every time it rains. “The situation up there is red hot, the stairs are falling, they have them propped up”.

“Since the problem has not been resolved, we all went downstairs. When the repairs began months ago, in the block near where the Teatro Payret is located, the authorities came to show us photos and videos of some apartment buildings that were being built for us, according to them, but that’s not how it ended up, that proposal was left up in the air,” he stated. continue reading

Enríquez explains during a phone conversation that, to date, the Government has only offered them accommodation in shelters. “All very bad, without bathrooms, without any basics.”

“What has the greatest impact on me about all this, in addition to the fact that people lose their belongings and their houses, is that they are kept imprisoned and can barely move, plus nobody reaches out to them.

“That’s why I’m not going to go anywhere. My mother, my sister, my uncle and my uncle’s children live with us.  Our family is living on the porch because we are the most affected.  The building can fall on us at any moment.  Other buildings are also in bad condition, but our neighbors believe that nothing is going to happen to them, so they stay upstairs. Our apartment is on the second floor, the main damage is to the roof and the staircase, and when it starts to rain, water seeps through everywhere,” Enríquez Suárez states.

The indignation not only spreads among those affected, it extends through residents of that area of the capital with historical infrastructure problems and overcrowding, who also reject the surveillance operation organized by the authorities that prevents anyone from physically approaching the family.

“What strikes me the most about all this, apart from the fact that people lose their belongings and their houses, is that they are kept as prisoners in the place, where they practically can’t move, and no one approaches them, in order to prevent them from talking about what or why it happened to them,” decries a neighbor of those affected, who prefers not to be identified for fear of reprisals.

Police officers remain in front of the building. (14ymedio)

“The background that the authorities’ position is such a terrible thing, but so terrible …,” laments the woman talking about the number of similar stories that she has had to witness in recent months in the city.

Dozens of families in the capital, who are already living in anguish over the complicated health situation in the face of the coronavirus outbreak and difficulties obtaining anything to eat due to the shortages in the city, have added to their daily concerns the uncertainty of not having a roof over their heads, for fear of their living quarters collapsing.

In the capital, the latest concentration of building collapses has taken place in Centro Habana and Old Havana, the latest one, leaving several people dead. Two women died last month, one on Calle Cuba, between Luz and Acosta, and the other very near there, in a multi-family building at Calle Amargura #319, between Aguacate and Compostela.

This newspaper reported the plight of several families in a three-story building on Calle Lucena, between San Miguel and San Rafael, in Centro Havana, which collapsed on October 14th. The residents of the building have spent whole days on the street, in the open and surrounded by a strong police operation.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.