Cuban Reporter Covering the Rape Case of a Minor Arrested for 24 Hours

The journalist was arrested this Thursday around two in the afternoon outside the Western Army Military Court in Arroyo Naranjo. (Facebook)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 18 June 2021 — Writer Jorge Enrique Rodríguez, a journalist for Diario de Cuba and a collaborator of the International Institute of Artivism Hannah Arendt (Instar), was released this Friday after being detained for 24 hours.

The journalist was arrested this Thursday around two in the afternoon outside the Western Army Military Court in Arroyo Naranjo, where the trial was held against six people accused of sexually abusing a child under 13 years of age, which took place in September of last year.

Rodríguez, who had not been heard from in 24 hours, tells 14ymedio that he was taken to the nearby El Capri station. “Members of the family of those involved were outside, and very aggressive,” he says. “All this time, they have said that the fault lies with the girl and her mother because they uploaded the complaint to social networks. When verifying that I was the journalist who was following the case, they got their contacts involved. A patrol car arrived immediately, one of the relatives approached it and the officer apparently called State Security.  A few minutes later a female officer arrived, arrested me and took me to the station.” continue reading

When he arrived at the station, the journalist continues, he asked the reason for his arrest, and they answered that “it was because he was taking photos,” but Rodríguez denies it: “That is false, it was all a story the family of the accused made up.”

The girl’s mother, Cleida García Díaz, tells this newspaper that she herself has now “received death threats”

The girl’s mother, Cleida García Díaz, whom Cenesex (National Center for Sexual Education) contacted to investigate her case after the complaint she made in independent media, assures this newspaper that right now she has now received “death threats.”

“It was around seven o’clock at night when I left at the end of the trial, and all the relatives of the six accused were outside and they insulted me and told me that they were going to kill me,” he says. “The police officers who were there asked me to get in the car quickly, I did so and we immediately left.”

She also says that her husband had to be taken through the back door of the court, “through the exit where the prosecutors leave,” because the situation at that time “got ugly… Immediately, the whole block was full of patrol cars because the family members became very aggressive,” she points out.

The woman, who lives in the municipality of El Cotorro, in Havana, says that she filed a complaint about the threats, so that the police would be aware of everything and record the facts. “Now I rarely go out because I have a newborn baby, but I told them that I was not going to hide. What happened was very serious, they attacked me when I was leaving the court with my baby in my arms and they threatened me, it was horrible.”.

The woman, who lives in the Havana municipality of El Cotorro, says that she filed a complaint about the threats, so that the police would be aware of everything and record the facts

García specifies that the prosecutor’s office is asking for 21 years and six months for the three defendants who were undergoing military service at the time of the attack against his daughter, and 21 years for the other three, but the final sentence won’t be determined until July 5th.

“I spoke the whole truth in court: that my daughter was threatened and harassed by these men. At the trial they reproached me because I made a complaint to the independent press, but I told them that I did it and that I do not regret it, because at that moment all the doors were closed and no one was giving me any answers. Where was my country at that moment that abandoned me like that?” she cries out.

Translated by Norma Whiting
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Cuba’s New Bank Resolution: More Shadows than Lights / Miriam Celaya

A line in front of a bank in Havana. (File photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 June 2021 — An informative note from the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) presented on Cuban TV’s  Roundtable program this Thursday, June 10, announced the temporary suspension of US dollar deposits in Cuban banks by individuals and legal entities.

As expressed in the note, this measure, which will go into effect on June 21, is “necessary for the protection of the banking system” and will affect cash, but not accounts in freely convertible currency (MLC), which will be able to continue receiving US dollars from abroad. The provision does not affect other currencies such as the Euro, Canadian dollars, Pounds Sterling, etc., in which deposits and other transactions can continue.

Presentations on the subject were given by Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Director General of the US Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Marta Sabina Wilson González, Minister President of the BCC, and the Vice Minister Yamilé Berra Cires. None of the interventions sufficiently clarified the implementation of this new edict. continue reading

Resolution 176 of the BCC is based on the impossibility of depositing physical US dollars in international banks in Cuba due to the restrictions imposed by the “extraterritorial nature of the blockade,” which makes it increasingly difficult to find banking institutions that will allow Cuba to carry out transactions in that currency.

According to Fernández de Cossío, with the tightening of the blockade applied by the Trump administration since 2017, but with greater force since 2019, “the US seeks to depress income and generate hunger and misery” in order to achieve a social outbreak that will do away with the Revolution. The emphasis on affecting the financial sector, laments the official, “has had surgical precision,” with “devastating impact.”

The official maintains that the limitation of remittances since 2019 and the suppression of the institutional channels to process them -he refers directly to the express prohibition of conducting of US dollar transactions through FINCIMEX — turns it into cash arrivals in Cuba, introduced by Cuban and foreign travelers, which causes a “disproportionate” circulation in that currency without being able to give it its due course.

The matter is confusing, especially considering the pernicious lack of liquidity that Cuban authorities often complain about, which was the reason given for the controversial opening of MLC-operating stores. Now it turns out that the “blockade” has generated an accumulation of dollars in Cuba which the government alleges it has no way to process.

According to Minister Wilson, an accumulation of physical money has been created that is without value because it cannot be circulated; “No foreign trade operation can be carried out with it.” She says that “the incisive effect on the financial system” and the loss of counterpart foreign banks is an additional damage caused by the US blockade against Cuban banks. “Placing Cuban entities on a black list implied the limitation of transactions with those entities”, she points out. Therefore, “people must understand that we have no other option” than the application of this resolution.

June 20 was established as the deadline for the public to make dollar deposits. It was also announced that the application of the new provision is temporary and that it will not result in penalties for holding dollars.

The duration of this measure, insists Wilson, “will depend on the duration of the restrictions imposed by the United States on Cuba,” which leaves the alleged “sovereignty” that the Island’s government authorities boast so much about in very bad standing.

For her part, Vice Minister Yamilé Berra was in charge of another array of calamities suffered by the Cuban banking system from the pressures established by Trump, which “Biden has kept intact.” Among them, he mentioned the conclusion of operations with Cuba on the part of 35 foreign banks, 12 of which were fined hefty multimillion-dollar fines under the Helm-Burton Act.

Berra also stated that, as part of the measures implemented since 2017 by the Trump administration, Cuban banking messaging system was canceled and several banking services have been closed operationally, including messaging and correspondent codes, and the refusal to accept Cuban operations using letters of credit.

“In 2020 alone, there were more than 190 actions by foreign banks against Cuban banks,” declared the vice minister, who regrets that Cuba is considered a risky country for these banks, a rating that has the “blockade” as one of its reasons. The official did not refer to other possible reasons -such as the recurrent defaults on the overwhelming debt- for the existence of such reserves against the Cuban banks.

In short, the statements by government officials on the Roundtable program, far from being enlightening, left many unanswered questions, in addition to omitting some questions of great interest. It would have been interesting to know if the non-acceptance of US dollars by Cuban banks includes the suppression of their purchase in the CADECAs at the rate of 24 x 1, given that this entity is part of the same financial system. It is assumed that the dollars collected by the CADECAs would also accumulate in bank vaults and thus lose their user value.

Another question corresponds to the statement of the CADECA management, a few weeks ago, about its lack of liquidity to change the national currency into foreign currency, as in cases of visitors who return to their countries of origin and try to get rid of the CUP. It turns out that — and is contradictory at a minimum — in a country where vaults are full of dollars that cannot be given their user value, it is not possible by a financial entity created for that purpose to exchange currency.

Nor can we ignore the possibility that the new resolution of the BCC has the unconfessed purpose of suppressing, or, at least, of limiting, the rampant illegal market of currencies, of which the most present is indeed the US dollar, a market that, among other secondary evils, encourages the development of illegal trade with products that are sold exclusively in MLC stores.

For the moment, in the days to come, corresponding reactions to these illicit activities should take place, typical of economies in crisis, as the Cuban case has been for decades. It is to be expected that the value of the dollar will tend to fall — at present it is around 70 CUP — while the Euro should rise considerably.

Attention, Cubans, new distortions are coming.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Endless Drama of the Cuban Rafters, Where Are the Causes?

Cuban rafters intercepted by the US Coast Guard October, 2020. Photo Coast Guard

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, 8 June 2021 —  On January 12th, 2017, when Barack Obama, the then outgoing president, repealed the dry feet/wet feet policy that had been in force since 1995 — a result of immigration agreements between the US and Cuba after the Balseros Crisis (1994) — Cuban authorities considered that decision as “an important step” for the advancement of relations between both governments. In addition, Raúl Castro, then Cuban president, gave himself credit for the event as a result of the secret negotiations that his government had held with the northern neighbor for more than a year.

It should be noted that, though years ago the Cuban side had accepted in principle the conditions proposed by the Clinton administration regarding the return of migrants who were intercepted at sea, it had previously refused to do so. Since 1995, the Cuban dictatorship had insistently spoken out against the existence of that policy that, it claimed, encouraged illegal migrations from the Island, putting the lives of thousands of Cubans at risk while causing a “brain drain.”

For their part, Cubans living in and outside of Cuba reacted virulently against what they considered Obama’s flagrant betrayal, despite the fact that visas had multiplied under his government and that the entry of Cuban migrants to the US had increased, especially since the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between our two countries raised the fear — not entirely unfounded — of losing the immigration privileges Cubans had enjoyed, including the Adjustment Act, in force since 1966. continue reading

As a reference, it should be noted that in fiscal year 2015-2016 alone, about 47,000 Cubans arrived in the United States, doubling the number who had arrived in the previous fiscal year.

But, although the repeal of the wet-foot/dry-foot policy meant a severe setback for tens of thousands of Cubans, whose maximum aspiration was (and is) to settle in the United States, and despite the fact that the first impact, while not eliminating it completely, did manage to considerably reduce the flow of rafters from Cuba, the truth is that, since the beginning of 2021, the trend of escaping from Cuba by sea is increasing.

Figures don’t lie. In 2018, a total of 259 Cubans were intercepted at sea, while the figure rose to 313 in 2019. In 2020 — at the start of the pandemic — there was a pause, when only 49 Cubans were captured in their vessels, while so far in 2021 that number has increased more than six times, with 323 rafters trapped so far.

The drama of this migratory flow is accompanied by a heavy dose of tragedy and death, which is why it continues to make headlines in numerous international media. The shipwreck of a boat with 20 Cubans on board was recently revealed. Two of them were found dead, floating at sea, 10 disappeared and only eight survived, rescued by US Coast Guard vessels, so that, eventually, the culmination of their sacrifice will be to face almost certain deportation to Cuba.

The increase in the illegal exodus by sea despite the fact that Cubans no longer have the prerogative that allowed them to remain in the United States legally and access permanent residence just by being able to touch that country’s territory (dry feet), and the evidence that they prefer to assume the uncertainty of living under undocumented status, just like the rest of the millions of illegal immigrants of other nationalities in that great nation, confirm that the causes that also compel Cubans to face the dangerous journey by sea, risking their lives in pursuit of a dream that not everyone manages to achieve, rest exclusively on the failure of the sociopolitical system imposed in Cuba more than six decades ago, in the permanent economic crisis derived from it, in the absence of freedoms and rights, as well as the repression inherent to the dictatorial regime.

Meanwhile, against the grain of the most elementary common sense that indicates that no one would escape from a country where everything is fine, where a Revolution was “made for the humble,” where social justice prevails and opportunities for a better life abound, Cuban authorities, alienated to the reality that is revealed before everyone’s  eyes, and with its intrinsic cynicism, continue to point to the Adjustment Act, the embargo and the “provocations” of the different US administrations as the causes that motivate the escapes.

But the indisputable truth is that the Cuban rafters, hostages of politics on both sides of the Straits of Florida and a bone of contention between extreme positions, are a direct result of the Castro Regime. It’s a sad chapter, unknown to our pre-1959 history. The escapes have existed since the first years of the “Revolution,” the rafters crossed the waters of the Florida Strait even before the existence of the Adjustment Act and the policy of wet-foot/dry-foot, and they will continue to exist and surrender to the uncertain fate of the unpredictable Caribbean as long as there is a dictatorship that prevents all of us from manufacturing our own dream of prosperity and democracy in Cuba. There is no alternative.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“The Police Have Kidnapped Me in My Home for 60 days,” Denounces Iliana Hernandez

A policeman and a State Security agent guard the surroundings of Iliana Hernández’s house, in Cojímar, Havana. (Capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Miami, 7 June 2021 — CiberCuba activist and reporter Iliana Hernández has been besieged for two months at her home by police and State Security agents. Not only do they prevent her from going out, but they also do not allow any of her friends to visit, and they have cut off her mobile data internet service.

In conversation with 14ymedio, Hernández points out that the last time she was able to leave her home was on April 8, but she ended up arrested on Obispo Street in Old Havana along with other activists. “Since the 9th, I woke up surrounded by surveillance, until today,” she points out.

The journalist assures that in the 60 days that she has been in home detention, she has been “documenting the oppressors… Even at night, when they get close to my home, I record them,” she says. “On Sunday, one of them tried to hide behind a post so as not to appear in the video and in the end, his hiding was useless, because I later caught him around the corner. It is one of the best images I have of this repression.” continue reading

“They brought me to El Cerro in another patrol car and one of the security agents warned me not to go too far,” says Otero Alcántara

This Sunday, artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara and Art Historian Carolina Barrero tried to visit the reporter and ended up being detained by the officers who were part of the siege. “A block before, we saw a patrol car and we got out of the car we were in,” Otero Alcántara tells this newspaper. “Right there, the policeman told us that we couldn’t go to Iliana’s house and they put us in a patrol car and took us to the Cojímar police station. They brought me to El Cerro in another patrol car and one of the security officers warned me not to go that far.”

For her part, Barrero pointed out that she wanted to go see Hernández “because she has been inside the barricade for many days,” when in reality there isn’t “either a complaint, nor a process, nor a precautionary measure” which will legally prevent her from leaving her home. “I wanted to see her, bring her some things, have a coffee with her, so that she feels accompanied, and Luis Manuel told me that he wanted to go with me because he also wanted to see her,” she says.

Barrero details that the police had her sitting on a bench in the police station for a while, and after some time a patrol went to look for her and left her at her house in Old Havana. “Luckily, no security agent appeared, no one came to ask me anything,” she adds.

In an article denouncing in her social networks the arbitrariness that Hernández has experienced in recent weeks, Barrero pointed out that “the authority” that today is preventing Hernández from leaving her house “is not legitimate” and that “it is discredited for a lack of respect to rights and to the law itself.”

“What I found funniest was that they told me that they were masters of my life and writers of my destiny,” said reporter Héctor Luis Valdés Cocho

Journalist Héctor Luis Valdés Cocho was also arrested this weekend when he tried to visit Iliana. Upon reaching the corner of the reporter’s house, he was put in a patrol car that took him into custody at the Cojímar police station and then he was transferred to Infanta and Manglar, in El Cerro. “They wanted to draw up a warning report for violating a security action but I refused to sign it. They threatened me again by preventing me from going to a training course, confining me at home, inventing a cause to take me to jail,” Cocho complained to this newspaper.

“What I found funniest was that they told me that they were masters of my life and writers of my destiny,” noted the reporter, a contributor to the news portal ADN Cuba.

Iliana Hernández says that State Security would like her to leave Cuba but that they know perfectly well that she is not going to leave Cuba “forever”.

“They know it and that is why they still have me regulated [banned from traveling outside Cuba], they denied me the complaint I made to the Ministry of the Interior, the Supreme Court gave it no place, breaking all the laws because there is no justification for me to be regulated. I am not going to tell them that I want to leave and never return, this is my country and they do not own Cuba. They have kidnapped me but they are not the owners, we are recovering Cuba from the kidnapping,” she declares.

She also stated that right now for her “there is no idea” in her head other than to continue with her activism and her work as a reporter: “My priority is my country’s freedom and they are not going to get me to give up, they can be out there as long as they want, when I need to go out, I’m going to go out.”

On April 24, after two weeks of the police siege, a group of activists who went to visit her ended up being arrested, including Hernández herself who was accompanying them.

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.

Like Coffee and Rum, Tobacco Disappears from Stores in Cuban Pesos

With the disappearance of tobacco in stores that sell in Cuban pesos, anyone who can’t pay in hard currency has to resort to the black market. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Natalia López, Moya, Havana, 3 June 2021 — On the island of cigars and cigar rag (cut tobacco), Cubans find themselves with the dilemma of acquiring packs of cigarettes on the black market or buying them in stores in freely convertible currency (MLC). In state stores and cafeterias, where this product is marketed in pesos, the shortage becomes more acute every day and huge lines get longer.

“I buy cigarettes from people who sell in my neighborhood because they are gone from the stores, but when I went to the Boyeros and Camagüey shopping center, there they were, all brands looking pretty, but in MLC. Tremendous lack of respect”, Jorge, a resident of the Havana neighborhood of Los Pinos, tells us. He adds that he should take advantage of the situation to quit smoking, but that it is quite difficult for him given the daily stress of living in Cuba.

Along with rum and coffee, two of the other symbols of Cubanness, smoking is no longer affordable for the pockets of the ordinary citizen. In addition, tobacco rose in price on January 1, with the start of the so-called ‘Ordering Task’*, but the rise was the least of the problems for some consumers who had seen the product disappear months ago. continue reading

In addition, tobacco rose in price on January 1, with the start of the ‘Ordering Task’, but the rise was the least of the problems

Many smokers have been forced to stop smoking their favorite brands. Those who preferred Hollywood, now have to turn to Rothman, which late last year replaced the former. But soon after, the Rothmans disappeared from the peso sales and can only be found at US$2.20 a pack. Consumers have had to opt for other alternatives, such as the green Popular or the H. Upmann, but now, those are also scarce and are only relatively easily found in sole proprietorship businesses for up to double their usual price.

Added to the dilemma of not finding the desired cigarettes is the complaint of many smokers about the poor quality of the product. The flavors have changed and sometimes the cigarettes come with little filler or scant glue, so the cork or filter separates from the rest. They also arrive with yellowish spots on the paper, a product of humidity, a sign of improper storage and handling.

“You may find either a stem of the tobacco leaf or a piece of plastic just as easily. It happened to me once, I noticed it because of the burnt cable stink, and almost called the fire department, but before I did, I realized that the smell was coming from the cigarette. After I performed the autopsy, I found a two-centimeters long piece of plastic.  I still wonder how that ended up in the cigarette,” a Centro Habana barber told 14ymedio.

On the other hand, the few places where they carry the odd brand, especially “strong”, are hotbeds of desperate people trying to get the product at cheaper prices. “First I went to the Sylvain and there was only blue Popular, then I arrived at the Cupet, at Infanta and San Rafael Streets but they were very crowded, it took over 2 hours to get them and quantities were limited to purchases of 5 packs per person, which means that in four or five days I’ll have to wear out my shoes in search of the darn cigarettes again,” says a worker at La Quinta de los Molinos.

The mixed Cuban/Brazilian Company, Cigarrillos S.A., popularly known as Brascuba and founded in 1995, is the one that supplies stores in foreign currency and, although some prices continue to be unchanged, it has increased others.

At the beginning of last year, company executives declared that, in order to guarantee the constant flow of production and so that “there is no impact,” Brascuba had expanded its portfolio of suppliers and the main raw material, tobacco, came “directly from the Virginia project, in Pinar del Río, and that the company’s partners have contributed to its growth and improvement.” However, months later, reality tells a different story.

Faced with such a shortage, some people who are astute and have good memories, have resorted to the homemade manufacture of cigars, the so-called Tupamaros

Faced with such a shortage, some people who are astute and have good memories, have resorted to the homemade manufacture of cigarettes, the so-called tupamaros. They use the artisanal machines to roll, manufacture and produce cigarettes from different raw materials, such as sweepings or surplus that is usually discarded at the factories, or also by creating the filling from chopped tobacco leaves. Almost any paper can be used, as long as it’s a thin sheet, as long as the glue is a mixture of flour and water.

Francisco, a neighbor of the La Corona Tobacco Factory in Old Havana, performs very well in these tasks. He has dusted off his cigarette machines not used since the late 90’s and, after maintenance, he’s gotten down to business. “The situation has become very difficult, especially for us retirees,” he explains.

“Buying food is already complicated, so being able to smoke is so much worse, that’s why I remembered that I had the little machines to make cigarettes, so taking advantage of the shortage, I started production with what I can resolve. This way, I guarantee mine and sell to people from the neighborhood to recoup the investment and earn a bit of change, although sometimes I also trade cigarettes for sugar, chopped meat or whatever they offer me.”

*Translator’s note:  The [so-called] ‘Ordering Task’ (Tarea ordenamiento) is a collection of measures that includes eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and others. 

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.

Foreign Correspondents in Cuba: The Fascination with the Dictatorship / Miriam Celaya

A conference at the International Press Center in Havana (Photo: CPI / Twitter)

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, Havana, 2 June 2021 — One of the most effective pillars that has helped to cement the legend of the “good Cuban dictatorship” has been the work of not a few accredited foreign press correspondents in Havana.

It is not something new. Since New York Times journalist Herbert Matthews’ crush on Fidel Castro in 1957, when he interviewed the guerrilla leader in the Sierra Maestra, many reporters have succumbed to the mythology (and mythomania, it should be added) of the Castro revolution.

Perhaps dazzled by the color and heat of the tropics, the cheerful carefreeness of Cubans, the beauty of the beaches, the refreshing taste of mojitos and the comfort of what, more than the work of being a correspondent, turns out to be a perennial state of paid vacations, the truth is that most of these foreign reporters are more interested in not upsetting the Cuban dictatorial power than in honoring the professional commitment to objectively narrate the reality of what is happening on the Island.

It is not surprising, then, that several press media, among the best known and most prestigious at the international level, echo the supposed technological and scientific advances that are produced in Cuba thanks to the high level reached by Cuban specialists in the shadow of the “Revolution,” or that they don’t extend themselves in praise over the imaginary social security and quality of health care enjoyed by the inhabitants of this Island either, and that they even tear their clothes off against the forever-villain: the US government, with its most deadly weapon, the “blockade,” which has prevented us from reaching greater heights in all categories and occupying our rightful place on the world stage. continue reading

The most recent installment of this type of half-truth journalism – all the more harmful because it selects a fragment of reality but show only one of its faces – is a column authored by Mauricio Vicent, published in the Spanish newspaper El País, dated May 31st, whose sole title (“Cuba and the United States Return to Times of Confrontation”) constitutes an inexplicable slip by such an experienced writer, given that the confrontation between the Cuban authorities and the United States government has not only been a constant, with brief and scant intervals of truce during the last 62 years, but constitutes the backbone of the foreign policy of the Castro dictatorship and its heirs of today, pledged to “continuity.”

To such an extent, it is of capital importance for the Palace of the Revolution to keep the confrontation embers and the “imperialist enemy” burning, because without this it is not possible to conceive the very survival of the dictatorship, as was definitely demonstrated during the thaw period prompted by the Obama Administration, when Cuban authorities hastily backed off from the dangerous effect of openness and détente offered by the powerful northern neighbor.

Mauricio Vicent, correspondent for the Spanish newspaper El País in Cuba (Photo: El País)

The avalanche of unilateral measures by Obama, which made the embargo more flexible with the intention of favoring the nascent sector of entrepreneurs and Cuban society as a whole, was capitalized on by Havana to establish itself in power without taking real steps towards the freedoms and rights of Cuban citizens. This is a reality that Vicent, who has lived in Cuba for over 20 years, should know by heart. However, his article is not only biased, but chooses to openly attack the new US president, Joe Biden, and side with the Cuban regime.

What is Vicent accusing Biden of? First, of having spent five months at the helm of the US government and having lifted “not a single of the 240 measures adopted by Trump to intensify the embargo” as if the Cuban issue had to be a priority for a foreign president, particularly for the American one, and as if the Cuban side did not have to make any internal moves to try to improve the situation in our own country.

But Biden’s bag of sins is bulkier than that. The El País columnist seems to be irritated both by “Washington’s reproaches” for the human rights situation in Cuba and by the fact that the current US Administration has kept Cuba on the black list of governments that sponsor terrorism or are not doing enough in the fight against this scourge.

To support the position of the Cuban side, Vicent cites the fiery reactions of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, with an arsenal of phrases and cumbersome adjectives which he uncritically seems to agree with, to conclude that “every day returns to the fierce rhetoric from the Trump era, and Obama’s normalization is no longer talked about…”

In order not to skimp on quotes, Vicent also makes use of the American academic William Leogrande, who recalls Joe Biden’s support for Obama’s open-minded policy towards Cuba when Biden was his vice president, plus his campaign promise about resuming the dialogue between the two governments, whose stagnation Leogrande attributes to an unresolved debate that would be taking place between the forces in favor of the policy of rapprochement and those who prefer to maintain pressure on the Cuban dictatorship.

So far, it could be said that Vicent’s position is valid: each one with his own political sympathies, only that you would expect more objectivity from him as a journalist. Because, while his article gives voice and place to the Cuban and US authorities – obviously in favor of the former – at the same time, he conveniently avoids including the claims of dissident artists and activists, whom he does mention in the column.

So, when he speaks of the forced transfer of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara to the hospital, where he spent “almost four weeks as an isolated in-patient,” Vicent fails to allege that it was actually a kidnapping and that this isolation included the artist’s abduction, prevented from having any contact with his friends and colleagues from the San Isidro Movement, deprived of his phone and possibly subjected to medical or other practices not authorized by Otero himself. Vicent also avoids mentioning the illegal arrests, house confinements and police harassment of activists and dissidents, or of all the violent events related to the hunger strike and the subsequent kidnapping of Otero.

Prodigal in epithets when it comes to condemning the US government, he seems to suffer a sudden language impoverishment when he refers to the flagrant human rights violations in Cuba, as if the existence of the much-used “US blockade” – which undeniably affects everyone – justifies police repression and lack of rights of Cubans.

It goes without saying that this journalist doesn’t make any critical mention either – I don’t remember his ever having made it – of the internal blockade of the dictatorship toward Cuban nationals, of the discrimination implanted by the government both towards Cubans who have access to hard currency and those who do not, of the new provisions that force Cuban travelers to pay in dollars for their stay in isolation centers and transportation to their places of residence when they return from a trip abroad, among countless other perversions that have nothing to do with the embargo.

But the greatest offense is that this correspondent, like a sounding board for the official discourse, attributes a political handicap to us Cubans, as if we were a herd, incapable of claiming rights on our own. Perhaps because of that colonial mentality that permeates many children of the old metropolis settled comfortably in Cuba, because of that congenital resentment towards the United States or simply because the hierarchs of the regime also have in their hands the power to keep them in Cuba or to allow them to leave, this foreign correspondent joins others in the assumption that all of us who stand up to the dictatorial power are responding to an agenda imposed on us by Washington.

Everyday Cubans and dissidents, those of us who are actually suffering from both the pressures of the embargo and the repression and twists and turns of the dictatorship, don’t even figure as political subjects in Vicent’s imagination. Reduced to a simple uncomfortable reference, he doesn’t recognize in us the capacity nor the right. His reductionist proposal, which only conceives of the Biden Administration and the Cuban dictatorship as debaters in the solution of the Cuban crisis, mimics the same position that Cubans faced at the end of the 1898 war, when they were excluded from agreements between defeated Spain and victorious U.S.

Vicent concludes that the “blockade” and US politics show that Cuba and Cubans are not interested in the US, and this may be true. Though, at this point he failed to say that he does not care about us either – in short, a foreigner whose stay among us depends on the benefits of the regime – or, what is worse, on the elite that has held the dictatorial power in Cuba for more than six decades.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Otero Alcantara Leaves Havana Hospital After a Month of Forced Confinement

Screen captures of a video that Otero Alcántara made when he left Havana’s Calixto García hospital this Monday. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 31 May 2021 — “I am relatively well, from a physical point of view but, emotionally, [I am] worried about all my brothers,” Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara told CubaNet Noticias shortly after leaving Calixto García Hospital. The artist announced that health “tests” will be carried out outside the “control of State Security.”

The chronology of what he has lived through in the last four weeks begins to become clear. After arriving at the hospital on May 2nd, he spent a week drinking fluids “so I could be aware of what was happening with me at that time” and “to be able to think,” as he arrived at the health center “despondent,” he clarifies.

“A week after I was there, once again I started my hunger and thirst fasting,” he said. About a week after, he called off the strike and stated that for about 15 days he has been eating again, and that he has also hydrated.

He also said that, before issuing opinions on everything that the political police have published about him during his imprisonment, he prefers to see all the videos that they leaked and what they have said about his family: “I want to see everything that is happening, get updated to be able to judge what went on.” continue reading

“A week after being there, once again I started my hunger and thirst fasting”

In relation to one of the videos where he seemed to be very thin and which caused concern among his friends, he insisted that he spent about eight days without eating and drinking water, and “of course, he was emaciated,” he said.

“All my friends have to be on the street. State Security had a meeting with me before leaving, they warned me of a thousand things, but my friends have to be on the street now… We are connected,” said the artist, referring to the phrase that has become his life motto.

Shortly before, a note from the Provincial Health Directorate had reported that the medical team treating him had decided to “have him discharged from the hospital today.” The official note added that “during his hospital stay, his progress has been favorable, with clinical and laboratory parameters that are all within normal ranges.”

In addition, the note specified that for several days he “has been on a free diet, which meets nutritional needs” and that this has allowed for “weight gain and requirements for recovery of his energy.”

Otero Alcántara’s family was putting pressure on health personnel to achieve this goal. The artist had been held in the hospital for 29 days without being able to communicate with his friends and was only seen through manipulated videos, which were released by State Security.

Family sources confirmed to 14ymedio that the health authorities of the hospital had communicated that this Monday they were going to discharge the artist. At first, the family assumed that Otero Alcántara was going to leave the medical center last Friday, however, “that did not happen.”

The artist had been held in the hospital for 29 days without being able to communicate with his friends and was only seen through manipulated videos

Relatives said they went to Calixto García Hospital but they did not discharge him and the doctors reported that they would do so this Monday. In addition, they insisted that the activist would not return to his home on Damas Street, in the San Isidro neighborhood, Old Havana municipality.

“When he gets hold of a phone, Luisito is going to tell everything that happened, he is going to denounce everything and he will continue to be a plantado (an uncooperative prisoner),” Enix Berrio, who is Otero Alcántara’s close friend, told 14ymedio.

Some family members, Berrio assures, are upset with the actions of State Security and the authorities, who “have manipulated” the situation “at will… Initially, personal experience led them to believe that they were going to help Luisito and that we are the bad guys, that we wanted to drag him to hell, but the family verified that the G2 is a string of manipulators and that they are affecting Luisito,” he admonished.

Otero Alcántara went on a hunger and thirst strike on April 25th to demand that his rights be respected, after a month of police siege to his home. The activist also demanded the return of his artistic works or compensation for those that were destroyed by the political police.

After several days of fasting, in the early morning of May 2nd, he was taken from his home against his will to the Calixto García Hospital.  During his stay at the hospital, he had no communication with his colleagues at the San Isidro Movement (MSI) and very little with his family.

In addition, a police cordon guarded the surroundings of the Havana hospital. Although at the time of his admission the authorities confirmed that he was being admitted due to “referred voluntary starvation,” a few hours later they leaked the results of an analysis that supposedly were his vitals and that described a good state of health, even suggesting that one of the values was high due to high consumption of meat.

The government’s propaganda apparatus has not stopped campaigning to discredit Otero Alcántara, accusing him of receiving instructions and financial support from abroad

 During all the time he was held at the Calixto García, the political police published several videos of the artist, possibly filmed without his consent. At all times they alleged that he was in good health, without giving explanations about the reasons for his hospitalization.

The government’s propaganda apparatus has not stopped campaigning to discredit Otero Alcántara, accusing him of receiving instructions and financial support from abroad, while international organizations have expressed concern over the kidnapping of the artist.

Amnesty International declared him a “prisoner of conscience” on May 21st and urged President Miguel Díaz-Canel to release him “immediately and unconditionally.” They also demanded that he should receive medical care of his choice, periodic visits from his family and friends, not be tortured or suffer any other type of mistreatment, and have access to lawyers of his choice.”

The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba (FDHC) insisted that it is prosecuting “as violent repressors… those people who are cooperating with State Security in inflicting temporary or irreversible damage to Otero Alcántara at the hospital.” The executive director of the NGO, Juan Antonio Blanco, noted that the Cuban regime has already used “corrupt doctors and nurses in the past to torture using electroshocks, drugs and other practices.”

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.

“Signatures are not Patrimony,” Insists the Manager of La Bodeguita del Medio

La Bodeguita del Medio, which is sold to tourists as “the cradle of The Mojito,” is located on Empedrado Street, a privileged place in Cuba’s capital city. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, 26 May 2021 — The image of La Bodeguita del Medio without the thousands of signatures on its walls, which were part of its character, surprised locals and strangers. A few days ago, Robin Pedraja, creative director of the art magazine Vistar, shared photographs of the restoration of the premises on social networks and wondered who had the idea to erase “all that patrimony.” Many customers showed their rejection of a work that, according to various opinions, has resulted in the iconic place losing part of its identity.

“The signatures are not patrimony,” disagrees José Miguel Pumarada Fernández, manager of the premises, in an interview with 14ymedio. The official maintains that the premises have already undergone three renovations and argues that this intervention was necessary, due to the poor condition of the place.

“There were leaks everywhere, customers were eating and water was dripping on the tables, there was a lot of dampness. Paintings were falling off the walls because the plaster was decayed, the dampness was high and this was part of the complaints from customers who visited the establishment,” he says. continue reading

“There were leaks everywhere, customers were eating and water was dripping on the tables, there was a lot of dampness. Paintings were falling from the walls because the plaster was decayed”

Pumarada explains that three years ago the moment to start the repairs was expected, preserving everything that is considered a patrimony asset, including museum objects. “The signature book, all the framed photos – dating from the 40’s and 50’s – the house structure and its architecture, the wood, all of this was respected.”

The manager, who has been in charge of the emblematic place for seven years, adds that the City Historian’s Office door was the first one they knocked on to start the work, and although for no apparent reason he (the Historian) did not oversee the work, they have “all levels of approval” of the Monuments Commission.

However, a specialist of the Master Plan of the Office of the City Historian  consulted by this newspaper affirms that he was not aware of the remodeling, but considers the elimination of the signatures “regrettable and a violation” and defends that such interventions should be controlled. “If they erased everything, it’s terrible. It’s an iconic place, it’s not just any tavern.”

Salomé García, a graduate of Plastic Arts from the Higher Institute of Art, considers that this intervention is part of “the iconoclastic offensive of the Cuban State” against patrimony

Salomé García, a graduate of Plastic Arts from the Higher Institute of Art, considers that this intervention is part of “the iconoclastic offensive of the Cuban State” against patrimony.

“This is a location of State/public property, and of high patrimonial value. The contracts for these interventions (and for many others) should be public tenders. In addition, these are interventions that should be covered in the press due to their relevance, that way, misrepresentations would be avoided,” adds the specialist, who is currently completing a Master’s Degree in Conservation and Restoration of Cultural Assets at the Polytechnic University of Valencia.

It is not the first time that La Bodeguita del Medio has remodeled its interior. In 1997, there was a physical attack against the facility, along with other tourist places such as the hotels Tritón, Chateau Miramar and the Copacabana, and part of it had to be restored and its walls painted, recalls Pumarada, who stresses that this establishment has been in operation for 78 years.

This year’s repair was necessary, he insists, because the walls had several cracks that needed to be sealed, in addition to adding strength and security. “We used the same color paint as before and everything else remained intact.”

Currently, and complying with the rules to control the pandemic, the La Bodeguita del Medio Bar remains closed, although it keeps open “a little store” on one side of the premises where food is sold.

“Any bite from a seedy inn is better than these. I was hoping they were of higher quality since this place is what it is, but it is a sandwich from a community dining room”

“The only thing they are selling are ham sandwiches at 25 pesos each,” a local resident told 14ymedio. “But they don’t have enough, only 30 loaves. According to what some workers said, whatever is in the inventory is sold,” says the Havana resident who decided to buy four sandwiches and ended up outraged. “Any bite from a seedy inn is better than these. I was hoping they were of higher quality since this place is what it is, but it is a bite from a community dining room.”

La Bodeguita del Medio, which is sold to tourists as “the cradle of The Mojito,” is located on Empedrado Street, a privileged place in the capital, a few steps from the Plaza de la Catedral, in Old Havana. This area belongs to the Historic Center, and in 1982 it was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco.

The property had long since lost the best it had: to become a place for the national bohemian, for the regulars of the patio. Since it was dollarized and became a place with fast food for tourists, it lost its most important asset, and it was not its signatures, but its identity, its hallmark.

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 Macabre Performance of Cuban State Security

His captors say that he is in good health but they do not yet explain why they have him hospitalized. (Facebook / Otero Alcántara)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 22 May 2021 — Since Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara fell into the hands of State Security 20 days ago, the narrative of every second of his existence has been under the power of the Government. Luisma, as his friends call him, likes to turn on his cell phone and go live every time he wants to tell something, he does it without first writing the words that he is going to say, without measuring his gestures, full of life.

Luisma’s gestures are great, when he speaks, when he raises an arm, when he laughs, when he dances or kisses, when he hugs his friends. He is spontaneous, his eyes have body, his gaze is intense.

Since he was forcibly removed from his house on May 2nd, we have not seen that spontaneity again. The only thing that the powers-that-be that have him kidnapped at Calixto García Hospital has done is to show it through edited images, first on national television, then on Facebook pages that are instruments of State Security. continue reading

According to this version, he has been seen walking into the hospital on his own, guarded by several doctors, talking to his doctor, and walking through a courtyard at Calixto Garcia Hospital. During all this time, he has not had access to his cell phone or to a hospital phone to call his relatives. He has been kidnapped, his friends and colleagues inform us.

In the last video, released last Wednesday night, the artist looked much more physically damaged than in the previous ones. He looked thin, very thin, his hands between his thighs, his laughter was nervous, and a tray full of food on his lap, although he could not be seen eating anything. This was part of a macabre scene that State Security insists on showing before our eyes.

In the last video that was released last Wednesday night, the artist looked much more physically deteriorated than in the previous ones

Those of us who know Luisma know of his overwhelming strength and what we have seen here, although he resembles himself at times, is far from the friend, the creator who is Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. What are they doing with him? What do they want to accomplish with those videos? What treatment is he receiving that he isn’t already out of the hospital?

His captors say that he is in good health but they do not yet explain why they have him hospitalized. They say that they are complying with what’s established, but they display him without shame, even giving details of his medical files in the official media and lying.

They already tried to take Luis Manuel to jail under the accusation of having committed alleged crimes of outrage to national symbols and damage to property but they could not prove it. They released him after 13 days. On that occasion, the authorities pointed out his disrespect for the flag for his Drapeau performance, in which he proposed to carry, like a second skin, the Cuban flag over his shoulders for a whole month, 24 hours a day. He did not soil the flag, he did not throw it to the ground, he did not “outrage” the national symbol as the authorities claim in their smear campaigns.

At 33 years of age, the artist is the most visible face of the San Isidro Movement (MSI). For this reason, the government’s propaganda apparatus has not stopped campaigning to discredit his image, accusing him of leading a “political manipulation” and of receiving instructions and financial support from abroad.

But the government’s boundary on Alcántara has been tightened even more since last November. The problem is no longer whether he uses national symbols or public space for his performances, now they go into his house, tear off the works that the artist has on the walls and take him away by force. In this violent way it was how they prevented him from continuing with the performance that consisted of being in his living room for eight hours and five days, sitting on a vile garrote, which was also taken from him by the authorities.

This time he was not harassed for making unconventional works of art in public spaces, outside the conventional frameworks of art, such as his actions questioning the removal of a bust of the communist leader Julio Antonio Mella from the ground floor of the luxurious Manzana Kempinski Hotel. This time he has been punished with never-before-seen brutality for doing what is supposed to be art within established limits.

This time he has been punished with never-before-seen brutality for doing what is supposed to be art within established limits

After that arrest, when Alcántara returned home he did nothing but go out every day to demand that the surveillance fence surrounding his home be lifted since November 2020 be lifted, that the confiscated works of art be returned to him or that he be compensated for the damages and that the authorities respect the full exercise of artistic freedom for all creators.

The government not only ignored his demands but also ordered him to be detained every time he went out on the street, until he received death threats from another prisoner in the dungeon. That was why he did not come out anymore to continue demanding his rights.

Alone in his home, completely incommunicado and surrounded by State Security, it was then that the hunger and thirst strike began on April 25th until dawn on May 2nd, when he was taken to Calixto García Hospital against his will.

That is how we got to this point, 20 days in which the only news that has been had from Alcántara is filtered through State Security, a macabre filter that, far from alleviating fears, returns an image that is so disturbing it seems designed solely to instill terror and panic.

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.

Cuban Television Censors the Video Clip ‘It’s My Life’

A moment from the video clip ‘It’s My Life’, with Kiriam Gutiérrez in the center. (Screen capture)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 May 2021 — The video clip ‘Es mi Vida’, (It’s My Life), the first audiovisual directed in Cuba by actress and presenter Kiriam Gutiérrez, a trans woman, was censored on national television, as confirmed to 14ymedio by the song’s author, Jorge Papushi Soto.

On Tuesday, the singer went on to the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television (ICRT) to deliver the work to the Lucas program and when he left, he received a call on his cell phone. “It was the program’s assistant to tell me that they had informed Orlando Cruzata, the program director, that this video was not going to be aired on television, that it had been banned.”

“The most important thing is that they are not telling me is why it is prohibited. It seems that Cruzata had previously been informed of the video, because when they viewed it then, they told me that they did not see anything wrong with it, but that the censorship comes from the channel’s management,” Papushi explained. continue reading

It seems that Cruzata had previously been informed of the video, because when they viewed it then, they told me that they did not see anything wrong with it, but that the censorship comes from the channel’s management”

The composer assures us that Havana Noticiario was going to talk about the video on the 17th, but finally they claimed they didn’t have time. “I guess someone didn’t like the idea of being independent.”

The ban seems to be aimed at the video clip, since the song continues to be broadcast normally on the radio. “It premiered on the radio in position 46 of the Top 100 in Cuba and now it is already in third position,” according to the ratings from the Pista Cubana website.

Kiriam Gutiérrez, audiovisual director, regrets that this censorship episode coincides with the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia.

“I always thought of the video for our community, for all our struggles, for a diverse Cuba, an inclusive Cuba. I never had the idea that it was a commercial video, I did it for people. When Papushi proposed presenting it to Lucas, I was in favor of it. I agreed because it was an opportunity for me to reach more people, but later they told me that the video could not be broadcast on television, without further explanation. I felt very sad.”

Gutiérrez points out that it was precisely agreed to be broadcast on television to achieve visibility that in Cuba is very complicated, since not everyone has the opportunity of connecting to the internet and downloading videos.

“I would have liked very much for it to be aired on television, to reach those people who right now have homosexual, bisexual or lesbian people in their family who are misunderstood”

“I would have liked very much for it to be put on television, to reach those people who right now have homosexual, bisexual or lesbian people in their family who are misunderstood.”  These are people who feel violence against trans and bisexuals, and many would have changed their way a little to think and react to situations like these,” explains the artist.

For this video clip, released on May 17th on her YouTube channel, the director also invited Pupushi Soto and other singers who showed their enthusiasm for participating, such as Giselle Ferrer, Tony Lugones, Vania Borges and Arlenys Rodríguez. Transformistas such as veteran Orianna Sharon, “la Cher de Cuba” also collaborated.

“How many children, how many misunderstood adolescents at this time. It would have been nice to provide a little love, that’s what the video is about. The love of life, the freedom to choose your gender identity, the free choice of our life. It would have been very nice for those minutes of love to come to the family, love with respect for all forms of life, all identities, I do not lose hope,” she says.

As the artist explained to this newspaper, the video was made independently, and the filming was possible thanks to many people’s collaboration, both inside and outside Cuba. Filming ‘Es mi Vida‘ was a pending dream since in 2001 when she filmed the video clip ‘Lola’, from the group Moneda Dura, which was banned on national television because of its having her as the protagonist.

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.

Work Suspended in ‘Non-essential’ Companies to Limit Blackouts in Cuba

Reports of blackouts have multiplied in recent days throughout the Island. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 15 May 2021 — After hundreds of complaints in the social networks, Cuban authorities announced this Friday that the electrical blackouts in recent days are due to breakages in plants in Matanzas and Havana and that they are working on the problem.

Directors of the Ministry of Energy and Mines said on The Roundtable TV program that blackouts could increase over the weekend, so the Government has taken drastic measures, such as stopping work in companies and institutions “that do not provide essential services to the population.”

Before that TV program aired, the explanations given by the Cuban Electricity Union (UNE) were vague. On Friday morning, an operator of the customer service number explained to this newspaper that “there was a deficiency in the demand for power for electricity service.” When she was asked if there is a lack of oil to produce electricity, she hung up the phone. continue reading

“It is not so much a problem of fuel as of capacity. But disclosing this information is forbidden due to the subject’s sensitivity”

“The electric company does not have the capacity to produce all the electricity the country needs,” an executive from the state entity told el Nuevo Herald anonymously. “It is not so much a problem of fuel as of capacity. But disclosing this information is forbidden due to the subject’s sensitivity”.

Reports of blackouts have multiplied in recent days throughout the island, without the official media addressing the issue.

In Colón, in the province of Matanzas, there have been intermittent blackouts in the last three days, lasting between one and six hours, according to testimonies from the place, and cities such as Cárdenas, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba and Pinar del Río have also been reporting power outages.

“Intermittent blackouts will continue. These are leaping, unscheduled blackouts,” another source told the Herald.

Meanwhile, citizens have continued to publicize electricity service interruptions through social networks under the hashtag #reportoApagonCuba.

“This is how things are in Matanzas. Wednesday: 2 – 4 pm. Thursday: 12- 4 pm. Friday: 9 and counting”, the user @ Jancelito99 complained this Friday. By then, the complaints had been going on for several days. On May 12th, @PedroPerezCuban tweeted: “They say that there is a generator deficit due to fuel. And summer isn’t even here yet. It seems that it is just a trailer for the movie that they are going to give us. #DownWith the Dictatorship.”

In Mayarí, Holguín, independent reporter Osmel Ramírez Álvarez declared that he can only eat mango: “Blackout lunch! They have been cutting off electricity for three days for several hours. And here they use electrical equipment to cook with! Because they still don’t sell liquefied gas. Luckily, we are in the midst of mango season”, he wrote on his Facebook account.

In addition to the serious effects on water pumping caused by power cuts, cooking is also severely affected, especially in locations where liquified or manufactured gas service is not available. In most rural towns and municipalities, families depend on household appliances to cook food.

“Blackout lunch! They’ve been turning the electricity off for three days for several hours. And here, they cook with electrical equipment!”

In Artemisa, after complaints from several users about interruptions to the electrical service this Friday, the local press published that the blackouts in that province were due “to generator deficit, and two thermoelectric plants that are out of service, withdrawn by the National Office”. An electricity company official said that when these interruptions occur “it is impossible to notify customers” and the service takes between 3 and 4 hours to be restored. However, in the information comments of the official media, many residents complained that the cuts have been going on for several days and last up to eight hours.

The return of the blackouts, an infamous memory for those who lived through the so-called Special Period in the 90’s, has been feared by Cubans for months, when some service interruptions began, right at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Back then, the National Office for the Control of the Rational Use of Energy called the campaign “Save Now” in view of the “huge increase in demand and consumption”. With the confinement, since the first half of April, 2020, the use of air conditioners, fans and other household appliances skyrocketed. “All this high consumption causes perfectly avoidable breakdowns if the population becomes aware of the effectiveness of using energy rationally,” the director of the Havana Electric Company justified in those days.

Months earlier, fuel shortages had led to a reduction in public transportation and working hours at many state offices, as well as supply problems at gas stations.

The pandemic has further sunk the country’s finances, which were already plagued with problems due to its inefficient economic system and the withdrawal of aid from its Venezuelan ally. The electric company acknowledged at the end of last year that “it has not been able to guarantee the production of photovoltaic panels to make available to the retail network for sale to the population.”

Faced with the rise in electricity rates, there was an increase in demands to introduce electrical generation systems based on solar and wind energy, which are currently not marketed for the residential sector or for the self-employed. In mid-March, officials from Customs and UNE announced a prompt “elimination of tariffs,” however, the electric company pointed out that Customs is responsible for the actual limitations.

The Government intends to change its energy matrix by 2030 with the intention that 2% of the Island’s energy will come from renewable sources

According to official data, 95% of the kilowatt hours that the country needs are produced through the use of fossil fuels. In addition, more than half of the fuel used to generate electricity is imported, “at prices that include premium values imposed by suppliers, to compensate for the possible risk of being sanctioned, due to the application of the US blockade [i.e., the embargo] laws against Cuba, to which the costs for freight and insurance are added”, said Liván Arronte Cruz, the Minister of Energy and Mines on a Roundtable program.

The Government intends to change its energy matrix by 2030 with the intention that 2% of the Island’s energy (around 2,300 megawatts) will come from renewable sources, mainly from bioelectric plants and solar parks.

Now, 50% of the electricity produced in Cuba comes from the eight thermoelectric plants that it has in operation and that are fed with the subsidized oil sent by Venezuela. Shipments from the South American country have collapsed in the last five years as a result of the severe economic crisis that nation is experiencing, which has forced Havana to look for alternative suppliers at market prices, since its own production barely covers 40% of the domestic demand.

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.

“I Am Not Afraid, I Will Not Stop Asking for My Brother’s Freedom”

Landy Fernández Elizástegui, brother of Luis Robles Elizástegui who has been jailed for holding a sign calling for the release of rapper Denis Solís. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 7 May 2021 — While Luis Robles Elizástegui was being arrested last December 4th on San Rafael Boulevard for holding a sign that read “Freedom. No more repression. # Free-Denis [Solís]”, his brother Landy spent a working day like any other in the private workshop where he was employed.

Since that day, Landy Fernández Elizástegui’s life has taken a 180 degree turn and he has had no rest in seeking legal help for Luis.

The young man, 26, tells 14ymedio that 48 hours before the protest in San Rafael, on December 2nd, he went to visit his brother for his birthday. Luis, who “has always thought differently about the regime,” says his brother, did not talk to him about the idea of going out to demonstrate despite the fact that, he says, they have “very good communication”. He defends his decision, in any case. “Luis simply got tired, said enough and wanted to protest peacefully. For me, those seem to be his reasons”. continue reading

Landy Fernández was seen by the investigator who was handling his brother’s case several days after his arrest in Villa Marista, the State Security operations center in the Cuban capital.

The last time they put him in the punishment cell was when Humberto López said on the news that they had called a demonstration to be held at the Plaza de la Revolución for March 12th. Out of that demonstration, Luis came out with all his skin in shreds

The official explained that Robles was fined 1,000 pesos, but that even he did not understand why, he insists. From that moment, Fernández tried to get the file number and the case of the judicial process, which he managed to obtain a week later.

When reviewing the documents, he realized that his brother was accused of “other acts against State Security”, although this changed later.

During that time, he also filed a habeas corpus petition that was denied, and after receiving many rejections from lawyers to take up the case, he was able to get one, who asked him not to make his name public.

Luz Escobar. What does your brother say about his stay in jail?

Landy Fernández. Due to the COVID issue, I have not been able to see him, not even when he was in Villa Marista (the central prison of State Security in Cuba). As soon as he arrived at the Combinado del Este prison, in the first days of January, we were able to speak on the phone and he began to tell me about the experiences he was having there, of the mistreatment, the threats, the repression.

One day they beat him, stripped him, got him wet and moved him every two hours from one cell to another. At the time of that call, I was at the Prison Directorate’s office at 15th and K Streets with my mother, who came from Guantánamo to see if she could do something which I, as his brother, could not. We were meeting with a ‘population service’ employee and when Luis confirmed these tortures, I had the opportunity to speak with that woman and put my brother’s call through with his complaint so that she could hear it directly in his own voice.

She told me that they were going to order an investigation to find out if it was true, but that never went anywhere. I went to the Attorney General’s Office, they told me to write a letter making the complaint and that they would give me an answer in 60 days, but that date has already passed and I have not received a response yet.

The last time they put him in the punishment cell was when Humberto López said on the news that they had called a demonstration for March 12th in the Plaza de la Revolución. From there Luis came out with all his skin in shreds due to an allergic reaction. Liquid was oozing from the entire surface of his skin.

Everything become complicated at work too, they began to visit the owner of the workshop, my other brother, and we thought that the best thing to do was for me to leave and stop working

Luz Escobar. How has all this impacted your life?

Landy Fernández. On the day of the supposed demonstration, March 12th, my house was also under surveillance by State Security officers, who did not allow me to go anywhere. My internet service also gets cut off. Recently two agents came to ask me to stop my publications on the networks because the same thing that happened to my brother could happen to me, a direct threat. But I do not care because I am not afraid, I will not stop asking for freedom for my brother. My father called me from Guantánamo to try to stop me, but I told him that these are different times, that in his time he did what seemed convenient and that I am now going to do what I should.

Everything became complicated at work too, they began to visit the owner of the workshop, my other brother, and we thought that the best thing to do was for me to leave and stop working until everything about Luis was resolved.

Luz Escobar. What has the lawyer explained to you about where the case of your brother stands?

Landy Fernández. Luis’s investigative file has already closed, that is where the prosecution accuses him of “enemy propaganda” and “resistance” and asks for a six-year sentence. The lawyer advised me to stop the process now until he can meet with my brother again and prepare a proper defense, including the testimony of everyone about the mistreatment that he has received in prison. I agreed, because otherwise he would go straight out of the Combinado prison to a court trial without us knowing well what they are accusing him of. He has partial knowledge, thanks to my conversations with some of his colleagues, but, since April, I have not been able to speak with him again and he does not know all the details.

He has told me that he has seen a lot of abuse by the officers against the prisoners, that they are handcuffed and beaten until they cry. These are 40- and 50-year-olds crying like little children from the blows they are given

 Luz Escobar. How has the call system in prison been up to now?

Landy Fernández. I imagine that they interrupt his calls to punish him. He has told me that he has seen a lot of abuse by the officers against the prisoners, that they are handcuffed and beaten until they cry. These are 40- and 50-year-olds crying like little children from the blows they are given. He also tells me that, in the beginning, the other prisoners took things from him as if to provoke him, but he told me that he had no interest in responding to those provocations, that he wanted to be calm. After he called me and asked me to make public that State Security wanted to recruit him in exchange for parole, I lost all communication with him.

Fine of 1,000 pesos imposed on Luis Robles Elizástegui. (14ymedio)

Another prisoner has called me to tell me that Luis is fine and wants to know how we are, how his son is, how his mother is, but others have also called me and told me that they have not seen my brother for days or in the yard. Since I don’t know any of them, I don’t know if they are calling me from a street corner or if they are lying.

I told the Directorate of Prisons that I needed to regain communication with my brother and they told me that Luis had done something and his calls had been suspended as punishment. They did not tell me what he did wrong but I think it was because of that call: I published the audio where he says that State Security wanted to recruit him, that he is not willing to negotiate his principles in exchange for anything, and that he will be imprisoned for whatever time is necessary.

The lawyer has done a very good job so far, he instills faith in me, especially in the way he talks to me. He tells me that he is going to try to use all the legal tools in favor of Luis and I’d like to believe him because my brother has not committed any crime. Peacefully holding a poster in public is not a crime anywhere in the world.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Habanos Company is Doing Well, While Cuban Tobacco Producers are Broke

It is not the first time that the authorities use the US embargo as the cause of the decline in production. (Cubadebate)

14ymedio biggerThe Spanish-Cuban company Habanos made $507 million in profits last year, 4% less than in 2019. The figure was provided by the company this Tuesday, at the inauguration of the virtual event Habanos World Days, which replaces the Festival del Habano, whose twenty-third edition was canceled due to the Covid 19 pandemic.  The official press is upset about the cancellation.

For the State media, the company “consolidated its international leadership in premium cigars (made entirely by hand)” and the 2020 revenues are quite an achievement “despite the circumstances of the pandemic and the ban on selling its products in the United States due to the laws of the economic blockade”.

It is not the first time that the authorities use the US embargo as the cause for the decline in production. They already did it a few days ago, at a time when dire forecasts were starting to be heard for the 2020-2021 tobacco operations, which began last October. continue reading

The 2020 revenues are an achievement “despite the circumstances of the pandemic and the ban on selling their products in the United States due to the laws of the economic blockade”

José Liván Font Bravo, first vice president of the Tabacuba Business Group, declared then that a portion of the plantations will not receive fertilizer “due to the brakes imposed by the ‘roadblock’,” in clear reference to the embargo.

However, far from the focal point of the propaganda provided by the festival, in which the State media declared that more than 5,000 companies from more than 120 countries around the world participate, and the justifications of the authorities, the peasants are clear that the main problems of tobacco production are rather the consequence of economic “mismanagement” and the implementation of the so-called Ordering Task*.

So thinks Nestor Pérez, from the Plantation La Isleña, founded at the end of the 19th century in San Juan y Martínez, in Vueltabajo** (Pinar del Río).

In a conversation with 14ymedio, Pérez explains that they have not had problems with fertilizer in his territory, and that the doses they have bought have allowed them and many producers to “develop the operation.” But in addition, the producer, who is 37 years old and has been working in the fields since he was 15, details: “The United States is not the supplier of fertilizer.” In his farm, for example, they use fertilizers from other countries, such as China or the Netherlands.

The producer concedes that Covid 19 and the weather had “adverse effects” on the operation. “In Río Seco, which is part of the tobacco chain that was quarantined for a long time,” he says, “entire plantations were lost.” Also, in November, “there was heavy rainfall” when the seeds were planted. However, these were not the primary pitfalls.

“There are a growing number of cooperatives in Vueltabajo that have been incurring debts from past periods, due to their mismanagement or company demands, something that affects the running of the same cooperatives with their resources and supplies,” he explains to this publication.

Added to the debts, he says, “is the deficient management of the seedbeds by the State,” a task that, though the producers are taking it on, “is still in the hands of the State, for the most part.”

In the midst of all this, he continues, comes the ‘Ordering Task’, which, for him, “is the most important point.” He says, “For the farmers, the so-called Day Zero was not Day Zero; we had not gotten a price ready, and a price was decreed without having the token cost” — that is the model where the data necessary to calculate the planned unit cost of a product or service provision is collected.

“For the farmers, the so-called Day Zero was not Day Zero; we had not gotten a price ready, and a price was decreed without having the token cost”

Pérez says that they were assured that prices would be established in about two months, but in January and February, when the peak of the harvest occurs, they were hit with them “without a token cost, without an extension of credit.” The main consequence was that the producers could not pay the workers “because they did not have the credit extension until the beginning of April.”

When they finally had the cost card, they saw that the credits were increased, but that the dry tobacco prices doubled, from 2,560 to 5,700 per metric quintal [one metric quintal is about 220 pounds].

The generalized increase in prices from the Ordering Task, he insists, was of great importance for the farmers. “There are the inputs, which increased 10 and 15 times their value and that cost was like a shock for the producers. They [the company] said they were going to make a new price proposal, but still nothing, it continues the same as they established at the beginning of the year,” he complains.

“In my opinion and that of many in this area,” he summarizes, the Ordering Task has been “disastrous” and “catastrophic,” since “it has led us to face the peak of the operation with credit based on previous prices, and 70% deficient.” He concludes that, as a result, “People were left without money, that is the biggest obstacle, not the blockade [US embargo].”

Translator’s notes:

*The so-called ‘Ordering Task’ (Tarea ordenamiento), is a collection of measures that includes eliminating the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), leaving the Cuban peso as the only national currency, raising prices, raising salaries (but not as much as prices), opening stores that take payment only in hard currency which must be in the form of specially issued pre-paid debit cards, and other actions. 

*Vueltabajo: Literally, the downward curve. Geographically situated at the westernmost end of Cuba, in the Pinar del Río province, it is the most important and best known of the five tobacco producing regions in Cuba.

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 Chair of the Represser

Seeing on the lower floors of my building today, May 3rd, the chair of the State Security agent who prohibits me from going out every day, leaves a message that could not be clearer: she will return. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 3 May 2021 — There is a rickety and dirty wooden chair. It would only be a deteriorated object at the entrance of my building in Havana, if it weren’t for the fact that it represents power. It is a bulwark, the vantage point from which they frequently watch me to prevent me from leaving my home to practice journalism. On this World Press Freedom Day, that threadbare seat is a declaration of war.

When the State Security agent who watches over my building said to me this Sunday “Luz, you can’t go out” I already knew that another day of restrictions was going to be repeated to prevent me from putting the daily life of this Island in writing. “They don’t fear me, they fear reality”, I said to myself to avoid getting overheated by the repressor, a simple instrument of something greater.

In the long hours that these political police officers wait on the ground floor of my house, I have never seen them read a newspaper, review a magazine, scrutinize a book. Only, from time to time, they immerse themselves in their mobile phones and their screens reveal that they are absorbed in social networks, the same ones that their bosses assure them are “instruments of the empire to end the Revolution”.

When the State Security agent who watches over my building told me this Sunday “Luz, you can’t go out”, I already knew that another day of restrictions was going to be repeated.

But they don’t read the press, or so it seems. Down there, below, they serve as a barrier so that a reporter does not leave her house to walk the streets and look for news, but they don’t have a good informative argument with which to respond. They are orphans of a free press but they don’t even know it, they see the journalist as an enemy without really understanding what we are doing.

I hope that freedom of the press reaches all the media currently censored in Cuba and that my daughters can one day go to the corner shop to buy whatever newspaper they think best. I also want for whoever watches me to know at least what freedom to decide to read one piece of information or another is about. Or better yet, for no one to be sitting in that chair, rickety and dirty, which today, for me, represents a gag.

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.

Dozens of Activists Demonstrate in Old Havana, Shouting “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life)

Demonstration this Friday in Old Havana in protest of the repression of and in solidarity with Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. (Collage)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 30 April 2021 — Dozens of activists were repressed in a protest in the park on the corner of Obispo and Aguacate, in Old Havana. The protesters were trying to reach the home of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, only a few blocks away. The artist is on his sixth day of a hunger and thirst strike to end the siege to which he’s been subjected by State Security.

In a broadcast by Mary Karla Ares, some activists, such as Thais Mailén Franco Benítez and ADN Cuba collaborator Esteban Rodríguez are seen sitting together demanding to see Otero Alcántara. Some of them were handcuffed and violently detained in front of dozens of people who were filming with their cell phones, and others showing support.

The complete list of those arrested in the protest, compiled by Cubalex, is, as of now: Mary Karla Ares González, Thais Mailén Franco Benítez, Esteban Lázaro Rodríguez López, Leonardo Romero Negrín, Félix Modesto Valdés Díaz and Douglas Batista Savigne.

Moment when the repressive forces try to take some of the activists into custody. (Capture)

Carolina Barrero, Joeluis Cerutti Torres and Maykel Castillo Pérez were arrested as they left their homes when they tried to get to Old Havana. continue reading

“Homeland and life”, “down with the dictatorship”, “Luis Manuel is dying”, “there are no medicines”, “there is no food”, were some of the demands that Franco Benítez shouted, to which a whole chorus responded “Homeland and life! Homeland and life!”, the title of the song by Yotuel Romero, Gente de Zona, Descemer Bueno, Maykel Castillo and El Funky, which has become the motto of the opposition inside and outside Cuba. 

The police, unlike during other occasions where they acted by beating activists, were visibly fearful of executing the arrest operation with violence in front of the cell phones that were recording

The activists also shouted “down with repression” and “down with communism”, while the police and State Security agents became increasingly violent against the activists while trying to take them away. The protesters’ demands were chanted by dozens of Cubans who gathered around them.

The well-known repressor who calls himself “Lieutenant Colonel Camilo.” (Collage)

During Ares’s live broadcast, the moment when the activists held each other’s arms, to avoid being taken away, was recorded.

The police, unlike during other occasions where they acted by beating activists, were visibly fearful of executing the arrest operation with violence that cell phones were recording and transmitting live.

Neither were there rapid response brigades in the crowd, shouting slogans in favor of the Government, and only one woman exclaimed: “Viva Canel!”, a shout that was extinguished by the chorus of “Patria y Vida”.

People were able to recognize “Lieutenant Colonel Camilo”, a well-known repressor who led an operation against Yoani Sánchez and Reinaldo Escobar a decade ago and has been singled out by activists, such as the Ladies in White. He had been absent for a few years.

Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the most visible face of the San Isidro Movement (MSI), is still surrounded by a police cordon, preventing his friends and some religious authorities who have tried to enter from getting through.

This Friday morning, he told 14ymedio that he was unable to speak. “I’m exhausted, I don’t even have the strength to talk,” he texted to this newspaper via SMS.

Poet Amaury Pacheco, a member of the MSI, stated on his Facebook wall that Otero Alcántara’s uncle, Enix Berrio Sarda, was able to visit the artist in Old Havana and report on his health. “He can no longer stand up, his skin and mouth are cracked, he no longer urinates and cannot speak, his throat is swollen,” said Berrio. He further said that he “is maintaining his demands and will continue his hunger strike until the end”.

“He can no longer stand up, his skin and mouth are cracked, he no longer urinates and does not speak, his throat is swollen”

According to a report this Friday afternoon by journalist José Raúl Gallego, a resident of Mexico, several people, including members of the Catholic Church, are gathered in front of the Infanta and Manglar police station, in the El Cerro neighborhood, to get news of the detainees during the protest.

The Cuban Observatory for Human Rights (OCDH) expressed disapproval of “the repression by the Government of Miguel Díaz-Canel and General Luis Alberto Lopez-Calleja” against protesters, and it pointed at them as responsible for the “physical integrity of the detainees”.

“We urgently call on the European Union and Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, to condemn the repressive escalation, and to abandon their complacency with the Cuban Communist Party, which not only represses those who exercise their rights, but has also plunged the entire Cuban people in misery”, added the OCDH.

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.