Six Decades of an Unattainable Utopia

This 2019, the process that delighted millions of Cubans reaches six decades of existence, without resembling the dreams generated in its early days. (Archive)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 2 January 2018 – Ramón, an old man now, was a smooth-cheeked teenager when Fidel Castro entered Havana on January 1959. Soon after, he decided to become a militiaman to defend what many Cubans then proudly called “the Revolution.” Today, with a pension that does not exceed the equivalent of 23 dollars a month, the retiree lives on the money sent to him by his grandchildren, emigrated to the other side of the Straits of Florida, to that country to which Ramón pointed his rifle while standing guard in a military unit in the midst of the Cold War.

This 2019, the process that delighted millions of Cubans reaches six decades of existence, without resembling the dreams imagined by young people like Ramón and without having managed to provide a dignified and free life to those who stayed on the island. Now there are few who call the political model established after the arrival of the “bearded ones” to power “Revolution”; instead they prefer to say “the system” or simply “this” or “this thing.” Of the leaders dressed in olive green who came down from the Sierra Maestra, there are only a few octogenarians left and they fail to arouse admiration or respect in the vast majority of people.

Of the initial promises, among which there was talk of opportunities for all and of civil liberties, almost nothing has survived. In place of these spaces of individual and collective realization, Castroism has maintained a strict framework of vigilance and control, the most complete of its “achievements” and the most permanent of its “results.” As for social justice, there is not much to celebrate. Evident in the streets is the economic abyss that separates government leaders from pensioners, the black population and residents in rural areas. The new rich mark a distance from those who are becoming poorer.

On the other hand, in recent years the Havana regime has had to give ground to the laws of the market so strongly criticized in its slogans. A private sector of half a million workers has made clear the inefficiency of the state apparatus and is pushing the limits of the restrictions that still remain on entrepreneurship and creativity. After having confiscated even the most humble food stalls in that distant year of 1968, the Plaza of the Revolution is now selling off the Island piece by piece to foreign investors.

Nor is there much to show of the “jewels in the crown” of the process: public education and healthcare. The extension of both systems continues to reach every corner of the country, but the deterioration of the infrastructure, the low salaries of teachers and doctors, together with the excesses of ideology and ethical gaps have meant that the classrooms and hospitals do not resemble the dream of an educated people, well-cared for with regards to health, that once drew the applause of thousands of Cubans who gathered to listen to the marathon speeches of the Commander in Chief.

Now, when the official celebrations speak of the 60th birthday of this political and social process that few dare to describe as “revolutionary,” people like Ramón and his grandchildren are appraising what they did not achieve, the dreams they had to park along the way, and the dysfunctional and authoritarian system that derived from all that utopia.

____________________

This text was originally published in the Deutsche Welle for Latin America.

We the ‘Bastards’

In fewer than 280 characters, the Cuban president has put in writing his formula of governance. Translation of tweet: As a family, we watched the movie “Innocence” by Alejandro Gil, a very painful chapter in our history. Let us never forget that just as heroes abound, there is no lack of bastards in #Cuba, which can be worse than the enemy that attacks it. Viva forever #CubaLibre! [Yoani: The part of this tweet that refers to “the bastards in #Cuba” is intolerable, illegal and much closer to fascism than I have read in a long time. The text should be deleted immediately, he should apologize, and a commit to not using this language in the future. Will he do it?]

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 31 December 2018 — Miguel Díaz-Canel is receiving a hazing on Twitter. He arrived so late to this social network, in use for more than a decade by Cuban activists, that he is tripping over the primeval stones we have placed along the way. The first lesson is that everything one says on the network with the little blue bird does not remain only there, but multiplies and grows throughout the virtual community

This Sunday, the Cuban president commented that he watched the movie Inocencia, based on the history of medical students shot by the colonial regime, and he added to his message the phrase, “just as heroes abound, there is no shortage of bastards* in Cuba.” In addition to the grammatical nonsense of the phrase, the “hand-picked” president put his verbs in the present tense, suggesting that there are still people, here and how, who should not have been born on the island.

Revolutionary bravado prevents him from erasing his tweet. Bad for him because the blunders are accumulating, and there are already several messages which transmit an idea of hatred, polarization and intolerance. Instead of endeavoring to make it known that he governs for all Cubans, the new tenant of the Plaza of the Revolution seems determined to please his predecessors. This tweet is not directed so much as an insult to us, the critics of the system, as to ingratiate himself with the historic generation of Castroism.

In fewer than 280 characters, the Cuban president has put in writing his formula of governance. He is not going to represent all of us, he tends neither to conciliation nor harmony, rather he intends to confront us, polarize us and add more labels to the wide repertoire of insults this system has generated. Now, we are no longer only “worms,” “mercenaries” and “enemies,” but the attack has reached into the past, to the time of our birth, to that instant in which we drew breath for the first time.

Poor Díaz-Canel, he does not know that the tweets remain and he just delivered a phrase that defines him in his just measure as extremist, fascist and dogmatic. If he had the least capacity for self-criticism, he would erase that message right now… but I suspect he will not do so.

Translator’s note: The original wording is “los mal nacidos por error,” which in a literal English translation would read: “the badly born by mistake.” In Spanish, however, it is very strong expletive, and so has raised a correspondingly strong response across social networks.

The Nicaraguan Press in the Eye of the Hurricane

The repression against the press is occurring in the midst of a sociopolitical crisis that has resulted in between 552 and 558 “political prisoners” after demonstrations against Ortega. (EFE)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 December 2018 — It wasn’t enough for them to extinguish social protests with blood and fire, nor to imprison hundreds of young people for exercising their right to protest. Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo needed to go further.

In December of this year, the Nicaraguan police assaulted the offices of the Confidential newspaper and of the television programs Esta Semana (This Week) and Esta Noche (Tonight), in an attempt to silence the chroniclers in a country where freedom of expression has been in serious danger for years.

Why this blow against the media? What is the point of lashing out against journalists and earning the unanimous rejection of the profession on an international level? In part, because there is nothing more uncomfortable for an authoritarian regime than the conscientious reporting of its excesses and timely information about its outrages against the population.

For tyrants, the reporter is public enemy number one in that he or she has the ability to put in writing those details of reality that the Government wants to sweep under the carpet and hide from the public eye. The reporter is the uncomfortable witness, willing to disseminate what some want never to be known.

Now, with this turn of the screw, Ortega has entered a new phase of repression. In this stage, his apparatus of control focuses on dismantling any vestige of independence that may remain in civil society.

This is why non-governmental organizations, civic groups and newspapers are at the center of his onslaught. Everything that can be useful to citizens to unite their efforts and keep abreast of what is happening will be eliminated or, at the very least, this is what the former guerrilla turned tyrant will attempt.

That is why the solidarity of other media and information professionals everywhere in the world, and especially in Latin America, is so important. To level the newsroom and take away the working tools of a newspaper is like gagging thousands of people in a single second, like closing hundreds of throats so they can not express themselves. In the pages of all the newspapers and on the broadcasts of all the television stations of this region of the world, we should mourn our Nicaraguan colleagues this week and also make felt our indignation about the dangerous step Ortega has taken.

But, above all, in every digital medium, printed newspaper, magazine or television channel we must remember that in the imperfect Latin American democracies – and even in the countries in this part of the world still under authoritarianism – the press has been an important pillar to give a voice to the people and narrate the excesses of the authorities. The fragile republics born after the wars of independence and the freedoms that were restored after the military dictatorships would have been much more ephemeral without the work of the professionals of the press.

______________________________________

Note: This column was originally published in the Latin American edition of the Deutsche Welle chain.

From Battle to Battle

Diaz-Canel continues to talk about the economy using bellicose language (EFE)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 18 December 2018 – Miguel Diaz-Canel has assured the National Assembly that “the fundamental battle of Cuba is the economic one.” A phrase that draws on that hackneyed military metaphor that has been abused so much in the Cuban official discourse of the last 60 years. His words are part of a strategy to address every aspect of reality as a struggle, a confrontation and an eternal contest, whether against the political enemy, a hurricane or, in this case, the economy.

What would happen if, instead of “playing the bully” all the time, Cuban officials saw production, the market and entrepreneurship as allies they could help, encourage and promote? What would we notice in our lives if they put aside the “weapons” of restrictions, abandoned the “trenches” of so many bureaucratic absurdities, and raised the “white flag,” publicly acknowledging that this system does not work?

The only war that is worth fighting in this case is the one that ends with the unconditional surrender of so many failed management methods that have led this Island to permanent bankruptcy, financial beggary and the mass escape of our children in search of horizons of prosperity in other latitudes. It is time to decree an economic “armistice,” a daily peace that allows us to find bread, travel in a train car, or access a newspaper – one that does not repeat slogans – to set aside this permanent fight, a bitter and exhausting contest.

Ventana 14

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 10 December 2018 – This Monday, December 10, Human Rights Day, I have begun the transmission of Ventana 14 (Window 14) from Havana. Ventana 14 is a reporting space through the services of Facebook Live. My purpose is to comment on the news and the most important topics of each day, especially those issues that will also be touched on in the pages of the newspaper 14ymedio. It will be like a brief sip of coffee: intense and at times bitter, but necessary.

And The Day Arrived…

There is no shortage of those who see the arrival of the Internet as a way of diverting attention from the serious problems that Cuba is going through. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 7 December 2018 – There is always room for pessimism, because it worms its way in from all sides. After six decades of unmet promises, many Cubans were skeptical about the coming of web navigation on mobile phones and, in part, they are right after so many years of delay at the hands of the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa). It is normal that the enthusiasm has “cooled.”

One more “bucket of cold water” on the joy is the high prices the State telecommunications monopoly has imposed on its data packages which, as of Thursday, have been marketed to the cellular network’s customers. Paying between 25% and 100% of the average monthly salary for plans that cover between 600 megabytes and 4 gigabytes is too much.

On the other hand, there is no shortage of those who see the arrival of the Internet as a way of diverting attention from the serious problems that the country is currently facing, with a bankrupt economy, a private sector that is troubled by the regulatory measures that are going into effect on 7 December, and authorities unable to lay out a plan for the future, as if it’s not constrained by the rigid articles of a Constitution that have been cooked up by those “up there.”

However, even though all the pessimists and skeptics have good reason to be cautious about this new form of connectivity, it would be much more powerful and effective to assess the potential that is opening up before us as citizens. This is not a crumb that has been thrown at us, but the victory of a demand long yearned-for, one earned by our “sweat.”

More than a decade ago, when I opened my blog Generation Y, those of us who used the few cybercafes on the island, opened the first digital blogs and dared to create accounts on Twitter, were immediately labeled as “cybermercenaries.” Those were the days when the web was presented in the official press as a tool created by the CIA and Cuba’s outdated military called for “taming the wild colt of the Internet.”

On the other hand, from the opposition, we bloggers were seen as “kids” who had it easy because we wrote from our keyboards and were going to change the Island tweet by tweet, duped by the idea that with a phone in our hands we could stop the blows of the repressors or put the Plaza of the Revolution in check. Nor was there any lack of those who labeled us “agents of State Security” simply because they “let” us write on the web.

Time has passed and we have won. Now, without any self-criticism, most of the ministers have a Twitter account, president Miguel Diaz-Canel fills his timeline on the network of the little blue bird with slogans, and Etecsa, the technological arm of the repression, has had to open up mobile navigation services after several resounding failures and a flood of complaints from its customers.

All the dissidents I know have a cell phone, YouTube accounts have become an effective way to report human rights violations, and numerous independent media have emerged in the country with a journalistic quality and rigor that force the official press to report things ranging from an armed assault in a school to the ravages of dengue fever. The skeptics of yesteryear ended up joining the new technologies.

Now, although no doubt a good part of the money the inefficient Etecsa will raise with the navigation service will be used to buy uniforms for the police and to feed the officials who plan the surveillance of the opposition and activists, we will also win. There is no doubt. Because the step they have taken this December will have a much greater cost to them than all the dollars they might pocket.

In every corner of Cuba they are exposed, in every town there is someone with a phone connected to internet, fingers ready to report an injustice, denounce a corrupt official, through the reality that differs so much from that reported in the official media. People who will have access to another type of information, far beyond the boring pages of the official newspaper Granma.

I can imagine that, in a short time, some part of communications between Cubans will be traveling encrypted by the internet, chat forums will offer those rooms of debate that we lack in the physical world, and State Security will be forced to develop new techniques of surveillance, new methods to keep track of millions of Cubans in cyberspace.

The private economy will also benefit. Businesses, online purchases, home deliveries will be enhanced with this new service and even if they do not manage to rescue the country from the deep crisis it is in, it will probably ease the lives of thousands of families. Knowledge, distance-learning, and participation in forums will also come to our lives on a daily basis, little by little.

The process will be long, but we have started down a path and it depends on us if we want to see it as a trap, or if we start to explore it with the aim of taking advantage of it so that it brings us closer to freedom.

Will Today Be The Day?

To connect by mobile phone in Cuba you have to go to a wifi point. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 4 December 2018 — Will today be the great day when the Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) finally tells us – with precision, transparency and honesty – the date on which we Cubans will be able to enjoy internet service on our phones?

The state monopoly, one of the most inefficient companies on the planet, promised a few months ago that we would be able to surf from our cell phones before the end of this year. After three tests that were a resounding failure, Etecsa has not mentioned the matter again and now only 27 days remain until the end of the month. We do not accept excuses, we want to be respected as customers.

If Etecsa CAN’T (as it seems), the authorities should let other foreign companies with more experience and infrastructure come in to offer stable, modern and cheap connectivity. Professionals across the country are crying out for this, because every day they spend not as internet users their knowledge is outdated and their ability to innovate and create ceases to be competitive.

Entrepreneurs would also be able to scale to a new level if they could offer their products and services through the web (can you imagine Über arriving in Cuba?), and teenagers, students, housewives, and even retired people who stand in line for the newspaper, would have greater opportunities, new channels of information, more chances of interacting with their emigrated relatives and with the world.

In other words, the country would benefit. But the thing is, there are some who see nothing good coming from our being connected. They are those who have spent years been trying to “tame the wild colt of the internet,” the mediocre people who have gained prominence with their subsidized (and privileged) access to the web where they go to repeat their slogans. The lifelong censors who tremble just thinking about people having their hands on a device directly connected to the great world wide web, able to report an abuse in a matter of seconds, to record political violence, the chronic shortages, the popular discontent, to denounce a corrupt official… to question the system.

They are those who even fear people enjoying “the frivolity” of the web… because every song we listen to on iTunes, every dating site we visit, every product we “covet” on Amazon, will be time spent beyond the influence of official propaganda, far from the carefully packaged primetime newscast. It will be time in which we may seem apathetic, but at least we won’t be “fanatics.”

Anyway, Etecsa, how long until mobile internet arrives?