Scholarships, Fears And Attractions

The Scholarships offered by World Learning are targeted to 16-to-18 year olds.

The Scholarships offered by World Learning are targeted to 16-to-18 year olds.

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 27 September 2016 – The woman approaches without fear or hesitation. “How can my son apply for one of the scholarships mentioned on television?” she asks me abruptly. It takes me a few seconds to realize what she’s talking about, for the images to come to mind of young Cuban students engaged in demonstrations called by the government to reject the programs of the World Learning organization.

She waits a few minutes, standing next to me, eager to have an email address she can write to, a bridge for her child to learn another reality. The slogans against the US NGO launched by officialdom don’t seem to have swayed her. When I ask her if she is aware of the government campaign attacking this program, which is targeted to Cuban youth between 16 and 18, she responds with a very popular phrase: “In this case, it’s all the same to me to me to be the pedestrian, or the driver who runs over him.”

Fear no longer works as it once did. A few decades ago, it was enough for any phenomenon or person to be demonized on television for the circle of silence and fear to close around them. Now, the volume at which the extremists shout is inversely proportional to the interest in the object of their animosity. Without realizing it, the Party propaganda of recent days is helping to advertise the existence of some scholarships that were known to only a tiny part of the island’s population.

The woman is not afraid. She sticks close to me for help in some details that will allow her son “to breathe other air.” Like her, thousands of parents throughout the island watch their children leave for school, where in morning assemblies they shout their rejection of the new “manipulations of imperialism.” At home, the adults move heaven and earth to inscribe their children’s names on the list for the next round of scholarships.

Extremist Today, Democrat Tomorrow

Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. (Facebook)

Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. (Facebook)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 31 August 2016 – In the nineties, this student was one of the most militant in his university classroom, until he managed to get a fellowship in Spain, and today he writes asking me, “Why do you put up with so much and not rebel?” From a rabid militant of the Young Communist Union (UJC) he went on to carve out a history as a clandestine fighter for the democracy he had to escape to because on this island “little could be done.”

The story of this colleague, who overturned his ideology at breakneck speed, came to mind lately on reading the intense controversy over the work sanction against the Radio Holguin journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. The young reporter published on his digital diary a statement by Karina Marron, deputy director for the newspaper Granma, where she defined the current economic and social conditions as the basis for “a perfect storm.”

Along with the disciplinary measure, which consisted in permanent separation from his job at the station, Pantoja had to undergo a process of public disqualification that reached its climax in a text signed by Aixa Hevia, vice president of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC). The official accused him of wanting to “create a history that allows him to cross to the Miami media.” Perhaps a projection of what she herself would do if the opportunity presented itself.

It would not be the first time that a well-known face from Cuba’s official journalism ended up “crossing the pond” and declaring on the other side that it was because “at that time I believed, but not any more.” The greatest extremists I have met in my life have ended up this way: burying their red or olive-green attire, without intoning the self-criticism that would give some relief to the victims they caused with their outbursts.

Over time, if ever, the instruments of censorship such as Aixa Hevia undergo a process of selective amnesia and forget all the damage they did to those who demonstrated greater honesty and consistency. They leave behind a trail of colleagues they have betrayed and helped to depose, without even sending them a short note of apology or condolences.

It is not Pantoja, in this case, who is carving out a “history,” but the sectarians like the vice president of UPEC, who is capable of lashing out against someone she should defend. As a representative of the journalists’ union, she should protect her colleague, instead of helping to sink him. But she has preferred to act in harmony with the censors rather than in solidarity with a professional who simply defended freedom of the press, information transparency and the right of his readers to be informed about what journalists think.

This is not about speculating whether Pantoja will exercise his right to perform as a journalist in another country because he is prohibited from doing so in his own. It seems more likely that someday it will be Aixa Hevia who will shed her chameleon skin to change her color in turn, to the dictates of the next power for whom she wants to behave as a mere instrument.

Recipe For Forgetting Fidel Castro

Former president Fidel Castro with a “Queen” brand pressure cooker, made in Chinese. (EFE)

Former president Fidel Castro with a “Queen” brand pressure cooker, made in China. (EFE)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 August 2016 – Turn on the radio and the announcer reads a brief headline: “Fidel Castro, The Great Builder.” The man goes on to explain that the most important works of the country have come from this head that for decades has been covered by an olive-green cap. Weary of so much personality cult, I decided to watch television, but on the main channel a lawyer was detailing the legal legacy of the Maximum Leader and at the end of the program they announced a documentary about “The Invincible Guerrilla.”

For weeks, we Cubans have lived under a veritable bombardment of references to Fidel Castro, which has increased in proportion to the closeness of the date of his 90th birthday, this 13 August. There is no shame nor nuance in this avalanche of images and epithets.

This whole excess of tributes and reminders is, undoubtedly, a desperate attempt to save the former Cuban president from oblivion, to pull him out of that zone of media abandonment in which he has fallen since announcing his departure from power a decade ago.

We have left the man born in the eastern town of Biran, in 1926, in the past, condemning him to the 20th century, burying him alive.

Children now in elementary school have never seen the once loquacious orator speak for hours at a public event. Farmers have breathed a sigh of relief on not having to receive constant recommendations from the “Farmer in Chief” and even housewives are thankful that he does not appear at a congress of the Federation of Cuban Women to teach them how to use a pressure cooker.

The official propaganda knows that people often appeal to short-term memory as a way of protecting themselves. For many young people, Fidel Castro is already as remote as, for my mother in her day, was the dictator Gerardo Machado, a man who so adversely marked the life of my grandmother’s generation.

Followers of the figure of Fidel Castro are taking advantage of the celebrations for his nine decades of life to try to erect a statue of immortality in the heart of the nation. They deify him, forgive him his systematic errors and convert him into the most visible head of a creed. The new religion takes as its premises stubbornness, intolerance for differences, and a visceral hatred – almost like a personal battle – against the United States.

The detractors of “Él,” as many Cubans simply call him, are preparing the arguments to dismantle his myth. They await the moment when the history books no longer equate him with José Martí, but offer a stark, cold and objective analysis of his career. They are the ones who dream of the post-Castro era, of the end of Fidelismo and of the diatribe that will fall on his controversial figure.

Most, however, simply turn the page and shrug their shoulders in a sign of disgust when they hear his name. They are the ones who, right now, turn off the TV and focus on a daily existence that negates every word Fidel Castro ever said in his incendiary speeches, in those times when he planned to build a Utopia and turn us into New Men.

Tired of his omnipresence, they are the ones who will deal the final blow to the myth. And they will do it without hullabaloo or heroic acts. They will simply stop talking to their children about him, there will be no photos in the rooms of their homes showing him with a rifle and epaulettes, they will not confer on their grandchildren the five letters of his name.

The celebration for the 90th birthday of Fidel Castro is, in reality, his farewell: as excessive and exhausting as was his political life.


Editor’s note: This text was published Saturday August 13, 2016 in the newspaper O Globo of Brazil

Cuba’s Journalists Missing in Action

Six members of the Cuban volleyball team have been detained in Finland without the press explaining what crime they are accused of. (Volleyball World League)

Six members of the Cuban volleyball team have been detained in Finland without the press explaining what crime they are accused of. (Volleyball World League)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 7 July 2016 — My father came home with his head spinning. “What is the crime that several Cuban athletes in Finland are accused of?” He had only heard the official statement signed by the Cuban Volleyball Federation read on primetime news on Monday and published in the written press. The text did not clarify the imputed misdeed, so my father speculated: “Illegal sale of tobacco? Theft? Public scandal?”

The rape of a woman, for which the athletes are presumed responsible, was not mentioned in the statement, which constitutes an act of secrecy, concealment of the truth and disrespect for the audience. The official press acts as if we are small children with delicate ears to whom they cannot mention any gory details. Or worse still, as if we don’t deserve to know the seriousness of the accusations.

What happened, again makes clear the straitjacket that prevents information professionals from doing their jobs within the Communist Party-controlled media. This is something that many of them bear with pain and frustrations, while others—the most opportunistic—take advantage of the censorship to do work that is mediocre or convenient for the powers-that-be.

Why has no prominent Prensa Latina correspondent in Europe gone to Finland to report minute-by-minute on what is happening with the athletes from the island?

We suffer omissions of this type every day in the national media. These absences, now chronic, belie the winks that accompany Cuban first vice-president Miguel Diaz-Canel’s call for a journalism more attached to reality and without self-censorship. Where, now, is that official to urge the reporters to investigate and publish the details regarding the fate of the volleyball players?

It is very convenient to urge the journalists to be more daring and to take the time to guide them to be cautious or to remain silent. Such duplicity has been repeated so many times over the last five decades that it has inculcated in the collective imagination the idea that the press is synonymous with propaganda and with being an informer, a representative of the government.

The damage inflicted on Cuban journalism is profound and systematic. Repairing it will take time, a framework of respect for such an honorable profession and even the emergence of a generation of informers who are not marked by the “vices” of the current academy of Cuban journalism. These young people, without compromises with power, are the only hope left to us.

We Were All At Pulse

Christopher Sanfeliz and Alejandro Barrios, show to death by Omar Mateen at the gay nightclub Pulse. (Facebook)

Christopher Sanfeliz and Alejandro Barrios, show to death by Omar Mateen at the gay nightclub Pulse. (Facebook)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 15 June 2016 – The news mourned on Sunday, a week that ripped apart and will forever mark the lives of the victims’ families. The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, became a death trap for dozens of people at the mercy of a madman. The motivations that led Omar Seddique Mateen to kill 49 human beings and injure another 53 are still being investigated, but solidarity does not need to wait for FBI reports or summations, it should be immediate and unhesitating.

The official Cuban press has treated the fact that the event took place in a gay establishment with omissions and squeamishness. The prudery on television and in the national periodicals, with this silence, only promotes homophobia and belies their own discourse of changes. This absence is also noted in the condolence message sent by Raul Castro to Barack Obama, where he called the locale of the tragedy “a nightclub.”

The omissions don’t end there. The press in the hands of the Communist Party delayed until Wednesday the news that two Cubans were among the dead, when it was already vox populi on the streets. Why the delay? Because they were gay or because they were emigrants? This double condition must be upsetting to some in the government and thus in their periodicals, which operate by way of ventriloquist.

Also surprising is that the National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex) has limited itself to a formal statement of condemnation and has not called for a vigil, for flowers to be left at the doors of the mothers who lost their sons, or at least a symbolic action that reflects the pains of the Cuban LGBTI community.

None of that has happened, and not for lack of indignation or sadness, but from the same lack of freedom of expression that prevents a dissident from making a public demand, or any person from carrying, spontaneously, a banner that recognizes: “We were all at Pulse.”

Rain, A Justification For So Many Things

Two teenagers in the rain (14ymedio)

Two teenagers in the rain (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 10 June 2016 –“Why did you bring the girl if it is raining?” my friend’s daughter’s second grade teacher asked when she brought her child to school on Wednesday. Although the school year should continue, many elementary school teachers took advantage of the precipitation this week to hasten its end. The bureaucrats used the excuse of the bad weather to delay paperwork, while countless medical clinics opened late due to the weather.

Many state employees behave as if they are sugar cubes, or watercolors about to dissolve, or allergic to water when the rain comes. This reaction is laughable given that we live in a tropical country, but there is also a lot of drama involved in the serious damage the rains cause to millions of people. Over and over again, public services behave as if each rainy season was the island’s first.

The banking system, dysfunctional throughout the year, collapses almost entirely when two drops of rain fall from the sky. The Nauta email service – operated by the state phone company – is thrown into crisis, and urban transport outdoes itself in terms of problems. A drizzle and schools suspend classes, retail markets barely open, and even the emergency rooms in public health centers work at half speed.

All this without a hurricane, or 60-mile-an-hour-plus winds, or one of those heavy snows that keep nations further north on edge. The paralyzation of life here caused by the rains is more than a justification, it is an alibi, one that allows many, during these days, to do what they most desire: Nothing.

Elena Burke, A Voice That Resonates In Our Memory

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 9 June 2016 — The woman had something. In addition to her deep voice and the passion she poured into the microphone, she had an attitude that fascinated us. When she appeared on the television screen my childish self-absorption was put on hold and I stopped running around and paid attention to her. There she was, “Lady Feeling,” the teenager who had debuted on CMQ radio, the girl who was born in the same year that the cieba tree was planted in Fraternity Park in Havana. I shut up and listened to her.

Temperament, emotion and an interpretation that went beyond good diction or memory were her hallmark. She lived each song. She was ready to fight over an infidelity, cry over a heartbreak, relish to the point of madness, or say goodbye like a woman waving her hand from threshold of any door. In the Cuban musical scene of the seventies and eighties, filled with fear and duplicity, Elena Burke was authentic, seeking neither to please nor to humor.

Others reaped the glories of the international media when that imposing and sincere lady was no longer with us, when the lady of filin had gone. But no Cuban singer has managed to improve on her interpretations of songs composed by José Antonio Méndez, Marta Valdés or César Portillo de la Luz, among the many other songwriters she gave voice to. Because with a microphone in hand and her physical volume she filled the entire screen; she was simply herself, unadorned, uncompromising, forthright.