Economic Crime, the Pitfall in the Path

The question “do you have papers for those sacks?” is among the most repeated by the police to detect the “illegal” origin of a commodity.

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 22 May 2017 — The saleswoman described her merchandise in a murmur: loggerhead turtle steaks, beef and shrimp. The man salivated, but replied that he could not buy any of those products, the most persecuted in the informal market. Every opponent knows that the authorities would want to try him for an “economic crime,” and perhaps that saleswoman was just the bait.

The techniques used by an authoritarian government to control citizens can be as varied as the fertile imagination of the repressors. Some are designed in air-conditioned offices using studied methodologies, while others arise on the fly, from seemingly fortuitous situations.

Are the economic constraints that we live under a calculated scenario to keep Cubans locked in a cycle of survival? Do so many prohibitions seek to leave us civically paralyzed, feeling ourselves guilty and with one foot in a prison cell?

Beyond the conspiracy theories, officialdom has managed the informal market as trap for the nonconforming, a framework for gathering information about the deep Cuba, an element of blackmail against its citizens and a lure to hunt down political opponents.

The Plaza of the Revolution has turned its bad economic management into another way of keeping society in its fist. It knows that families will do everything possible to put food on the table and will turn to the underground networks to buy everything from their children’s shoes to the dollars that at the official currency exchanges are taxed at 10%.

In many cases it is just about waiting, like the spider who knows that sooner or later the little insect will fall into its sticky threads. State Security only has to wait for a dissident to buy coffee “under the table” or to dare to have the bathroom retiled by an unlicensed tile setter.

Although it is a practice that has been engaged in for many years, in recent months there has been an increased tendency to accuse activists of alleged economic infractions. They are charged with crimes that ordinary Cubans commit every day under the patronizing eyes of the police and with the complicity of officials or state administrators. However, in the case of an opponent, the law has the capacity to be narrower, more rigid and more strictly observed.

In all international forums, Raúl Castro’s government boasts of not having political prisoners and it supports this argument by severely, but politically selectively, criminalizing such trivial matters as keeping four sacks of cement or a few gallons of fuel at home, without being able to show the papers that prove they were purchased in state stores.

Journalist Henry Constantin is accused of “usurpation of legal capacity” for working as a reporter in an independent publication, but dozens of ex-military are appointed managers of tourist facilities without ever having studied hotel management or business management. None of them have been reprimanded for serving in a position for which they are not formally qualified.

Karina Gálvez, a member of the Coexistence Studies Center, is being prosecuted for alleged “tax evasion” during the purchase of her home. However, before the new tax imposed on real estate transactions came into force, thousands of Cubans thronged the notaries to complete their paperwork under the previous tax laws, far removed from the real estate market rates. Not one was sanctioned.

Eliécer Ávila, leader of the Somos+ Movement, had his home broken into in a police raid and is charged with the offense of “illicit economic activity.” His “crime”: possessing a laptop, rewritable discs and several disposable razors. Unlike those thriving artists who import the latest iMac from the market or “Daddy’s kids” – children of the regime’s leaders – who have a satellite dish to watch Miami television, the activist committed the offense of saying he wants to help change his country.

The lesson is that no matter what degree of economic illegality you commit, keep your mouth shut and don’t criticize the government. It is not the same to buy beef in the informal market when you pretend ideological fealty to the regime, than it is to do the same when you belong to an opposition movement.

The black bag can become a wall, a noose, a hidden trap for those who do not applaud.

When The Abuser Is The Government

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Karla Pérez González has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time incarnated in a campaign of character assassination. (Courtesy)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 May 2017 – I was in the third grade and the teacher chose the most aggressive girl in my class to be the room monitor. She was given carte blanche to control the other children. Later, the abuser rose to a position in the Federation of Middle School Students and joined the Union of Young Communists. Today she is an active part of a Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. She is corrupt and violent, but highly valued by the authorities in her area.

Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex), led by Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela Castro, has launched a campaign against homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools. The initiative includes the family in order to “understand what it is about, to help the girls and boys, the teenagers, the young people, and all the staff of the school,” says the sexologist.

Mariela Castro says that the level of abuse in schools on the island is “fairly low,” an affirmation that demonstrates – at the very least – her lack of connection with the Cuban reality. Without reliable official figures, any investigation of the subject must appeal to the personal experience of individuals and this is when the stories and testimonies of bullying in the educational environment surface.

The high schools in the countryside, promoted by former president Fidel Castro, were a reservoir of these abuses, many of them carried out under the impassive eyes of the teachers. Suicides, rapes, systematic robberies of the most fragile, accompanied by power structures more typical of prisons than an educational institution, were the daily bread of those of us who attended these schools.

I remember the spring of 1991, when a student threw himself off the water tower of the People’s Republic of Romania High School in what is now Artemis province. He had been harassed by the taunts and pressures of several classmates. We were all crowded together in the central hallway during the evening’s recreation hour when we felt the thud of his body landing on the concrete.

His harassers never paid for that death, it never became a data point in the statistics of student victims of bullying, and a family had to bury a son without being able to put a name to what had happened to him: abuse. In the weeks after that death another student slit his wrists – fortunately he didn’t die – and a group of twelfth grade students beat up a tenth grader for “having feathers,” i.e. being effeminate.

However, abuse in the schools doesn’t end there. There are many ways to harass a student and not all of them come from his or her classmates, nor are they motivated by sexual stereotypes, strict gender roles or group bravado. Ideological violence, exercised by power and with the consent of the school administrators, is another way to inflict psychological damage.

A few weeks ago, a journalism student at the Central University of Las Villas was the victim of institutional abuse that will leave permanent psychic and social scars on this young girl, just 18. To make matters worse, it was the leaders of the University Student Federation who behaved toward Karla Perez Gonzalez as the school abusers, like the leaders of a gang or the thugs of the hour.

Since her expulsion, the former student has been the victim of a new type of harassment, this time embodied in a campaign of character assassination that would be laughable if it weren’t aimed at destroying her self-esteem and turning her into a non-person. To do something like that to a student of such a young age is an act of rape from power, persecution dressed up in the robes of school discipline.

The abusers, protected from above, end up feeling that they can destroy lives, denounce innocents and beat others as long as they are protected by an ideology. A system that has fomented political thuggery in its schools and its streets cannot confront bullying in all the complexity that the problem presents.

Noisy campaigns to fill foreign media headlines and the collection of large funds from international organizations is not the solution for all the Cuban children who have to deal, right now, with the physical blows, the ridicule of their classmates or partisan indoctrination in their schools.

‘Good Morning, Lenin!’

Raúl Castro watches the crowd parading before the political leaders in the Plaza of the Revolution (CC)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 2 May 2017 — The loudspeakers blared in the distance. Their echo filled the neighborhood where many took advantage of the Monday holiday to sleep until mid-morning, far from the May Day parade and its slogans in the Plaza of the Revolution. The screams into the microphone sneaked into that apathy, like an alien band with its instruments out of tune. On the Day of the Workers, officialdom took its tropical chauvinism for a stroll.

I woke up, like in the German movie “Goodbye, Lenin!” and had the feeling I’d leapt through time. But my journey did not carry me into a future of imprecise contours, but rather into the past. The words spoken by the Secretary General of the Cuban Workers Center took me back to a time of ideological bravado, years in which the Kremlin bear had our backs and Cuba sent guerrillas to the jungles of South America and cosmonauts to space.

Ulises Guilarte De Nacimiento’s address smelled like mothballs, and didn’t fit the times we are living in. In his angry phrases there was a nationalism as ridiculous as it is outdated, and in any case politically incorrect almost everywhere on the planet. He spoke of exploits that most of the population had never experienced and, to top it off, ignored the demands of Cuba’s working class. He spoke in the past tense, with the rhetorical twists and turns of agitators from the last century and the overacting of every good opportunist.

I thought of all the topics he failed to address, all the proletarian demands that no one mentioned because the event had more ideology than class-consciousness. Missing were any demands from labor, requests for greater union autonomy, complaints about serious violations of occupational safety and health throughout the country, and the vital demand for wages more in line with the high cost of living.

Instead, the government preferred to use the day for political purposes, repeating the structure of the podium, up there, and the workers down below. More than a thousand foreign trade unionists and activists were present as guests, able to see with their own eyes the “proletarian enthusiasm” displayed by Cubans, but the event was nothing more than a faded repeat of those that formerly took place in the extinct socialist camp.

When the Berlin Wall fell, where were all those workers who had marched on the International Day of the Workers? When the USSR collapsed, what did they do to block those workers with medals on their chest who marched shouting slogans in those squares?

Invitation to the Readers of ’14ymedio’

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Miami, 14 April 2017 — In this blog I have experienced good readers and bad moments, shared stories and exchanged opinions. For almost three years you have also accompanied me in the adventure of running a digital newspaper. Together with the team of 14ymedio, you are part of a diverse family spread over several continents.

To talk about this time that we spent together and update you on the challenges that are to come, I want to invite you to the meeting: Cuba: at the distance of an embrace, this coming April 24 from 6 to 8 pm at the CubaOcho Museum and Performing Arts Center in Miami, to share anecdotes and ideas with you and two other reporters from 14ymedio.

I know that many who live far away or are busy and will not be able to come, but I don’t lost hope of continuing to have this kind of conversation in different cities and one day, why not, do the same thing in our newsroom in Havana: without repression or fear.

____________

Note:
The Address of the Cubaocho Museum & Performing Arts Center is 1465 SW 8th Street #106, Little Havana, Miami.

There will be a menu for those wishing to buy food and drink during the event. Special guests will be our friends from Project 305 of the New World Symphony of Miami, an initiative of which we are part and which seeks to collect audio and video clips to be used in an orchestral work that reflects the spirit of this city.

Ten Years, A Blog

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Yoani Sanchez received the Ortega y Gasset award for her work on ‘Generation Y’ in 2008, although she was not allowed to leave the country to receive it until five years later (El Pais)

 

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 10 April 2017 — Dawn, the sound of the keyboard marks the beginning of the day. I start a blog that will make me experience the most gratifying and terrible moments of my existence. I go out with the USB stick around my neck, climb the steps of the Havana Capitol and mumble a few phrases to get myself into the place with internet access exclusively for foreigners. It is the 9th of April 2007 and I publish the first text of Generation Y… My life has just taken a turn.

A decade has passed since that scene. A time during which I laid bare, post by post, the events that mark the reality of my country and of my own existence. I have filled the pages of this personal diary and left a testimony of the eventful and intense years I have lived. A digital logbook that could well serve as an impressionist portrait of Cuba at the beginning of this millennium.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since then. I discovered the immense scope of the written word, the amplifying character of technology, and an authoritarian power’s lack of ethical limits. I owned responsibility for every published phrase and not a few times paid the consequences not for what I said, but for what others believed I said.

I earned a scolding from a severe leader accustomed to hearing only his own voice, I spent more than one night in a jail cell, and I learned to speak in code to evade the microphones placed in my house. I got used to seeing my face in the official media surrounded by the worst adjectives and lost more than one friend. However, the gratifying moments have far surpassed all the punishments this opinion space has brought me.

I watched innumerable voices be born and gain strength, voices that made the Cuban blogosphere a more plural and inclusive space. I met many, like myself, who in their respective countries grabbed ahold of the new digital tools to try to better their societies. I received the support of my family and discovered the profession that I exercise today: journalism.

Each text that has come out in Generation Y shows that personal path, marked by obstacles and gratifications. If I could go back in time I would only amend the moment when I decided to open this blog. I don’t forgive myself for having waited so long to express myself.

Raul Castro Squandered His Last Chance

US President Barack Obama and his Cuban counterpart, Raul Castro, shook hands a year ago in Havana. (White House)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 22 March 2017 — A year ago Cuba had a once in a lifetime opportunity. US President Barack Obama came to the island willing to turn the page on political confrontation. The gesture transcended the diplomatic situation, but Raul Castro – fearful of losing control – responded by putting the brakes on economic reforms and raising the levels of ideological discourse and repression.

Nations are not presented with opportunities every year, nor even every century. The decision to entrench itself and not to undertake political flexibilizations has been the Plaza of the Revolution’s most egotistical measure of recent times. Failure to know how to take advantage of the end of public belligerence with our neighbor to the north will bring this country lasting and unpredictable consequences.

These effects will not be suffered by the so-called “historic generation” – those at the forefront of the 1950s Revolution – now diminished by the rigors of biology and desertions. Rather than the generals in olive-green, the ones who will pay the price will be those who are still sleeping in their cradles or spinning their tops in the streets of the island. They don’t know it, but in the last twelve months a short-sighted octogenarian tricked them out of a share of their future.

The greatest waste has been not exploiting the international moment, the excitement about foreign investments, and the expectations everywhere in Cuba of taking the first steps towards democratic change without violence or chaos. It was not the job of the White House to encourage or provoke such transformations, but its good mood was a propitious setting for them to be less traumatic.

Instead, the white rose Obama extended to Castro in his historic speech in Havana’s Gran Teatro has faded, beset by hesitations and fears. Now, it is our job to explain to these Cubans of tomorrow why we were at a turning point in our history and we threw it away.

The Day of the Woman in Cuba, More Honored in the Breach / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

On Women’s Day, no protest march is scheduled in Cuba, as if the life of the women in this country was a bed of roses. (Silvia Corbelle)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 8 March 2017 – Lying in bed, with the light off, feeling each one of her vertebrae howling. After coming home from work she spent four hours in the kitchen, bathed her invalid mother, helped the children with their homework, went shopping and prepared an administrative report. On TV the announcers offer congratulations for the Day of the Woman, but it sounds like a distant echo that does not influence her life.

On March 8, the workplaces end their days earlier, the officials intone mellow speeches and all the stands are sold out of flowers. The news is filled with images of women who cut cane, give life to babies, and carry guns on their shoulders. Nor is there any lack of politics. Officialdom takes advantage of the day to insist that only “after January 1959” have we Cuban women been recognized.

The National Symphonic Orchestra prepares a special concert, the Post Office sells postcards in bad taste, while the Cuba Workers Center – the only legal union in the country – dedicates the day to Fidel Castro and the “eternal president of the Federation of Cuban Women,” Raul Castro’s late wife Vilma Espín Guillois. There are no protest marches, no demands expressed, as if the life of women in this country was a bed of roses.

The noise of the music, the slogans and the triumphalism drown out our complaints. The day, made compulsorily festive, does not allow demands to emerge, nor talk – with bras shed – about the problems that threaten our daily lives. “Today is a day for celebration, not complaining,” many say; but tomorrow other topics will fill the agenda and there will never be “a good time” to talk.

Symptomatically, the initiative of a women’s strike under the slogan #NosotrasParamos (We Stop) does not find space here, although 45 countries have joined the protests to demand equality between men and women. The lack of independence of women’s associations and their subordination to the government prevents the idea of our taking to the streets with posters and demands.

Machismo and gender discrimination fill every space of our daily lives. In the media, a catchy children’s song tells the story of mother ant who urges her daughter to abandon her games and help her iron, sweep and scrub; but the capricious little girl prefers her dolls. In schools, teachers prepare an area of ​​pink kitchens and baby beds for the girls to play in, while they reserve trucks and play weapons for the boys. In workplaces, bosses feel the power to compliment, harass and touch their subordinates, often under the belief that “they like it.”

In the official discourse we are seen as decorative elements, as a necessary gender quota or simple pieces of the ideological gears. Power continues to maintain its old-fashioned, cheesy machismo, purportedly “chivalrous,” which veers from flattery to insult towards those in skirts. The woman who shares their ideology is a “beautiful flower of the Revolution,” the dissident only deserves that hard four-letter word that questions our morality.

The Cuban feminist movement is dead. This system was killed by depriving it of autonomy, extinguishing the discourse of demands and imposing the false premise that women emancipated themselves five decades ago. All a fallacy that hides the drama of millions of women condemned to double or triple working hours, subjected to sexual harassment and surviving every day with a dose of antidepressants.

The entire economic crisis that we have experienced has claimed women as its main victims. The shortages force them into the long lines to buy food and the stress, every day, of having to “invent” a meal. The accelerated emigration has separated them from their children and the layoffs at state workplaces have returned them to the house, back to the hearth.

Statistics about women professionals, deputies to the National Assembly, scientists in white coats or athletes, cannot hide the other side. The numbers of battered women, threatened by a boyfriend who has sworn to kill them if he sees them with another, those raped inside or outside of marriage or those who have had to exchange sex for promotions at work.

Where are the figures for the number of women murdered or beaten by their partners? Where can harassed wife who fears the next beating take shelter? Why not talk about femicide in the national media if each of us knows at least some case where a macho rage ended a life?

Today is not a day to celebrate, but to worry. A day of demands that have been extinguished by the music of a machismo reluctant for us to have our own voice.