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.

Shameful Friends

Alexandr Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994. (CC)

Alexandr Lukashenko has been in power in Belarus since 1994. (CC)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 25 May 2016 – People with whom we share sorrows and joys are a reflection of ourselves, however different they may appear. As friends we choose them to accompany us, but also to complete us, with the diversity and continuity that our human nature needs. The problem is when our choices of coexistence are not based on affinities and preferences, but on interests and alliances focused on annoying others.

In the same week, the Cuban executive has embraced two deplorable authoritarian regimes. A few hours after Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez met with government functionaries in Belarus, Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution hosted a meeting between Raul Castro and a special representative from North Korea’s Workers Party. Disgraceful comrades, shamelessly embraced and praised by the island’s officialdom.

In a world where civil society, calls for the respect for human rights, and movements that promote the recognition of rights are making themselves heard ever more loudly, it is difficult for the Cuban government to explain his good relations with Europe’s last dictator and with the cruelly capricious grandson who inherited power through his bloodline. What united the island’s authorities with similar political specimens?

The only possible answer is sticking their finger in the eye of Western democracies and the White House. The problem with this attitude lies in the demands from these fellow travelers for commitments and silences. Diplomatic friendship is converted into complicity and the comrades end up defining the nature of those who have chosen their company.

Maduro and the Country That is Disintegrating in His Hands

A woman protests against members of the Bolivarian National Guard in the march on Wednesday in Caracas. (EFE / Miguel Gutierrez)

A woman protests against members of the Bolivarian National Guard in the march on Wednesday in Caracas. “We are starving to death. Total dictatorship.” (EFE / Miguel Gutierrez)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 May 2016 — All signs point to the collapse of Venezuela. Every minute that passes the country is disintegrating in the hands of Nicolas Maduro, who insists on maintaining with revolutionary violence a power that he has not known how to keep through efficiency or results. His stubbornness has led a nation rich in resources to misery and his incendiary oratory is now pushing it towards a violent explosion.

In front of the microphones, Maduro claims to defend a chimerical 21st century socialism that only works in the minds of its progenitors. However, his political and repressive actions are aimed at preserving the privileges of a clan that rants against the bourgeoisie while living in opulence and looting the public coffers. He believes in the Robin Hood of the children’s stories, but this time Sherwood Forest has become unlivable, even for the poor.

Power outages, insecurity in the streets, food shortages, emigration of the young and professionals, along with the highest inflation in the world, are some of the signs of deterioration experienced by a nation trapped for almost two decades in a populism that has bled the economy and polarized society.

Corruption, mismanagement and a string of neighboring countries that have behaved more like leeches than allies, have drowned Venezuela in less than twenty years. Few still have the shamelessness to publicly support the delusional regime that has installed itself in Miraflores Palace and brought the nation to the verge of collapse. Even former fellow travellers, such as Spain’s Podemos Party, led by Pablo Iglesias, and former Uruguayan president José Pepe Mujica, have distanced themselves from Maduro.

A member of Podemos has criticized the Venezuelan president’s attacks against Spain, while the Uruguayan politician described Hugo Chavez’s heir as “mad as a hatter.” Others, like Raul Castro, remain complicity silent while, from the shadows, weaving the threads of support for the Bolivarian forces. No wonder Evo Morales has rushed to Havana to receive instructions about how to proceed in the face of his floundering comrade.

However, Chavism, and its bad copy “Maduroism,” has entered its endgame. Its motorized faithful can instill fear in the population and the National Electoral Council can delay ad infinitum the review of the signatures on the recall referendum, but this will not restore the popularity enjoyed in the times when a military coup hypnotized millions with revolutionary rhetoric interspersed with anecdotes and songs.

Nicolas Maduro is collapsing and dragging a nation down with him. In this fall into the abyss of violence, a military coup or other demons, he has not shown a single instance of the greatness that would put the interests of Venezuela first, ahead of his party and ideological affiliation. History will remember him in the worst possible terms and he deserves it. He has ruled from caprice and exclusion, ultimately inserting his name on that deplorable list of caudillos, satraps and authoritarians who have trampled our continent.

The Collapse

Raul Castro, in the presence of Barack Obama, chides a journalist who asks about political prisoners on the island. (EFE)

Raul Castro, in the presence of Barack Obama, chides a journalist who asks about political prisoners on the island. (EFE)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 26 April 2016 – In films there are final epics. Systems whose final moments pass between the sound of the hammers tearing down a wall and the roar of thousands of people in a plaza. The Castro regime, however, is going through its death throes without glorious images or collective heroics. Its mediocre denouement has become clearer in recent months, in the signs of collapse that can no longer be hidden behind the trappings of the official discourse.

The epilogue of this process, once called Revolution, is strewn with ridiculous and banal events, but they are, indeed, clear symptoms of the end. Like a bad movie with a hurried script and the worst actors, the scenes illustrating the terminal state of this twentieth century fossil seem worthy of a tragicomedy:

  • Raul Castro erupts in fury at a press conference when asked about the existence of political prisoners in Cuba, he gets entangled in his earphones and comes out with some rigmarole a few feet from Barack Obama, who looks like the owner and master of the situation.
  • After the visit of the United States president, the government media releases all their rage at him, while Barack Obama’s speech in the Great Theater of Havana is number one on the list of audiovisual materials most requested in the Weekly Packet.
  • Two Cuban police officers arrive in uniform on the beaches of Florida, after having navigated in a makeshift raft with other illegal migrants who helped them escape from Cuba.
  • A group of Little Pioneers, dressed in their school uniforms and neckerchiefs, contort in sexually explicit movements to the rhythm of reggaeton at an elementary school. They are filmed by an adult and the video is uploaded to the social networks by a proud father who thinks his son is a dance genius.
  • Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez accuses Obama of having perpetrated an attack on “our conception, our history, our culture and our symbols” a few days after receiving him at the airport and without having fearlessly said any of these criticisms to his face.
  • An obscure official at the Cuban embassy in Spain says in a chat with “friends of the Revolution” that this is “the most difficult moment and its history,” and calls the coverage of Obama’s visit in the foreign media as a “display of an unparalleled cultural, psychological and media war.”
  • Raul Castro is unanimously reelected as first secretary of the Communist Party for the next five years and choses stagnation. Thus, he loses the last chance to pass into the history books for a gesture of generosity to the nation, as late as it might be, instead of for his personal egoism.
  • Fidel Castro appears at the Congress’s closing ceremony, sheathed in an Adidas jacket, and insists that “we not continue, as in the times of Adam and Eve, eating forbidden apples.”
  • A few days after the end of the Party Congress, the government announces a laughable reduction in prices to try to raise fallen spirits. Now, an engineer no longer has to work two-and-a-half days to buy one quart of cooking oil, he only has to work two days.
  • Thousands of Cubans throng the border between Panama and Costa Rica trying to continue their journey to the United States, without the government of the island investing a single penny to help them have a roof over their heads, a little food and medical care.
  • An economist who explained to the world the benefits of Raul Castro’s reforms and their progress, is expelled from the University of Havana for maintaining contacts with representatives from the United States and passing on information about the procedures of the academic center.
  • Two young people make love in the middle of the San Rafael Boulevard in plain view of dozens of onlookers who film the scene and shout obscene incitements, but the police never arrive. The basic clay of the Revolution escapes in the individual and collective libido.

The credits start to run and in the room where this lousy film is being shown only a few viewers remain. Some grew tired and left, others slept through the long wait, a few monitor the aisles and demand loud applause from the still occupied seats. An old man is trying to feed a new, interminable, filmstrip through the projector… but there is nothing left. Everything is over. All that’s left is for the words “The End” to appear on the screen.