Cuba: A Penal Code to Bind Us All

Under the new Constitution, journalism not controlled by the Cuban Communist Party faces a demonizing of the access to funds from international organizations. (14ymedio)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 17 May 2022 — The new Cuban Penal Code, recently approved by the National Assembly and which will enter into force in the coming days, is a detailed compendium of the main fears of the ruling party. Like any authoritarian model, the island’s regime is forced to break down each prohibition and enumerate all the punishments, trying to anticipate even the new forms of confrontation and rejection that may arise from the citizenry.

When reading between the lines of the new regulations, and separating what it inherits from the previous Code in terms of penalizing common crimes, the great panics that keep Cuban leaders awake at night emerge. The independent press, activism, popular protests in the style of the one that occurred on July 11 (11J), and the possibility that individuals unite in initiatives to revoke the economic political system, these are at the center of the tremors that run through the Plaza of the Revolution.

Journalism not controlled by the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) bears one of the worst parts of this new legislation, which further demonizes the access of the independent press to funds and resources from international organizations and foundations. In a country where a group of men uses the public coffers at will to support their media of ideological propaganda, those same individuals try to cut off any financial oxygen that allows the existence of newspapers or magazines that annoy power. Only the PCC can carry out the exercise of content dissemination, under supervision and with censorship’s scissors ready to cut everything that does not benefit the Party.

However, the current twist already had its antecedents in the Gag Law for which 75 dissidents went to jail in the Black Spring of 2003 and which has never been repealed. So it can be interpreted more as an update to the new realities than the beginning of an unprecedented raid against the free flow of news. The growing popularity of information portals managed by independent journalists has put in check a dictatorship that, for decades, ruled from secrecy and absolute control of information dissemination.

Something similar occurs with article 120.1 of the new Code, which penalizes anyone who “arbitrarily exercises any right or freedom recognized in the Constitution of the Republic and endangers the constitutional order.” As in the Constitution the PCC is considered the superior force and leader of society; trying to change that and erect another alternative will result in a serious, very serious crime. However, a similar straitjacket already existed with the popularly called “constitutional mummification” which, without meeting the requirements of a referendum where voters were asked their position in favor or against the proposal, was imposed in 2002.

In short, if much of what is penalized in this legislation was already prohibited, in one way or another, in decrees, regulations and resolutions, it is worth asking the reasons for reinforcing this veto and expanding the punishments in the new Code. Everything indicates that it is a victory for the forces of immobility; we are facing the image of those bridges, the ones dynamited by the most retrograde to prevent democratic change from coming from within the Island, from springing up from ordinary people. This is, in reality, a glossary of the terrors of Castroism and its desperate attempts to stop what will come no matter what.

The Penal Code designed to bind us all points to the fact that it has been drafted by a system sunk in mistrust of society and in fear of the future.


Editorial Note: This text was originally published in Deutsche Welle in Spanish.


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.

Press and Responsibility in the Face of Tragedy

The cloud of smoke from the explosion at the Saratoga Hotel was visible from the Plaza of the Revolution municipality. (14ymedio)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, 7 May 2022 — It sounded like thunder, but when I looked out from the balcony, the sky was clear. I scanned the city with my eyes and a huge mountain of smoke was rising in the area of ​​Old Havana. Instinctively I looked at the clock, it was 10:52 on the morning of Friday, May 6. We didn’t know what had happened, but it was serious. In the Editorial Office of 14ymedio we quickly wrote the first journalistic note that warned the world that an explosion had shaken Havana. We initially thought it was in the area around Havana Bay.

A few minutes later the first images arrived and our reporters approached the place. The event was taking shape: the Saratoga Hotel was enveloped in a cloud of dust and the surroundings were full of debris. People took pictures with their mobiles and reported from the vicinity of the building which, until recently, was an architectural beauty that adorned the city and now had been reduced to a jumble of iron and ruins. For almost an hour the official press did not react.

Citizen journalism and the independent media negotiated those long minutes very responsibly. Despite the bomb and sabotage rumors circulating in the streets, my colleagues kept a professional pulse and tried to check every sentence published. It was difficult, because when the official newspapers began to publish about the incident, they often mixed facts with speculation, truth with lies. The biggest hoaxes were from the account of the portals controlled by the Communist Party.

The television coverage was nefarious. Unprepared announcers who improvised by confusing the Saratoga Hotel with the Capitol building, who pronounced someone “dead” just by watching screen as they removed a body on a stretcher, as if they were doctors who can determine who is alive and who is not. And ideology everywhere, trying to kidnap human solidarity, painting as partisan the support that people gave to the most suffering.

To make matters worse, Miguel Díaz-Canel did not miss the opportunity in front of the microphones to attack the independent media, which he accuses of spreading rumors and lying about what happened. Instead of making a speech based on the harmony and unity that tragedy brings, he preferred to use the moment of pain for his old battle against dissidence. The mediocre man that he is once again demonstrated that he does not have one iota of the greatness of a statesman.

Without our work and that of so many citizens who reported from the place, the news would have taken much longer to be known and solidarity would have been delayed for a time that was vital for the victims. Accusing the press is a vile act of politicking in the midst of tragedy, an attempt to use emotions to denigrate journalists.

We would have preferred, of course, that this Friday morning, the news that shook us and forced us to work almost 24 hours straight would have been happy and hopeful. But in the face of the catastrophe, our journalistic policy is transparency, professionalism and respect for those who suffer, without being moved at all by the vanity of having a scoop.

Make no mistake, Díaz-Canel, the independent press has been essential in the first hours of this unfortunate event. Without admitting it, you read us, copied us and even took entire sentences from our articles. While the mouths from outside insulted us, inside their air-conditioned offices they completed many of the details of this drama through us.

We offer out condolences and we accompany those who have lost a loved one, who have a family member fighting for life in a hospital or who are still trapped under the rubble. Know that we will not rest in our journalistic duty until we publish every detail about what happened, we will insist on a transparent investigation without political manipulation. We will be, as always, on the side of the victims.


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 Blue Bird Enters a New Stage. Fly or Fall?

Stock image of the Twitter logo. (EFE/EPA/JUSTIN LANE)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 30 April 2022 — Will it fly higher or crash to the ground? The question about the future of Twitter had been around us for some time, but after the announcement that Elon Musk bought the social network for approximately 44, billion dollars, the question has gained strength. It is not only a virtual space for celebrities and politicians, but it is also the loudspeaker and protective shield of thousands of activists and journalists in the world.

I have had an account on the blue bird for 14 years, I joined in the summer of 2008 when Jack Dorsey’s legendary tweet, in which he wrote “Just setting up my twttr,” was revered as the initial branch of a nest that could shelter us all. Since then, first with 140 characters and later with the current 280, its trill has saved me from some horrors and has helped me tell the story of my country.

The first time that the official Cuban press mentioned Twitter, it defined it as “a technology created by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA, for its acronym in English).” As with any new phenomenon, the propagandists of Castroism opened fire against something they did not understand but believed to be ephemeral. Their rejection on the one hand and the need for independent activists and journalists to have an immediate publication tool, on the other, marked the flight over the Island of those blue wings.

Twitter had an anti-establishment character from the initial moments when it began to be used by Cubans. When the Plaza de la Revolución understood its true scope, the opposition groups, the alternative media and the most critical citizens had been posting tweets for months or years. Then the Communist Party of the Island also landed in the network it had renounced until recently.

That arrival of the official hosts to the network was marked by slogans repeated with formality and zero spontaneity, the creation of bots that were dedicated to harassing dissidents, and the provisioning of an entire army of cyber police officers who supervised who crossed the line with criticism of the government. Such practices have been detected by the San Francisco giant, which has frequently responded with suspensions of fake accounts and other reprimands for official threats against defenseless citizens.

The story I just told is repeated in almost any country under an authoritarian regime, with some extreme examples like China, where Twitter can hardly say a peep due to the ironclad censorship prevailing in the Asian nation. Other dictatorships, moreover, have gone from initial rejection to an attempt to use the service for their propaganda and intimidation purposes. With the new change of owner of the company, the big question is whether it will be easier for these tyrannical models to achieve their goal or, on the contrary, they will not be able to continue with their dirty digital tricks.

The richest man in the world now faces a challenge. He has promised that he will make Twitter a “better than ever” space for freedom of expression, but he has acquired the virtual world inhabited by more than 300 million identities, many real and a good part apocryphal or declared fictitious. Beyond celebrities, billionaires and presidents, the question that the most vulnerable users have is whether the blue bird will continue to carry our voice far: to the heights where a short tweet can stop the coup, open the locks of a cell or prevent the coup de grace.

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This column was initially published in Deutsche Welle for Latin America.


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 Journalists: Those Who Defamed Us Run Away Without Apologizing

They leave (a decision that I personally do not question) but I continue to investigate how many lies they helped spread that cost tears, social isolation and physical pain to others. (Facebook)

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 28 April 2022 — I wonder how many of these official journalists who are taking to their heels helped to prolong the demonization of independent reporters, contributed to silencing the voices of the media not controlled by the Communist Party (either because of their actions or because of their lack of action).

How many of them spread the idea that we were the “traitors,” the “enemies,” who had to be silenced, and then moved their mouths away from the microphone. How many looked at us over their shoulders, chewed our names with annoyance, joined the defamation campaigns against us and, now, put the sea in between us. They leave (a decision that I personally do not question) but I continue to investigate how many lies they helped spread that cost tears, social isolation and physical pain to others.

The responsibility of the journalist is not a suit that is taken off and left behind to put on another, clean of stains. The responsibility of the journalist implies knowing that the words said, the headlines circulated and the lies amplified also left victims, cut off the path for more honest people to reach the cameras, pulled the rug out from under excellent masters of information who, because they had critical ideas, were never able to stand in front of a classroom. The journalist’s responsibility leads us to wonder: These official reporters who are fleeing today, how many years of ‘survival’ did they give the dictatorship?

Questions that I ask myself. From here, from Havana.

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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 State Security Believes the Press is Muzzled with Crude Fumbles

Here we do not work with cash but with stories, news and daily drams. (14ymedio)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 26 April 2022 — The “restless boys” of the Cuban political police no longer know what to ‘invent’ to boycott our journalistic work. Today it occurred to them (they have also done it before) to circulate my husband’s and my mobile phone numbers on several digital classified sites along with a false advertisement for the sale of dollars, euros and other currencies.

The phone hasn’t stopped ringing since and every call that comes in, of course, cuts off my internet connection and interrupts my editorial work, even the interviews and testimonies that I’m compiling for my series #MadresDel11J [Mothers of 11 July] are cut off with the desperate ringing of those who are looking for any cent of foreign currency to be able to escape from this #IslaEnFuga [Island in Flight].

If the agents of the State Security believe that with these coarse missteps the press is muzzled… they don’t know anything. This is almost “child’s play” compared to what we have had to experience in almost two decades of journalistic work. I am sorry, yes, for all those who dial the eight digits of my mobile in the hope of getting hold of those bills that are used to buy in the infamous stores in MLC (freely convertible currency) or to pay for a ticket to any point of world geography.

I feel very sorry for them, but no. This phone is not from an informal exchange but from a newsroom. Here we do not work with cash but with stories, news and daily dramas. Here the value is not reduced to a piece of paper but to the capacity that we have as a team to recount the deep Cuba.


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 Cafe-con-Leche-Cubanologists

The Spaniard Ana Hurtado and Mexican Jerónimo Zarco, visiting Cuba last week, invited by the regime. (Twitter/@Ana_Hurtado86)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 30 March 2022 – Their tongues give them away. As soon as they get off the plane they begin to blurt our phrases like “you have no idea what you have here,” “life out there is very hard,” or “with this sun, what more do you want.” While saying things like that, they take some photos in the most hackneyed tourist places, drink a mojito to the health of some guerrilla, and publish a couple of photos on social media with the blue sea as a background.

The café-con-leche-Cubanologists come to explain our own country to us and convince us to accept, here, what they wouldn’t stand for should it happen in their country. With a foreign accent and academic titles that no one can verify, they stand on the peak of their ego and speak to us as if we were tiny ants who don’t understand the need to sacrifice ourselves for a greater good. They throw in our faces that we must sacrifice ourselves so that they can point to a map and say that “utopia” has been installed on this Caribbean island.

When a skinny woman asks them for something to eat on the terrace of a luxurious restaurant in Old Havana, they assure her that gluten is bad for one’s health and that it is best not to eat red meat, while the steak overflows on their plates along with a few slices of freshly baked baguetteThey are the same ones who accuse Cuba’s July 11th (11J) protesters of being violent vandals, while they incite the burning of police cars in their cities and, in their own lives, have thrown more cobblestones than flowers.

The café-con-leche-Cubanologists question why we complain about power outages if blackouts help prolong the life of the planet; they lament that we insist on having a supply of drinking water when we could drink with our cupped hands from the rivers (they do not know that most of the streams in the country are polluted or dry), and they tell us that we are complainers for demanding shoes for our children when the contact of feet with the earth is the most recommended for energy… health and other theories of the sort.

They love to get close to power. They have a special fascination for being invited to an official reception, allowed to speak in the University of Havana’s Great Hall, and getting a decoration pinned on their lapel. Because these so-called experts on the Island consider us restless and misguided children, who do not know how to value what we have, and who must be dealt with with a heavy hand, very heavy. They like it when dictators help them maintain the colorful vignette of paradise that they advertise on their Facebook or TikTok streams.

Nothing annoys a café-con-leche-Cubanologist more than his own object of study denying him. Like on that day when people came out shouting the word “Freedom” in the streets of the Island, or the growing numbers of those who throw themselves into the sea to escape this system, or when patients show through images and testimonies the profound deterioration of the public health system. This causes them deep discomfort, because their doctoral thesis is not designed to include all possible variables, but a single and unquestionable conclusion.

The café-con-leche-Cubanologists have been declining and are becoming more and more pathetic. Once there were Nobel Prize winners, renowned artists and illustrious professors. But over time, such an occupation has become so painful and unsustainable that they have been deserting en masse, to take refuge in silence or to channel their “talent” towards other geographies. But there are still some, pathetic and pernicious.


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 Claws of ‘Correos de Cuba’ in my Correspondence

I should be used to mail arriving at my house in Havana in these conditions, but no, I’m not used to it. (14ymedio)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 22 March 2022 — The violation of my private correspondence is systematic and gross. This is how these two letters have arrived, one torn on the side and the other evidently opened and sealed later with adhesive tape, sent to me from the offices of the German chain Deutsche Welle with which I collaborate professionally as an opinion columnist and television presenter.

I know they will tell me that I should be used to the fact that the mail does not arrive at my house in Havana or arrives in these conditions, but no, I do not get used to it. No one should get used to the horror.


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.

Some Display a Sign and Others Leave Cuba

Capture of the moment in which Marina Ovsyannikova bursts into the news, crying out against the war in Ukraine.
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 16 March 2022 — Her name is Marina Ovsyannikova and until a few days ago she was an editor at Channel 1 of Russian official television. But after having the courage to appear with a sign against the war in Ukraine during a live newscast, her name has become synonymous with professional integrity and daring, as well as a symbol that many in authoritarian countries should learn from.

The day that Ovsyannikova unfurled her sign, the social networks about Cuba were immersed in the umpteenth debate around an official journalist who took to his heels and is asking for asylum in the country which, until recently, was the center of his attacks. As with every controversy of this type, some accused the presenter of being opportunistic, others appealed to empathy to accept his escape, and others converted his departure from the country into the new watershed that was going to divide us as Cubans.

A woman, alone, with a piece of cardboard written on by hand, shook up the entire controversy that was wearing us down. She made the arguments of one side and the other seem frivolous. “Stop the war, don’t believe the propaganda,” read the sign she showed on camera behind the news anchor. With that gesture, she not only showed immense decorum, but she also risked ending up in a legal process that would take her to prison for many years, although until now her audacity has resulted in an arrest and a fine.

Without intending to nor having this Island in her mind, Ovsyannikova was also speaking to us Cubans. She was telling those who disown anyone who works in an official media that one day, any employee of those propaganda mechanisms takes a role or uses her voice to denounce an injustice reaches a much larger audience than an activist shouting in a corner.

To the other party, who calls for mercy for the official journalists who, until yesterday, were defaming opponents and now celebrate having arrived “in the land of freedom,” this young Russian was reminding them that something can always be done. Every opportunity in front of the microphone, every chance to speak live and not denounce the dictatorship is a lost opportunity, and more time given to the longest-running authoritarian system in this hemisphere.

Ovsyannikova threw us against the mirror of our trifles. Not all those who work in the official channels are run-of-the-mill repeaters of slogans, nor is “nothing can be done because everything is controlled” of much use to evade civic responsibility. We have to watch closely so that this woman does not end up with her bones in jail, poisoned by a mysterious substance or pushed into exile; but also to call for each Cuban to use the crack that opens up to get rid of this horror.
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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.

We Cubans Do Not Need Recipes, But Freedom To Produce Food

Why can this cabbage that I plant in an old can on a balcony a few meters from the Ministry of Agriculture give me more hope than the ephemeral plans of Acopio? (Yoani Sanchez)

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation y, Havana, 11 March 2022 — The “experts” arrive, like the Brazilian Frei Betto, to tell us how we have to do it… but we already know. We have known it for centuries since the first ones who made cassava on this Island, passing through my grandparents who made thick corn “tayuyos” like those that could not be eaten in one sitting; to the “strained” peas that we gave our young children to make them grow despite their skinny legs and diminutive size… we already know.

It’s called “freedom” and it’s the main ingredient in every dish, every crop, every harvest.

Why can this cabbage that I plant in an old can on a balcony a few meters from the Ministry of Agriculture give me more hope than the ephemeral plans of the state company Acopio? Because this cabbage is freely watered. It doesn’t answer to anyone, it doesn’t have to pander to the statistics spouted by any leader strutting his stuff on a podium.

It is just a cabbage and we are just people who harvest a cabbage that knows that the land can give much and more, but it does not move with ideologies, nationalization or straitjackets designed by centralism. It’s a cabbage, it doesn’t understand parties, and hungry mouths need more cabbages like this.

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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 Invasion of Ukraine Plunges the Official Cuban Press into Disrepute

Now, the one who remains with these grotesque versions it is because he prefers the information pap, rather than to investigate, question or search further.Top headline: West aligns against Russia which advances in the demilitarization of Ukraine. Bottom headline: Kiev delays negotiations while deploying arms, warns Russia. (Collage)

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 26 February 2022 — These days, the official Cuban media show off their character of political propaganda, without any adherence to the minimum requirements of journalistic information. Incidentally, they show their servility towards the Kremlin by branding as “demilitarization” what is a cruel invasion of the territory of a country, and they also blame the government of Volodomir Zelenski for the entry of Russian troops into Ukraine.

Luckily, we have independent media and internet access, despite the high prices and multiple blocked sites suffered by the latter. To which we must add, our long training to search for everything that is censored or prohibited, which is put to the test in cases like this, to be able to complete the news that the pathetic State newspaper Granma and the toxic Cubadebate website try to manipulate at will.

Fortunately, but above all because we have pushed the wall of so much information control, we are no longer that people who believed so many lies spread by the media controlled by the Communist Party. Gone are the days when millions of people on this Island swallowed that the idea that sending soldiers to Africa was to pay an “old historical debt” with that continent; or that the last Cubans on the island of Granada had immolated themselves “wrapped in the flag”… or so many other auto-attacks that Castroism carried out to later manipulate the pain of a people and cut even more freedoms from citizens.

Fortunately, we are no longer the ones who could be so easily banned from reading Moscow News, made to believe that the neighbor in our building was a NATO agent and therefore had to be imprisoned for long years, or be assured that Vladimir Putin is a good-natured leader who just wants to keep the Russians safe.

Now, the one who remains with these grotesque versions, it is because he prefers the information pap, rather than to investigate, question or search further. Now, whoever has not seen the images of the bombs falling on buildings in Kiev, the Russian tanks on their path of destruction and the defenseless population, with their children and their pets, trembling in the subway tunnels while the missiles sound outside, is because he doesn’t want to, because he refuses to know, because he has covered his eyes and ears to the truth.

We are no longer the same nor can they lie to us in the same way, but the official press does not quite realize it.

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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.