Thank You, Dear Pablo, for the Musical Legacy and Honesty

Pablo Milanés and his daughter Haydée sing a duet. (File, Archive)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 22 November 2022 — Three decades ago, when the dial of any radio in Cuba was turned, it was very unlikely not to stumble across, on various stations, the warm voice of Pablo Milanés. It was the time when the Nueva Trova phenomenon was at its peak on the island, and the singer-songwriter was starring in concerts, interviews, television programs, and even musical themes in support of a political process to which he gave not only his best chords but also his artistic prestige. Shortly after, something broke forever in that relationship and this November 22, when the artist died at the age of 79 in Madrid, he had long since become an open critic of the Havana regime.

The death of Milanés closes a cultural stage on the island, although troubadours of his generation are still active, in the style of Silvio Rodríguez. He puts an end to an era because, unlike the latter, the author of hymns like Yolanda and Yo no te pido [I don’t ask you] had not only captivated his public musically but had also managed to gain a foothold in the hearts of the audience. His reputation as a good man, without hatred and in solidarity with young talents, earned him much appreciation on and off the Island. Added to this was his honesty, a personal quality that made him publicly acknowledge his distance from the ideological model that he had once helped to praise with his songs.

In July 2021, when thousands of Cubans took to the streets asking for a change in the system and a democratic opening, Milanés was emphatic in his support for the citizens and in his repudiation of the ruling party. “It is irresponsible and absurd to blame and repress a people thathave sacrificed and given everything for decades to sustain a regime that, in the end, imprisons them,” he lamented on his Facebook account. The artist took the opportunity to recall that he had been denouncing “the injustices and errors in the politics and government” of Cuba for a long time. Those words have been repeated and remembered in the last hours, after learning of his death, as a worthy epitaph to the composer of El breve espacio en que no estás [In the brief space where you are not].

Cuban officialdom has been cautious up to now in its condolences. A few brief farewell messages have come from the accounts of cultural institutions and some party leaders, but the brief and distant tone of these obituaries is noticeable. Milanés is not a comfortable dead man for a regime accustomed to extolling only those who applaud it with enthusiasm. The troubadour had become a difficult being for them, something that became clear during his last concert in Havana in June of this year. On that occasion, the authorities wanted to confine the artist in a small room which they were going to fill with acolytes from the Plaza of the Revolution, but the indignation of his followers forced them to change the script and move the presentation to the larger Ciudad Deportiva. And yes, indeed, the place was packed with political police to prevent the public from chanting “Freedom!” or other protest slogans.

During that show, many felt that they were probably attending, for the last time, that Milanés would sing in their country. With the greatness that characterized him, he did not want to get sentimental or emphasize a possible farewell, but his age and his fragile health levitated over the thousands of attendees.

Social networks have been filled with messages of respect and affection for everything that he gave to people throughout his life. Along with an impressive musical legacy, his main testament is summed up in having been consistent, a consistency that frightens official propaganda but that his audience recognizes. Thank you for the songs and for the sincerity, dear Pablo.


Editor’s Note: This text was originally published by Deutsche Welle‘s Latin America page.


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 Independent Journalism in the Face of the Uncertain Future of Twitter

It is not known what will happen to Twitter but it is easy to predict what will happen to the thousands of Cuban users if its fluttering stops: we will be more gagged. (EFE)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 November 2022 — The winds of uncertainty are blowing over Twitter: massive layoffs, an attempt to charge for account verification, and inflammatory statements by its new owner, Elon Musk, have fueled doubts about the future of this social network. In Cuba, questions are also growing about a tool that is vital for activism and independent journalism.

The crisis that the blue bird is going through comes at a very sensitive moment for the Island. There are only a few days left before a new Penal Code comes into force that will further restrict freedom of expression and the exercise of the press. By the time this new legal code is in force, the need to denounce repressive excesses will multiply and Twitter’s 280-character postings is the main channel for these demands to reach the largest number of international organizations, media outlets, and associations that watch over human rights.

To the extent that the social network seems to be about to become a thing of the past, the scope of these complaints will diminish and the visibility of civil society actors on the Island will also decrease. In addition, the insecurity surrounding the San Francisco company emboldens the Cuban regime, which in recent months has suffered several virtual defeats with the cancellation of its official accounts that spread ideological propaganda and attacks against dissidents.

Twitter has always been a thorn in the side of Castroism, which saw from the beginning the threat posed by a technology that offered citizens the ability to publish immediately, even without the need for internet, as it was used widely on the Island through mobile phone text-only messages. After a time of reticence against this social network, the regime ended up opening its own accounts assigned to institutions and party leaders, but it has never been able to hide its displeasure towards the tool. It has always had a dislike for this restless bird.

Now, spokesmen for the regime rush to pluck the wounded bird, boasting that they always foresaw its fall from grace. The instability that has gripped this microblogging service sounds like music to their authoritarian ears and they are already fantasizing about the company’s closing and the end of the loudspeaker that it has represented for the opposition and independent Cuban media. Unable to impose their narrative online, they are anxiously waiting for the voices of Cuban citizens to stop being heard.

Twitter has a great responsibility towards those of us who live on this Island. For us, to keep “twittering” about our reality is not a matter of trends, entertainment, puerile conversations or the desire to kill boredom. A tweet can make the difference between being on one side or the other of prison bars, it is capable of stopping a repressive act, and revealing the coercive practices of the political police. In our case, it is not a channel to display our morning cup of coffee or our feet sunbathing in front of a pool, but a very important layer of the protective shield that we need so much.

It is not known what will happen to Twitter, but it is easy to predict what will happen to the thousands of Cuban users of that network if its fluttering stops: we will be more gagged and surrounded by greater dangers.


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.

Cubans Have Lost Their Smiles

That laughter on the lips or the cackles set off by anything at all have disappeared from Cuban streets. (14ymedio)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 21 October 2022 — We are a dozen people waiting in line. The woman in front of me has her lips pursed as if she is avoiding saying anything. The young man in flip-flops and jeans turns his head from side to side from time to time, while next to him a teenager does not take her eyes off her phone and frowns. The man at the end of the line has released some insults for the delay and even the store’s guard can’t stop complaining. No one smiles, no face even hints at a gesture of joy or complacency.

For years I had to explain to my foreign students who came to learn Spanish on the island that the laughter of Cubans should not be interpreted as synonymous with happiness. “Even at funerals, and despite the sadness of the death of someone close, people will make their jokes and can burst out laughing,” I described. But the stereotype that people in this country felt content and lucky to live under the prevailing political system was as difficult to eradicate as lice in elementary school classrooms.

So, I drew on more data. I spoke to them about the repression, the domestic conflicts fueled by the housing deficit, the high divorce rate, the drama of the suicides about which the ruling party jealously guards the numbers, and the dream most shared by Cubans, that of emigrating to any other place in order to leave this Island. However, my explanations that a thousand and one dramas could hide behind those smiles tourists saw in the streets did not achieve any effect. The cliché of national contentment was stronger than any argument or statistic.

But even the most widespread and enduring clichés may one day run into the reality that proves them false. That laughter on the lips or the cackles set off by anything at all have disappeared from Cuban streets. The faces of sorrow and annoyance are seen on all sides and, instead of those jocular and hilarious phrases of yesteryear, now emerge complaints, insults and offenses. It gives the impression that a conflict is always about to break out with fists or that anyone might jump down another’s throat at the slightest difference of opinion or friction.

A French friend who worked in Cuba for a foreign firm for many years returned a few days ago after more than five years in Europe. “What has happened to the people?” he asked me. “No one laughs,” he added when he saw that I didn’t understand him. He concluded with a phrase that made me realize that we all have long, serious faces 24 hours a day: “All the faces I see are sad, even the children don’t smile.” We don’t even use that mask that we put on so many times to exorcise pain or dissatisfaction. We have stopped even wanting to pretend that we are happy.

After that conversation I walked down the Avenida de los Presidentes in El Vedado, turned onto Calle 23, continued to L, approached Infanta and quickened my pace towards Belascoaín. Not a single laugh the entire way.


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.

Havana Already Stinks of Rot

Ruined food and garbage have been piling up for almost 100 hours since the widespread blackout began in Cuba. (14ymedio)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 1 October 2022 — The Internet continues to be cut off in a large part of Havana after the protests yesterday afternoon and evening. To the cry of Freedom! and Turn On The power! People came out in the Playa municipality and other areas of the Cuban capital.

We are still without electricity, and it will soon be 100 hours without power. Our building smells rotten, from the food that was spoiled without refrigeration, from the garbage that older people on the highest floors cannot go down to throw away, and from the system itself that stinks like a corpse even though it continues to resist burial.


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.

Voices in Cuba: ‘Turn on the Power!’

Long before Hurricane Ian struck, power outages in Cuba were frequent. (14ymedio)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 30 September 2022 — Yesterday, Thursday, in the afternoon and at night, several popular protests shook Havana with the cries of “Turn on the power!” and “Freedom!” There are still large areas without electricity, as is the case in our neighborhood, which will soon mark 72 hours without electricity.

Web browsing from mobile phones was cut off last night to prevent us from seeing the images of the demonstrations and right now internet access remains very precarious.

The food shortage situation is very complicated and the winds of Hurricane Ian have fueled inflation, especially in the prices of basic products such as bread, eggs and vegetables.

Social unrest, acid criticism of the dismal performance of state entities and the demand for change have also increased significantly. People can’t take it anymore. Hopefully this outrage translates into a liberation movement and not more people fleeing the Island, as sadly has happened in similar cases.


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.

Two Days in Havana Without Washing Up or Eating Anything Hot

The almácigo tree (bursera simaruba) at the entrance to the parking lot of our building that did not withstand the winds of Hurricane Ian has been lying there since Tuesday. (Yoani Sanchez)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 29 September 2022 — Soon we will complete 48 hours without electricity in our neighborhood. The problem is not only the lack of power, but also that this area has many tall buildings and the water tanks — normally filled with pumped water — in people’s apartments have already been emptied. Carrying the water up the stairs 10, 12, 14 or 18 floors is very difficult, especially for the elderly.

The few food reserves that people had been able to store are also gone and I know families with convalescent elderly people who have not been able to wash or eat something hot for several hours. Meanwhile, the hum of the Ministry of Agriculture’s generator floods the neighborhood and one wonders why an entity that can’t even make Cuban fields produce food needs an electric plant to provide us with fruits, tubers and vegetables at a price in line with wages.

A friend has called me to ask if the freely convertible currency markets will auction off merchandise that needs refrigeration before it spoils, or if they will deliver free food to those families who have been left with an empty refrigerator, or the food spoiled by heat. I think my friend is watching a lot of foreign documentaries.


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.

Hurricane Ian Moves On, While the Damage is Just Being Assessed in Cuba

Our Plumeria rubra, “natural weather vane” on this 14th floor, lost several branches, its flowers and many leaves. (Yoani Sánchez)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Havana, 27 September 2022 — Thanks to everyone who worried about us. We are fine. It has been hard: part of our house was flooded, we suffered very intense gusts of wind and we felt a lot of fear, but now the rain and the wind are decreasing. Our Newsroom has only suffered minor damage and in our neighborhood we can see fallen trees, branches and objects in the streets.

Others, especially in Pinar del Río, have not had the same luck. What a hug of solidarity for all of them in this difficult time!

We can only begin to know the extent of the damage starting tomorrow. Here in the Cuban capital we have heard firefighter’s sirens on several occasions, we have friends without telephone coverage and a good part of the city is without electricity. Wound upon wound, damage upon damage.

Our Plumeria Rubra, a “natural weather vane” on this 14th floor, lost several branches, its flowers and many leaves. Its location in a large flowerbed prevents it from being taken in when a cyclone hits, but it is strong and will be reborn… so will we.


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.

Cuba: The Sand Generation

He shares the surveillance of the cars with a friend who takes care of his position so that, from time to time, he runs a race to take a client to his house. (14ymedio)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 24 September 2022 — As I adjust my helmet, he tells me that he is 29 years old and has an ulcer. I get on the back of the motorcycle and we head down Calle Reina heading to Carlos III. The Belascoaín traffic light forces us to a stop, where he tells me that he was born in the middle of the Special Period and that he is part of what he has called “the sand generation.” “We were the children who grew up without milk and without toys,” he adds, just as the green light gives way to the wide avenue.

He has tried almost everything to survive: “I worked as a waiter in a state cafeteria; I was a house-to-house distributor for the weekly packet; I got a job at a gas station but I didn’t last long there; I let myself be carried away by the dream of working in the Mariel Special Development Zone but that quickly deflated; I was a coachman in Old Havana; and finally I ended up in El Trigal Market.” We are already arriving at Zapata Street and a close trust – as if we had known each other all our lives – marks our conversation.

“But I can’t leave this country because I have my mother and my grandmother here, I know that if I ‘go out to see the volcanoes’ I will never see them again.”

“At first the idea of ​​El Trigal was good,” he confesses. “I bought bananas from the farmer for 80 centavos in pesos and sold them to the customers, who were mostly paladares [private restaurants] and cafeterias, for 1.50.” But El Trigal market, a prototype of what could be extended throughout the island to eliminate obstacles to agricultural trade, ended up collapsing. “One day we arrived and we were no longer allowed to buy directly, we had to go through the state company Acopio, which then offered the bananas at 2.50 CUP [Cuban pesos] and there was no business for us to sell them.”

The tower of the Plaza de la Revolución is on the left as we cross part of La Timba. “I had to leave there and I started driving an electric tricycle to offer my services to the self-employed who went to buy at the Mercabal on 26th Street, but that was dying little by little and now it is closed and without anything to sell… Nor do I have the health to continue in that job, which involved carrying a lot of weight and I have a herniated disc and hip problems.”

“I started driving an electric tricycle to offer my services to the self-employed who went to buy at the Mercabal on 26th Street.” (14ymedio)

Now, he makes a living parking cars outside a Havana store. He shares the work of keeping an eye on the cars with a friend who steps in for him, so that, from time to time, he can speed off to take a customer home. “It doesn’t pay much but at least I have a job, most of my friends are at home with their arms crossed because they can’t find anything.”

We can already see Tulipán street, without traffic at that time of the afternoon, and the young man comments: “It’s just that, as I told you, we are made of sand, we are disarming ourselves.” We turn and he continues: “But I can’t leave this country because I have my mother and grandmother here, I know that if I ‘leave to go look at the volcanoes’ I will never see them again.” The train station, with its empty rails and platforms, is the scene of his harshest comment: “I don’t want to have children here, but I can’t emigrate either, so it seems that my family ends with me.”

In front of my concrete block he says goodbye. I get off the bike and hand him back his helmet. I see him go away and out of sight as if the breeze from my street had finished disseminating the grains of sand that he had still managed to retain inside his shirt.


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.

Of Spontaneous Leadership and Popular Protests in Cuba

“Let us do with our lives what we want,” demands the shirtless man in the center, before the strict faces of officials and police in El Cepem, Artemisa. (Screen capture)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 31 August 2022 — A shirtless man stands up to officials and police to prevent them from confiscating the rafts with which a group of residents of El Cepem, Artemisa, want to get out of the Cuban “socialist paradise.” A woman sits in front of her phone in Santiago de Cuba and launches an acid criticism against stores that only take payment in foreign currency. An old man walks the streets of San Antonio de los Baños shouting slogans against president Miguel Díaz-Canel. Hours before those actions, no one would have believed that either would become a leader, no one would have singled them out as ringleaders of the outrage on this Island.

For decades, Cubans have been waiting for anointed protagonists who will confront power directly and, in the style of Joan of Arc, come to immolate themselves if necessary for the cause of all. Waiting for these bold and magnetic messiahs, many citizens have parked their own civic actions. The demands from outside and within the national borders for these determined and authoritarian caudillos to appear, feared by the ruling party and loved by the people, fascinating and good orators, have also delayed change in this country.

However, life has shown that the leader emerges where forced by circumstances, that the leading role passes from one to another as reality dictates. That momentary chief is the biggest headache right now for the Cuban regime, which, when it finishes putting out the flame of rebellion in one area of ​​the country, another more sophisticated and stronger popular fire appears. In El Cepem, a poor community near El Salado beach, Castroism faced another problem this Monday, its own lack of charismatic figures and solutions to national problems.

A man, with a speech that borders on the philosophical heights, and whose address lacks a single obscenity, has struck the Cuban system to the heart. “If they don’t want us, because we are an illegal community, if we don’t fit in this country because our wages are not enough to buy in hard currency stores, if there is no oil for the thermoelectric plants to work,” then “let us do with our own lives whatever we want,” demands this father of an eight-month-old baby in front of the strict faces of officials and police.

Microphone in hand, while another resident of El Cepem holds the speaker on his shoulder through which his flat and firm voice is heard, this man displays all the arts of a true leader: he summons, unites, protects and confronts those who want  to do harm to his group, his neighborhood. What is his name? Where did he learn all those truths that he shoots like argumentative arrows, accurate and irrefutable? It is not necessary to know. The political police will now invent a past for him that is tailored to the campaigns to assassinate his reputation, to which they have appealed so often for more than 60 years. But, for a few minutes, he was the undisputed leader of national despair.

Let’s stop waiting for “the voice.” Any of us, at any given moment, can be chief, director, rector, general or president.


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 Flames Go Out in Matanzas but the Drama Continues in Cuba

In the face of each tragedy, the questions pile up and the detailed results of the investigations are rarely published. (Prensa Latina)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 12 August 2022 — The sky has turned blue again over Havana and in the city of Matanzas the flames at the Supertanker Base no longer rise on the horizon. However, the tragedy is still ongoing and the questions we all ask ourselves remain unanswered. Why did the lightning rod system not work? Who ordered taking inexperienced young people from the Military Service to try to stop the flames? What is the magnitude of the environmental disaster that this incident has left?

In the face of each tragedy, the questions pile up and the detailed results of the investigations are rarely published. With the plane crash that occurred in May 2018, barely any generalities were offered about its cause and we had to settle for a vague official statement that placed responsibility for the accident on the crew. We are still waiting for the report from the experts on the explosion at the Saratoga hotel from more than three months ago, nor is there any realistic analysis of how many lives were lost on this island for not accepting, at the worst moment of the pandemic, the covid-19 vaccines from the Covax fund.

The regime’s lack of transparency is matched only by its ineptitude. The mix of secrecy and inefficiency in this system is proving deadly for Cubans. The violation of the minimum security protocols, the triumphalism that makes one believe that it is possible to achieve certain goals when the minimum conditions to do so do not exist, and the stubbornness of carrying out projects “at whatever price is necessary” take lives every day in this country. Lives for which no one is responsible because the impunity of those responsible for ending them is absolute.

Unfortunately, this type of disaster will become increasingly common in Cuba, because the inefficient and centralized model imposed six decades ago cannot properly manage the challenges posed by our reality. They make up the figures, tidy up the press headlines, inflate productivity reports, skip security measures to shorten the time to undertake a work, blame third parties for their bungling, and shield themselves in their power so as not to pay for so many catastrophes they themselves provoke with their dismal performance.

It’s not just about reinforcing infrastructure, improving protection against lightning strikes, better handling cargo in an aircraft hold, or thoroughly checking a hotel’s gas supply line. The most important thing to preserve our lives is to eliminate this system as soon as possible and get so many incapable and untouchable leaders out of their seats.

It was not a lightning strike that caused the Matanzas disaster, but rather the lethal essence of this broken and cruel system.


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.