The Cuban Baseball Federation Suffers From Historical Amnesia

Kiele Alessandra Cabrera during her intrusion on the field of the Palm Beach stadium during the game between Cuba and Venezuela. (Screen capture)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 1 June 2021 — The writer Eliseo Alberto Diego, known as Lichi, used to say that “history is a cat who always falls on her feet.” The Cuban Baseball Federation should be warned about this ability of the past to stand up, a way of avoiding silence and manipulation.

The official entity has protested the events that occurred in this Monday’s pre-Olympic baseball game between the teams from Cuba and Venezuela. In an exalted note, it describes as “unacceptable that characters contrary to the spirit of a sporting event attempt against the team’s concentration.”

The tantrum is in response to the posters with the phrases “Homeland and Life,” “Free Cuba,” and criticisms of Miguel Díaz-Canel, that were displayed in the stands of the West Palm Beach stadium during the live broadcast of the game, displays that Cuban State television was unable to prevent from sneaking into the Tele Rebelde channel. But it turns out that what happened yesterday is part of a civic tradition of baseball field protests that the regime itself praised when they occurred in Republican era Cuba.

On December 4, 1955, a group of young people threw themselves onto the field of the Cerro stadium while a game was being played between teams from Havana and Almendares. They carried a banner with demands against the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, with the moment captured by the television cameras broadcasting the ballgame, allowing the images to reach the screens of thousands of spectators throughout the island.

According to the official Cuban discourse, that action was more than justified, and they constantly recall it as a revolutionary feat. But with regards to what happened this Monday, they reproach the Florida stadium guards for not having acted “as established by the security protocols”…

The story is nothing other than a feline with a penetrating gaze that flips in the air and ends up landing with its nails on the susceptible skin of those who want to hide and distort it.

Stubbornness and Inefficiency Go Hand In Hand in the Cuban Leadership

“My generation already has a couple deep material wounds, to its cost.” (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 29 May 2021 — A few days ago in the middle of the night they removed all the light bulbs that illuminated the corridor on the 14th floor where I live in Havana; a friend’s cat was stolen and shortly afterward she found the remains of what was evidently the sacrifice and feast that some neighbors made with her pet; in a line to buy frozen chicken, the crowd went wild as the door was opened and trampled on two old women who fell in the stampede.

All these scenes and many others have returned to populate the lives of Cubans, as they once did during the crisis of the 1990s that, in an excess of putting makeup on the language, the regime dubbed “The Special Period.” For those who were born in this century, the current social and economic disaster is the most serious of their lives, but my generation already has a couple of these deep material wounds, to its cost, while for my parents’ generation we must add the rigors suffered in the 70s.

The return of these vignettes of misery is part of a stubborn cycle that has touched the existence of everyone on this Island. Faced with so much repetition, some honest statesmen concerned about the country’s well-being would have redirection the national course, abandoned the practices that led to constant scarcities suffered by the population, or ceded their positions to more capable executives. But stubbornness and inefficiency go hand in hand in the Cuban leadership .

A few years ago, an analyst and writer asked an interesting question during a conference held at a study center in the capital: “How many more times must the implementation of Marxist economic ideas fail to conclude that failure is it inherent in the model?” If we apply that doubt to Castroism, then it is worth asking how many more crises will Cubans have to suffer so that officials understand that the system does not work? How many “special periods” must accumulate for the leaders of the Communist Party to recognize their inability to provide us with prosperity and freedom?

Yesterday I saw a girl break a chocolate cookie in two. “I’m going to eat half today and save the other for tomorrow for breakfast,” she said. My eyes watered. It reminded me of a scrawny and hungry teenager in a very long line to buy some little chicks that we had to raise in our apartment in the San Leopoldo neighborhood. After an hours-long line, plus blows and shoves, that young woman returned home with some tiny yellow animals, none of which survived her inexperience in raising poultry or lack of food. 

Of those images from the 90s there are some we have yet to see. I hope they do not arrive: The rafts loaded on shoulders crossing the streets heading towards Havana’s Malecón; the friend who embarked on one and was never heard from again; the kerosene-flavored pizza that was the only food for a couple of days; the Numantine leader asking us for more sacrifices from the dais. How much longer must a people endure to conclude that conformity is inherent in their character?

The Most Closely Watched Patient in the World

Members of State Security patrol the hospital where Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara is admitted. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 26 May 2021 — It is easy to spot them: they wear their hair short and closely observe everyone who passes near the Calixto García Hospital in Havana. They are the members of the State Security who patrol the hospital where the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, the most closely watched patient in the world, has been admitted since May 2. Since he was taken to the hospital by State Security, he has only been seen through crude, highly edited videos that the political police themselves disseminate.

Otero Alcántara’s friends insist on speaking directly with him but they have not been allowed to visit him, nor does the artist have access to a telephone to communicate without intermediaries. The days are accumulating and the official version is becoming more and more untenable, according to which, after more than a week on a hunger and thirst strike in protest of the repression, this 33-year-old Havanan arrived at the hospital in perfect condition and with some enviable health indicators.

If he is in good physical shape, why has he been held there for more than two weeks? What is really happening in the long days that the artist spends between the four walls of a hospital room? All the answers that come to mind when asking such questions are, to say the least, disturbing. The official medical apparatus’s complicity with the repression has a long history on this Island. The publication of medical records of dissidents in the official media without consulting them, and the confinement in asylums of people who protested peacefully in public places are part of this worrying collusion.

If, to that, is added the strict surveillance operation that surrounds the Calixto García Hospital since Otero Alcántara’s arrival at one of its pavilions and the arrest of several activists who have tried to get closer, then the concerns grow even more. Among those who could gain access to the place, surrounded by some protection, are the most important figures of the Catholic Church, members of the foreign diplomatic corps and foreign media correspondents whose job it is to report what is happening on the island. But none have done so.

It is unknown so far if there have been efforts by any of them to access the room where the artist spends his days, but it is most likely that most of these bishops, ambassadors and accredited reporters have weighed the cost of making a request of that nature to the Cuban authorities. For the moment, their paralysis suggests that they have measured the price of interceding or reporting on the situation in Otero Alcántara and, after evaluating the pros and cons, they have chosen to keep their distance and not bother Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution.

While the accomplices are silent and the undecided remain in the shadows, the life of a man who until recently was pure energy may be falling over the precipice into a dark abyss. The irreverent artist who organized an independent art biennial, protested the removal of the bust of a communist leader and carried the Cuban flag over his body for several days, now looks quiet and bony in the images filtered by the ruling party: a patient with a dull gaze dull and debilitated body.

Seven Years of 14ymedio: ‘La Edad de la Peseta’*

First cover of ‘14ymedio ‘on May 21, 2014. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 21 May 2021 — Today marks seven years since the first cover of the newspaper 14ymedio. Do I regret having founded a general newspaper together with a group of colleagues? No … not at all: thanks to this our early mornings are as intense and noisy as midday; on top of that, it must be said that this profession, defined as the worst option “for making friends,” takes a heavy toll when it comes to “thinking well of” certain people…; editorial shock is the most common state of mind… life is going to hit the headlines and at the “last minute”; the philologist that I once was has been totally absorbed by the reporter and the editor… there is no rest, there is no peace… nor any possibility of going back; politicians look at us with reluctance and citizens with complaints; the newsroom’s phone does not stop ringing and we can barely cover a part of the stories that come to us; our digital site continues to be blocked on servers in Cuba and, yesterday, part of the team “went dark” when they cut our internet connection.

Anyway, today we toast this newspaper that raises our cortisol and adrenaline, that is not ‘thought well of’ by those who would the gag, the complicit silence or the servile applause; which is a repressive objective but also the target of some words of encouragement… that has made us find the meaning of being here and now. In short, it has allowed us not to pack our bags to leave our country and – staying in it – to not shut up…

Translator’s note: The title of a film by Cuban director Pavel Giroud, translated into English as “The Silly Age.”

Camilo, a Repressor “Disqualified by History”

The agent Camilo was also involved in the act of repudiation against Reinaldo Escobar at the corner of 23rd and G streets, in 2009. (Collage)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 1 May 2021 – A long history of repression accompanies the State Security agent who calls himself “Camilo” (the lack of creativity in the use of pseudonyms is inherent in the type of person who works for the political police). He was and has been one of the most active repressors against the alternative blogosphere on this Island, especially against the journalist Reinaldo Escobar and this servant.

In the distant year 2008, he summoned us to threaten us in a station in Havana’s Vedado district. Now (with more gray hair, more belly and less modesty) we have seen him repressing the young people who protested this Friday on Obispo Street in the Cuban capital. He was also at the act of repudiation against Reinaldo Escobar on the corner of 23rd and G streets, in 2009 and again when we were arrested in Bayamo in 2012. Just by looking at his image I can feel his knuckles on my skin and the strong odor of his sour sweat stuck to my face.

Oh… Camilo… Do you remember when you told my husband and me that we were “disqualified for dialogue”? What “dialogue” were you talking about? The conversation that is established between one who screams and another who is gagged? Of the cackle of one voice? Of the uniform chorus that flows from a single throat? Oh… Camilo… you will be “disqualified by history” that will only give you the place you deserve: that of an instrument used and discarded by his masters.

Selection of posts relating to ‘Camilo’


The Reprimands of Wednesday

Continued Wave of Kidnapping Regime Opponents From Their Homes

Human Rights Defender Kidnapped in His Home

Kiss of the Tiger

Journalist Missing

My Interrogator Didn’t Come Because He Had No Gas

Report on Government Actions and Repression in 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.

Cuba: The Darkest of All Springs

A Cuban soldier stands guard next to the US Interests Office in Havana, on front of a sign with the number 75, placed in solidarity with the 75 dissidents detained in the 2003 Black Spring. (EFE)
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14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 March 2021 — They arrived at dawn and in many cases they even seized the family photos. It was March 2003 and the news emerged in pieces as the police searches dragged on and neighbors began to speak out about the patrols, the uniformed men and the arrests. Those days would later be known as the Black Spring, a repressive wave that left deep wounds but also shaped the current face of dissidence on the Island.

Those were times when Cuban officialdom was emboldened. With a still active Fidel Castro at the helm and a constant inflow of petrodollars from Venezuela, the Cuban regime believed that it could touch the sky with its hands and control every cloud. Since the beginning of the century, it had launched one ‘offensive’ after another, in energy and the social sphere with the recruitment of thousands of young people who also dispensed gasoline at the service stations, distributed refrigerators or doled out blows in an act of repudiation. The economic reforms that the crisis of the Special Period forced had also been halted.

The war in Iraq was beginning and it seemed to Castro that international attention was going to be entirely focused on the conflict that was emerging in the Middle East. After all, he had gotten away with it on previous occasions when complicity, the fear of making Havana uncomfortable, or ideological sympathies silenced more than one arrest and convictions of dissidents or excesses in prisons. The repressive offensive of that March was a way of saying that the times of absolute control within the country were back even though the dreaded Soviet bear was no longer supporting it. The “top leader” wanted to send a strong message.

But the raids did not go as calculated by the autocrat. International rejection was unanimous. Even old allies of the Plaza of the Revolution, such as the Portuguese writer José Saramago, made it clear that patience and collusion had come to an end. “I have come this far. From now on, Cuba will continue on its way, I will stay,” declared the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature as a result of the arrests of 75 opponents and independent journalists, a phrase that was never published in the official media of the Island, which continued to speak of “unrestricted” support for the offensive “against the enemy.”

That year was the date of one of the most important ruptures around the globe of the illusions of those who continued to believe that a just and beautiful revolution had been installed in the Caribbean. Those who had any doubt that those bearded men who came down from the mountain ended up building a dictatorship in which dissent was synonymous with betrayal, found the spring of 2003 more powerful evidence than any other argument. It was not necessary to say much, it was enough to read the judicial records against the detainees where owning certain books, having a typewriter or receiving correspondence from abroad were all described as crimes.

But those arrests and subsequent convictions not only had a definitive influence on how the world viewed the Cuban system, but also on the subsequent dissident movement that was formed on the island. The rejection of the measures and the demand for the liberation of the 75 became a flag that united, like few previous causes, the Cuban opposition. The Ladies in White Movement played a defining role in that confluence and the new groups that were born in the heat of the demands were less partisan and more focused on human rights. The independent press multiplied. Castroism had planted the tree where hangs the rope of its own international loss of prestige and of the social discontent that today has it in check, surrounded by criticism and stripped of all greatness.

Eighteen years later, the Cuban regime has had time to acknowledge that that blow of intolerance only brought it problems. It created dozens of heroes, brought together wills and gave rise to the emergence of a much broader and more plural critical sector than the one that existed before that March 2003. Although the Gag Law — under which the Group of 75 was tried — is still in force, the arm of power is fragile, discredited and has hardly any allies. Now it would take tens or hundreds of early mornings like those of the March 2003 to shut down all the voices that oppose it.

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.

Masks Are Not Gags

The journalist Mónica Baró, winner of an award from the Gabo Foundation, is one of the journalists who has suffered an interrogation and a fine.

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, 22 April 2020 — While the coronavirus rages in Latin America, another enemy – not as tiny – is also gaining ground. Authoritarianism takes advantage of the health emergency and the fear of citizens to cut freedoms, crush rights and impose tight control over daily life. In a few weeks we have regressed many years and the steps backward could accelerate in the coming days.

Along with the necessary calls for social confinement, restrictions on mobility and the closing of borders, some governments have gone further and have launched a campaign against the press and freedom of expression. Between one and another series of preventive measures they want to impose a bitter censorship and curtail of civic rights. Along with the quarantine and the masks, punishments and gags spread everywhere.

We have seen everything. From leaders and rulers who incite xenophobic hatreds and use the pandemic politically, to others who promote mass mobilizations despite the risk and minimize scientific recommendations. While many politicians insist they are combating dangerous hoaxes against health, they actually plunge the knife in an attempt to destroy their critics, who question their management and the media that challenges them.

In times of epidemic, independent reporters in Cuba receive more police citations than usual, and Internet users who report official errors are threatened with exemplary punishment. A shower of interrogations and fines has fallen on the press not controlled by the Communist Party and it is expected that these retaliations will increase as the number of cases positive Covid-19 also increase.

Along with interrogations by the political police, confiscations of work supplies and monetary penalties, the new wave of repression includes demonization campaigns against the private media, presenting these reporters as almost another type of coronavirus. Authorities seem especially interested in cutting off any narrative about the harsh reality of long lines, shortages, and economic uncertainty that have flared in recent days.

The official attacks are also characterized by amnesia. When, a few weeks ago social networks were filled with exhortations for classes to be canceled and borders closed to tourism, government spokespeople branded citizen proposals as manipulations coming from abroad. Days later, the Plaza of the Revolution imposed a package of measures very similar to the one it repudiated.

The delay of those weeks, in which official tourist campaigns continued promoting the Island as “a safe destination” and even hinted that the high temperatures of the Caribbean were an additional protection against contagion, was widely denounced in the independent media. The cost in lives of that delay is something we will never know with certainty.

Now, intolerance has escalated a step further, and a young journalist was summoned by police last week and given a hefty fine. Mónica Baró, winner of the Gabo Prize in the Text 2019 category, received threats for her posts on Facebook. According to the repressors, her crime is having disseminated “information contrary to the social interest, morality, good customs and integrity of people”, according to the draconian Decree Law 370 that regulates the distribution of content.

Sheltered through the coronavirus, other dangerous pathogens thrive, ones that – wearing a necktie or military epaulets – want to leave society without “information defenses.”


This text was originally published by Deustche 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 Doctors Risk Their Lives To Escape The Shortages

Cuban doctors who traveled to Lombardy in northern Italy displayed flags of both countries and a large photograph of Fidel Castro. (PresidenciaCuba)

14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, Generation Y, Havana, 1 April 2020 — The applause was felt everywhere. This Sunday at nine o’clock in the evening, an ovation crossed Cuba, in tribute to the health personnel who are on the front line of confrontation with Covid-19. As in other countries affected by the pandemic, people have wanted to acknowledge the sacrifice of doctors, who in Cuba must not only deal with the risk of becoming infected, but also with the material deterioration of the hospitals and low wages.

For decades, the Cuban health system has been highly praised by official propaganda and has become almost a myth at an international level. The fact that healthcare is free of cost to all and available to all is presented as one of the great “achievements of the Revolution,” and, for many, the health of the Island is a benchmark of how the sector should be managed. However, discontent grows among Cubans about the dire state of the hospitals, where the patients themselves must bring everything from sheets to food.

As the coronavirus spreads throughout the country – where according to official figures there are already 170 people who have tested positive for the disease and six who have died— our entire health network is being tested. In support of the Cuban doctors, they have been trained in contingency and working with few resources, so they have a special capacity to deal with the shortage of supplies that is becoming even more acute right now. Many of them are “graduates” in the harsh school of chronic crisis.

This ability to do a lot with little is one of the strengths that Cuban doctors have exhibited in recent days to countries where the coronavirus is taking hundreds or thousands of lives. More than 40 nations have requested the support of the island’s health professionals, as reported by the Ministry of Public Health. A necessary request and, without a doubt, a wise decision, because they will receive doctors experienced in emergency situations.

However, it must be said that the fine print of these agreements between the Cuban Government and the countries that call for health personnel almost never makes headlines anywhere. Those doctors will provide their services in semi-slavery conditions because, of the money the hosts pay, only a tiny part will end up in their pockets.

Our self-sacrificing doctors will work, sweat, and risk their lives, but the biggest beneficiary will be a government that doesn’t show transparency about what is done with every centavo earned from medical missions. Although official voices repeat that this money is invested in improving national health facilities and services, there is no clear record and the same could go to save lives rather than to sustain the repression.

On the other hand, although the desire to heal is the main motivation of their work, these doctors will have to accept that their work is publicly dressed up in the robes of ideology. It is enough to see the images of the Cuban doctors before leaving for Italy, posing next to a portrait of Fidel Castro, to understand that their trip is also being used by the Plaza of the Revolution as a marketing operation. The authorities want to extract ideological revenue from the pandemic and spread the idea that an authoritarian model cuts freedoms but saves lives. In other words, in these regimes, it is not possible to behave oneself as a citizen, but rather as an eternal patient.

The official discourse is disrupted when one of those doctors decides not to return to the Island. From the smiling photo and the epithet “hero of the country” they will come to suffer the stigma of being considered a “deserter.” It is enough that a doctor fails to return from a mission for them to be forbidden to enter Island to be reunited with their family for eight long years and, in addition, they will lose the salary in national currency that they have already earned, which had been accumulating in a bank account in Cuba.

So why do they go to these missions where they risk their lives and where they earn so little, many will wonder. The answer is complex but worth exploring. The humanitarian vocation is part of the motivations, but there is more: Getting out of the island prison is a respite in the midst of such a hard daily life. Despite being in an emergency zone, over there they will have access to many more services and products, so they will be able to bring merchandise to Cuba that will relieve their situation and that of their family.

A few years ago I met a doctor, epidemiologist, and university professor, who accepted a medical mission in Venezuela because it was the only possibility of obtaining the resources to repair the roof of her house. On this island we have the harsh contrasts of running into a neurosurgeon who is going to operate on a brain without having had breakfast, because his salary is not enough to have a glass of milk each day, and of a nephrologist who asks his patients to buy him a snack to cope with the workday.

Despite the fact that some years ago the salary of health professionals became the highest pay in all of Cuba, right now it is very difficult to find any of them who earn more than the equivalent of 70 dollars a month, and this in a country where a liter of vegetable oil costs over $2.50 and in state stores a liter of milk costs more than $1.50. Our doctors live, practically, in penury.

All this and much more influences why they get on a plane to provide their professional services outside the country, even if they risk their lives and even though they know that the Government is going to keep most of their income. They also do it because they love their profession and one day they swore to face illness and death, because they are magnificent human beings, like all the doctors on the planet, and not because they profess an ideology or because they are members of a certain party.

They, our doctors, are the true heroes of these days and not because of what the official press says. So tonight, when the clock strikes nine, I will clap wildly for them on my balcony. I will do so to acknowledge their effort, but it will not be an ovation for the system that has condemned them to wage poverty and political docility. Come clap your hands for our white-coat heroes.


This text was originally published by Deustche Welle’s Latin America page.

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Cuban News and False Normality

People in Cuba continue to crowd together without a sufficient distance between them. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 17 March 2020 — Every day I have to make an effort to watch the official Cuban official. My work as a journalist obliges me to tune in to those news programs because in a country marked by vertical control of the news, there are data and statements that are only published on those television or radio stations. Although I always muster a special patience to sit before the screen, I must confess that these days the drink is getting much more bitter.

NTV, in the evening primetime hours, is broadcasting some dangerous hoaxes about the coronavirus, turning the pandemic into an ideological battle, using the calamity to compete politically, and denying the mistakes of the “fellow comrades” while minimizing or falsifying the successes of democratic countries before the advance of Covid-19. Thus, it disseminates statements from officials more concerned with appearing normal than with protecting the population. Everything Venezuela’s Maduro and Nicaragua’s Ortega do in the face of the pandemic is an example to follow, while Germany’s Merkel or France’s Macron seem to be literally sinking their countries, according to this crude news script.

The newscast speaking of the interior of Cuba tells us that everything is “tranquility and discipline” and in its reports and headlines chauvinism reaches unbearable heights with a mix of recklessness, arrogance, absolute lack of humility and folly. The responsibility for the damage this disease causes in an unsuspecting Cuba – where the borders have not yet closed, classes are not canceled, work days are not suspended, offices are not closed, and there is no strong call for people to stay at home – will fall on the official news media and its public “information.”


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.

Authoritarianism and Coronavirus, Two Evils That Come Together

Inside the hospitals it will be something else: an overexploited medical staff without union rights, dilapidated facilities and a chronic lack of medicines. (Radio Rebelde)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 12 March 2020 — Invisible and potentially mortal. This is the enemy that keeps the world in check. Cuba officially confirmed this Wednesday that three Italian tourists tested positive for coronavirus and it is expected that in the next few days the number of infections will increase and that the authorities will take measures of great social impact. An authoritarian system functions like a permanent barracks or as a field hospital, so it has some “advantages” in an epidemic compared to democracies.

The first “superiority” shown by these types of regimes in the face of any emergency is their ability to control information. That ability to dominate the data was deployed in China during the first weeks of the appearance of Sars-Coronavirus-2, during which the few who dared to reveal what was happening were practically branded as traitors. Such was the sad case of Dr. Li Wenliang, accused by the authorities of “spreading rumors” – which could mean a high prison term – and who ended up dying of the virus.

Among some, the fact that only this Wednesday positive cases have been confirmed on the Island and that it was clear that no Cuban volunteer working abroad has contracted the disease has raised alarms. Is the script to “put make up” on the problem – that is to try to hide it – also being applied here? A strategy that would yield – facing the world – that would be extremely dangerous if it failed to convey to the population the real magnitude of the problem.

If Cuban authorities use the same policy that has been followed for years with regards to the number of people infected or killed by dengue fever is put into practice, the true incidence of Covid-19 in Cuba will never be known.

Accustomed to behaving like generals towards their soldiers and not like public officials towards their citizens, Cuban leaders can implement absolutely invasive and coercive measures at the social level without the need to decree a state of emergency. They do not require special permits to remove potential infected persons from their homes by force, to lock up suspected cases in hospitals, or to cancel all mobility across the country at once. In this, they “beat” democratic models by a landslide.

With an extensive network of informants throughout the national territory, the Plaza of the Revolution only needs to include sneezing and fever among the acts that must be reported, so that this network of snitches is launched to hunt for possible infections. Now, those who report their neighbor for expressing an anti-government slogan or a criticism of the Communist Party will be rewarded, as will those who report that a neighbor “looks sick,” “coughs a little” or “has shut themselves up at home and does not want to open the door.”

Like all strict paternalism, in this situation there will be no shortage of intense propaganda. Those who succeed in overcoming the coronavirus will not do so because the treatment worked or the medical personnel tried hard, but because “the Revolution did not leave him defenseless.” For a few weeks the disease will take on the role of the eternal enemy of the North and each case will be presented as a patriotic and political battleground from which one must emerge unscathed in order, among other things, to demonstrate to ideological adversaries that Cubans live under the best of all possible models.

Official propaganda will also take the opportunity to present the Island’s Health system as infallible, accurate and highly developed. Something that will serve to please those outside our borders who continue to believe the myth of the high level of care of the Cuban hospital network and who will point to “the performance of little David” as an example to follow in their respective countries. Inside the hospitals it will be something else: an overexploited medical staff without union rights, dilapidated facilities and a chronic lack of medicines will star in the “coronavirus days.”

But, unlike in other places, the narrative of that other face will be prohibited and whoever tells it could be legally prosecuted for damaging the country. Freedom of expression and of the press will become as scarce as facemasks. Control over what patients, family and friends post on social media could also be tightened. A post on Facebook, an image posted on Twitter may become an act of treason in the coming days.

But where democracies surpass any authoritarianism when it comes to emergencies is in being able to count on citizen participation. As the most recent devastating earthquake that affected Mexico City demonstrated, when people gather together and work as a team, they can go where a State cannot. Some of this was verified in Havana after the tornado that affected several areas of the capital in January 2019: the first arrivals came carrying food and water and they were people without the responsibility, uniform or credential to do so.

If that support network is outlawed, as is often the case in an authoritarian regime that wants to control everything, including solidarity, confronting the coronavirus may not be as effective as it needs to be. Especially because if services and supplies are cut, help between neighbors and families will become vital. How will one watch over so many old people on this vulnerable and lonely Island? Can a government deal with all that?

It should be added that the excessive control of the State alone has made the Cuban economy an unproductive disaster. In the country, there are daily crowds to buy food and move from place to place, a risk factor in the spread pattern that the disease follows. To top it off, few families have the reserves to stay inside their homes for days and thus avoid contagion. The same authoritarian system that boasts of being ready to face the coronavirus has left citizens in the most fragile defenselessness. It is on this point where democracies can excel, without a doubt.


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.