‘14ymedio’: Five Years Since That First Day

The 14ymedio newsroom, located in this building in Havana, has been home to a great deal of work, nerves and time pressures these last five years.

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 21 May 2019 – Today is 14ymedio’s birthday. This “informational creature” celebrates its five years of existence between the challenges that remain to be achieved and the satisfaction of having come this far. For any publication to survive five years is a test of maturity, but in the case of Cuba, where the independent media are prohibited and censored, it is a true act of boldness and persistence.

There has been a lot of water under the bridge since that May 21, 2014. The dawns became intense, coffee cups accumulated on the tables of our newsroom in Havana, the stories to be told multiplied and, more than once, our journalistic work led to one of the reporters on our team behind the bars of a dungeon, arbitrarily detained.

In this time we, too, have changed. The reports, notes and interviews we did left a mark on the entire editorial board. We said goodbye to some colleagues who emigrated, we tried to console others who decided not to continue publishing for fear of reprisals, and we welcomed new faces. We broke several forecasts that predicted barely a few months of existence, and convinced some skeptics that what we have is information, good journalism and the press.

At the beginning all our editorial communications were made through the Nauta email system, there were no Wi-Fi zones in parks and squares, the diplomatic thaw between Washington and Havana had not begun, cruise ships had not yet docked in Cuban ports, and Fidel Castro continued to publish his delirious ‘Reflections’ in the official press.

In this time, we also extended to other platforms and now part of our content is disseminated through instant messaging such as WhatsApp and Telegram. We inaugurated an information podcast, and we maintain a weekly e-mail newsletter, routinely issue a PDF of the week’s news every Friday, engage in numerous collaborations with various media, and opened a membership program.

There was no shortage of tough days. Moments when it seemed like we were not going to make it. There are still many of those, but every comment left by a reader, a word of encouragement that we hear in the streets or from social networks, someone who manages to make their story visible through our pages and solve their problem, are the greatest stimuli to continue.

The pillars that sustain us remain solid: to perform better journalism every day and to maintain our economic independence, without receiving a penny from governments, parties or groups in power. Our objective is intact. Like the dinosaur in Augusto Monterroso’s story*, we want Cuba to embark on the path of democratic change and for 14ymedio to be there, accompanying citizens with information.

*Translator’s note: Monterroso’s story, in its entirety, reads: “When he awoke, the dinosaur was still there.”

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Where Is The FEU While Cuban Police Beat Congolese Medical Students?

Police invaded the university campus of the Salvador Allende School of Medicine in Havana on Monday. (Facebook)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 9 April 2019 — For decades, the official Cuban press has reported in detail on police violence against student demonstrations around the world. Thus, we have seen riot police respond with tear gas, tonfas and rubber bullets to university students in many countries. But the day that scene happened in Cuba, the national media did not broadcast it.

On Monday, an impressive repressive operation attacked dozens of Congolese students at the Salvador Allende School of Medical Sciences in Havana. The young people had been protesting for days due to the non-payment of their stipends and the bad conditions of the dorms. The situation reached its maximum tension when they moved the protest from outside their country’s embassy to the university campus.

The images are overwhelming. A large number of military and police vehicles arrived at the school. The uniformed officers were accompanied by dogs and fell on the unarmed youth. A policeman draws his weapon and points it at a student, while special troops immobilize and throw others to the ground. All this, amid the cries of repudiation and calls for nonviolence made by several students who film the events.

The residents of the area also narrate the harshness of the official response and some, who used their phones to capture the events, were arrested and taken to police stations where the images they had stored in the memory of their cell phones were erased. Despite the intention to eliminate evidence, in a few hours the videos of repression were on social networks and the news reached the covers of many international newspapers.

New images of the violent repression of students from The Congo by the Cuban police come to light. The medical fellows were protesting the delay in receipt of two years of their stipend and the poor conditions in which they live on the island. See images here and here. (Mario J. Pentón (@mariojose_cuba))

The disproportionate operation has generated outrage among many, but has not caused a single statement of condemnation by the docile University Student Federation (FEU), the official Union of Young Communists (UJC) or that grotesque without voice or vote that is the Continental Latin American and Caribbean Student Organization (OCLAE). In no faculty of the country this Tuesday the students made protests in solidarity with the Congolese youth.

It seems as if everything happened in another country, in a distant and alien galaxy, but the national history confronts us with the reality that it happened here and has happened before.

During the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, the chief of police, Rafael Salas Cañizares, entered the University of Havana with his troops, dealing out blows and fear. That day of April 1956 was considered an affront to the autonomy of the university and remained in the historical memory of this Island as an event that should not be repeated, ever again. That event is mentioned in the textbooks that were written after 1959 as clear evidence of the repressive nature of the Batista regime and the democratic weakness of the Republican era.

On Monday, uniformed men again entered a university campus with weapons. They handcuffed, beat and arrested numerous students but the images will not be seen in the national media nor will student organizations condemn the fact.

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Thieves of Memories

Kata Mojena (Facebook)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 18 February 2019 – A practice frequently repeated in the raids carried out by Cuban State Security against the homes of activists, opponents and independent journalist is, precisely, the seizure of personal photos and videos. They take away that unique image of a grandmother that sat on a shelf, the snapshot of a grandson’s birthday, and the film of the baby’s first steps in the living room of the house. As if they wanted, by snatching the memories of the past, to leave the person without emotional support and sentimental roots.

I recall a few years ago talking to a Lady in White who most regretted, among the personal items she lost during a police search of her home in March 2003, the loss of the photos of her wedding. That dawn of the Black Spring, when her husband was arrested, she lost the only images she had of that very special moment when they exchanged rings, cut the cake and kissed in front of the camera. They never returned them to her, although those photos had nothing to do with the accusation leveled by the prosecutor against her husband, who spent more than seven years in prison.

Now, I read this text by Kata Mojena*, and confirm that last Monday’s raids against several homes of Patriotic Union of Cuba (Unpacu) activists have repeated this same model of repression, the same absurd confiscations of private effects, of family memories and of images that have no value to the police, but are of incalculable importance to a human being. The strategy continues to be the same: take from the person what makes them a person; reduce them to the present; eliminate all those emotional elements that complete them; snatch the testimony of what they can no longer take as a lived experience. In short, take ownership of their history.

Luckily there are now social networks to denounce this immediately and we do not have to wait long years for the world to find out, so the reactions rejecting these activities are heard and the public scorn falls on these “memory thieves” who – from the so many outrages they have committed in the past – have ended up deeply panicked about their own future.

*From Kata Mojena on Facebook: Seeing the photos I have uploaded these last years, has made me feel melancholy because they are the only ones that remain after the assault I suffered. Of course I am not going to forget the disaster they left in my house nor all the information I lost which I had worked on for years, and I will remember with sadness this event every time I want to see videos of my children as babies or my wedding and can’t because they no longer exist. I still have no answer for my older son when he says to me, Mamá those aren’t police they are thieves in disguise, nor for my youngest son when he asks me to put on his favorite cartoons. It pains me greatly that my little sister, 16, remembers with shame how they stripped her naked and searched her like a criminal. But this is true: they did not manage to take my dignity, my decision to fight, my need to live in freedom. They cannot take these because they live in my mind and heart.

Therefore, I join the hunger strike in protest against so much barbarity and the impossibility of campaigning for a No [vote] on that shameful constitution. I had already started it on the first day but my husband explained that they needed me to be strong for other tasks. Now I have finished them. So we are 71 #enhuelgadehambreVsRepresion (on hunger strike vs Repression).

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The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Six Decades of an Unattainable Utopia

This 2019, the process that delighted millions of Cubans reaches six decades of existence, without resembling the dreams generated in its early days. (Archive)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 2 January 2018 – Ramón, an old man now, was a smooth-cheeked teenager when Fidel Castro entered Havana on January 1959. Soon after, he decided to become a militiaman to defend what many Cubans then proudly called “the Revolution.” Today, with a pension that does not exceed the equivalent of 23 dollars a month, the retiree lives on the money sent to him by his grandchildren, emigrated to the other side of the Straits of Florida, to that country to which Ramón pointed his rifle while standing guard in a military unit in the midst of the Cold War.

This 2019, the process that delighted millions of Cubans reaches six decades of existence, without resembling the dreams imagined by young people like Ramón and without having managed to provide a dignified and free life to those who stayed on the island. Now there are few who call the political model established after the arrival of the “bearded ones” to power “Revolution”; instead they prefer to say “the system” or simply “this” or “this thing.” Of the leaders dressed in olive green who came down from the Sierra Maestra, there are only a few octogenarians left and they fail to arouse admiration or respect in the vast majority of people.

Of the initial promises, among which there was talk of opportunities for all and of civil liberties, almost nothing has survived. In place of these spaces of individual and collective realization, Castroism has maintained a strict framework of vigilance and control, the most complete of its “achievements” and the most permanent of its “results.” As for social justice, there is not much to celebrate. Evident in the streets is the economic abyss that separates government leaders from pensioners, the black population and residents in rural areas. The new rich mark a distance from those who are becoming poorer.

On the other hand, in recent years the Havana regime has had to give ground to the laws of the market so strongly criticized in its slogans. A private sector of half a million workers has made clear the inefficiency of the state apparatus and is pushing the limits of the restrictions that still remain on entrepreneurship and creativity. After having confiscated even the most humble food stalls in that distant year of 1968, the Plaza of the Revolution is now selling off the Island piece by piece to foreign investors.

Nor is there much to show of the “jewels in the crown” of the process: public education and healthcare. The extension of both systems continues to reach every corner of the country, but the deterioration of the infrastructure, the low salaries of teachers and doctors, together with the excesses of ideology and ethical gaps have meant that the classrooms and hospitals do not resemble the dream of an educated people, well-cared for with regards to health, that once drew the applause of thousands of Cubans who gathered to listen to the marathon speeches of the Commander in Chief.

Now, when the official celebrations speak of the 60th birthday of this political and social process that few dare to describe as “revolutionary,” people like Ramón and his grandchildren are appraising what they did not achieve, the dreams they had to park along the way, and the dysfunctional and authoritarian system that derived from all that utopia.

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This text was originally published in the Deutsche Welle for Latin America.

Moreno Versus Correa: Three To Zero

Lenin Moreno after being invested president and receiving the baton from Rafael Correa. (@AsambleaEcuador)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 September 2018 — He seemed the perfect successor: docile, well trained and sticking to the script. However, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno has become the worst nightmare of his predecessor, Rafael Correa.

At first it was just a slight fracture that arose between them, marked more by differing points of view or by dissimilar impressions when the time came to take the reins of the county. But as the months pass the current Ecuadorian president has become the main executioner and undertaker of Correaism.

This September, Moreno has thrown another shovelful of earth over the former leader of the Alianza País party. Ecuador lost the legal battle against the American multinational Chevron, after a long confrontation in a historic case of environmental pollution in the Amazon. Before hearing the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration based in The Hague, the president of Ecuador hastened to lay the responsibility on Correa.

The Secretariat of Communication accused the former president, who governed the country between 2007 and 2017, of using the clash with Chevron “to gain political and media prominence,” in addition to using “public funds for propaganda, manipulating national and international public opinion.” The level of the accusations Moreno’s administration has made against his predecessor marks the final break between the former party comrades and is the most critical point in a series of confrontations.

Recently, Moreno defined Correa as a “thug” who was “obsessed” with re-election and the latter responded by accusing Moreno of being a “traitor.” Ecuador’s departure from the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) also constituted a serious setback for one of the most visible faces of that failed model that was called 21st Century Socialism. To these blunt blows is added an infinity of public skirmishes in which the current office-holder has always come out the winner from the political and diplomatic point of view.

While Moreno has projected an image of an equable man capable of dialogue, Correa’s arrogance has prevented him from controlling himself and in the face of every criticism he has received since leaving office, he has responded with very little statesmanship and obvious irritation on not feeling himself adored by Moreno.

That reaction is due, especially, to the fact that the plans of the former president saw the naming of a substitute as simply a legal move. The new president was supposed to hold on to the presidential sash for a time, just enough years to allow Correa to return to Carondelet Palace.

Instead, the one who had been trained to be a puppet cut the strings and decided to govern on his own. Beyond the lights and shadows of his administration, Moreno is sending a powerful message to other regimes, such as Cuba’s, who see in the handpicked and loyal successions a way to perpetuate themselves. The Ecuadorian president is destroying the illusions of those authoritarians of all political colors who hope to be able to manage, from behind the scenes, a puppet sitting in the presidential chair.

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

A Visit More Symbolic Than Political

The US president, Barack Obama talks with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro. (White House)

The US president, Barack Obama talks with his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro. (White House)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 18 February 2016 — The last time a United States president visited Cuba Havana’s Capitol Building had not yet opened, baseball’s star pitcher The Black Diamond died, and my grandmother was a little girl with messy hair and a penetrating gaze. There is no one left who remembers this moment who can tell us about it first hand, so Barack Obama’s arrival on the island will be a new experience for all Cubans.

How will people react? With joy and relief. Although there is little the president of another country can do to change a nation where we citizens have allowed a dictatorship, his visit will have a strong symbolic impact. No one can deny that the resident of the White House will be more appealing and popular among Cubans than the old and uncharismatic general who inherited power through his bloodline.

When the presidential plane touches down on the island, the discourse of the barricade, so commonly called on by the Cuban government for over half a century, will suffer an irreversible blow. It will not be the same as seeing Raul Castro and Barack Obama shaking hands in Panama to see them to meet on the territory that until recently was full of official billboards against “the empire” with mocking caricatures of Uncle Sam.

The Communist Party press will have to jump through hoops to explain to us the official welcome of the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the “enemy country.” The most recalcitrant Party militants will feel betrayed and it will be clear to all that, behind the supposed ideology, there is only a determination to cling to power through the typical strategies of political chameleons.

In the streets, people will experience the enthusiasm of the unexpected event. For black and mixed-race Cubans, the message is clear and direct in a country where a white gerontocracy controls power. Those who have a T-shirt or sign with Obama’s face will flaunt it on those days, taking advantage of official persuasiveness. Fidel Castro will die a little more in his guarded Havana refuge.

“President” brand beer will run out in the cafés, where loud calls to “give me two more Obamas” will be heard, and there is no doubt that the civil registries that week will record several newborns with names like Obamita de la Caridad Perez or Yurislandi Obama. Pepito, the little boy who stars in our popular humor, will release a couple of jokes for the occasion, and tchotchkes sellers will offer items with the lawyer’s profile and the five letters of his name.

One thing is clear, however, beyond the trinkets of enthusiasm, the leader of the United States cannot change Cuba and it is better if he doesn’t try, because this national mess is our responsibility. His trip, however, will have a lasting effect and he should take advantage of the opportunity to send a loud and clear message in front of the microphones.

His words should be directed to those young people who right now are assembling a raft, fueled by their despair they carry within. He needs to let them know that the material and moral misery that surrounds them is not the responsibility of the White House. The best way in which Obama can transcend Cuba’s history is by making it clear that the perpetrators of the drama we are living are here, in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana.

The One-sided Paralysis of the Cuban Press

Television remains under a strict monopoly of the Communist Party to sustain a biased editorial line does not represent the national complexity.

Television remains under a strict monopoly of the Communist Party to sustain a biased editorial line does not represent the national complexity.

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 5 January 2015 – Sometimes I wish I lived in the country they show on television. This hopeful nation of rose-colored dreams presented by the official press. A place of props and slogans, where factory production exceeds goals and employees are declared “workplace heroes.” In this Cuba, bouncing off the antennas to reach our small screens, there is no room for sickness, pain, frustration or impatience.

The official Cuban press has tried to approach the country’s reality in recent years. Several young faces appear on TV programs to report on administrative negligence, poor services, or consumer complaints about bureaucratic paperwork. But even still, state journalism continues to be a long way from objectivity and respect for the truth.

Television, radio and newspapers are maintained under strict monopoly of the Communist Party, and not only because they are ideologically subordinated, but also because they are financed from the state coffers – money that belongs to all Cubans – money that they use to sustain a biased editorial line that does not reflect the national complexity.

The topics covered by the journalists of this partisan press represent the interests of an ideology and a group in power, not of the entire country. They never dare, for example, in their reporting, to question the authorities, nor the current political system, nor the organs of State Security nor the activities of the police, among other taboo subjects.

However, where the official press most betrays the precepts of balance and impartial information is in the testimonies they broadcast, in the voices they give space to and the opinions they express. By the grace of journalistic censorship, access to the microphone is granted only to those who agree with the government and applaud the actions of its leaders.

They never interview someone with a difference of opinion, or someone who believes the country should take other political or economic paths. Unanimity continues to fill the front pages and the news broadcasts, although for a long time now loud dissent has been heard on buses, in stores, in the hallways of institutions and even in classrooms.

At the beginning of this year an avalanche of reports filled the television broadcasts. The protagonists were young people who claimed to live “in the best of all possible worlds,” smiling with confidence in their future and not even dreaming of emigration. Not included among the opinions were those from anyone in the process of leaving Cuba, or feeling frustrated by their professional prospects, or submerging themselves in illegalities to survive.

In the almost 70,000 hours of annual television broadcasts not a single self-employed person complains about their high taxes. Parents who fear the growing violence in Cuban streets are never encountered in the Cuban media, and women beaten by their husbands don’t appear demanding legal measures to protect them from the abuse.

The teachers whose pay doesn’t allow them to live a decent life find no echo of their demands in the media, nor do dissidents appear to demand respect for their opinions. An inmate denouncing bad prison conditions has no chance to appear before the cameras, nor do the patients who have been victims of medical ethics violations or bad treatment in the Public Health System.

This entire area of Cuba, the widest area, remains outside the authorized media. Because the official Cuban press doesn’t exercise journalism, rather it proselytizes. Although it is made up of many professionals with university and post-graduate degrees, they do not have the freedom to engage in the work of reporting. Instead of looking for the truth, they try to impose an opinion. What they do cannot even call itself “the press.”