Citizens… Time To Tighten Your Belts

Raúl Castro will preside this January over his first parade, similar to the one shown here, without the shadow of his brother. (EFE / Archive)

Raúl Castro will preside this January over his first parade, similar to the one shown here, without the shadow of his brother. (EFE / Archive)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 29 December 2016 – My generation knows no good news. We grew up with the grey subsidies of the rationed market, we reached puberty amid the rigors of the Special Period, we raised our children in a country with two currencies, and now they warn us that times of economic stress are coming. It appears there is no respite from this long sequence of disasters, collapses and cuts that we have suffered for decades.

This December the National Assembly of People’s Power acknowledged the negative numbers that reality made clear long ago: Cuba is not growing, production is not recovering, and the so-call Raulist reforms have not given citizens a better life. The island is heading toward the abyss of defaults, cuts in vital sectors of the economy, and continued stagnation.

In other places, the rulers would resign before the panorama facing this nation, due – in great measure – to bad management. However, since the general president did not win office by a popular vote, no one can punish him at the ballot boxes in the next elections. To the opposition that has demanded his departure, the iron fist of repression and punishment is always applied.

Instead of a mea culpa, the officials who, on Tuesday, detailed the economic debacle and in somber tones said it will continue in the coming year, have called for greater productivity, a reduction in superfluous expenses, and using the so-called “efficiency reserves,” the final official euphemism used to explain what little remains in the national treasury.

However, a few hours after concluding the parliamentary session in which such bad omens were unveiled, the second of the three planned test runs began – Friday will be the third – for the huge military parade that will be staged in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution on 2 January. A mass gathering, with parades of war tanks and soldiers marching in lockstep, that will cost Cuba hundreds of thousands of pesos, if not millions.

The traffic on the capital’s most important arteries has been paralyzed as of the early morning hours of yesterday, Wednesday. Thousands of state employees didn’t have to complete their workday, and a long line of buses had to travel from various municipalities to the parade grounds. Countless snacks were distributed among the most faithful participants in what is coming to be seen as a “Raulist coronation.” The younger brother has planned his own investiture in power, now on his own, after the death of the former president Fidel Castro.

Why this waste of military resources in the middle of the crisis that the country is going through? Such delusions of grandeur are not consistent with the 0.9% decline in GDP this year. This military parade, with its boasts of strength and a “baring of teeth,” will squander some of the resources needed to repair the deteriorated roads of the island, to give just one example.

In this city that has suffered serious cuts in public lighting, where the last-hour bus terminal have been overwhelmed before the lack of interprovincial transport, and where a pound of pork costs up to two day’s wages, what will take place this coming Monday is far beyond wastefulness, it is a sign of lack of respect.

And so, there are certain politicians. They call – for the umpteenth time – for a tightening of belts and a reduction in the expectations for a better life, while they waste enormous quantities of national resources playing at war.

We Were All At Pulse

Christopher Sanfeliz and Alejandro Barrios, show to death by Omar Mateen at the gay nightclub Pulse. (Facebook)

Christopher Sanfeliz and Alejandro Barrios, show to death by Omar Mateen at the gay nightclub Pulse. (Facebook)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 15 June 2016 – The news mourned on Sunday, a week that ripped apart and will forever mark the lives of the victims’ families. The Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, became a death trap for dozens of people at the mercy of a madman. The motivations that led Omar Seddique Mateen to kill 49 human beings and injure another 53 are still being investigated, but solidarity does not need to wait for FBI reports or summations, it should be immediate and unhesitating.

The official Cuban press has treated the fact that the event took place in a gay establishment with omissions and squeamishness. The prudery on television and in the national periodicals, with this silence, only promotes homophobia and belies their own discourse of changes. This absence is also noted in the condolence message sent by Raul Castro to Barack Obama, where he called the locale of the tragedy “a nightclub.”

The omissions don’t end there. The press in the hands of the Communist Party delayed until Wednesday the news that two Cubans were among the dead, when it was already vox populi on the streets. Why the delay? Because they were gay or because they were emigrants? This double condition must be upsetting to some in the government and thus in their periodicals, which operate by way of ventriloquist.

Also surprising is that the National Center for Sexual Education (Cenesex) has limited itself to a formal statement of condemnation and has not called for a vigil, for flowers to be left at the doors of the mothers who lost their sons, or at least a symbolic action that reflects the pains of the Cuban LGBTI community.

None of that has happened, and not for lack of indignation or sadness, but from the same lack of freedom of expression that prevents a dissident from making a public demand, or any person from carrying, spontaneously, a banner that recognizes: “We were all at Pulse.”

Rain, A Justification For So Many Things

Two teenagers in the rain (14ymedio)

Two teenagers in the rain (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 10 June 2016 –“Why did you bring the girl if it is raining?” my friend’s daughter’s second grade teacher asked when she brought her child to school on Wednesday. Although the school year should continue, many elementary school teachers took advantage of the precipitation this week to hasten its end. The bureaucrats used the excuse of the bad weather to delay paperwork, while countless medical clinics opened late due to the weather.

Many state employees behave as if they are sugar cubes, or watercolors about to dissolve, or allergic to water when the rain comes. This reaction is laughable given that we live in a tropical country, but there is also a lot of drama involved in the serious damage the rains cause to millions of people. Over and over again, public services behave as if each rainy season was the island’s first.

The banking system, dysfunctional throughout the year, collapses almost entirely when two drops of rain fall from the sky. The Nauta email service – operated by the state phone company – is thrown into crisis, and urban transport outdoes itself in terms of problems. A drizzle and schools suspend classes, retail markets barely open, and even the emergency rooms in public health centers work at half speed.

All this without a hurricane, or 60-mile-an-hour-plus winds, or one of those heavy snows that keep nations further north on edge. The paralyzation of life here caused by the rains is more than a justification, it is an alibi, one that allows many, during these days, to do what they most desire: Nothing.

The Voice Of Your Rights

Yoani Sánchez inaugurates a series of interviews on the channel Deutsche Welle Latin America: The Voice of Your Rights. (Video capture)

Yoani Sánchez inaugurates a series of interviews on the channel Deutsche Welle Latin America: The Voice of Your Rights. (Video capture)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 4 April 2016 — What to do when you have a loudspeaker in your hand? Since 2007 when I started my blog Generation Y, this question has haunted me. Often the visibility does not benefit those who need it most and the protective umbrellas provided by access to international organizations only reach a few. To occupy the microphone to broadcast only your own speech is a wastefulness that is a monologue more than an informative work. The Voice of Your Rights, the new interview program I will host on the Deutsche Welle Latin American TV program seeks to bring the megaphone to those who need it most.

With 40 episodes filmed in Panama City, the new space hosts a guest list essential for those who want to know our region and learn about the stories of its people. Environmental activists, women who fight against femicide, human rights organizations that denounce prison overcrowding and groups addressing child labor from all viewpoints are some of the themes that will be addressed by the people with whom I will share the studio in the coming weeks.

My role in this program, which has as its protagonists those who are trying to open a window where the door is closed, is not only for a professional challenge in my career as a journalist, but part of a personal commitment to the most silenced in every society. The cameras and the power of audiovisual media will serve to make their projects more effective and their lives less dangerous.

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.”

Are We Cubans More Unruly Than Other Peoples?

Telephone with the handset ripped off

Telephone with the handset ripped off

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 30 September 2015 – “Nobody takes care of anything,” raged the lady in line at the cash register of a State butcher shop. She was referring to those who leave the refrigerators open or who put their shopping baskets on the glass counters. However, she didn’t seem to notice the lack of air conditioning, the stench coming from some of the freezers where the goods were spoiled, or the single employee taking payments, while the others looked on with their arms crossed. The customers are to blame, according to the feisty woman.

Social indiscipline has become a recurring theme in reports and interviews in the national media. Vandalism is blamed for everything, from problems with public transport buses to the deplorable state of planted areas. Official journalists raise the accusing finger more and more against the pillage, while barely addressing the educational and political system that has molded these citizens so bent on looting and destruction.

Social behavior is shaped by one’s environment. On a spotless floor, a clean sidewalk, in a cared-for city, many will imitate the environment and avoid dirtying, destroying or degrading it. Context greatly influences people’s attitude toward public spaces and common goods. But when the environment is dirty, assaulted by carelessness and becomes hostile, those who inhabit it will neither respect nor care for it.

Cubans are no more unruly than other human beings and yet, right now, a park filled with children’s play structures needs to be guarded like a bank, so that the swing seats, the iron from the carousels or the ropes from the climbing nets aren’t stolen. In poorly lit areas of the city people defecate or urinate, microdumps rise in thousands of corners and a stream of dirty water can fall from any balcony, directly on pedestrians below.

When the environment is dirty, assaulted by carelessness and becomes hostile, and those who inhabit it will neither respect nor care for it

The situation has gone on for so long that many have come to believe that it is in the DNA of our identity to not care for our surroundings. “This city couldn’t have a subway, because imagine the stink in those tunnels with people taking care of all their needs down there,” states a gentleman with the tint of a shabby official, while waiting at a bus stop.

With his words, the man suggested that we Cubans cannot enjoy the privileges of modernity and comfort, because we are unable to maintain them. However, this same “unredeemable exterminator” that we have become can get on a plane, go to New York or Berlin, and in two weeks in those place be throwing trash in the bins, not lighting up in public places, and cleaning the mud off their shoes before entering an office.

Vandalism is a problem present in all societies. Laws and control regulate it and keep it in check, but there it is. It is a part of our human nature that a moment of rage makes us take a blade and inscribe our name on a recently painted wall, or rip the fabric of a movie theater seat. Fines and other penalties should keep this vulture we all shelter within us from getting out of hand.

However, the context has to encourage people to care for things. It is not enough to call for discipline and formal education, the individual has to feel that it’s worth the trouble to preserve his or her surroundings. A street full of potholes, a late and overloaded bus, a sidewalk plunged into darkness, its single streetlight broken years ago, are the ideal components for depredation and pillage.

Many, like the lady who complained at the butcher’s, no longer perceive the scenario of constant attacks on the rights of consumers and citizens that our society presents. So accustomed to the abuse, the inefficiencies, the breakage and the high prices, they throw all the blame on those “unruly Cubans” who couldn’t “live anywhere without destroying it.”