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.

History of a Botched Job

The most sagacious inquire why the same section of the conduit is broken again and again, as it is not even located on a busy street with heavy vehicles. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 September 2018 — The neighbors who pass in front of the huge crater scratch their heads, confused by the impression that they are suffering from déjà vu. Reasons for this estrangement are not lacking because the waterworks rupture that forced the closure of Conill Street, very close to the Avenida de la Independencia (Rancho Boyeros), has been repaired four times in a period of less than three years.

The current pit has been dug by the Havana Water Company, which is in charge of the supply of drinking water, the maintenance of the sewer system and the sanitation and storm drainage in the capital. On this entity falls a good part of the popular mockery and insults, for its remarkable inability to offer stable quality service.

With a bulldozer and an exasperating slowness, workers have unearthed on Conill Street a broken pipeline which, with its successive repairs, has become part of the landscape of this area of ​​Nuevo Vedado which is full of tall buildings constructed during the days of the Soviet subsidy. The deteriorated conduit has become a well-known character in these parts as well as an unwanted “neighbor” who, time after time, reminds us of his presence with a leak.

“It’s because the pipe was damaged,” the head of the works repeats with little enthusiasm this week, every time a concerned resident asks about the repairs that have affected the water supply to several surrounding blocks. The most sagacious inquire why the same section of the conduit is broken again and again, a section that is not even located on a busy street congested with heavy vehicles, but the man avoids answering.

The key to understanding the recurrence of the breakage is to recognize the degree to which most public works in Cuba are botched. “Every time they fix it, they don’t reinforce the area between the pipe and the asphalt, so the passing of the cars ends up damaging it,” says a neighbor who has not studied engineering or led a hydraulic repairs brigade, but who knows his own neighborhood well.

Others have been indirect accomplices to the bad practices suffered by this stretch of pipe. “The last time they stole some of the materials and there was even someone who paved the entrance to his private garage with what he diverted from that work,” says another resident nearby. “They filled the hole as well as they could and two weeks later there was another,” he says.

The hole in the street started as a slight drop, but over the months it turned into a dangerous cavern. Vehicles from the nearby Ministry of Agriculture had to drive around to avoid it and after the rainstorms it flooded for several days. In the end, the story repeated itself and the pipe that was underground ended up giving way.

“We have paid four times for this repair,” says a self-employed neighbor who sells pizzas a few yards away. “And I say we have paid because this comes out of our taxes, which are quite high.” The worried taxpayer passes each morning in front of the hole and wonders if there will be a fifth time. “Is this a curse?” He asks himself. But the Havana Water Company has no answers.

The Stampede of Venezuelans Jeopardizes Latin America

Hundreds of Venezuelans earn their living in the streets of Cúcuta by carrying suitcases of other emigrants who left like them. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Bogota/Havana, 9 September 2018 — Beside me, a woman with two children sobs as she remembers her native Caracas. In the office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service of Bogotá, the Venezuelan accent is heard on all sides, a multitude of exiles who have come from the neighboring country with barely the clothes on their backs and who still have the bewildered look of departure.

In another part of the Colombian capital, near the Plaza de Bolívar, a young man sells arepas very cheaply from a small cart adorned with the eight-star flag. He tells me that he left his two children on the other side of the border and that he is hoping to make enough money to reunite his family “in a safe country.”

A few yards away, another man works as a street artist, becoming a living statue of Simón Bolívar, with the buttoned uniform, a sad look and a sword in his hand. The sculpture breathes under Bogota’s drizzle and seems to symbolize a nation’s fall from grace. From the libertarian summits, through the paths of populism, to arrive at the abyss of the diaspora.

Almost everywhere in Colombia are the displaced people of the regime of Nicolás Maduro. Something similar to what has happened in Ecuador, Brazil and Peru, although the exiles also make it to Chile and Uruguay, in addition to those who have managed to leap the Atlantic and take refuge in Europe and those who have managed to enter the United States.

They have left behind their homes, their neighborhoods and their friends. They are the most recent chapter of the Latin American exodus, but this time starring citizens of a country where, just a few years ago, the president promised a future of opportunities for all. They are escaping from the failure of a system, putting land between their bodies and broken dreams.

The figures of this escape are just beginning to be known. At the end of August 2018, according to official data, 935,593 Venezuelans were living in Colombia, but the real number promises to be much higher. On the corners, at the traffic lights, on the outskirts of the markets you can see them, with the lost look of people trying to grasp their new context and a certain air of relief at having been able to escape.

The authorities of the receiving countries also display a certain disorientation. Most have had a long tradition of emigration and now face the challenge of welcoming their neighbors. The institutional response is clumsy in most cases and, in others, not very hospitable. The exodus has already faced xenophobic responses in some communities.

One of the most interrelated regions of the planet, with the majority of countries sharing a language and customs, has not been successful in crafting joint policies to ease the drama of these exiles. The granting of work permits, healthcare coverage, access to public education for Venezuelan children and the recognition of professional titles occurs at different levels in each host nation, without a common front.

The continent where, a few years ago, the standard-bearers of 21st century socialism joined hands and proclaimed an America for all, is now unable to respond in a judicious and inclusive manner to this humanitarian crisis. Territorial conflicts and the inability to work together are making the exodus more difficult for Venezuelans.

As a curious fact, the escape route does not include Cuba. The island does not appear on the destination map of these migrants. On the one hand, because it is not advisable to take refuge from an evil in the place that promoted and supported the implantation of the system from which you are fleeing. On the other, because behind the false image of a country in solidarity, Cuban legislation is among of the strictest with regards to obtaining residency or sheltering displaced persons.

But the drama is not experienced only by those who have left, but also by those who are left behind. The massive exit of citizens is causing an accelerated depopulation of the South American country, which will be one of the most negative outcomes and most difficult to overcome. Infrastructure can be repaired and capital returned, but the effect of mass emigration becomes irreversible.

Gone are the most daring, the most prepared and probably the most discontented. As in Cuba, the incessant flight of nationals leaves a lethargic population and a country easier to control. Those of us who stay must get used to the farewells and absences. Few of those who leave end up returning.

“If you don’t like it leave,” the acolytes of the Plaza of the Revolution have repeated for decades, and now Nicolás Maduro also embraces that contempt and mocks the emigrants who are “washing dishes in Miami.” For both regimes, exile is a thing of the weak, the refuge of the selfish who did not want to incinerate their lives in the crucible of the cause.

In both cases, the official discourse has passed through denying the escape, applying denigrating adjectives to those who flee, and blaming third parties for the incessant departure of nationals. Both Caracas and Havana also shrug off concern for their exiles, whom they see only as potential senders of remittances, but not as citizens with rights.

Mass emigration is a bloodletting that weakens any country. Every Venezuelan who now wanders the streets of Bogotá, Quito or Rio de Janeiro is a life project that was lost to his homeland.

A Discreet Test of Internet for Mobile Phones Unleashes Frustrations

A young man connected to the wifi network in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 15 August 2018 — A young woman was talking on the phone in a café when someone at the next table overheard the conversation. In a few minutes everyone in the place had their eyes glued to their cellphones to test the mobile internet they’d heard about in that private dialogue. The Telecommunications Company of Cuba (Etecsa) did not say a word, but at 11 am on Tuesday morning thousands of customers across the country knew that it was the moment they had been waiting for, for years.

Neither the official website of Etecsa, the state communications monopoly, nor its public communication office revealed that tests were being undertaken of the web connection; it was only uncovered by independent journalism sites and private accounts on the social networks. Thus, after two decades of delay and surrounded by institutional secrecy, Cubans peered into the World Wide Web from their cell phones. The experience was exciting but the technical problems generated more frustration than hope.

Congestion preventing the opening of web pages, continuous crashes causing the loss of data signals to phones, and an inability to see the images in applications with multimedia content were some of the most common difficulties suffered by thirsty netizens who expected to set sail in the virtual world, but were barely able splash on the shore of the WWW.

“I’ve spent 20 minutes and I have not been able to open a single digital site,” complained a boy who had learned about the “pilot test” through a friend who works at Etecsa. “They told the employees not to say anything but everyone who has a friend spread the word,” he says. By the end of the day, he had managed to “enter Facebook Messenger and write a couple of messages,” in addition to reading “half of an article, because it wouldn’t completely load,” from a newspaper in Florida.

The disappointed young man was only nine when, in February 2011, the Alba-1 submarine cable connected Cuba with Venezuela. At that time the majority of Etecsa users thought that the Internet was around the corner, but mismanagement and the ruling party’s fear that citizens would actively launch themselves on the web delayed connectivity.

After that came a long period of concealment and evasions. Official voices insisted that the government was going to opt for the “social use” of the new technologies, but it maintained prices for web browsing that had no relationship to national salaries. Wi-Fi zones were also born, a last attempt to delay the arrival of the web in the private space, but at least this addressed millions of people’s the appetite for communication and need for contact.

Connectivity policy has focused on delaying the moment when customers are alone, in the privacy of their homes or in a remote spot far from the public wireless access areas, in front of a screen where they can interact and through which they can publish and be heard. But Etecsa’s arguments were running out, its customers ceased to be convinced by old excuse of the US embargo and the demands for internet on mobile phones became a clamor.

In the end, the clumsy state company — one of the least efficient in the world — has announced that before the end of the year it will enable access to the web from prepaid mobile phones. Postpaid users and some privileged officials or official journalists have been enjoying this opportunity for months, but their opinions on the quality of navigation are very negative.

“It’s hopelessly slow,” says a young journalism graduate who works at a local media outlet with a quota of mobile phones connected to the web. “They have asked us to defend the Revolution on social networks but at this speed it is very difficult,” he says. The basic use this information professional has made of the connection is limited to “exchanging messages by WhatsApp and trying two frustrated video conferences in IMO.”

After yesterday’s experience, spoiled by slowness and technical problems, customers now wait for Etecsa to make an open announcement on the implementation schedule for the service and on the rates for data packages. They also want guarantees of functionality since “for something so bad I’m not going to pay as if it were really internet access,” a woman in the Etecsa office stressed this Tuesday .

The state communications monopoly is in trouble. It has millions of customers tired of waiting and many of them, on August 14, peeked into the network through their phones. Now they want to repeat the experience more efficiently and with complete freedom.

The Cuba of Humboldt and Ruiz Urquiola

Ariel Ruiz Urquiola believes that the authorities want to seize his family’s farm. (Facebook)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 5 July 2018 — At the entrance to Humboldt University in Berlin, an inscription in Spanish says that the statue of the German scientist Alexander von Humboldt that stands there was a gift from the University of Havana, in homage to the man who has been called “the second discoverer” of Cuba. Cuban biologist Ariel Ruiz Urquiola repeatedly passed that statue with its serene face during his time at that institution of higher learning.

In recent days the name of this young researcher, 43, has graced the covers of numerous international media, for having maintained a hunger strike for more than two weeks. With that strict fast, Ruiz Urquiola demanded his release after being sentenced to one year in prison for the alleged offense of “contempt,” in a flawed case plagued by irregularities. Thus, the scientist put his life at risk to demand freedom, using his own body as a lever of complaint against what he considered an injustice.

On Tuesday, the Cuban authorities yielded in their stubbornness and released Ruiz Urquiola. For health reasons he was granted a parole which does not totally annul his sentence, but it does permit him to return to his home and to the agro-ecological project he manages in Viñales. Although his tenacity allowed him to win this battle, he knows that the eyes of the ruling party will be watching for any false step in hopes of making him shoulder “the blame” for his public demands, putting the Government on the spot and, above all, denouncing the ecological damage that it commits in that protected area of ​​the Cuban West.

If Alexander von Humboldt lived during a time of discoveries and explorations, Ruiz Urquiola is living during a hard time of complicity on this Island. The German explorer helped to expand knowledge of the geography, flora, fauna and even the topography of a country that he himself barely knew, but more than two centuries later the Cuban scientific community is trapped between a lack of resources and excessive state control. Researchers are now evaluated based not only on their abilities and the results of their projects, but most importantly on their ideological fidelity.

It comes as no surprise, therefore, that during all the days the biologist refused to eat, there were no pronouncements of solidarity, nor even a call to review his case, on the part of functionaries, educators and staff of Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment. Nor did any official entity linked to agricultural production, the care of the ecosystem or the study of fauna raise a single voice to demand justice for Ruiz Urquiola.

The official media never mentioned the case, although social networks lit up with messages that demanded his prompt release and his face was a constant presence on the alternative information networks that cross the country. Meanwhile, in contrast to the silence of the national scientific community, colleagues from other parts of the world put their names to the #FreeAriel movement.

More than 200 years ago Humboldt came across a country to explore, study and report on, now Ruiz Urquiola inhabits a nation where researchers are wary of every word and prefer silence.

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

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We Ask For Transparency in Investigation of Tragic Plane Crash

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 May 2018 – The tragic images are hypnotic. Across a swath of agricultural land near Havana’s José Martí International Airport are scattered the remains of what, a few minutes earlier, was an airplane filled with 110 people traveling from the Cuban capital to the eastern province of Holguin. Only three passengers have been rescued and Cuba is facing the worst air crash in recent years.

The plunge of this Boeing 737-200 comes at the worst moment for the island. The diplomatic thaw with Washington has been halted for months and the 7% drop in the number of tourists over the first quarter of this year complicates the economic situation. A disaster of this magnitude can seriously affect an economic sector that enables the government to deposit hard currency in the dwindling national treasury.

The serious economic situation that affects Cuba’s ally Venezuela also intensifies this picture. Hopefully, in the coming weeks the Cuban authorities will open our territory to an international investigation because the victims include citizens of Mexico and Argentina. The secrecy that traditionally surrounds these types of investigations within our borders will be put to the test before the demands for information that will come from abroad.

To further complicate the moment, the official media just announced that Raul Castro, who remains at the head of the Communist Party, has undergone surgery and his successor in the position of president, engineer Miguel Diaz-Canel, is facing the most delicate moment of his mandate. This Friday he was seen arriving at the crash site, visibly alarmed, perhaps calculating the political costs the accident will have for his management.

However, the fundamental blow goes to the heart of the Cuban people and especially the family members of the hundred Cubans aboard that fateful flight that crashed at 12:08 pm on May 18. For them, there is the long pain of loss, the rigors of the identification of the bodies and the intense political campaign with which the ruling party will surround every step taken by medical and police institutions in the search for answers.

In their minds, the last moments with their loved ones will surface again and again, along with the sequence of coincidences that brought them to the aircraft leased by the state airline to the Mexican company Global Air. The stories of those who at the last minute could not obtain a ticket to travel and those who, on the contrary, were not planning to take that flight but by chance ended up on the list of fatal victims will emerge.

Doubts and questions will also arise, with demands for clear explanations in a country where the authorities have decades of training in doling out each piece of information. But not even this ability to remain silent will prevent people from relating the news of recent months and feeling that this Friday’s news has all the traces of a predictable tragedy.

The state airline, Cubana de Aviación, has been plunged for years into a profound crisis of constant flight cancellations due to the poor state of its fleet, consisting mainly of Russian airplanes with long years in service. The deterioration of their planes has forced the island’s main airline to continuously lease aircraft from other companies, and reduced their stature to almost nothing among their Cuban passengers.

The next few days are crucial. The reaction of the families will depend to a large extent on how the authorities and the airline manage the information about what happened. Transparency is now the most recommended approach but it remains to be seen if the Cuban government is going to choose it.

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Note: This column was originally published in the Latin American edition of the Deutsche Welle chain.

Pollution Without Punishment

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 7 June 2018 — The activists arrive in the woodlands to sink their hands in the oil spilled over the forest, thousands of miles from a hot air balloon displaying a banner denouncing CO2 emissions near a crude oil extraction platform where a group is protesting. Actions of this kind are barely seen in Cuba and it is not because the environment is respected.

Last week the people of Cienfuegos woke to the news of an oil spill in their bay. The heavy rains from subtropical storm Albert caused the pools of the nearby refinery waste treatment plant to overflow, spilling more than 3 million gallons of water mixed with crude oil into the bay. The official news programs made haste to minimize the damage and the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (Citma) kept a complicit silence.

No environmental group showed up with posters to stand outside the refinery, not a single chemical engineer raised their voice in the national media to warn of the danger to human health, nor were the voices of marine biologists heard detailing the negative effects on local wildlife. The official version prevailed and on television we saw a group of smiling workers cleaning the stains off the tourist boats.

The mistakes made by the authorities at the Cienfuegos refinery were not analyzed and no official journalist questioned the entity about the bad management practices over their waste that led to an ecological disaster. As in many known cases, the lack of independence of the judiciary, the press and social organizations allowed impunity to surround an event that deserved huge headlines, fines and a public commitment that such things will not happen again.

With the same state approval and “protection,” hydrocarbons are poured into the sewers from vehicle repair shops, the polyclinics throw medical waste into neighborhood dumpsters, and several companies continue to drain their dangerous miasmas into the rivers, just like the sad case of the Almendares River in Havana.

The State does not punish itself for these excesses and the lack of freedom prevents civil society from expressing itself in a clear and public manner. Despite small environmental groups that collect litter along the coastline and digital sites that promote a culture of respect for nature, Cuba lacks an environmental movement that can bring pressure, there is no seat in parliament from which to raise a complaint, nor is there the ability to demonstrate in the streets to defend our natural heritage.

In the absence of these voices, the island’s ecosystem is at the mercy of negligence, outrages and silence.