Latin America, Battlefield Between Huawei and the United States

Huawei’s presence in Cuba is obvious to travelers as soon as they arrive at the José Martí International Airport. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 1 June 2019 — What happens on social networks does not stay on social networks and any event that affects mobile phones also ends up radiating unsuspected consequences throughout our lives. That is why the current conflict between the Chinese company Huawei and the US administration keeps millions of mobile users around the world in suspense, many of whom live here in Latin America.

China has gained ground in the last two decades in the economies between the Rio Grande and Patagonia, but it has been in the telecommunications arena where it may have taken its most rapid steps. Founded in 1987 by Ren Zhengfei, the Asian firm is on the heels of Samsung and is already ahead of Apple on the list of the most important mobile phone manufacturers in the world.

In Latin American countries, the most affordable prices and extensive features of Huawei’s devices have won the favor of customers looking for mid-range or even high-end phones that are not too expensive, in contrast to those customarily offered by the giant from Cupertino. After reaching this side of the world at the beginning of this century, Huawei has led an almost viral expansion, supported by telecommunications projects in which it has been involved with several governments in the region.

In Cuba, working with the state telecommunications monopoly, the Asian company has been the main distributor of the antennas used for the Wi-Fi zones, which, starting in 2015, the government began to open in squares and parks. In a captive market, like that of the Island, Huawei’s traditional competitors – embodied in South Korean and American firms – cannot carve out major pieces of the succulent pie of the computerization of society. Here, the Chinese company has the playing field almost entirely to itself, supported by the Plaza of the Revolution.

In Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro recently announced that he planned to make a joint investment with Huawei, the Chinese company ZTE and Russian companies to deploy a 4G network throughout the territory of that South American nation. In Mexico, according to data from the consultancy Statcounter, Huawei ranks fourth in the telephone market. In 14 countries of the region, the market shares accumulated by the Chinese company exceed two digits and in at least four of them it has grown to over 20%.

Not even the accusations made months ago by the United States that Huawei devices could be used by Beijing to spy on their users could dissuade Latin American customers from buying one of these devices, and in the last year the number of Huawei brand phones on the continent continued to grow. Users appeared to be more influenced by their pocketbooks than by fears of violations of their privacy.

So it was, until this May, when the conflict escalated a little more and several technology companies in the United States announced that they will stop supplying technology to Huawei. Google marked the turning point by decreeing that its Android ecosystem would no longer be included on phones sold by Huawei, a measure that also affects updates of that operating system on mobile phones that are already active. Chinese managers have insisted that they can get their own software but, despite their words calling for calm, the alarm is widespread.

While Washington and Beijing test their forces in this technological dispute, Latin America is about to divide again between affinity towards or rejection of one of the parties. Everything indicates that mobile phones will be the cause of the new schism.

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

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.

‘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.

The Cuban Crisis and the Cycle of Survival

The coolers of the neighborhood stores remain empty and in the only “meat” available to buy is canned sardines. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 15 May 2019 — From a balcony, the woman sees the refrigerated truck that supplies the store on the corner. She doesn’t lose a second and shouts: “Maricusa, the chicken arrived!” In a few minutes the whole neighborhood is a hive of people running with bags in hand to the small state market where, for three weeks, they have not supplied any type of meat product. They will still have to wait three hours while the merchandise is unloaded and then there will be a limit of two packages per person.

This scene can occur in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, the city of Camagüey or any small town on this island. The food shortage that has worsened in recent months has made the harsh daily life of 11 million people more complicated. If before you could barely escape the cycle of survival of looking for money — often by illegal means — to be able to buy food, wait for hours at a bus stop and immerse yourself in the black market to buy certain products; now the time needed to put something on your plate has multiplied by three and the difficulties to find it, by ten.

At first, there was no flour, so at the end of 2018 the greatest difficulty was buying bread or cookies. As the Christmas holidays neared, the alarm bells began to go off that the shortages were increasing. Pork, a virtual Dow Jones of the domestic economy, soared in price and by April had reached 70 Cuban pesos a pound, the equivalent of two days’ salary for a Cuban professional. Chicken, ground meat, hamburgers and hot dogs followed. These latter were the food that for years had supported the daily life of hundreds of thousands of families, because it was the product with a greatest proportion in number of units (10 sausages per package) relative to its price.

Cuban officialdom has justified such absences with a mixture of triumphalist and evasive rhetoric. They attribute the deficit to problems with international suppliers, the poor state of the milling industry to the processing of imported wheat, and blame those who monopolize merchandise as the cause of food shortages for all. In parallel, the Plaza of the Revolution avoids using the word ‘crisis’ and has also censored in the national media any mention of the concept of the ‘Special Period’, the euphemism applied to the economic disaster suffered by the island in the ‘90s after the disintegration of the USSR and the socialist camp.

In parallel with the refrigerators in the stores continuing to be empty, the ideological discourse rises in tone. This more incendiary rhetoric seeks to blame the US embargo for the shortages, although economists and analysts agree that the real cause of this fall comes from Venezuela, which has significantly cut oil shipments to the island. Havana resold a part of the crude it received from Venezuela on the international market and thus obtained fresh currency, an injection of life for an economy with low productivity and an excessive state apparatus, inefficient and expensive to maintain.

While many expected that the harsh circumstances would lead the administration of Miguel Diaz-Canel to promote an opening in the private sector, relax controls, lower taxes to promote entrepreneurship and relax the draconian customs regulations, the authorities have, in fact, moved in the opposite direction and have proceeded to ration many foods that until recently could be bought in an uncontrolled way. These measures have awakened the worst ghosts of a population traumatized by what they experienced less than two decades ago.

Meanwhile, discontent has not been made to wait, and this time it is powered by the new technologies that are allowing Cubans to report on and present images of the worsening quality of life. Thus, a one hundred percent Cuban challenge has recently emerged in social networks. With the hashtag #LaColaChallenge [TheLineChallenge], Facebook and Twitter are flooded with photos of lines, crushes of people trying to buy food, and annoyed customers waiting for hours outside a store.

Unlike during those hard years after the fall of the USSR, Cubans now seem unwilling to endure the crisis in silence. Mobile phones and the recently opened mobile web connection service have significantly changed the way the island is narrated. While food is scarce and expensive, citizen dissatisfaction is everywhere in sufficient quantities to become a mechanism of pressure.

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

All Eyes On Venezuela

Juan Guaidó and Leopoldo López in La Carlota with military deserters from the Maduro regime.

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 30 April 2019 — The Americas awoke today with all eyes on Venezuela, an attention that extends to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean and that keeps governments, citizens, exiles from that South American country, journalists and analysts in suspense. The world pulses today in Caracas, after months of tension and years in which the oil producing nation has been sliding down the slope of economic collapse, political authoritarianism and social deterioration.

The release of Leopoldo López and the call of Juan Guaidó to put an end to the “usurpation” have brought the Venezuelan situation to a turning point. In the next few hours the first steps could be taken towards a call for free elections or, to the contrary, a repressive blow – of unprecedented proportions – could be launched from the regime of Nicolás Maduro against those who demand his departure from power.

Beyond predictions or forecasts, the main actors of this political drama have reached a point of no return. The principal protagonist is a Venezuelan people weary of the inefficiency of the system, galloping corruption, inflation and the lack of basic products. A population that has seen its quality of life collapse and that has had to say goodbye, every week, to friends and family members as they emigrate to escape the crisis.

Also in the “cast” of this tragedy is starring young Guaidó, a man who has made a meteoric ascent in recent months, supported by the international community and by a good part of Venezuelans who have found, in the President of the National Assembly, hope for change. Now, accompanied by his mentor Leopoldo López, the passionate engineer is at the center of danger and of dreams. He could see out this day strengthened and borne on high, but his chances of arrest or assassination are also very high.

On the other side of the conflict, there is the Chavista leadership that tries to protect a regime that has allowed it to roam at ease throughout the country, lining its pockets. Ministers, officials and senior military officers who are supported by Havana, which has provided them with intelligence agents and advisors on the matters on which the Cuban political police are experts: the submission of a society and the surveillance of each individual. In the early hours of the morning, Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel was already on Twitter supporting Maduro and he is expected, throughout the day, to raise the tone of the official rhetoric against the Venezuelan opposition.

Both a tragedy and a peaceful exit are on the table. Each role in the conflict could bring influence to bear during the course of the day, but it is in the Miraflores Palace in Caracas and in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana where the cruelty or peace of of this Tuesday will be decided. To that scenario we must add Washington, attentive to every detail and knowledgeable about everything that is at stake in Venezuela today.

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

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.

Nostalgia For The Cage Of The ‘80s

The ‘80s were also years of experiments and official programs marked by the voluntarism of Fidel Castro. Headline: “Now We Are Going to Build Socialism!” (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 22 April 2019 — That day I did not want to watch national television but rather some documentary on the ‘Weekly Packet’, but when I turned on the screen there was Ramiro Valdés, speaking before the National Assembly about the “diversion of resources,” the official euphemism used to talk about stealing from the State, and how “ethical values” had deteriorated in Cuban society with the arrival of the Special Period. In his tone and choice of words there was a nostalgia for the 80s, for that “golden” decade before the economic crisis.

I perceive a similar recollection in many Cubans over 40, who consider that time as the best we have experienced in the last 60 years of socialism on the island. The longing leads them to see everything that happened in that decade through rose-colored glasses. With a highly selective memory they remember markets full of products, bread and eggs for sale freely without having to go through the rationed market, an average salary being enough to feed a family, and public transport operating with numerous routes and sufficient vehicles.

They forget the shadows of those years and only emphasize the lights. Their melancholy over the lass of those times ignores the control the Plaza of the Revolution exercised over every aspect of our individual lives. Those were the years when we could shop only in state stores, watch only the television controlled by the Communist Party, and travel outside the country only on official missions. Every pair of pants, shoes or shirt that we wore had been acquired through the ration card controlling industrial products, as had been any furniture in our homes not inherited from parents or grandparents. Continue reading

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.

López Obrador and Historical Guilt

López Obrador has sent letters to the Pope and to the Spanish Government. (Screen capture)

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14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 28 March 2019 — Until now, Andrés Manuel López Obrador seemed to be a focus of concern or hope for millions of Mexicans. Saving his lukewarm performance in the face of the regime of Nicolás Maduro, the Mexican president had received criticism and applause only within the borders of his own country, where he wages innumerable political and economic battles every day. That was how it was, until it occurred to him to stir up the ghost of historical guilt on two continents.

In a letter, AMLO — as he is popularly known in Mexico — has asked Pope Francis and the King of Spain to form a joint commission to study the conquest of America and to ask for forgiveness for the excesses committed. The letter has provoked some reactions of support, others of anger, many of indifference and resounding taunts that feed the memes in social networks. The Mexican politician has come to stand, in a few hours, at the center of a barrage of comments that cross the Atlantic from one side to another.

AMLO’s two Hispanic surnames do not help much in this process of demanding an apology, because they confirm that he himself is the fruit of a long cultural process that transcends the Manichaeism of the conquered and conquerors. His own existence springs from centuries of confrontation, integration, symbiosis, miscegenation and accommodation, where the limits are not precise and seeking the guilty is a work that delves deeper into the terrain of neurosis than of objectivity. But demagogues have to live for something and the most comfortable source lies in burdening others with responsibility.

López Obrador knows not what he has done. While he believed that he was extending that path of official apology that began with his mandate, which includes several bloody events of recent Mexican history, he did not realize that he was entering a terrain that does not belong to him: the distant past. In trying to extract returns from a supposed political humility that would have the powerful kneel before the defenseless victims, he has stepped on the tail of the Spanish bull and with it the millions of citizens of this part of the world whose veins run with both Hispanic and American blood.

It remains to be asked what led AMLO to compose the letters he sent to the Vatican and the Zarzuela Palace asking for an almost impossible historical redress. Was it the search for truth, or ignorance,or  the desire to shift attention beyond the problems of Mexico, or was it his own ego needing to scale higher peaks and take on more universal challenges? Whatever it is, so far he is losing the battle because he chose the losing path of “we are like this because they damaged us,” while rejecting the path of “we are nourished by diversity and in our culture many channels converge: this makes us powerful.”

If AMLO follows the path of blame then he must begin by preparing the plea to hold the Aztecs accountable for dominating and controlling large areas of Mesoamerica, the Romans for molding European faces with the advance of their implacable legions and the Mongols for having planted terror so many times under the hoofs of their horses. But this he will not do, of course, because his true objective is not to assign responsibility but to nurture his populist foundations. López Obrador is not looking for a culprit, instead he just wants to garner the distinctions of a savior.

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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.