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.

Why Was There No Student Strike For Climate Change In Cuba?

A young woman shouts slogans through a megaphone during a march for the environment in Santiago de Chile. (EFE)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 16 March 2019 — Greta Thunberg, age 16, is quiet and shy. The Swedish teenager resembles any Cuban woman of that age who has understood that the world is not the neat and clean place described in children’s stories.

Her concern for climate change led her to skip school every Friday to demand politicians take effective actions that protect the environment, an attitude that has spread to schoolchildren in several European cities and has crossed the Atlantic to infect thousands of children in Latin America. So far in Cuba however, no student in primary, secondary high school or university has joined the initiative.

But the fact that, last Friday, the streets of Havana and other cities on the island were not filled with youthful faces demanding cuts in carbon dioxide emission, or the urgent implementation of policies to save the planet, does not mean – at all – that Cuban children and adolescents are not thinking about these issues.

What it shows is the lack of autonomy and of rights that leaves them unable to express their dissatisfaction. Nor is the majority apathetic and insensitive to environmental issues, as adults often want to believe, with that nefarious phrase, “young people are a lost cause.” Nor is Sweden so far away that Cuban young people are not aware of the earthquake of activism being launched by Thunberg.

Through social networks, internet access on mobile phones and conversations between friends, it is easy to hear about the story of the young woman who stood for weeks alone in a square in Stockholm to inspire thousands of people throughout the world. Thus, at least in this case, the justification of misinformation or ignorance is not valid. Nor, in Cuba, is it a valid argument to say – as the official press likes to repeat – that we do not have the serious environmental problems “of the developed world.” It is enough to see the long column of smoke that rises every morning from the Ñico López Refinery in Havana, to realize the seriousness of the situation.

Beyond the excessive local emissions or the specific contamination of an area, the protests initiated by Thunberg try to draw attention to the fact that this is a global problem that concerns us all. Why, then, have young Cubans not followed the path of Ecuadorians, Brazilians, Mexicans, Chileans and Argentines who have joined the demand she initiated? The answer is not indifference, but fear.

Not one of the structures that include students and young people on this Island is designed to let them act with their own voice. The José Martí Organization of Pioneers, for younger children, the Federation of Secondary Students, and the Federation of University Students are organizations used by power to transmit down to the new generations, not platforms for representation, demands and pressure from those generations up to the authorities.

If the Plaza of the Revolution does not order them to take to the streets they do not do so, and, sadly, this “orientation” comes only for ideological purposes, such as protesting against the White House, demanding the release of a Cuban spy or participating in a act of repudiation against dissidents on the island.

They are entities designed to muzzle the voices of young people rather than amplify them. This explains why the example of Greta Thunberg has been met in Cuba with silence.

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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.

Minnie Mouse Wins the Revolution Game

Miguel Díaz-Canel greets the crowd in this image published by the official press. (Granma)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, Generation Y, 11 March 2019 — Do you remember those years when national television did not broadcast the cartoons of the “capitalist” world? My generation grew up looking at Soviet, Polish, Czech and Bulgarian cartoons; some well crafted, but others crude and boring, with a clear ideological message of “collectivization,” in addition to an excessive tendency to tragedy, drama, cold and steppes that had little to do with the need for entertainment of a child born in the tropics.

Well, I remembered that veto of Donald Duck, Mickey Mouse and his dog Pluto when I saw the photo of the “meet-and-greet” with Miguel Diaz-Canel published today by the official press. Every morning, the newspapers controlled by the Communist Party feel obliged to show images where the new (handpicked) president appears as someone popular and close to the people, but in the effort he inevitably blunders or ends up with details unwanted by the Cuban Communist Party.

In the camera’s flash, this girl’s shirt shows that Disney prevailed over the Revolution. Minnie has been stronger than censorship and these children today are closer to Bugs Bunny than to Bolek and Lolek.

María and the Lack of Cooking Oil

A line to buy cooking oil in in Camagüey, at El Encanto store. (Inalkis Rodríguez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 6 March 2019 — Now that so many situations we are experiencing in Cuba remind us of those hard years of the 1990s, the stories of substitutions that were made in kitchens and in meals also return. People on the streets remember how they managed to cut a small bread into innumerable slices to eat during the day, how they dyed the rice yellow with pills from a food supplement, or turned a banana peel into fake mincemeat.

María is 43 and remembers very well those times when the national economy hit rock bottom. After petroleum and the buses, the next thing there was a shortage of was cooking oil. “My sister worked in a pharmaceutical laboratory,” she recalls, and this allowed her to bring mineral oil home, a product used as an ingredient in some medicines and one which has no smell or taste.

The problem of using mineral oil for human consumption, as happened in Cuba where it was substituted for cooking oil, is that it also worked as a powerful laxative. “When you put the food in the pan with the boiling oil it made a white foam, and after you ate it you had to put cotton in your underwear when you went out because it literally was dripping out of you like a broken car.”

“All my clothes were stained with grease and since there was no detergent and hardly any soap, that was also a problem,” recalls María. “Terrible things happened to me, like in my first interview I left an oil stain on the seat where I sat.” But now her concerns look not to the past, but to the present. “I don’t want my son to go through this, it’s shameful enough that I had to.”

María, with all the skills needed to adapt, currently prefers “to boil, steam or poach rather than fry,” something very common in Cuban cuisine, which has been impoverished in recent decades due to the lack of ingredients. “Specialists will say that it is healthier without oil, and perhaps they are right, but good nutrition is not imposed by scarcity, but rather by learning to choose,” she says.