The Arrogance of Cuba’s Political Police

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 17 January 2020 — In the last decade there have been several recordings of police interrogations that Cuban activists have managed to make and bring to light. In many of them, State Security officers are heard intimidating, threatening and behaving themselves like the owners and lords of the whole country, above the law, above human life and above citizens’ rights. But the audio achieved by the photographer Javier Caso during an “interview” with the political police is invaluable as a testimony and as an X-ray of an entire era.

The Cuban, who lives in the United States and is the brother of the renowned actress Ana de Armas, recently visited the island and repeatedly contacted actress Lynn Cruz and film director Miguel Coyula. It was enough for him to meet with his friends of a lifetime to receive a summons from the Department of Immigration and Foreigners. Once there, a script was developed that was well known to dissidents, opponents and any independent journalist who has ever been summoned to this type of police trap.

The audio recorded by Caso, who by the mere fact of recording the voices on a device shows great courage, manages to convey the absurdity of the situation, the arrogance of the interrogators and that atmosphere where the individual is at the mercy of a surveillance device and control capable of ignoring the Constitution, the Criminal Code and whatever legal resolution there is on this Island. The young photographer met two men who personify the true power that controls Cuba, above deputies, ministers and presidents.

It is a grotesque and cruel face that springs from the impunity of a repressive institution that has been running freely for decades

The officials are ridiculous, they mouth barbarities such as that the Cuban police are the fifth best in the world or dare to decide who can be called an artist or not, although they themselves may not know one iota about creative expressions or contemporary art.

The great triumph of Caso is to take, with apparent naivety but with much intelligence, the conversation to a point where the seguros have to take off their masks and show the true face hidden under bureaucratic formalities and an apparent respect for order. It is a grotesque and cruel face that is born from the impunity of a repressive institution that has been running freely for decades and whose arrogance ends up opening it to ridicule in this conversation.

Since new technologies broke into the Island, there have been many testimonies (photos, audios, videos) that attest to the lack of a framework of rights in which we Cubans live, but this recording has a special merit. In addition to the quality with which one listens and the equanimity of the person being questioned to get the officials to expose themselves, this testimony causes an outrage that is not easily placated. The more we hear of it, the greater is a rage that grows and becomes a decision and a conviction: we cannot allow the political police to continue ruling Cuba.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Island of Impossible Forecasts

The only certainty is that millions of Cubans are still waiting for a group of elders to decide to release control. (Pedro S.)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 31 December 2019 — We Cubans have learned to live surrounded by uncertainty, without the security of knowing where the country is going or what the immediate future holds for us. The inability to make forecasts becomes more evident on dates like this, when December is over and questions about the coming year fill family gatherings and street conversations. What will 2020 be like? Will the economic crisis get worse or will the long-awaited stability come? Will there be any hint of political openness?

Given these questions, we can count on very few certainties to make forecasts. For months the rumors of an imminent monetary unification have caused the convertible peso to lose steam and raised the prices of the dollar in the informal market. In the absence of a public schedule on when the dual monetary system will end on the Island, people are easily prey to speculation and fear. Leveraging in foreign currencies has been the solution chosen by those who fear losing part of their capital should the process occurs overnight and entail a significant devaluation of national money.

Alongside the monetary issue, another constant source of concern is the stagnation of the economy and the slowdown that the ruling party has applied to the reforms that Raúl Castro began to implement after coming to power in 2008. It seems that the Plaza of the Revolution has opted to maintain state control over a good part of the country’s industries, production centers and services and put firm reins on private entrepreneurs to prevent the sector from strengthening and being able to press for changes of political nature.

Relations with the United States, in decline throughout 2019, are also an unknown that many try to clear up, in a country that depends largely on remittances that arrive from our northern neighbor. If the sanctions of the US Administration continue to increase, the material deterioration will also increase, the official discourse will become more and more “of the barricades” every day and it is likely that the number of Cubans seeking an exit through emigration will also rise. There is very little chance that the path of diplomatic thaw that both countries traveled beginning in 2014 will be resumed in the short term.

One of the few certainties in the midst of so many doubts is that which signals that we are witnessing the decline of the so-called historical generation, a handful of octogenarians that continue to manipulate the threads of the nation’s power. Biology is marking the end of life of some of those faces that still appear in the official photos along with the younger officials who have risen in recent years. The death of one of them could open the door to a different scenario and allow deeper transformations. As in other years, the only certainty is that millions of Cubans are still waiting for a group of elders to decide to let go of control or for implacable time to do its job.

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This text was originally published by the Latin American page of Deustche Welle.

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Master Lesson of ‘The Two Popes’

The film “The Two Popes” addresses the moment of Benedict XVI’s resignation and the surprising rise of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, to the Throne of St. Peter. (Screen Capture)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 27 December 2019 — Through the “Weekly Packet” of audiovisuals that circulates so widely in Cuba, this week an excellent copy of Netflix’s film The Two Popes has reached viewers on the Island. The film addresses, as fiction, the moment of the resignation of Benedict XVI and the surprising rise of an Argentine cardinal, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, to the Throne of Saint Peter.

But beyond the political and ecclesiastical interest that the film is generating, with the starring roles masterfully interpreted by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce, the most interesting element — in my opinion — is the relationship established between two human beings with different world views and diametrically opposed approaches to many subjects. As the minutes of a finely woven script pass, each character ends up influencing the vision of the other while showing his own limits and faults.

Although many will believe that this film is about dogma, faith and the current situation of the Catholic Church, in reality I think it is a song to understanding, to seeking the common point shared by all people, beyond their religion, their ideology or their life experiences. This fictional story is a temple to words and the exchange of opinions as the most effective way to understand the other.

I hope that The Two Popes will circulate widely in Cuba and that it even reaches the screens of those who, in some protected office and surrounded by the paraphernalia of power, have severed all possibility of expression, conversation and free debate in our society. They are the ones who most need to watch this movie.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

Nostalgia, the Inseparable Ingredient of a Cuban Christmas

Nostalgia for those who are missing, nostalgia for what we don’t have on the table, nostalgia for what they took from us. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 25 December 2019 — If I had to select one ingredient inseparable from a Cuban Christmas, it would be nostalgia. Nostalgia for those who have emigrated and are no longer at the family table, nostalgia for a distant and lost time that the elderly remember during this time of year, nostalgia even for those born in a Cuba where extreme atheism reigned and where we lost these celebrations for long years, and now we even have nostalgia for what they took from us as children.

2019 has been a difficult year for Cubans. The economy has been stagnant for a long time and in September it sank even further with an energy crisis that the government categorized as “temporary” but that continues to affect everyday issues such as transportation, the availability and supply of food, and agricultural production. Hence, this Christmas many have not been able to travel to another province to celebrate with their relatives as they traditionally do every Christmas Eve.

Food prices have also risen despite the official attempt to impose price caps or maximum prices on some products. So the traditional dinner with roast pork, rice, yucca with mojo and salad will be inaccessible for the wallets of many families this December, and they will have to settle for more modest dishes. Meanwhile, another sizable share of the Cuban population will be able to dine in a special way on Christmas Eve and also on December 31, thanks to an emigrated relative who has paid the bill for the celebrations.

Those who have access to the convertible currency, receive remittances, have a private business or frequently travel abroad may complete their Christmas celebrations with the traditional Christmas nougat, a bottle of wine and even some grapes, traditional for New Year’s Eve. In the homes of the high officials and the leaders of the Communist Party there are most likely banquets, replete with rum and beer, the uncorking of some champagne and Vivas! for over 60 years in power.

But also, in many Cuban homes, nothing special will happen on the night of December 24 because after decades of interrupted Christmas celebrations, families will concentrate their celebrations on the night of December 31, Saint Sylvester Day. When a tradition is curtailed, interrupted, severed, it takes a long time to restore it and reincorporate it into the life of a people. Unfortunately, in the case of Christmas, it is only since December 1997 (a few days before the historic visit of Pope John Paul II to this Island) that Cubans were able to recover December 25 as a holiday. Only 22 years have passed and that is not enough time for a tradition to take root again.

However, some end-of-year rituals are maintained, such as throwing water from balconies, windows, doors and terraces at midnight on December 31 as a way to clean up all the bad things of the year that is ending and start the new year that is beginning cleaned of problems. For this 2020 we will need a lot of water, because the economic forecast for the country is not flattering and the stubbornness of those who govern us continues to aim to maintain state control over many productive sectors, despite the demonstrated inefficiency of that model. Political repression will continue because a Party that has been imposed by force and that has tried to quench the plurality of trends and voices that exist on this Island can keep its hold on power only in this way.

Other Cubans, on December 31, will burn a doll made of old clothes and straw as a symbol of the destruction of the negative and the old before the new January begins. But in recent years another custom has taken hold: leaving the house with a suitcase and walking around the block or making a tour of the street where we live, the neighborhood we inhabit. A ritual that seeks to attract a trip, a visa, an invitation to leave the country and probably to not return. On an island on the run we see more and more people carrying their luggage on the night of the last day of the year.

Also added to this December is the countdown to a monetary unification – the elimination of Cuba’s system of two official currencies – along with salary reform and the end of some subsidies that will undoubtedly be a blow to the poorest families with the least resources. Thus, “uncertainty” is the word that defines the year that is about to begin and that feeling of having too many doubts and very few answers will weigh heavily on family tables this Christmas. But, I repeat, nostalgia will be the main ingredient of the celebrations, the unwanted guest, the protagonist of these celebrations.

Nostalgia for those who are missing, nostalgia for what we don’t have on the table, nostalgia for what they took from us. Nostalgia for what we could be.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Year of Women in Latin America

The feminist anthem ‘The Rapist Is You’ has spread to several countries in Latin America and has also crossed the Atlantic. (Capture)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 22 December 2019 – Analysts will give other names to the year 2019, now about to end. Perhaps they will label it as a time of great social outbursts in Latin America or as the 12 months of an economic stagnation that has affected many of the nations that make up the continent. But, in reality, this has been the year of women in this region, a moment of demands to end the macho violence that both affects us and limits us as societies.

Shortly before the year began, the winds of the MeToo movement began to blow over this part of the world. By April, the Mexican intellectual and artistic world was shaken by allegations of sexual abuse and assault that many women made public against musicians, writers, journalists and academics. In the nation where seven out of ten women have suffered some kind of sexist violence, their voices are demanding respect.

The most recent statement by the writer Elena Poniatowska, who states that she was sexually abused more than six decades ago by her literary mentor Juan José Arreola, will contribute – without a doubt – to make visible and raise awareness about a phenomenon that continues to affect a good share of Mexican women. Something similar to what is happening in Chile, where the feminist anthem was born, The Rapist is You, which has spread to several countries in the region and has crossed the Atlantic to be repeated by Spanish, French and Turkish women, among others.

Even in Cuba, controlled by a regime for which feminism has always been an uncomfortable and censurable movement, this year the first scandals broke out that pointed to men with public profiles as perpetrators of abuses against women. Last June, singer Dianelys Alfonso Cartaya, known as La Diosa, related on social networks that she had been the victim of abuse and sexist violence by one of the Island’s flagship musicians, José Luis Cortés, known as El Tosco. As in other cases, the victim received support but also insults and questions about the veracity of her story. The #DiosaYoSíTeCreo (Diosa Yes I Do Believe You) hashtag was shared by thousands of Internet users on Twitter and Facebook.

Although it seems much has been achieved, this is only the beginning of a movement that has contributed to shedding light on the harassment and aggressions suffered by women in this part of the world. We are barely experiencing the beginning of something that promises to extend for a long time, help shake consciences and bring the occasional abuser in his uniform, robe, cassock or tie into court.

The initiatives, complaints and demands that have begun to be heard publicly can become, in the coming months, a true political, social and legal earthquake. A phenomenon that will force us to rethink what needs to be done to end sexist impunity in Latin American streets, homes, institutions and governments. If this 2019 had a woman’s face, 2020 will be like the womb in which a new order is brewing.

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Editor’s note: This text was initially published on the Deutsche Welle page for Latin America.

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

When the Medical Staff are the Aggressors

How many stories of disrespect, abuse and neglect do we not hear every day about women who are treated in Cuban gynecological and obstetric hospitals? (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 19 December 2019 — Recently and after people read an article published by the journalist Elaine Díaz, director of the digital site Periodismo de Barrio, the issue of obstetric violence has once again generated debate on social networks and is forcing many to rethink everything that happens in labor and delivery rooms throughout Cuba.

Obstetric violence is any practice, whether by action or omission, that is carried out by health personnel that affects the reproductive process of women, including dehumanized treatment, unjustified medication and pathologization of processes that are natural. To that general definition, I add the violation of ethical principles in the treatment of pregnant women, mockery or derision, the violation of their privacy and even preventing them from surrounding themselves with their loved ones during the time of delivery.

How many stories of disrespect, abuse and neglect do we not hear every day about women who are treated in Cuban gynecological and obstetric hospitals? Starting because a woman must go through this difficult moment of giving birth alone without the company of her husband or her family, because in the hospitals of this Island having others present during childbirth is still not allowed. The managers blame the lack of resources and privacy in the delivery rooms (where multiple women may be giving birth at the same time), but this robs the parents of the magical moment of birth, where the ties are established that are indestructible for the rest of one’s life.

The poor conditions of the hospitals, and the lack of hygiene and adequate infrastructure that contribute to this, means that the hours of waiting for the birth take place in rooms lacking the minimum conditions. Many times times a pregnant woman even has no water to drink, if she hasn’t brought her own from home. To this is added the little information she receives about the whole process she is going through. Medical care in Cuba frequently includes a lack of transparency towards the person being treated.

It is also obstetric violence not to ask the pregnant woman for permission to invade her privacy with a group of students who arrive to observe the process of dilation and childbirth. Although it is very good that young people who will be future doctors learn, this must be subject to the woman’s consent and must be announced in advance and the woman notified. Other harmful practices that are repeated throughout this country are physical touching by more than one person, the episiotomy or external cut as a routine procedure and even the systemic use of forceps.

Many will be surprised to learn that these procedures, so common on this Island, are considered by numerous international organizations as obstetric violence. But I add also that a part of this type of violence are the jokes, the phrases we hear so often from the mouths of nurses and medical staff in the style of “from pleasure comes pain” or “if you enjoyed it then now you have to suffer” which we hear too lightly in our obstetric centers. They are all forms of humiliation.

If we add that pregnant women often have to offer gifts and even payments to receive better care, to get a bed in a room more quickly, and that their family members must bring all or almost everything they will need during their stay in the hospital, starting with sheets, a fan and even a bucket to carry water to flush the toilet, all of which makes the natural process of childbirth a true ordeal for many Cuban women.

To respect the woman at that important moment of her life, to give her a beautiful and non-traumatic experience, to inform her at every step, abide by her decisions, take her privacy into account and respect her body are practices that must be inextricably linked to the medical process of helping to bear a child. Without that, childbirth becomes dehumanized and the woman is left with an open wound for life: in her sensitivity, in her self-esteem and in her femininity.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

‘It Is Opportune To Speak About Opportunism’ and Other Daily Masks

In a society where many fear to speak and behave freely, opportunism has become a conservation technique. (Thinkstok)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 18 December 2019 — Masks, disguises, deceitfulness… in a society where many fear to speak and behave freely, opportunism has become a technique of self-preservation, in a real strategy for social, professional and political survival. Thirty-two years ago, the journalist Reinaldo Escobar, then a columnist for the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), wrote a piece that is still painfully current. His article, under the title It Is Opportune To Talk About Opportunism, detailed the harmfulness of this practice and how widespread it is in Cuban society.

Escobar defined three stages through which the opportunist passes. A first of gestation, in which they must gain the confidence of their superiors and, to achieve this, will have to perform numerous acts that show themselves to be individuals faithful to the cause, a disciplined militant and docile defender of the official line. These, we know them well. They are in our neighborhoods betraying a neighbor because he bought a sack of cement on the black market, watching what others carry inside their bags after going to the market and applauding with enthusiasm at meetings and official events; or screaming until it seems that the veins in their neck are bursting at a repudiation rally against a dissident

The second stage of the opportunist occurs when they begin to reap the fruits of their servile behavior, when they are given a position or a responsibility from which they will show an absolute flattery to their bosses. Now they will become that which Cuban popular speech knows, pure and simple, as a “guatacón”* or a “chicharrón”* of their superiors. At that moment, the opportunist becomes more dangerous, because in order to gain points and obtain recognition from a hierarchy they will be able to show the greatest displays of intolerance, the most elevated excesses of gagging critics and the lowest actions of blows, denunciations and betrayals.

Once that step has been passed, the opportunist begins to reap the results and the prizes of so many genuflections, of saying “yes” and of so much applause. When they are appointed to a post with power, in which they have subordinates to command and prerogatives to enjoy, they arrive at a position they will try to preserve at all costs. It does not matter how much their words betray double standards or nonsense, they will laud sacrifice on the one hand, while living in abundant comfort. They are easily recognized because they call their employees to austerity while their house is full of imported goods and appliances from their numerous trips.

The image, by the cartoonist ‘Carlucho’, which illustrated an article by the journalist Reinaldo Escobar in the newspaper ‘Juventud Rebelde’ (Rebel Youth). (Archive)

The problem is that after so many years pretending, shutting up and making others shut up, the opportunist’s mask ends up replacing their own face. If there was ever any reformist, critic or questioner within it, too many decades of simulations will have quenched that spirit. But is opportunism an evil that is only found among officials, administrators, ministers, partisan leaders or senior officials in Cuba? Not at all, it is a scourge that extends far beyond that.

Many of us, in one way or another, have been at some point in our lives opportunists, because we have used the mask or silence to avoid social stigmatization, labor penalization, professional punishment and even prison time. Understand that we are all responsible for the occasional simulation and the occasional gag that can help us unmask these attitudes. Let us not look down from above or throw the first stone, because from that position it will be very difficult to disarm this social evil.

Opportunism is also the young person who says “I do not talk about politics,” while locked in the house devoting their time to video games and consuming the contents of the weekly packet’s audiovisuals, while the Cuba on the other side of the door falls apart and they enjoy some crumbs of subsidies. The opportunist is the self-employed person who is going to march to the Plaza of the Revolution on May 1 with a sign that says “Viva!” to the regime to avoid having problems with the inspectors who control and supervise their pizza or ice cream business.

Opportunists are the patients and their families who remain silent about and accept the bad conditions in a hospital and prefer to pay under the table for a service or better care rather than loudly demand what they deserve in a Public Health service that we all pay for from our pockets. The opportunist is the retiree who is still a member of the Communist Party and who in the meetings of this organization does not complain that their pension has condemned them to begging.

The opportunist is one who, with a passport already approved to leave the country, decides “not to look for trouble,” or even complain about the poor state of the streets and roads, so that their trip is not cut off and they are allowed to leave without mishaps. But opportunism is also the emigrant who returns and, while spending a few days with their family, “behaves well.” is silent and accepts everything… so that they will not be stopped from returning to the country where they have established their new residence.

The opportunist is the mother who tells her son not to comment at school that forbidden television from Miami is watched at their house through an illegal satellite dish, and at the same time paints the political mural at her workplace; and it is, also, the nephew of the commander, the general or the minister who travels the world on cruise ships or yachts while wearing an Ernesto Guevara beret on his head. As you can see, opportunism is more widespread than we want to recognize and touches almost everyone.

As long as there is fear of reprisal or prison for exercising freedom of expression, there will be opportunists. As long as the system rewards those who pretend and penalizes those who criticize, Cuba will continue to be a huge farm where thousands, millions of opportunists are incubated every day.

*Translator’s note: Equivalent to insults such as “lackey,” “flunky,” “suck up,” “tool,” etc.

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COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.