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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

Lazarus, of the Dogs

The Cuban authorities have prepared a bill for the protection of animals. (Barry)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 17 December 2019 — He stops, takes a breath and continues to drag his stone. The pilgrim is one of the hundreds who, on Monday, started their slow walk from Havana to the Sanctuary of Rincon. They are moved by devotion to Saint Lazarus, the patron saint of the sick and the helpless. Along the way they will encounter dozens of abandoned and mistreated animals, just a few of those that inhabit the entire territory. How many of the faithful will share their bread or water with those dogs, so similar to the ones that accompany the venerated image of the old leper?

On the eve of December 17, Cuban official media announced that a bill for the protection of animals is ready. The new regulations include the criminalization of abuse, in addition to the establishment of a record of supervision and identification of pets and control over their commercialization. News long-awaited that activists have received with a bittersweet feeling.

On the one hand, after so many years of requests and demands, amplified in recent months thanks to social networks, the creation of a legal body that protects animals in Cuba is undoubtedly a victory for a group that has not only applied pressure without rest, but has also organized to alleviate the suffering of the many dogs and cats that are abandoned, ill or run over and whose lives are saved and a home found for them.

In spite of carrying out their work without legal recognition, these groups have managed to create small shelters, manage sterilizations and offer for responsible adoption countless pets that would otherwise have ended up under the wheels of a vehicle, dying slowly in the streets before the laziness of passers-by or cruelly slaughtered in the state program of ‘Zoonosis’. Now, there are hopes that independent organizations such as Cubans in Defense of Animals (CEDA) and Protection of City Animals (PAC) can take advantage of this future legal framework to carry out their work with greater effectiveness and breadth.

However, there is a reality that sours such optimism: the mechanism to prepare and pass legislation is slow, distressing and loaded with bureaucratic obstacles, while right now there are thousands of animals suffering in this country for which the new regulations will arrive too late. To this we must add that among a large part of the population there is a deep contempt for the life of horses, mules, pigs, dogs, cats and other animals that inhabit nature. Neither in many families nor in schools is there a culture that fosters respect for these living beings.

It is common to see children who, from the time they are small, are dedicated to destroying the branches of a tree without anyone calling them out on it; as well as stoning cats in the streets, mistreating homeless dogs, crushing lizards, breaking bird nests and boasting of having exterminated several frogs at once.

The violence and mistreatment against animals seen in Cuba is evidence of the dehumanization and loss of ethical values ​​that has deepened in recent decades with social experiments to create a ‘New Man’, who has ended up being, in most cases, disrespectful of nature and incapable of sympathy when a dog or cat asks “with flooded eyes for the caress of a word,” as writer Jorge Zalamea would say.

We have lost part of our humanity along the way. It shows in those who are able to leave an animal on the streets because they are going on a trip and can no longer care for it, as if a dog were a pair of shoes that when they no longer serve are thrown in a trash bin. These are the same people who leave a cat that has been with them its entire life in the middle of a field because it is old, and they do this in front of their children who, when they themselves grow up and their parents age, will want to look for a place to leave and ignore them.

A good part of the pilgrims who make their way this Tuesday, the day of the pious Saint Lazurus, who is also Babalú Ayé, will light candles, spend great resources to fulfill a promise or drag a heavy stone for miles, without noticing that feeding or picking up an abandoned dog may be the best tribute to the old man with the crutches and the mutts that licked his sores.


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.

Christmas Holidays, a Victory for Cuban Students

A couple of decades ago, it would have been unthinkable in Cuba for students to take a two-week break for the Christmas holidays. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 14 December 2019 — There are triumphs that are celebrated loudly, with gestures of pride for the victory achieved and expressions of popular jubilation. Others, however, are experienced more discreetly to prevent them from being revoked or taken away. To this last group belongs the recovery, without fanfare or celebrations, of the Christmas holidays which Cuban students have achieved in recent years.

This coming Friday will be a special day in the classrooms of this Island because in very few of them will classes be taught. The Teacher’s Day will be celebrated in advance, scheduled for December 22 but this year the date falls on a Sunday. Along with gifts for the teachers and organized parties with resources donated by the parents, students will also be saying goodbye to their colleagues until the new year.

A couple of decades ago, it would have been unthinkable in Cuba for students to take a two-week break for the Christmas holidays. Those of us who went to school in the 70s, 80s and much of the 90s, could never enjoy a real rest period on these dates. If anything, we managed not to avoid the classroom after presenting a medical “note” for some sickness (often fictitious) or after showing an unpostponable ticket to travel to another province.

Only in December 1997, a few days before Pope John Paul II visited the Island, did Fidel Castro declare December 25 a holiday for the first time in decades. After that, little by little, as conquerors who quietly take over a territory, running a few centimeters from the fence every night, Cubans were pushing the narrow boundaries of rest. To the point that in schools a tacit agreement has already been reached that the students do not go to classes from the penultimate Friday of December until the first Monday of January, should that day not be a holiday.

What particular group starred in the recovery of this Christmas break? None. Was it announced in any official media that a two week teaching break had been decreed for all school levels in the country? No. Has anyone gone out to celebrate in the streets that now they will not have to go to classes and can they enjoy this time of taking stock and celebrations with their family? No.

Like those victories that nobody is awarded and that are enjoyed quietly, Christmas holidays have returned to Cuban schools. And in this way, there are other triumphs that we have also accumulated without uproar but irreversibly.


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.

Civil Society in Cuba is Diverse, Beyond the Control of the Government

If we understand that all peaceful tendencies have the right to exist … then we will have succeeded in taking the first step. (Social Sciences Blog)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 8 December 2019 — A few days ago, I took part in an exchange of ideas on the social network Facebook after a Cuban journalist asked about the opposition’s proposals and programs. I responded with some basic clarifications to understand what is happening on this Island outside government and state control. Here I share these opinions, with a certain didactic tone tailored just for those who are looking at the subject for the first time.

Many times, due to ignorance, stereotypes or lack of public information on the subject, multiple phenomena that are worth differentiating are grouped under the heading “opposition.” I believe that in today’s Cuba there is an opposition movement of a political, outlawed and structured nature based on platforms that mix ideological tendencies, economic programs and diverse positions on such varied topics as foreign investment, diplomatic alliances with other countries or the scale of the presence of the State in the functioning of the economy.

Those parties, groups or partnerships aspire, as in all parts of the world, to come to power, to lead the nation and to be at the political helms of the country. Among them I can mention some, and I apologize in advance if I forget others, for example: el Unión Patriótica de Cuba (Patriotic Union of Cuba), el Foro Antitotalitario Unido (United Antitotalitarian Forum), Somos+ (We Are More), Cuba Decide (Cuba Decides), Todos Marchamos (We All March), and el Mesa de Unidad de Acción Democrática (Democratic Unity Roundtable).

A second phenomenon, which I believe should not be subsumed under the word “opposition” is that of social activism. The majority are groups and organizations, also outlawed, that have a social agenda that can be directed to an infinite number of groups, problems or demands.

In that kaleidoscope of associations there are those that defend the rights of the LGBTI community, others that demand an Animal Protection Law, those that are demanding feminine grievances be addressed, those that ensure human rights such as the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White), those that incline more to the union defense of workers, against racial discrimination and a long etcetera that can include many other tendencies and “struggles” from civil society.

In a third space, also erroneously called “opposition,” I would place independent journalism, which although it has spent decades reporting what is happening in the country, has had an important boost in recent years with the emergence of new technologies and the emergence of a varied ecosystem of press media not controlled by the State, the Communist Party or the Cuban institutions.

Among them are newspapers, to monthly magazines, cultural weeklies, environmental blogs and reporting podcasts. To think of these three universes as a block is a mistake, because many of their components are very different, pursue parallel objectives and work differently.

Let’s start by analyzing the first group. There are prejudices that are repeated again and again when the Cuban opposition speaks. Most people who repeat what they say and claim to be convinced by them, have never really sat down to talk with an opponent, have never read a program from one of those political parties, and only have a “passive bibliography” on the issue based on what the official Cuban press says, a press that in more than half a century has not allowed these opponents to explain themselves in the first person, or published their proposals or allowed them to participate in debates with official voices.

One of the stereotypes that is most repeated when talking about the Cuban opposition is made up of individuals with low ethical and moral appearance. As in every human conglomerate, there is everything. In the National Ballet of Cuba and the University of Havana, wonderful and dedicated people work, but also the mediocre and unscrupulous. I remember that in the Faculty of Arts and Letters, where I studied, I had professors with a touching altruism and exquisite wisdom, while others had come to the classrooms not because of their pedagogical quality but because of their partisan militancy. I even met some cases that plagiarized their students’ course work and presented it in their own names to gain a rise to a certain academic level.

The Cuban opposition has lights and shadows like every human group, but for more than half a century it has had over it, watching and denigrating it, one of the most implacable intelligence apparatuses that has existed. Hence, the official media, street conversations and even the rumors that are spread in a low voice on this Island, have been plagued all these years by the negative opinions that State Security has launched against that opposition.

This most resembles racial and xenophobic prejudices: the idea that a certain ethnic or racial group is “lazy, a thief and a liar” is spread or the foreigner is blamed for coming to “steal the job, violate women and ruin the national culture.” In the end there is an animosity towards a human group based on prejudice and fear. The approach necessary to destroy those clichés or false topics will only be undertaken by a few daring ones, because the rest fears being “attacked” by “unknown others” or blamed by their own group for getting too close to the “other.” colleague

The day that the opponents have a microphone on national television, a few minutes to express themselves on the radio or a few lines on the pages of the newspapers, these prejudices will begin to break.

As for the other prejudice that there is little of formal qualifications in the opposition ranks, I must clarify that I have never believed that a university degree is a guarantee of good leadership, however, I warn that I know many graduates, academics, doctors, jurists and excellent professionals who are active in these games.

I add that in the high party leadership that controls Cuba, we have evidence that there are people who are not there because of their qualifications to direct the economy, public health or the investment process (these are only examples) but for their ideological fidelity. Some of these senior leaders cannot even articulate a complete sentence without making mistakes and have said some memorable barbarities in front of the national television cameras.

The Cuban opposition has a long history of initiatives, as does the activism that carried out on this Island, ranging from the document La Patria es de Todos (The Homeland Belongs to Everyone) and the Varela Project to the Carta de Derechos y Deberes de los Cubanos (Bill of Rights and Duties of Cubans) and many others. In all cases, the Cuban government responded to these proposals with more vigilance, arbitrary arrests, the destruction of the reputations of members and reprisals.

Parallel to these programs and platforms, spaces of thought and reflection have been created that range from the political, the pedagogical and the economic, to reach all the social aspects that urgently need solutions in our country. Cuba Posible (Cuba Possible) was one of them and the Centro de Estudios Convivencia

(Center for Coexistence Studies) has, for years, also been contributing ideas, assessments and initiatives from the academic scene. The reaction of the Cuban authorities to them has followed the same script: harass, denigrate, slander and push their members into exile.

If we move on to activism, its achievements and proposals would take very long to explain because of the number of initiatives and programs involved. I will only recall the historic march of May 11 for the rights of the LGBTI community, the most recent protest against Zoonosis [“the dogcatcher”] and the demand for an Animal Protection Law, in addition to the human rights activism that has managed to denounce and shed light on many cases of arbitrary arrests and violations of legislation.

In the case of independent journalism and the media not controlled by the Communist Party, the achievements are impossible to cover. Sites such as El Estornudo, Yucabyte, Tremenda Nota, 14ymedio, Periodismo de Barrio, El Toque, Inventario, Alas Tensas and many more that were born from within Cuba and their reporters, in most cases, graduated from Cuban universities, some of them from journalism programs and others in the humanities.

In my opinion, it is the ecosystems of activism and independent media where a more dynamic and interesting process of social pressure is taking place to bring about changes in Cuba, although I recognize that the political opposition has faced the worst in terms of a repressive and exhausting response due to retaliation and stigmatization.

To end this very long text and, looking at the situation as it is now, to eliminate the prejudices, confusions and misgivings that have become entrenched in Cuban society against the opposition, social activism and the independent press, I believe that the criminalization of disagreement should be eliminated and these people should have the right to access public media (which we all pay out of our pockets) to break down these stereotypes, to let people know their proposals and to stop being narrated “in the third person” as bad, ethically deplorable, mercenaries or enemies of the homeland.

Unblocking censored digital sites on Cuban servers and legalizing independent media would also be a very positive step for these plural voices to be heard and to be able explain their initiatives.

Mechanisms should also be created so that the citizens from their own pockets, and even – why not? – the state budget would support these parties and groups of activists, in addition to allowing them clear legal right to obtain resources, so that their income comes from national, business, and citizen sources.

Continuing to deny the opposition the right to collect and have legal income, on the Island, to carry out their work, is to condemn them to financial secrecy and is the cause of many of the problems we see today in the operations of many of them, such as lack of transparency

It is also necessary to remove the ideological indoctrination of a single party from the classroom, so that Cuban children and young people grow up feeling it is something very normal and healthy to have several parties, the presence of an independent civil society and access to multiple media with different approaches and opinions.

As long as education is in the hands of a single ideological group that uses it for political proselytism, there will be people who are educated to think that the “different” must be silenced, crushed and prosecuted for not behaving like them.

The current situation of censorship, discrimination and criminalization of political and ideological plurality is based on the same mechanism of racial, cultural and nationalist prejudices. If we understand that all peaceful tendencies have the right to exist, express themselves, be legal and have a space… then we will have managed to take the first step.


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.

Press or Propaganda?

Several generations of Cubans have become accustomed to finding only one version of reality in the national media. (Wikipedia)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 5 December 2019 — For decades, we Cubans have lived under a strict information monopoly that has turned the public media into sounding boards of the Communist Party. Instead of journalism, what is published every day in national newspapers and broadcast on television and radio is closer to ideological propaganda.

In this way, several generations have become accustomed to finding in the national media only a version of reality, a limited part of the everyday stories and a single voice to try to narrate a polyphonic and diverse country. In a premeditated manner, the Plaza of the Revolution has excluded a diversity of information and has condemned the entire population to a discourse without nuances.

But, is this really a press or is it a political publicity that has taken over the microphones and pages of the national news? Without a doubt, it cannot be called “journalism.” Because any news work must include and shed light on a diversity of sources, opinions and judgments that go beyond what a single individual, a single human group or a single Party thinks or experiences.

We Cubans have lived so long under this “pseudo press” that a process of collective dismantling of these journalistic vices is necessary to be able to demand and encourage plural, inclusive and truthful media. Accommodating multiple opinions, presenting readers with several views on the same event and putting data ahead of adjectives, these are the first steps to achieve it.

But also, as readers, listeners and viewers we have to learn to respect the variety of approaches that a situation, a proposal or a public figure can generate. A diversity of opinions never detracts, rather it gives the audience the ability to form more complete, mature and serene judgments about any event.

The press cannot be propaganda at the service of a few, nor can it behave like a ventriloquist’s doll managed by a single group and forced to repeat its slogans to the letter. Journalism, when it is good, can be painful, uncomfortable or annoying. Trying to turn it into something docile and malleable only takes away what distinguishes it from the pamphlet.

If we are going to demand a free, democratic press with professional standards, let us prepare ourselves for the fact that many times it will publish issues that annoy us, opinions that we do not agree with and will also give space to signatures that oppose our positions. There will be days when we smile when reading the newspaper and others when it will leave a bitter taste, which will make us want to respond and complain. That is what we have to expect from good journalism: that it mobilizes us, shakes us, makes us rethink our opinions and evaluate those of others. To remove those thorns from the press is to reduce it to simple propaganda.

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.

Cuban State Media’s Hemiplegic Plot

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba. (Matias J. Ocner for 14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 November 2019 — Help me understand this: Granma, a Cuban newspaper of national scope, financed by the state coffers and with its journalists based within Cuban territory, publishes an article against a citizen, resident on the Island and held in a prison, which describes him as a criminal and accuses him of criminal acts.

However, to prepare the text, the reporters of the official organ of the Communist Party have not contacted José Daniel Ferrer, his relatives or his activist colleagues to offer their testimony and opinion on the events that took place on October 1, that ended up sending the leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba to prison.

Do Granma journalists have resources to make a phone call to Aguadores prison? Why did the newspaper’s management not send its correspondent in Santiago de Cuba to Ferrer’s house to obtain the version of the facts that his wife wields, facts that contradict those published this Wednesday in the official newspaper? Did the reporters request a meeting with the prisoner from the Directorate of Corrections?

Sadly, the shortcomings of the article in Granma are not due to economic problems of the newsroom of the main Cuban newspaper, nor to the absence of permits to access the prison. The argumental hemiplegia of this note is evidence of the abuse of power of an entire apparatus that believes it has the right to crush an individual’s reputation, demonize and defame him without his being able to defend himself in national media. This is the old strategy of reputation execution, but using the state structures themselves, the official voice and the institutional speaker.

That is not journalism, nor press, much less information. We are facing a typical act of propaganda and slander… and of shameful complicity by some who call themselves journalists and editors.


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 Masks of Havana

King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia Ortiz (couple to the right) with Lis Cuesta and Miguel Díaz-Canel at the dinner held at the headquarters of Cuba’s State Council.

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 17 November 2019 — Havana was a city of carnivals and masks. Although the times of revelry passed long ago, this city is covered – whenever necessary – with convenient layers of makeup. Years ago, when a pope visited the island, the authorities painted the facades and cleaned the streets through which the caravan of His Holiness would travel from the airport to the historic center, a partial restoration that did not escape popular humor, which renamed the route la vía Sacra, the Sacred Way.

Another example of the capacity for masking are all those thousands, millions of photos made by tourists in which the only things that appear are an old Chevrolet of the last century, restored buildings, and mojitos with a lot of rum and little memory. To know the city that beats underneath you have to remove layers like peeling an onion, or use the corrosive makeup remover of objectivity. Unfortunately, only a few visitors are willing to work in facial and cultural archeology. At the end of the day they come for a short time, for a time that is only a sigh.

This November, the rouge has again been smeared over a city with more than two million inhabitants which has arrived at 500th year since its founding. “Facial” touch-ups have included the collection and mass slaughter of stray dogs, the inauguration of some architectural works that had been under repair for years, and a ban on dissidents and activists to going outside on the eve and the day of celebration of the celebration of the half-millennium of the Villa of San Cristóbal de La Habana.

But even if they had only applied a thin layer of lipstick, the Spanish royals Felipe VI and Letizia Ortiz would have been unable to discover very much on their two-day state visit to the Island. With an agenda planned millimetrically, their majesties could barely get away from the scheduled streets, prepared scenes and filtered guests. Even in their meeting with representatives of civil society, missing were human rights activists, opposition leaders and even independent journalists from the media most stigmatized by the ruling party.

However, like with the best makeup, sometimes a brief tear spoils everything. Cosmetics turned out to be too little cover reality and on the day when the Spanish royals strolled through Old Havana a street dog managed to cross in front of the royal couple and sneak into a photo of this visit, a nod perhaps to all those others who had died to “clean” the image of a city where an Animal Protection Law remains a painful chimera.

The national cleaning for the visit and the celebrations also included the arrest of uncomfortable citizens, those in the style of the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. Weeks before, and as part of the daily lack of rights, the independent journalist Roberto Quiñones and the opposition leader José Daniel Ferrer had been locked up and continue to be held, so far without the intermediation of international organizations nor a hypothetical request for clemency from the Spanish Crown.

Havana, like all Cuba, is a sequence of makeup and masks. On the epidermis, very high, are the bright colors of the ruling party; but below – with just the slightest scraping – emerges the hard gray of reality, the dark shadow of a country dominated by an authoritarianism without shades.


Note: This article was  initially published in Deutsche Welle in Spanish and is reproduced in this blog.

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.