Maduro and the Country That is Disintegrating in His Hands

A woman protests against members of the Bolivarian National Guard in the march on Wednesday in Caracas. (EFE / Miguel Gutierrez)

A woman protests against members of the Bolivarian National Guard in the march on Wednesday in Caracas. “We are starving to death. Total dictatorship.” (EFE / Miguel Gutierrez)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 19 May 2016 — All signs point to the collapse of Venezuela. Every minute that passes the country is disintegrating in the hands of Nicolas Maduro, who insists on maintaining with revolutionary violence a power that he has not known how to keep through efficiency or results. His stubbornness has led a nation rich in resources to misery and his incendiary oratory is now pushing it towards a violent explosion.

In front of the microphones, Maduro claims to defend a chimerical 21st century socialism that only works in the minds of its progenitors. However, his political and repressive actions are aimed at preserving the privileges of a clan that rants against the bourgeoisie while living in opulence and looting the public coffers. He believes in the Robin Hood of the children’s stories, but this time Sherwood Forest has become unlivable, even for the poor.

Power outages, insecurity in the streets, food shortages, emigration of the young and professionals, along with the highest inflation in the world, are some of the signs of deterioration experienced by a nation trapped for almost two decades in a populism that has bled the economy and polarized society.

Corruption, mismanagement and a string of neighboring countries that have behaved more like leeches than allies, have drowned Venezuela in less than twenty years. Few still have the shamelessness to publicly support the delusional regime that has installed itself in Miraflores Palace and brought the nation to the verge of collapse. Even former fellow travellers, such as Spain’s Podemos Party, led by Pablo Iglesias, and former Uruguayan president José Pepe Mujica, have distanced themselves from Maduro.

A member of Podemos has criticized the Venezuelan president’s attacks against Spain, while the Uruguayan politician described Hugo Chavez’s heir as “mad as a hatter.” Others, like Raul Castro, remain complicity silent while, from the shadows, weaving the threads of support for the Bolivarian forces. No wonder Evo Morales has rushed to Havana to receive instructions about how to proceed in the face of his floundering comrade.

However, Chavism, and its bad copy “Maduroism,” has entered its endgame. Its motorized faithful can instill fear in the population and the National Electoral Council can delay ad infinitum the review of the signatures on the recall referendum, but this will not restore the popularity enjoyed in the times when a military coup hypnotized millions with revolutionary rhetoric interspersed with anecdotes and songs.

Nicolas Maduro is collapsing and dragging a nation down with him. In this fall into the abyss of violence, a military coup or other demons, he has not shown a single instance of the greatness that would put the interests of Venezuela first, ahead of his party and ideological affiliation. History will remember him in the worst possible terms and he deserves it. He has ruled from caprice and exclusion, ultimately inserting his name on that deplorable list of caudillos, satraps and authoritarians who have trampled our continent.

The Collapse

Raul Castro, in the presence of Barack Obama, chides a journalist who asks about political prisoners on the island. (EFE)

Raul Castro, in the presence of Barack Obama, chides a journalist who asks about political prisoners on the island. (EFE)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 26 April 2016 – In films there are final epics. Systems whose final moments pass between the sound of the hammers tearing down a wall and the roar of thousands of people in a plaza. The Castro regime, however, is going through its death throes without glorious images or collective heroics. Its mediocre denouement has become clearer in recent months, in the signs of collapse that can no longer be hidden behind the trappings of the official discourse.

The epilogue of this process, once called Revolution, is strewn with ridiculous and banal events, but they are, indeed, clear symptoms of the end. Like a bad movie with a hurried script and the worst actors, the scenes illustrating the terminal state of this twentieth century fossil seem worthy of a tragicomedy:

  • Raul Castro erupts in fury at a press conference when asked about the existence of political prisoners in Cuba, he gets entangled in his earphones and comes out with some rigmarole a few feet from Barack Obama, who looks like the owner and master of the situation.
  • After the visit of the United States president, the government media releases all their rage at him, while Barack Obama’s speech in the Great Theater of Havana is number one on the list of audiovisual materials most requested in the Weekly Packet.
  • Two Cuban police officers arrive in uniform on the beaches of Florida, after having navigated in a makeshift raft with other illegal migrants who helped them escape from Cuba.
  • A group of Little Pioneers, dressed in their school uniforms and neckerchiefs, contort in sexually explicit movements to the rhythm of reggaeton at an elementary school. They are filmed by an adult and the video is uploaded to the social networks by a proud father who thinks his son is a dance genius.
  • Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez accuses Obama of having perpetrated an attack on “our conception, our history, our culture and our symbols” a few days after receiving him at the airport and without having fearlessly said any of these criticisms to his face.
  • An obscure official at the Cuban embassy in Spain says in a chat with “friends of the Revolution” that this is “the most difficult moment and its history,” and calls the coverage of Obama’s visit in the foreign media as a “display of an unparalleled cultural, psychological and media war.”
  • Raul Castro is unanimously reelected as first secretary of the Communist Party for the next five years and choses stagnation. Thus, he loses the last chance to pass into the history books for a gesture of generosity to the nation, as late as it might be, instead of for his personal egoism.
  • Fidel Castro appears at the Congress’s closing ceremony, sheathed in an Adidas jacket, and insists that “we not continue, as in the times of Adam and Eve, eating forbidden apples.”
  • A few days after the end of the Party Congress, the government announces a laughable reduction in prices to try to raise fallen spirits. Now, an engineer no longer has to work two-and-a-half days to buy one quart of cooking oil, he only has to work two days.
  • Thousands of Cubans throng the border between Panama and Costa Rica trying to continue their journey to the United States, without the government of the island investing a single penny to help them have a roof over their heads, a little food and medical care.
  • An economist who explained to the world the benefits of Raul Castro’s reforms and their progress, is expelled from the University of Havana for maintaining contacts with representatives from the United States and passing on information about the procedures of the academic center.
  • Two young people make love in the middle of the San Rafael Boulevard in plain view of dozens of onlookers who film the scene and shout obscene incitements, but the police never arrive. The basic clay of the Revolution escapes in the individual and collective libido.

The credits start to run and in the room where this lousy film is being shown only a few viewers remain. Some grew tired and left, others slept through the long wait, a few monitor the aisles and demand loud applause from the still occupied seats. An old man is trying to feed a new, interminable, filmstrip through the projector… but there is nothing left. Everything is over. All that’s left is for the words “The End” to appear on the screen.

A Chef on the 14th Floor

The chef José Andrés cooking in the kitchen of the 14ymedio newsroom. (14ymedio)

The chef José Andrés cooking in the kitchen of the 14ymedio newsroom. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 18 April 2016 — José Andrés arrived in Havana at the best and worst moment of the year. One of the most famous chefs in the world knocked on the door of the 14ymedio newsroom the same day that Barack Obama was saying goodbye to the Cuban people. The shortages in the markets were an incentive rather than an obstacle for the Spaniard who moves easily between the glamorous kitchens of Washington DC and the wood fires of an impoverished Haiti.

In his fingers, each ingredient becomes pure magic. “What do you have?” He asked. And the answer reflected this period of empty shelves in stores. However, the art of cooking is to combine precisely what there is, the ability to convert the little one has at hand into have something marvelous for the palate.

In Cuba you need to be more alchemist than cook to turn out a tasty dish.

There he was, in our newsroom, this Paracelsus of the stove. “What do you have?” He asked again. Very little. Since early this year, with the price increases imposed by the government on many of the food markets and the absence of goods in the stores that sell in hard currency, it is difficult to buy everything from a cabbage to a pound of chicken. On the shelf, a package of Russian oats, scored in 2010, lights up the eyes of chef José Andrés. “We are going to do something with this,” he boasts.

Uniting the elements – including some he had bought under the counter in the streets of Havana – he turned a few somersaults and emerged from the kitchen with steaming and unique dishes. The great chef had climbed to the 14th floor to create an unforgettable dinner on a historic day.

The Voice Of Your Rights

Yoani Sánchez inaugurates a series of interviews on the channel Deutsche Welle Latin America: The Voice of Your Rights. (Video capture)

Yoani Sánchez inaugurates a series of interviews on the channel Deutsche Welle Latin America: The Voice of Your Rights. (Video capture)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 4 April 2016 — What to do when you have a loudspeaker in your hand? Since 2007 when I started my blog Generation Y, this question has haunted me. Often the visibility does not benefit those who need it most and the protective umbrellas provided by access to international organizations only reach a few. To occupy the microphone to broadcast only your own speech is a wastefulness that is a monologue more than an informative work. The Voice of Your Rights, the new interview program I will host on the Deutsche Welle Latin American TV program seeks to bring the megaphone to those who need it most.

With 40 episodes filmed in Panama City, the new space hosts a guest list essential for those who want to know our region and learn about the stories of its people. Environmental activists, women who fight against femicide, human rights organizations that denounce prison overcrowding and groups addressing child labor from all viewpoints are some of the themes that will be addressed by the people with whom I will share the studio in the coming weeks.

My role in this program, which has as its protagonists those who are trying to open a window where the door is closed, is not only for a professional challenge in my career as a journalist, but part of a personal commitment to the most silenced in every society. The cameras and the power of audiovisual media will serve to make their projects more effective and their lives less dangerous.

Obama Is Surrounded By Symbols To Win The Hearts Of Cubans / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Havana is preparing to welcome US president Barack Obama. (14ymedio)

Havana is preparing to welcome US president Barack Obama. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 20 March 2016 – He arrives on the Island on Palm Sunday, will attend a baseball game, and has already spoken by phone with the most popular humorist on the Island. Barack Obama’s plane has not yet landed and already he has stolen the hearts of a legion of admirers through a series of symbols. A meal in a paladar (a private restaurant), a phrase from José Martí in his major speech, and a mention of Cachita, the Virgin of Charity of Cobre, would complete his upcoming gestures of enchantment.

On Saturday night Cuban TV broadcast a video in which the humorist Pánfilo called the White House to talk to the president of the United States himself. A masterstroke of the Obama administration, it thus placed itself miles away from Cuba’s powers-that-be, who lack any talent for laughter. Through the character of this old man who is obsessed with his ration book, the president of the United States addressed the Cuban people and did so in their own language.

This morning, for a few hours, people will put aside conversations about high food prices and complaints about the collapse of transportation, aggravated by the security measures that plague the city. On the streets there is a resurgence of jokes starring Pepito, the mischievous child of our folktales, who emerged from his long silence to laugh even about the great visitor’s mother-in-law.

Symbols are a part of Obama. For black and mixed-race Cubans his coming is a reminder of how remote the arrival of the Cuban president seems to some of them. Cuba’s historic generation, white and rancid, has ruled for more than half a century over the destiny of a people whose skin tones span the racial spectrum. In the poorest neighborhoods, the occupant of the White House has many fans, and in those same areas the popularity of the Plaza of the Revolution is taking a nose-dive.

The man who today will descend the airplane stairs with a firm step, trotting as usual, will present a strong contrast to the gerontocracy that dominates Cuba. In a country with a serious demographic problem, where the majority of young people dream of emigrating, this leader born after the events of the Bay of Pigs is read like fresh page in a history book with too many volumes dedicated to the past.

He is also coming, with his family, to a nation where we never knew who Fidel Castro was married to and where, for decades, his children were never officially presented in public. He will visit the cathedral in Havana and for his major speech on Tuesday they have chosen a historic theater, one of the few places on the island where ideology has not been able to remove its purely cultural connotations.

However, with each symbolic chord Obama touches in the popular imagination, he assumes a responsibility. The expectations are overflowing because Cubans want to cling to any hope that makes them believe the future will be better. The dreams of economic relief, the end of food shortages and improvements in the country’s infrastructure, are at their highest point this Sunday but have a short expiration date.

People want Saint Obama to work miracles. They have placed candles on his altar and said a prayer that he will bring them the prosperity promised by others for more than half a century. For many families, the most anticipated marvel is summarized in it being easier to get a plate a food, a desire expressed in the street with every possible rhyme that joins Obama’s name and the popular word for food: jama.

Thousands of parents across the country are putting on the shoulders of the visitor the responsibility of convincing their children not to leave on the rafts of despair. They believe that he will be able to stop this incessant flow that is bleeding the country, if only he manages to persuade them that a new Cuba is just around the corner. For the nine migrants who just died trying to cross the Straits of Florida, it is a chance that comes too late.

The marvel others are expecting from Obama is connectivity, as if in Air Force One the United States president will have brought the fiber optic cable that will lift the Island from the precarious state of its internet access. The man who has used social networks intensively in his political career is seen as someone who can do a great deal to sneak Cubans into cyberspace.

In the prisons, thousands are waiting for the president of the United States to achieve an amnesty. Opponents of the current government project major openings in political spaces and room for expression. In the hospitals, patients await the arrival of resources to upgrade deteriorating emergency rooms, and in the Cuban countryside expectation of access to machinery and seeds bears the face of Uncle Sam.

Obama arrives in Havana on the first day of Holy Week. Awaiting him is the glory of his popularity and the cross of excessive hopes.

Women, Always Postponed

We are measured by the most demanding scales and they ask from us the greatest patience. (Photo: Silvia Corbelle)

We are measured by the most demanding scales and they ask from us the greatest patience. (Photo: Silvia Corbelle)

Yoani Sanchez, Washington, 3 March 2016 — A few days after the murder of two young Argentine women tourists in Ecuador, a man in the city of Santa Clara in Cuba set fire to his house with his two children inside, as revenge against his ex-wife. Violence against women runs freely in Latin America and on most of this planet. A day like this March 8th, a day of tributes, flowers and speeches full of praise, does not erase the horror, nor the belittling.

The constant aggression we women suffer takes the form a blow from an abusive husband, but also is present in every minute of our lives, both in the professional order and in the social order. To walk alone at night, to sit alone in a park, or to take the sun on a beach “unescorted” by a partner, are moments that many Cuban women experience with more discomfort than enjoyment.

The limits within which we can move are made clear very early: Respectable or whore? Good wife or questionable spinster? Dedicated mother or bad mother? Submissive or quarrelsome? Made up or slovenly? Good cook or useless in the kitchen? Every attempt to free ourselves from these narrow frames implies double the effort for a man and a proportional quantity of external insults.

The violence starts from the time we’re small, when we prepare to be “beautiful and delicate,” forcing our tastes, affinities and vocations. They impose on us to be condescending and sweet, demure and silent; subordinate to masculine initiative and patiently bearing all. The ways girls are raised, in their families and in the education system still prevailing in our country, lock us into narrow, 19th century gender roles.

We are measured on more demanding scales and asked for the highest levels of patience. If a woman is the victim of lewd abuse in the street, most people’s immediate reflection is that she is wearing “very provocative clothing” or wiggling her hips too much. The aggressor is considered someone who “is acting like a man” while the woman is the brunt of the worst adjectives.

Women television presenters must be luxuriant and attractive, while her masculine colleagues can be gray-haired, double-chinned and pot-bellied, and no one bothers him about it. In government something else happens. The “male chauvinist” power we have lived under for nearly 60 years likes to be photographed with pretty faces and hold honeyed ceremonies on International Women’s Day. They give us flowers and call us “compañeras,” while the rest of the year they put the brakes on women’s demands and the independence of any initiative for gender equality.

What has happened to Cuban feminism is what happens to a professional woman who ends up locked in the house with a jealous and dim-witted husband. They take her best years, keep her from experiencing life and taking to the streets to demand her rights and now demand that she remain calm, gentle, supportive of those who mix testosterone and power, which is another form of violence masked by supposed praise and compliments.

The appropriation of our bodies by force is a heinous crime, as is taking our freedom, imposing on us a model of what we should be, and prolonging these discriminatory patterns, this false market of values, where ovaries are worth less than testicles.

In The Mirror

Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, 6 March 2016 — There is an aunt with her hair in rollers and a maternal gaze, a neighbor in a housecoat and that friend blowing out the birthday candles. They are known faces, family members, but they live hundreds of miles from the island, and come to us, as in a mirror that returns our image without distortions or cracks, through Geandy Pavón (b. Las Tunas, Cuba, 1974) and his exposition, The Cuban-Americans.

In that far off geography, the emigrants weave their dreams, taking on new customs, maintaining their taste for rice with beans, and sighing for a country that only exists in their memories. In that “internal space” where Cuban-Americans pass their lives, what the writer Gustavo Pérez Firmante called the hyphen or dash, “that unites, while separating, nominally and culturally, the Cuban and the American.”

Pavón captures in a series of black and white photographs that were exhibited at the Cervantes Institute of New York, a part of the nostalgia of those who carry their roots on their shoulders so that a new generation can bear fruits. Parents who left behind their world of references, the house where they were born and even their wedding rings, with the obsession of giving their children a future. They are like us, but they have lived more, and the title of “Cubans” sounds sweetly and painfully in their ears.

Their names are Josefa, Paco, Pedro, Yosvany, Miguel… and they have experienced daily contact with other cultures, the pleasure in the little things they managed to carry with them: a yellowed photograph of Grandma and a memory of the dog barking from the farm path. They are also burdened with the depression of exile, the conviction that they don’t belong entirely to the land they left behind nor to the one that received them. They are beings who carry with them their own homeland.

The exhibition is full of intimate moments, indoors, in the heat of the home where the Cuban identity is expressed in a gesture, an attitude or simply the nostalgic feel in a gaze

The exhibition is full of intimate moments, indoors, in the heat of the home where the Cuban identity is expressed in a gesture, an attitude or simply the nostalgic feel in a gaze.

The author of The Cuban-Americans took as a reference Robert Frank’s famous series of photographs, The Americans. The work of the American artist was heavily criticized in its time for not embodying “the image of progress and greatness they wanted to project in the fifties,” recalls Pavón. Like Frank, he also wanted to escape “the stereotypes, the commonplace.”

This “no man’s land,” where the exiles have found themselves because of politics, intolerance and immigration restrictions, resembles in many details the island we have woven within the bubble of our intimacy. An identity hard to catch in the tourist snapshots or sepia postcards that so content the foreign eye. More than a photographic work, Pavón has had to undertake a true immersion in that abyss of Cuban identity.

From this plunge, he has returned without beautiful ruins, old cars, or easy smiles. Instead of that, the artist claims to have “found another Cuba outside Cuba,” a nation that long ago ceased to be contained on an island.