The Day of the Woman in Cuba, More Honored in the Breach / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

On Women’s Day, no protest march is scheduled in Cuba, as if the life of the women in this country was a bed of roses. (Silvia Corbelle)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 8 March 2017 – Lying in bed, with the light off, feeling each one of her vertebrae howling. After coming home from work she spent four hours in the kitchen, bathed her invalid mother, helped the children with their homework, went shopping and prepared an administrative report. On TV the announcers offer congratulations for the Day of the Woman, but it sounds like a distant echo that does not influence her life.

On March 8, the workplaces end their days earlier, the officials intone mellow speeches and all the stands are sold out of flowers. The news is filled with images of women who cut cane, give life to babies, and carry guns on their shoulders. Nor is there any lack of politics. Officialdom takes advantage of the day to insist that only “after January 1959” have we Cuban women been recognized.

The National Symphonic Orchestra prepares a special concert, the Post Office sells postcards in bad taste, while the Cuba Workers Center – the only legal union in the country – dedicates the day to Fidel Castro and the “eternal president of the Federation of Cuban Women,” Raul Castro’s late wife Vilma Espín Guillois. There are no protest marches, no demands expressed, as if the life of women in this country was a bed of roses.

The noise of the music, the slogans and the triumphalism drown out our complaints. The day, made compulsorily festive, does not allow demands to emerge, nor talk – with bras shed – about the problems that threaten our daily lives. “Today is a day for celebration, not complaining,” many say; but tomorrow other topics will fill the agenda and there will never be “a good time” to talk.

Symptomatically, the initiative of a women’s strike under the slogan #NosotrasParamos (We Stop) does not find space here, although 45 countries have joined the protests to demand equality between men and women. The lack of independence of women’s associations and their subordination to the government prevents the idea of our taking to the streets with posters and demands.

Machismo and gender discrimination fill every space of our daily lives. In the media, a catchy children’s song tells the story of mother ant who urges her daughter to abandon her games and help her iron, sweep and scrub; but the capricious little girl prefers her dolls. In schools, teachers prepare an area of ​​pink kitchens and baby beds for the girls to play in, while they reserve trucks and play weapons for the boys. In workplaces, bosses feel the power to compliment, harass and touch their subordinates, often under the belief that “they like it.”

In the official discourse we are seen as decorative elements, as a necessary gender quota or simple pieces of the ideological gears. Power continues to maintain its old-fashioned, cheesy machismo, purportedly “chivalrous,” which veers from flattery to insult towards those in skirts. The woman who shares their ideology is a “beautiful flower of the Revolution,” the dissident only deserves that hard four-letter word that questions our morality.

The Cuban feminist movement is dead. This system was killed by depriving it of autonomy, extinguishing the discourse of demands and imposing the false premise that women emancipated themselves five decades ago. All a fallacy that hides the drama of millions of women condemned to double or triple working hours, subjected to sexual harassment and surviving every day with a dose of antidepressants.

The entire economic crisis that we have experienced has claimed women as its main victims. The shortages force them into the long lines to buy food and the stress, every day, of having to “invent” a meal. The accelerated emigration has separated them from their children and the layoffs at state workplaces have returned them to the house, back to the hearth.

Statistics about women professionals, deputies to the National Assembly, scientists in white coats or athletes, cannot hide the other side. The numbers of battered women, threatened by a boyfriend who has sworn to kill them if he sees them with another, those raped inside or outside of marriage or those who have had to exchange sex for promotions at work.

Where are the figures for the number of women murdered or beaten by their partners? Where can harassed wife who fears the next beating take shelter? Why not talk about femicide in the national media if each of us knows at least some case where a macho rage ended a life?

Today is not a day to celebrate, but to worry. A day of demands that have been extinguished by the music of a machismo reluctant for us to have our own voice.

When Life Is In The Hands Of Human Traffickers

Terminal 3 in Jose Marti International Airport in Havana (14ymedio)

Terminal 3 in Jose Marti International Airport in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 4 February 2017 – The wifi signal barely crosses the glass. The wireless network at José Martí International Airport only covers the boarding area. But a woman presses her whole body against the opaque window that separates the travelers’ area to communicate with human traffickers who are holding her daughter in Mexico.

For half any hour the lady reveals her despair. “I don’t have that much money, if I had it I would send it right now,” she prays through IMO. The videochat is cut several times by the poor quality of the connection On the other side, the voice of a man repeats, without backing off, “Three hundred dollars so she can return on Tuesday.”

The woman wipes her tears and unsuccessfully asks for a reduction. Nearby, a maid who cleans the bathroom passes by, idly dragging a cart with cleaning supplies. A customs official walks by, absorbed, and pretends he is not listening to the disturbing request projected from the screen of the phone, “Don’t kill her, don’t kill her.”

For half any hour the lady reveals her despair. “I don’t have that much money, if I had it I would send it right now,” she prays through IMO

The scene happens in a place crowded with people, most of whom are passengers about to board a transatlantic flight, or a new commercial route to the United States, and there are also the family members and friends who have come to see them off. No one shows any sign of hearing the drama developing a few feet away.

A tourist tosses back a beer just as the woman is asking the man for half an hour to “collect the money.” She starts the race against the clock. She calls several contacts from her IMO address book, but the first four, at least, don’t answer. On the fifth try, a shrill voice on the other end says, “Hello.”

“I need a huge favor, you can’t say no,” the lady stammers. But the head that can be seen on the screen shakes from side to side. “Are you crazy? And if after you pay this money they don’t let her go?” asks the voice. The tension makes the hand holding the phone start to tremble and her granddaughter, who has accompanied her, helps her hold on to it.

Several more calls and the money is not forthcoming. Finally a serious voice says yes, he can lend the money if the woman will pay it back “in two installments” to his sister in Havana. The mother agrees, promises she can “repay every cent,” although it sounds like a formula to get out of a bind. The man believes her.

Now they must arrange the details. The victim doesn’t have a bank account but the mother will send information about “how to send the money.” This is how the kidnappers get paid. Only then will they allow her to fly from Cancun to Havana, or at least that is what they promise.

Several more calls and the money is not forthcoming. Finally a serious voice says yes, he can lend the money if the woman will pay in back “in two installments” to his sister in Havana

In the middle of last year the Mexican authorities shut down a network trafficking in undocumented people from Cuba that operated in this tourist area in the Mexican state of Qunitana Roo. The end of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy this January has left many migrants in the hands of the coyotes, who don’t hesitate to turn to extortion to make up for the reduction in the flow of Cubans and, as a result, their loss of earnings.

The wifi signal is lost altogether, but the mother is feeling relieved. “She was in a large group, about 20 people,” she tells her granddaughter. A simple calculation allows us to know how much the captors will earn on “freeing” all those they are holding.

Nothing ends with the delivery of the money. “She is going to want to go again,” concludes the mother, the instant she hangs up from the last videochat. “I can’t stand it here, I can’t” she repeats, while walking toward the escalator filled with smiling and tanned tourists.

Julio And Enrique Iglesias, Two Moments In The Life Of Cuba

Enrique Iglesias in a file image with the Cuban group "Gente de Zona". (Networks)

Enrique Iglesias in a file image with the Cuban group “Gente de Zona”. (Networks)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 11 January 2017 — My mother had a T-shirt with the face of the Spanish singer Julio Iglesias, bought in the informal market in the early eighties. At a meeting of the Union of Young Communists they warned her she could not continue to wear it. The author of La vida sigue igual  (Life Remains the Same) had fallen into the blacklist of censorship and after that the garment languished in a drawer in our house.

This January, almost four decades after that point in my childhood, Julio’s son Enrique Iglesias has come to Cuba to film the music video for the single Súbeme la radio (Beam me up to the radio). A legion of fans is preparing to follow him to the locations where he will work alongside director Alejandro Pérez, musician Descemer Bueno and the Puerto Rican duo Zion and Lenox.

Although the national media have handled Iglesias’ visit with caution, the news spread rapidly among the people. There will undoubtedly be crowds around the places where the singer plans to go, in the style of Beyoncé, Rihanna, Katty Perry, the Kardashians or Madonna, during their stays on the Island.

This Wednesday, many young people sigh to get an autograph of the successful artist and wait to capture on their cellphone a moment in which he approaches, passes, makes himself seen. They are women who are the same age as my mother was in those years when she was prohibited from wearing a T-shirt with the face of the other Iglesias, the forbidden one.

My mother could never go to a Julio Iglesias concert. I do not think she even listens to his songs anymore. This week, other Cuban women like her will have their little historical rematch

At that time, the Cuban authorities offered no explanations about the ban. There were only rumors and half-statements: “He made statements against Cuba,” was heard in some official circles; “Julio sang for Pinochet in Chile,” warned the most furious militants, in reference to the artist’s 1977 trip to that South American country.

The truth is that Iglesias, the father, swelled the list of singers who could not be broadcast on radio and television. Has name was added to others excluded, such as Celia Cruz, Olga Guillot, Nelson Ned and even Jose Feliciano. The latter was only broadcast again in the Cuban media much later on.

A few years before he was banned, the film inspired by the life of Julio Iglesias had been a blockbuster in the island’s movie theaters. Many viewers boasted of having seen the film several times in one day and the choruses of its songs displaced the songs of the New Trova.

Iglesias, as well as appealing to artistic tastes, meant a fresh wind at a time when Cuban music was filled with slogans. He spoke of romance, love, loss and oblivion, in a country where the bolero had been set aside and the only passion allowed was that which could be felt by the cause and the Revolution. He took off among young people, tired of so much focus on trench warfare and feeling the need for more flesh and less Utopia.

My mother was never able go to a Julio Iglesias concert. I do not think she even listens to his songs anymore. This week, other Cuban women like her will have their little historical rematch. Another Iglesias has arrived, his songs are different and the Cuba in which he has landed little resembles that Sovietized island of old. Music just won a match over ideology.

Citizens… Time To Tighten Your Belts

Raúl Castro will preside this January over his first parade, similar to the one shown here, without the shadow of his brother. (EFE / Archive)

Raúl Castro will preside this January over his first parade, similar to the one shown here, without the shadow of his brother. (EFE / Archive)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 29 December 2016 – My generation knows no good news. We grew up with the grey subsidies of the rationed market, we reached puberty amid the rigors of the Special Period, we raised our children in a country with two currencies, and now they warn us that times of economic stress are coming. It appears there is no respite from this long sequence of disasters, collapses and cuts that we have suffered for decades.

This December the National Assembly of People’s Power acknowledged the negative numbers that reality made clear long ago: Cuba is not growing, production is not recovering, and the so-call Raulist reforms have not given citizens a better life. The island is heading toward the abyss of defaults, cuts in vital sectors of the economy, and continued stagnation.

In other places, the rulers would resign before the panorama facing this nation, due – in great measure – to bad management. However, since the general president did not win office by a popular vote, no one can punish him at the ballot boxes in the next elections. To the opposition that has demanded his departure, the iron fist of repression and punishment is always applied.

Instead of a mea culpa, the officials who, on Tuesday, detailed the economic debacle and in somber tones said it will continue in the coming year, have called for greater productivity, a reduction in superfluous expenses, and using the so-called “efficiency reserves,” the final official euphemism used to explain what little remains in the national treasury.

However, a few hours after concluding the parliamentary session in which such bad omens were unveiled, the second of the three planned test runs began – Friday will be the third – for the huge military parade that will be staged in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution on 2 January. A mass gathering, with parades of war tanks and soldiers marching in lockstep, that will cost Cuba hundreds of thousands of pesos, if not millions.

The traffic on the capital’s most important arteries has been paralyzed as of the early morning hours of yesterday, Wednesday. Thousands of state employees didn’t have to complete their workday, and a long line of buses had to travel from various municipalities to the parade grounds. Countless snacks were distributed among the most faithful participants in what is coming to be seen as a “Raulist coronation.” The younger brother has planned his own investiture in power, now on his own, after the death of the former president Fidel Castro.

Why this waste of military resources in the middle of the crisis that the country is going through? Such delusions of grandeur are not consistent with the 0.9% decline in GDP this year. This military parade, with its boasts of strength and a “baring of teeth,” will squander some of the resources needed to repair the deteriorated roads of the island, to give just one example.

In this city that has suffered serious cuts in public lighting, where the last-hour bus terminal have been overwhelmed before the lack of interprovincial transport, and where a pound of pork costs up to two day’s wages, what will take place this coming Monday is far beyond wastefulness, it is a sign of lack of respect.

And so, there are certain politicians. They call – for the umpteenth time – for a tightening of belts and a reduction in the expectations for a better life, while they waste enormous quantities of national resources playing at war.

Maduro, Disciple of a School in Decline

The differences of style between the Fidel Castro and Nicolas Maduro are endless, but something more decisive separates them: time. (Headline: To die for the fatherland is to live.) (Nicolasmaduro.org.ve)

The differences of style between the Fidel Castro and Nicolas Maduro are endless, but something more decisive separates them: time. (Headline: To die for the fatherland is to live.) (Nicolasmaduro.org.ve)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 December 2016 – On television a speech by Nicolas Maduro reverberates. He is talking about international conspiracies, the enemy that wants to end the “Bolivarian” revolution and the “monetary mafias,” a refrain that recalls the deceased Cuban ex-president Fidel Castro, obsessed with blaming others for the disasters caused by his own decisions.

The differences in style between the two leaders are endless, but something more decisive separates them: Time. Decades have passed between Castro’s interminable oratory about Cuba and the Venezuela ruled by the erratic Maduro.

In that time, we Latin Americans have become suspicious of populist discourses and learned to reveal the seams of the redeemers, who hide authoritarians under their robes. Their political speeches do not work like they did before. Like those hackneyed verses that compare the eyes with the stars or the mouth with a rose, and that now only provoke mockery.

In these times, when from the podium the homeland is invoked too often, the spectrum of foreign interference is constantly dangled and results are never offered, this is the time to be on alert. If the leaders call on us to spill every last drop of blood, while they surround themselves with bodyguards or hide at some “zero point,” we have to cease to believe them.

A dose of skepticism immunizes against these pernicious harangues where it is explained that the country’s problems originate outside the national borders. Suspiciously, the whistleblower never takes any responsibility for the disaster and blames the failure on some alleged externalities and media wars.

Maduro was trained in the school of politics as permanent agitation, a school headquartered in Havana. To make matters worse, the Venezuelan leader has been a mediocre student, who interprets the original script with a lot of huffing and puffing, very little charisma and a huge dose of nonsense. His main blunder has been not to realize that the manual designed by Fidel Castro no longer works.

The Venezuelan leader arrived too late to take advantage of the gullibility that for decades made many people of this continent exalt dictators. His speeches resonate with the past, like bad poems, that neither move our souls nor win our affections.

Scholarships, Fears And Attractions

The Scholarships offered by World Learning are targeted to 16-to-18 year olds.

The Scholarships offered by World Learning are targeted to 16-to-18 year olds.

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, 27 September 2016 – The woman approaches without fear or hesitation. “How can my son apply for one of the scholarships mentioned on television?” she asks me abruptly. It takes me a few seconds to realize what she’s talking about, for the images to come to mind of young Cuban students engaged in demonstrations called by the government to reject the programs of the World Learning organization.

She waits a few minutes, standing next to me, eager to have an email address she can write to, a bridge for her child to learn another reality. The slogans against the US NGO launched by officialdom don’t seem to have swayed her. When I ask her if she is aware of the government campaign attacking this program, which is targeted to Cuban youth between 16 and 18, she responds with a very popular phrase: “In this case, it’s all the same to me to me to be the pedestrian, or the driver who runs over him.”

Fear no longer works as it once did. A few decades ago, it was enough for any phenomenon or person to be demonized on television for the circle of silence and fear to close around them. Now, the volume at which the extremists shout is inversely proportional to the interest in the object of their animosity. Without realizing it, the Party propaganda of recent days is helping to advertise the existence of some scholarships that were known to only a tiny part of the island’s population.

The woman is not afraid. She sticks close to me for help in some details that will allow her son “to breathe other air.” Like her, thousands of parents throughout the island watch their children leave for school, where in morning assemblies they shout their rejection of the new “manipulations of imperialism.” At home, the adults move heaven and earth to inscribe their children’s names on the list for the next round of scholarships.

Extremist Today, Democrat Tomorrow

Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. (Facebook)

Journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. (Facebook)

14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 31 August 2016 – In the nineties, this student was one of the most militant in his university classroom, until he managed to get a fellowship in Spain, and today he writes asking me, “Why do you put up with so much and not rebel?” From a rabid militant of the Young Communist Union (UJC) he went on to carve out a history as a clandestine fighter for the democracy he had to escape to because on this island “little could be done.”

The story of this colleague, who overturned his ideology at breakneck speed, came to mind lately on reading the intense controversy over the work sanction against the Radio Holguin journalist Jose Ramirez Pantoja. The young reporter published on his digital diary a statement by Karina Marron, deputy director for the newspaper Granma, where she defined the current economic and social conditions as the basis for “a perfect storm.”

Along with the disciplinary measure, which consisted in permanent separation from his job at the station, Pantoja had to undergo a process of public disqualification that reached its climax in a text signed by Aixa Hevia, vice president of the Cuban Journalists Union (UPEC). The official accused him of wanting to “create a history that allows him to cross to the Miami media.” Perhaps a projection of what she herself would do if the opportunity presented itself.

It would not be the first time that a well-known face from Cuba’s official journalism ended up “crossing the pond” and declaring on the other side that it was because “at that time I believed, but not any more.” The greatest extremists I have met in my life have ended up this way: burying their red or olive-green attire, without intoning the self-criticism that would give some relief to the victims they caused with their outbursts.

Over time, if ever, the instruments of censorship such as Aixa Hevia undergo a process of selective amnesia and forget all the damage they did to those who demonstrated greater honesty and consistency. They leave behind a trail of colleagues they have betrayed and helped to depose, without even sending them a short note of apology or condolences.

It is not Pantoja, in this case, who is carving out a “history,” but the sectarians like the vice president of UPEC, who is capable of lashing out against someone she should defend. As a representative of the journalists’ union, she should protect her colleague, instead of helping to sink him. But she has preferred to act in harmony with the censors rather than in solidarity with a professional who simply defended freedom of the press, information transparency and the right of his readers to be informed about what journalists think.

This is not about speculating whether Pantoja will exercise his right to perform as a journalist in another country because he is prohibited from doing so in his own. It seems more likely that someday it will be Aixa Hevia who will shed her chameleon skin to change her color in turn, to the dictates of the next power for whom she wants to behave as a mere instrument.