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.

The Berlin Wall Never Existed

Germans attack the Berlin Wall, 1989 (CC)

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Generation Y, Havana, 9 November 2019 — For the official Cuban press the Berlin Wall has not fallen, it still stands or it never existed. A brief search on the digital sites and the printed versions of the country’s main newspaper is enough confirm that mentions of this scar which, for years, divided Germany, Europe and the world, barely appear because it is still a topic that is denied and hidden by the ideologues of the “journalism” that is cooked up in the newsrooms controlled by the Communist Party.

This Saturday, the 9th of November, marks 30 years since Berliners began to tear down that absurd barrier and that the Socialist camp in eastern Europe began to fall apart like a house of cards. It is also an anniversary of that 1989 in Cuba, when a generation looked with hope on the changes that shook our “fellow travelers” and the Plaza of the Revolution tightened the screws of its political control to avoid reformists or ‘perestroikans‘ from gaining ground.

This November, as they did three decades ago, Cuban officials again hide from us the fall of the Berlin Wall… but we have already learned of, already seen, the images of those hammers and chisels tearing down that wall. On our retina, despite the censorship, there is a young man, a child, a family, a village… that knocks down that strict limit once imposed on them.