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February 05 2014

L'affiche bouge

Cette histoire de l'affiche cubaine (1) épouse l'histoire politique de l'île sur plus d'un siècle : des influences — graphiques — européennes puis nord-américaines à l'explosion de la première décennie du régime castriste, jusqu'aux années suivantes, qui voient un essoufflement de l'inventivité. Une usure (...) / Amérique latine, Art, Communisme, Cuba, Socialisme - 2014/02

February 03 2014

Human Rights Video: 2013 Year in Review

A video by WITNESS on the Human Rights Channel of YouTube wrapped up some of the most significant protests and human rights abuses of 2013. Dozens of clips shot by citizens worldwide are edited together to show efforts to withstand injustice and oppression, from Sudan to Saudi Arabia, Cambodia to Brazil.

A post on the WITNESS blog by Madeleine Bair from December 2013, celebrates the power of citizen activism using new technologies including video, while readers are reminded that the difficulty of verification and establishing authenticity remains a big obstacle.

“Citizen footage can and is throwing a spotlight on otherwise inaccessible places such as prisons, war zones, and homes,” says Bair. “But given the uncertainties inherent in such footage, reporters and investigators must use it with caution.”

Reposted byiranelection iranelection

January 29 2014

Coursera Online Courses Blocked in Syria, Iran and Cuba by US Sanctions

Hit by US Sanctions, online learning platform Coursera is no longer available for students from Syria, Iran and Cuba. Those effected were surprised to have the following message on their screen as they tried to access their courses:

“Our system indicates that you are trying to access the Coursera site from an IP address associated with a country currently subjected to US economic and trade sanctions. In order for Coursera to comply with US export controls, we cannot allow you to access to the site.”

Iranian student Navid Soltani immediately expressed his outrage on Coursera's Facebook page:

2014-01-29 01_41_59-Navid Soltani - Photos of Coursera

Blogger Leila Nachawati shared his sentiments:

Syrian blogger and developer Anas Maarawi criticized the US sanctions on his blog [ar]:

وبين مطرقة النظام السوري الذي يحجب مئات مواقع الإنترنت، وسندان “العقوبات الأمريكية” يزداد الخناق على الشباب السوري الراغب بالتعلّم، أو بالأحرى من تبقى من الشباب السوري القادر على الوصول إلى ما تبقى من الإنترنت في سوريا.

“Between the censorship imposed by the regime, which includes blocking hundreds of internet sites, and the effect of US sanctions, it has become nearly impossible for the remaining youth in the country to have access to online learning.”

Editor-in-chief at Wamda Nina Curley was more pragmatic in her approach and asked if it was inevitable:

However, one of Coursera's professors, Rolf Strom Olsen, couldn't understand why non-Americans are affected as well:

January 27 2014

Nine Questions for Arien Chang Castán, a Photographer from Havana

Arien Chang_Ciudad

I was looking for someone. After my first foray into illustrated interviews, I wanted more. So, my editor Solana Larsen suggested a friend, Arien Chang Castán, a photographer from Havana, Cuba. As soon as I saw his beautiful website filled with old people, seas, solitudes, cities, colours, darknesses, I wrote to him.

The questions in this interview are based entirely on what I observed of his photos and what I read about him on his website. The questions, and answers, were given in an email exchange that took several weeks. I would need more time and closeness to be able to describe and tell the story of Arien Chang, but in the absence of this, below, a photographer in/from Havana.

Global Voices (GV): Tell me the story of your last name. 

Arien Chang (AC): My grandfather came to Cuba as an illegal immigrant in 1927. He moved to Old Havana, very close to where I have lived my whole life. He started out in the business of casinos, gaming houses, bars, he even joined a political party that brought together many Chinese immigrants that, like him, had come to Cuba with the hope of new opportunities. Some had even used Cuba as a bridge to cross to the United States (a bridge that we still use…) Of course, working and living in Old Havana, he fell in love with a mulata, who ended up being my grandmother; hence the mix of races and the last name.

Chang is one of the most common family names in China. I had the opportunity to verify this first hand in February, thanks to “Red Gate,” a well-known institution that offers grants to artists from all over the world. For two months I was working on my project, which involved trying to find my roots, the place where my grandfather was born and raised – not because I feel rootless or that I need to find an identity in China, but rather because of the impatience that pursues us and makes us believe that we exist, simply, because we know where we come from.

As a photographer I’m always looking – in my house, in my neighbourhood, in my country – for a new image, a new concept, something that indicates why we exist, where we are going. Photography is my medium and my last name might seem exotic on this island, but that's what is magnificent and photogenic about Cuba: the races, the ages, the history of a whole people are mixed together in its streets. And what’s more, in Cuba we use two family names, the father’s and then the mother’s. My second family name is Castán, which comes from Arabic, and that’s a whole other story of roots and immigrants.
 

Arien Chang_Bailarina

GV: Photographer, why? 

AC: I don’t think there is a ‘why', but I can tell you a bit about how I started, how my life, or rather, how photography changed my life or how my life became photography.

It all started during the hot summer of 2003 (not as hot as it is now), in the América Theatre, a spectacular construction representative of Art Deco, in Galiano Avenue in the centre of Old Havana. They were offering a photography course, along with other unrelated courses like massage and hairdressing, but I just wanted to learn how to use a camera (in those days I didn’t even think about light). It was a very basic course, but in it I finally learned how to use the Russian camera that my father had brought from the Soviet Union, it was a Zenit that had been in a drawer in my house since I was little. I used to play with it and move its controls, it all seemed very fun, of course back then I never imagined that photography would become my life, but I already knew that I liked having a camera around and pushing the shutter.

When I finished the course in the América Theatre, I discovered that I did indeed know how to work the controls but I didn’t know a thing about taking photos. Since I’m a bit stubborn and when I get my mind set on an idea I have to do it, I discovered that the best school for me was on the streets of Havana. Documentary photography is what I wanted to do, what I have done and will continue to do; I’m a photography addict and it’s too late to fix that, now all I can do is surrender myself to this addiction and feed it each day with more work. Photography exists and people can see it, but it must be discovered.
 

GV: Cuba has been the object of countless photographers. So many that it has developed an image difficult to reinvent. How do you photograph Cuba from the inside?

AC: Photographing Havana from the inside is very easy… you just have to have a Libreta de Abastecimiento (ration booklet) and permanent residence, an ID card or anything that allows you to live here for a while.

The life of a Cuban is not reduced to going to work in the morning and coming home in the evening, people in this country go through an odyssey every day. They are constantly tried by the dynamic of life that we have in this country, to put a name to it. The (non-)transport, the (non-)money, and all the other “nons” that each Cuban faces every day leave marks on their faces, in their clothes, in their spirit, sometimes of desperation, sometimes of fun, but they always reflect a story that if you don’t live it yourself or you don’t know how to read it, you can’t take the photo. We can add to this the incredible architecture, that as we all know is frozen in time and sometimes makes us believe we are in the 40’s. It is this apparent disguise that makes Havana easy and not-so-easy to photograph. This damned Havana is a double-edged sword, which I thank for who I am and what I do.

To create an image you must live it, you must suffer it, and that is why you can sometimes find photos of Cuba that are very well composed, with an impeccable use of colour and light, but at the end of the day they are empty, they are nice little postcards, because the photographer cannot go beyond the impression that Havana makes at first contact.

You have to touch Havana every day, handle it, enjoy it, you have to understand it.

Arien Chang_Viejo

GV: Why take portraits of old people?

AC: For their experience, their tranquility and their wrinkles.

Old people don’t mince their words, they have lived enough to have nothing to lose. In my photos you can see sweet expressions and also looks of hate-disgust at having the lens pointed directly at them. Elderly people, like children, say what they think, they act and get by without fear of the future, because the future for them is already the past.

The series “Longevity”, which I started to develop a few years ago, consists of taking photos of people over 100 years old. A century is a lot of history, even for a country, someone over 100 years old sometimes has less to say with words than with their feelings, expressions.

Old age is intriguing, I don’t expect to live long enough to take my own self portrait and add it to the series; but to photograph someone over a century old is always impressive for me.

Arien Chang_Malecón

GV: Tell me about the sea.

AC: It's impossible to ignore the sea in photography, especially if you live your whole life on an island. Since I was a kid I would escape from school with my friends to go and swim at the Malecón (waterfront esplanade) and like me, generations and generations of Cubans have grown up using this coast-beach, full of reefs, dog-tooth (sharp rocks), as we call it here. Getting to the Malecón, taking off your school uniform and throwing yourself from the highest, most dangerous, deepest part, is less an action than a sense of belonging, a power relationship, you use the sea, sometimes it uses you. Thousands of accidents have happened on Havana’s Malecón, but even so, no-one is afraid of it. The Malecón, or “el Bleco” as we neighbourhood locals affectionately call it, is there and always will be, sometimes calm and sometimes agitated, like the idiosyncrasies of Cubans themselves. It has learned to live with us and us with it, though I hope that the prohibition on swimming at the Malecón doesn’t last.

I miss the sea, when I don’t see it for a few days I miss it, my whole life it has been near me, near my city. The Malecón series, the one that carries the name “el Bleco” in honour of my childhood, is my reconciliation with this city, with this country. It is a debt that I owe it for being Cuban, for being from Havana, for living in it for part of my childhood, my adolescence, for being part of my life.

GV: Black and white or colour? 

AC: I don’t think I could choose one, that would be like choosing between two pretty girls, the difference is that I don’t have to choose just one, I can stay with both and be happy.

When I started out in photography my work was all in black and white, analogue and processed in a “laboratory”, that is, the room where I was born on the corner of Monte and Ángeles streets, without any way to close it off, often without water; but with a good enlarger, from the beginning of the 20th century, which allowed me to do my own prints, control my own image from another perspective. There I learned more than anywhere else about lights, shadows, composition and I really enjoyed doing the whole process to my photos.

I spent seven years doing just black and white, even when I made that much-feared change to digital, I still didn’t use colour. It’s only in the last few years that my photos have started having “some” colour. I have always believed that colour is a very difficult technique in documentary photography, the dramatic quality of a black and white photo is always more attractive; but the use of colour when it is necessary, when the image practically cries out for it, has an undeniable strength. But, really, when you see photography you can tell when it is in colour and when it is in black and white. It’s only now that I am trying to understand the language of colour, translate it, I am searching for a personal style; always basing myself on those years that I worked only in black and white, but that helped me begin to understand colour in a different way, I’m trying to reinvent it in these colourful streets of Havana.

I can say that recently I have developed a certain fetish for colour, I really like it a lot and I don’t know… the black and white phase hasn’t ended but I think that in the future colour will predominate my work, that’s my intention.

Arien Chang_Ventana

GV: A bleeding window?

AC: That bleeding window only has one culprit: The Havana Biennial. This kind of big party was happening at that moment, with artists on the streets of Havana, where they intervene in spaces with different art forms, I simply passed by that street, that house. The bleeding window, a coincidence, I saw the image, the dress, the sandals, the contrast of colour with the window, the yellow wall, so I took the photo.

If the window had been another colour or hadn’t been bleeding, or the woman hadn’t been there, maybe I wouldn't have taken a photo or maybe I would have, but of course, it would be a completely different one. I didn’t seek it out, the window came to me and that is what’s incredible about documentary photography, the spontaneity of the moment.

Arien Chang_BN

GV: Solitude permeates your photography. 

AC: That's an interesting question because no-one has ever spoken to me that way about my photography. I just do photography and that's what I see, maybe it’s the solitude and abandonment of this city that has so many needs, so much history, so many bad memories, and good memories too, but those are secondary.

Solitude, you say, permeates my photography, but being a documentary photographer is a kind of solitude too, it’s a way of being alone, even when you are surrounded by thousands of people, only you know what you capture with your camera that only you can control. What can I say, there are people who are solitary, sad, bitter, just as there are people who are happy, fun, sociable; I simply try to capture their feelings, the stories that they drag around often without realizing that in the way they walk, talk, move around the world, they carry their own load, their own particular solitude.

GV: What is your relationship with the city, Havana?

AC: I really feel as if I were wearing pijamas on the streets of this Havana that has watched me grow and that I am constantly looking at and looking at again and rethinking. I get home, after a whole day of moving around out there, and then, instead of resting, I take my work home because at the end of the day that’s what we photographers are, slaves to our own way of life. I download the photos, I edit, I edit again, I look at them, look at them again, you never know what surprises Havana has in store for you. Sometimes I feel like I violate her, that I am taking advantage of her, that I use her for my own good, but in the end I always thank her with my photos, or at least I try to.

Rediscovering Havana is my main project, my constant aspiration, because sometimes just going out onto her streets is not enough, you have to go into her houses, go up to her roof terraces, talk with her domino players, with the ones who have fighting cocks, with the woman who sells on the corner, and the child who plays ball. In short, my relationship with Havana is very simple: to wake up every day and go out…

January 07 2014

Buena Vista (Anti)social Clubbb !

Trempé, dégoulinant, suffocant, un clandestin se hisse à bord d'un voilier dans une baie de Miami. Il le croit à quai. C'est la seule chose qu'un Cubain ait à faire pour obtenir l'asile : poser le pied sur le sol américain. Mais il sera réexpédié à Cuba s'il est arrêté sur ou dans l'eau. Or là, il y a (...) / États-Unis, États-Unis (affaires intérieures), Art, Criminalité, Culture, Finance, Immigrés, Jeunes, Littérature, Ville, Cuba, Fiction, Drogue - 2014/01

December 21 2013

Tour Builder, another Google service not allowed to Cuba

Tour Builder no está disponible para Cuba

Screenshot of what happens when trying to use Tour Builder within Cuba.

Tour Builder, a new service from Google still in its beta phase, is not available for cuban users due to the restrictions of the economic embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba. Currently, Google Earth, another one of Google's services unavailable to Cuba, allows users to virtually travel to anywhere on earth. Tour Builder “could change the way users tell stories about their own real-life travels,” according to an article published on Mashable.

This tool provoked much interest that soon spread among cuban users, considering that they would be able to tell their stories through pictures, videos, texts, and Google Earth. Previously, Google had blocked access to Google Earth, Google Destktop Search, Google Toolbar, Google Analytics and Google Code Search. 

An article published in Cubadebate [es] in 2012 confirms that the new error screen that impedes the use of Google Analytics within Cuba “is based on rules previously defined with the island.” On that occasion, Google maintained that cuban users “should not have used the online traffic monitoring service because they were in violation of the provisions of the United States’ commercial embargo.”

Google no ha podido explicar por qué se incluyó en los servicios censurados para Cuba a Google Analytics, un producto gratuito -como el buscador y el correo electrónico de esa compañía-, que funciona desde Internet, sin tener que ser descargado en la computadora del usuario, por lo que en teoría no hay intercambio o entrega de productos, añadió Cubadebate.

Google hasn't been able to explain why it included among the services banned to Cuba Google Analytics, a free product -like its search engine and its email service-, that is web-based and doesn't require downloading by the user, which, in theory, means that no economic exchange or delivery of products has taken place, added Cubadebate.

In November of this year, Google's Executive Chairman, Eric Schmidt, said in an interview to The Wall Street Journal that Cuba was a top priority on his international travel agenda. Currently, Google only permits access to its search engine, chat, email, and other communication services that are authorized in section 515.578 of the regulations of the United States’ embargo on Cuba.

December 18 2013

Dozens Detained on Human Rights Day in Cuba

“We salute the party congress.” A 2011 pro-government rally in Havana. Photo by Reno Massola, labeled for reuse.

On Human Rights Day this year, somewhere between a few dozen and a few hundred people — including punk rockers, intellectuals, dissidents, and a pair of Argentine tourists – were detained in Cuba.

Several were taken into police custody outside the home of Antonio Rodiles, the embattled organizer of Estado de SATS, an independent intellectual forum with a strong web presence. Rodiles held a small, two-day human rights conference at his home in Havana that became a hub of activist and police activity on December 10 and 11.

Twitter users reported that throughout Havana opposition activists trying to make their way to Human Rights Day events were stopped and detained by state security officials. Conflicting accounts have made it difficult to confirm precisely how many people were detained. According to friends of Rodiles, state security officers surrounded his home the night before the event began, stopping participants en route to the house.

The next morning, organizers were faced with a new obstacle: teenagers. A group of secondary school students arrived outside Rodiles’ home and remained there throughout the day, playing games, singing songs, and reciting political slogans.

Artist and opposition blogger Lia Villares described an absurd scene of bloggers, activists, friends and family gathered inside Rodiles’ home and attempting to focus on their conversations, while students loudly sang and chanted patriotic slogans outside. Villares suspected the students were brought to the site by State Security, in a deliberate attempt to disrupt the event. She tweeted:

They’ve brought a group of secondary school students in front of the house, typical manipulation, the S.E. [state security] doesn’t show its face, it uses minors instead

Some hours later, she continued:

#DDHHCuba2013 the high school students recite poetry and do skits about children’s rights, shouting “fidel” they sing a chorus

Upon exiting the house, several participants were arrested, including Rodiles. Boris Larramendi, a Cuban musician based in Spain who performed at the event, told Diario de Cuba:

Llevaban rato allá afuera, pensábamos que no iban a hacer nada (las autoridades) delante de todos esos niños, pero de pronto miro y veo que hay una molotera, que les están dando golpes y que los están arrastrando.

They stayed outside for a little while and we thought they weren’t going to do anything in front of all those kids, but then I look and I see there is a whole mess of people, that they’re hitting and dragging people away.

Among others arrested were bloggers Calixto Martinez and Walfrido López and filmmaker Kizzy Macias. Multiple sources reported on the arrest of political punk rock musician Gorki Aguila, who has been detained and imprisoned several times in recent years. Other arrests took place around the city, but it has been difficult to track and verify reports. The Miami Herald estimated that over 150 arrests took place in total, and reported on December 12 that police had freed all of those taken into custody on December 10 and 11.

Arrests were not limited to Cubans — two Argentine tourists, both active PRO (right wing) party supporters who had heard about the event online, were arrested shortly after arriving. A group of college students from the US, traveling the world with the academic tourism program Semester at Sea, somehow found their way to the event but were spared detention.

Yohandry Fontana, a mysterious online figure regarded by many as the digital voice of state security, tweeted that Rodiles was arrested for “attacking children” on the street.

I confirm that Antonio Rodiles was detained for attacking and insulting children who were playing in the street, as part of their play time.

Although friends of Rodiles documented the event on camera, the resulting video is somewhat overproduced, making it difficult to determine the veracity of the footage.

Iroel Sanchez, an outspoken pro-government blogger, wrote a long post decrying activists and foreign media who portrayed the circus outside Rodiles’ home as an injustice. He described the organizers of the forum as “those who ask for a stronger blockade, who depict themselves as terrorists and receive technology and money to deliver falsehoods about Cuba.” 

In a similar vein, Yohandry Fontana later tweeted:

Antonio Rodiles es un pagado por la Fundación Cubano Americana (terroristas) para provocar violencia en #Cuba #DDHHCuba

— Yohandry Fontana (@Yohandry8787) December 11, 2013

Antonio Rodiles is paid by the Cuban National Foundation (terrorists) to provoke violence in #Cuba #DDHHCuba

Rodiles has been a target of state security for some time and has been arrested in the past. There is some evidence of Rodiles communicating and sharing information with US government agencies that sponsor “democracy development” programs in Cuba, a controversial activity that is forbidden by the Cuban government. Fontana's allegation that he is associated with the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation, a longtime advisor and supporter of conservative federal lawmakers in South Florida, is not a baseless claim. But the character of Rodiles’ advocacy efforts and the tone of the intellectual debates he convenes are not entirely consistent with those of Miami's old-guard exile community. Rodiles’ messages are often rooted in international human rights doctrine – freedom of expression and access to information are hallmarks of his discursive style.

While many of the island's most prominent human rights activists are now known to receive support from the US government, there are those who genuinely want change but do not want to associate with foreign interests. It is this small minority that may prove most interesting in Cuba's near political future.

Cuba: Madiba Was Great, But Not Perfect

Cuban blog Without Evasion says the best way in which she can pay tribute to Nelson Mandela is by “imitating him in forgiveness and reconciliation”:

I forgive you…for the friendship with…the vilest dictator my people has ever had…for placing your hand –redemptive for your people- on the bloodied shoulders of the one who excludes and reviles mine.

Dozens Detained on Human Rights Day in Cuba

“We salute the party congress.” A 2011 pro-government rally in Havana. Photo by Reno Massola, labeled for reuse.

On Human Rights Day this year, somewhere between a few dozen and a few hundred people — including punk rockers, intellectuals, dissidents, and a pair of Argentine tourists – were detained in Cuba.

Several were taken into police custody outside the home of Antonio Rodiles, the embattled organizer of Estado de SATS, an independent intellectual forum with a strong web presence. Rodiles held a small, two-day human rights conference at his home in Havana that became a hub of activist and police activity on December 10 and 11.

Twitter users reported that throughout Havana opposition activists trying to make their way to Human Rights Day events were stopped and detained by state security officials. Conflicting accounts have made it difficult to confirm precisely how many people were detained. According to friends of Rodiles, state security officers surrounded his home the night before the event began, stopping participants en route to the house.

The next morning, organizers were faced with a new obstacle: teenagers. A group of secondary school students arrived outside Rodiles’ home and remained there throughout the day, playing games, singing songs, and reciting political slogans.

Artist and opposition blogger Lia Villares described an absurd scene of bloggers, activists, friends and family gathered inside Rodiles’ home and attempting to focus on their conversations, while students loudly sang and chanted patriotic slogans outside. Villares suspected the students were brought to the site by State Security, in a deliberate attempt to disrupt the event. She tweeted:

They’ve brought a group of secondary school students in front of the house, typical manipulation, the S.E. [state security] doesn’t show its face, it uses minors instead

Some hours later, she continued:

#DDHHCuba2013 the high school students recite poetry and do skits about children’s rights, shouting “fidel” they sing a chorus

Upon exiting the house, several participants were arrested, including Rodiles. Boris Larramendi, a Cuban musician based in Spain who performed at the event, told Diario de Cuba:

Llevaban rato allá afuera, pensábamos que no iban a hacer nada (las autoridades) delante de todos esos niños, pero de pronto miro y veo que hay una molotera, que les están dando golpes y que los están arrastrando.

They stayed outside for a little while and we thought they weren’t going to do anything in front of all those kids, but then I look and I see there is a whole mess of people, that they’re hitting and dragging people away.

Among others arrested were bloggers Calixto Martinez and Walfrido López and filmmaker Kizzy Macias. Multiple sources reported on the arrest of political punk rock musician Gorki Aguila, who has been detained and imprisoned several times in recent years. Other arrests took place around the city, but it has been difficult to track and verify reports. The Miami Herald estimated that over 150 arrests took place in total, and reported on December 12 that police had freed all of those taken into custody on December 10 and 11.

Arrests were not limited to Cubans — two Argentine tourists, both active PRO (right wing) party supporters who had heard about the event online, were arrested shortly after arriving. A group of college students from the US, traveling the world with the academic tourism program Semester at Sea, somehow found their way to the event but were spared detention.

Yohandry Fontana, a mysterious online figure regarded by many as the digital voice of state security, tweeted that Rodiles was arrested for “attacking children” on the street.

I confirm that Antonio Rodiles was detained for attacking and insulting children who were playing in the street, as part of their play time.

Although friends of Rodiles documented the event on camera, the resulting video is somewhat overproduced, making it difficult to determine the veracity of the footage.

Iroel Sanchez, an outspoken pro-government blogger, wrote a long post decrying activists and foreign media who portrayed the circus outside Rodiles’ home as an injustice. He described the organizers of the forum as “those who ask for a stronger blockade, who depict themselves as terrorists and receive technology and money to deliver falsehoods about Cuba.” 

In a similar vein, Yohandry Fontana later tweeted:

Antonio Rodiles es un pagado por la Fundación Cubano Americana (terroristas) para provocar violencia en #Cuba #DDHHCuba

— Yohandry Fontana (@Yohandry8787) December 11, 2013

Antonio Rodiles is paid by the Cuban National Foundation (terrorists) to provoke violence in #Cuba #DDHHCuba

Rodiles has been a target of state security for some time and has been arrested in the past. There is some evidence of Rodiles communicating and sharing information with US government agencies that sponsor “democracy development” programs in Cuba, a controversial activity that is forbidden by the Cuban government. Fontana's allegation that he is associated with the Miami-based Cuban American National Foundation, a longtime advisor and supporter of conservative federal lawmakers in South Florida, is not a baseless claim. But the character of Rodiles’ advocacy efforts and the tone of the intellectual debates he convenes are not entirely consistent with those of Miami's old-guard exile community. Rodiles’ messages are often rooted in international human rights doctrine – freedom of expression and access to information are hallmarks of his discursive style.

While many of the island's most prominent human rights activists are now known to receive support from the US government, there are those who genuinely want change but do not want to associate with foreign interests. It is this small minority that may prove most interesting in Cuba's near political future.

Cubans’ Daily Concerns Trump Controversial Handshake

While the Obama-Raúl thing sent a large part of the exiled Cuban-American community…into an uproar, in Havana [it] was little more than just another bit of news.

Iván García offers insight as to why most Cubans overlooked the exchange.

December 12 2013

Barack Obama and Raúl Castro's Handshake at Mandela's Memorial Goes Viral

Captura de pantalla de la transmisión de Telesur

Screenshot of the meeting between Castro and Obama broadcast by the pan-Latin American television network Telesur.

*All links lead to Spanish language web pages unless otherwise stated.

The Cuban president, Raúl Castro, and his American counterpart, Barack Obama, were pictured shaking hands at the memorial event for Nelson Mandela. The image immediately went viral. 

According to BBC Mundo, “this is the first time that such a gesture has happened in public between the leaders of these two countries that have been bitter enemies for over 50 years.” Another piece by BBC English is available here.

BBC Mundo described how, during the ceremony at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg in commemoration of the anti-apartheid leader, “Obama shook a smiling Castro’s hand as he walked towards the podium to give his speech in honour of Madiba.”

Reactions to the handshake did not take long to appear on social media. On Facebook, the journalist and blogger, Jorge Legañoa, shared a picture of the handshake while saying:

En Twitter revienta esta foto. Nuestro presidente Raúl Castro y Barack Obama se saludan en el ‪#‎MandelaMemorial.‬ La pregunta del millón: ¿qué se habrán dicho? ¿solo un saludo, o algo más?

This photo has gone viral on Twitter. Barack Obama and our president Raúl Castro greeting each other at the #MandelaMemorial. The million dollar question is this: What could they have been saying? Just a greeting…or something more?

On the Facebook page of the Caracas based, pan-Latin American television network Telesur, users also made their opinions known:

Un saludo no me sorprende, lo que realmente me sorprendería es que Obama decidiera suprimir el bloqueo a Cuba, consideró Maai Ortiz.

“Such a gesture doesn’t surprise me, what would really surprise me is if Obama decided to end the embargo against Cuba”, was the opinion of Maai Ortiz.

Aún después de muerto Mandela sigue marcando caminos de entendimiento y paz…, dijo Laura Isabel Alemán.

“Even in death Mandela continues to show the way to peace and understanding…”, said Laura Isabel Alemán.

Sin duda es histórico! Y para honrar a Mandela, Obama debería levantar el bloqueo, cree Alejandra Dixon.

“Without doubt this is historic! And to honour Mandela, Obama should lift the embargo”, added Alejandra Dixon.

The event was reported by the Huffington Post (EN), AP, Telesur and the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, including numerous other international news media.

In November, the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, stated that common interests existed between his country and Cuba which could lead to future collaboration between the two nations.

The Caribbean Ponders the Legacy of Nelson Mandela

With nearly a week gone since the announcement of Nelson Mandela's death, Caribbean bloggers have had time to process their thoughts on his life and his legacy.

St. Lucia-based Caribbean Book Blog noted that the island joined the international community “in celebrating the life of one of the world’s most beloved and revered leaders”:

Among the many virtues for which Nelson Mandela will be remembered is the way in which he was able to transcend politics, race and class, and recast himself in the role of a sagacious elder and father figure to all and sundry, even other political leaders and heads of state…

Nelson Mandela, photo by Festival Karsh Ottawa

Nelson Mandela, photo by Festival Karsh Ottawa

The post recalled Mandela's 1998 visit to St. Lucia, to attend the 19th Meeting of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community:

Mandela’s humility, grace and charisma were evident…During the visit [he] attended a youth rally hosted in his honour. In his typically warm, affectionate style he charmed the youths and embraced them as they came up to greet him. Dispensing with protocol, he laughed and danced with them. He then offered them some inspiring words of wisdom and encouraged them to use education as a tool to become leaders. He urged them not to be discouraged by poverty.

The blog also reiterated Mandela's agreement with the notion that CARICOM has been at the forefront of the apartheid struggle; it ended by quoting Mandela's parting words to the St. Lucian people:

‘St Lucia is one of the most beautiful places I’ve visited. Its beauty is breathtaking. I know that one day I will die for a very, very long time but visiting St Lucia seems to guarantee to me that it will take some time before death prevails over me.’
He uttered those words in all seriousness. Fifteen years later they seem to have been quite prescient.

Jamaican diaspora blogger Can a Jamaican Take Cali? said that Mandela's example helped to shape his own life:

I remember vividly walking around my house singing ‘Free them President Botha’ the song that as a kid I was taught as part of the ‘struggle against apartheid'. Quick history Botha was the head of South Africa in the 80s and his government kept up a brutal crack down on Mandela, his ANC brethren and blacks in general. It has always bothered me that Botha was able to live out his life without ever going to prison – I really believe he should have died in prison, just as many of us feared Mandela would. To my knowledge Botha never apologized for apartheid, I find that hard to stomach but if Mandela could forgive him…maybe I should.

He also hoped that more young people would learn about Mandela's struggle:

Nelson Mandela always struck me as a man of poise, graciousness and strength of character, I sadly do not think enough of today's youths know who he is and honor and respect him enough. Hopefully his death, like much of his early life will renew in young black youth a sense of purpose a sense of internal pride and maybe just maybe a moment of deep reflection.

Mandela statue outside Drakenstein prison, in silhouette; photo by HelenSTB

Mandela statue outside Drakenstein prison, in silhouette; photo by HelenSTB

The synchronicity of honouring Mandela on the occasion of World Human Rights Day was not lost on Jamaican litblogger Geoffrey Philp, while Breezeblog, from Bermuda, commended Mandela for leading by example:

If you or I were imprisoned unjustly for 27 years, much of it in solitary confinement, as Nelson Mandela was, we’d probably come out bitter and hellbent on exacting revenge on those responsible.

In the UK in the late 1970s, when I was in my teens and early 20s, many of my generation were seething at that injustice and the evils of the South African government’s apartheid system. Indeed, at a time when the right-wing National Front was on the rise, we were pretty worked up about racism in general. If we weren’t taking part in Free Mandela marches or concerts, then it was an Anti-Racism or Anti-Nazi League rally. We vilified those businesses or sportsmen who broke government sanctions and went to South Africa.

But if we believed that Nelson Mandela would one day be released, I don’t think any of us would have predicted that he would become the country’s first black President and that instead of spearheading the ANC in bloody retribution against their oppressors, he would lead an astonishing and courageous reconciliation that helped heal a bitterly divided nation and avoid almost certain civil war.

Nelson Mandela was already a hero of mine before he left prison. His dignity and humility after his release made him, in my eyes and those of millions of others, the greatest human being of our lifetime whose ideals and integrity put every other statesman in the world to shame.

Interestingly, the post also explored other opinions:

There were many other South Africans who viewed Madiba differently, as I found out when I finally got to visit the country in 2010 for the World Cup…As far as Frankie, the tough white lady who ran the guest house just outside Johannesburg where we stayed, was concerned, Mandela was still
‘a bloody terrorist'. Having grown up in a racist family and been violently assaulted in her own home by black criminals, Frankie feared and distrusted all blacks, viewed the ANC government as corrupt crooks and believed South Africa was going to hell in a hand basket.

The blogger, Chris Gibbons, was careful to note that:

Mandela’s Rainbow Nation is an incredibly complex country where racial and tribal divisions will take generations to heal, if at all, and the gap between the manicured wealthy suburbs and the grinding poverty of the townships remains jaw-droppingly vast.

But what Mandela did was to start South Africa on that journey, to offer hope where none existed and show that by working together and putting aside their differences, people can achieve truly remarkable things.

Another Bermudian blogger, Catch a Fire, felt that:

The best way to honour Mandela – the myth if not the man – is to renew the commitment to building a better world and launching a second liberation struggle.

This next liberation struggle is as relevant to Bermuda, the Caribbean and everywhere as it is in South Africa.

This second liberation struggle must overcome the covert and structural racism which still haunts our lands and even at a global level; it must also be a struggle against the colonialism of the mind, of colonial mentalities.

Even more, this second liberation struggle must be against a socio-economic system – capitalism – that threatens to consign whole generations and populations to the dust-heap, that thrives on war and that poisons our very planet, all in the pursuit of profit and not in the pursuit of realising our human potential.

Nelson Mandela sculpture by Marco Cianfanelli; photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Nelson Mandela sculpture by Marco Cianfanelli; photo by Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P.

Ivan Garcia offered a perspective from Cuba:

Madiba leaves as a legacy a master class of how to do politics in difficult times.

The current statesmen should take note. Mandela was not perfect. He was labeled a communist and disruptive, and until 2008 the FBI had him on their list of ‘terrorists.’ But he knew how to maneuver in the turbulent waters of a nation where state racism prevailed, in the intrigues of his party, the African National Congress, and to achieve the miracle of national unity in South Africa.

The colossal undertaking began in jail. From a cell in Robben Prison, where for 27 years he was behind bars, until 1994 when Madiba became president, he understood that in conditions of political fragility, his mission was to make sure that everyone saw themselves represented in the first democratic government of their country.

He was a president for all South Africans.

In his five years in office, Mandela sat chair of his magnificent policy. His ethics, honesty, and transparency were his hallmark. He was a partner of one and all, without ever compromising his political perspective. A man of diplomacy and respect for others.

His great friend in the Americas, Fidel Castro, retired from power, could also learn some lessons in transparency from Mandela’s conduct.

The post then compared the two leaders:

No one can doubt the sincere friendship that joined Castro with Madiba. But the two statesmen are nothing alike in their methods of achieving national harmony. If Fidel Castro had been like Nelson Mandela, he long ago would have been sitting at the table to negotiate with his political opponents.

First he would have visited with the dissidents. Then with the White House. If Mandela had been Castro, the embargo would be ancient history. That ability of Mandela’s — to adapt to changing times and live with democratic rules — is something the former Cuban president does not have.

In Cuba we would have needed a Nelson Mandela.

Diaspora blog Capitol Hill Cubans agreed that despite the friendship between the two, “Fidel Castro is the anti-thesis of everything that Mandela represents”:

Castro himself heads an undemocratic, apartheid regime.

However, to Castro's chagrin, upon being democratically-elected as President of South Africa, Mandela rejected everything Castro stood for.

Mandela could have taken the path of Castro or Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. He could have become ruler-for-life, confiscated the nation's vast wealth and made it his personal fiefdom.

Yet, Mandela chose the path of human rights, free markets and representative democracy. Moreover, he refused to serve more than one-term.

There is no greater test of a man than when he is given power.

Haitian bloggers were full of praise for Mandela. Le Coin de Pierre [Fr] compared him to Toussaint Louverture:

Ils ont eu le même idéal de liberté et d'émancipation de l'homme noir.

They had the same ideal of freedom and emancipation of the black man.

HaitiRozo called Mandela the leader that “brought the world together” and The Haitian Blogger posted a poem that urged readers to remember Mandela as he was, because the struggle still continues.

Trinidadian diaspora blogger Afrobella wrote a hopeful post, structured around some of Mandela's most famous quotations, which suggested ways in which all of us can live a life more like Nelson Mandela's:

We have lost one of the world’s greatest. We have lost a man who changed the world. We have lost one of the most iconic human beings, a living symbol of freedom and hope and the power of change. The weight of that loss cannot be understated.

He was a troublemaker for peace. He achieved so much and inspired so many. Now that he has passed, we can only pray that he rests in peace and power, and that his life’s legacy will continue to be one of inspiration, greatness and equality for all.

In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s death, I can’t help but consider the ways we could live up to such a legacy. Mandela’s shoes are so big, you might wonder what a regular person could do to fill them. I say, measure your life in terms of your intentions and your steadfastness, and celebrate Mandela’s legacy by speaking out for what’s right, leading by example, and sticking to your ideals.

December 10 2013

Cuba Temporarily Reestablishes Consular Services in the United States

The Cuban Interest Section, the country's diplomatic mission in Washington, has temporarily reestablished its consular services until 17 February 2014. The decision comes after M&T Bank Corporation indicated they would postpone closing the Cuban diplomatic mission's accounts in the United States. 

The official announcement by the Cuban Interest Section is an indication that the country “will continue efforts to identify a new bank to take over the operation of its accounts and, to the extent that this is achieved, will be capable of permanently normalizing consular services.” 

According to the website Café Fuerte, “it is estimated that some 80,000 people travel to Cuba from the United States during the December holiday period.”

Last July 12, M&T Bank Corporation informed the Cuban Interest Section in Washington that it would no longer offer banking services to foreign diplomatic misions. As a result, the Cuban Interest Section and the Cuban Permanent Mission to the United Nations found themselves, in short order, having to terminate the relationship and initiate the search for a new financial institution with which to conduct their banking activities. 

This situation had prompted the Cuban Interest Section to suspend its consular services until further notice. 

December 06 2013

Caribbean: Farewell, Nelson Mandela

It's not like Caribbean – or global – netizens haven't been preparing themselves for news of Nelson Mandela's death. The former South African president and anti-apartheid activist was, after all, 95 years old and in poor health, having been hospitalised several times this year for recurring respiratory infections. Still, the announcement, when it came, dealt a hard blow. Regional bloggers and social media users shared their thoughts about the passing of one of the world's most enduring icons of peaceful resistance.

Bloggers, for the most part, seemed lost for words, preferring – at least for the moment – to share news reports or quote official statements about Mandela's passing. Guyana's Propaganda Press republished excerpts from President Jacob Zuma's address to the people of South Africa, along with a short biography of Mandela, while The Bajan Reporter posted a tribute to the late president by former Commonwealth Secretary General Sir Shridath Ramphal.

The majority of Caribbean netizens chose to share their reactions on Facebook and Twitter. Raynier Maharaj, a member of the Trinidadian diaspora and a journalist, commented on Facebook:

OK, if it seems I am dwelling on Mandela's passing, it is because it means a whole lot to me. Of all the ‘famous’ people I have met in my life — and this includes the Queen and the Dalai Lama — meeting Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest privileges in my life. He was the epitome of dignity and grace.

Another Trinidadian journalist, Vernon O'Reilly Ramesar, noted:

A testament to his importance that even the US media break into programming to announce the passing of Nelson Mandela.

Facebook user Skye Hernandez was saddened to hear of his death:

I feel strangely sad at the news of Madiba's passing. He has finally gone to his rest and that is surely a good thing. But his story and South Africa's have been so inspiring, sometimes so vexing, always riveting. He's been with us for all of our lives. Travel well, Nelson Mandela.

Franz Gillezeau suggested that people:

Mourn the man, but remember to celebrate the legend.

Facebook was also filled with newly uploaded photo albums chronicling Mandela's regional visits – this one, courtesy the Jamaica Information Service, of his visit to the island in the early 1990s, and this one, by Amber Media Productions, of his 2004 visit to Trinidad and Tobago.

On flickr, Georgia Popplewell posted a photo of Mandela, noting:

I fear it will be a long time before we see another leader of his calibre again. Farewell, dear Madiba. #Mandela

Nelson Mandela; image by caribbeanfreephoto

Nelson Mandela; image by caribbeanfreephoto

Not everyone agreed with this assessment, however. Over at the Cuban diaspora blog babalu, drillanwr wrote:

History will remember his life, to be sure.

While I appreciate and respect Nelson Mandela's struggles and his being a political prisoner within his own country for a large part of his life, I am not unaware of his post-prison political ideology and all the friendships he held with some of the world's nastiest leaders.

In a follow-up post at the same blog, Carlos Eire suggested that:

Mandela's sainthood falls short of universal acclaim, especially among Cubans. While he dedicated himself to a noble and righteous cause – ending discrimination against black Africans in South Africa – Mandela was not at all opposed to employing violence as a means for his cause. Worse than that, he expressed nothing but admiration for Fidel Castro and his noxiously racist tyranny, and never stopped singing Fidel’s praises.

In striking contrast, Capitol Hill Cubans shared this perspective:

Nelson Mandela is no longer physically among us, but his legacy of sacrifice, perseverance and freedom will endure forever.

Despite first espousing violence during the early days of his activism, Mandela's life journey demonstrates the transformational power of peaceful, civil disobedience.

His passing is also a reminder of the sacrifice of the world's historic political prisoners, such as Cuba's Eusebio Penalver Mazorra, the longest serving political prisoner of African descent in modern history, having served 28-years. Sadly, Penalver passed in 2006, without seeing his beloved homeland free.

Along with former Czech leader Vaclav Havel, Mandela is the ultimate representation of a political prisoner-turned-freely elected leader. From Cuba to North Korea, his extraordinary life gives endless hope to the democratic aspirations of dissidents, political prisoners and activists throughout the world.

Rest in peace and freedom.

Twitter users – world-wide – have been using the hashtags #mandela #death to offer their condolences. The Caribbean blogosphere will undoubtedly have much more to say about Nelson Mandela and his legacy once the reality of his death sinks in; the GV Caribbean team will provide updates accordingly.

December 03 2013

‘Proyecto Arcoiris’ Advocates for Coloring Cuba with the Rainbow of the LGBT Community

This post is part of our series on Gender and Sexuality in Latin America in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles. 

[All links lead to pages in Spanish.]

cropped-BANNER-ARCOIRIS6

The Origin

In July of 2011, Project Arcoiris (“The Rainbow Project”) was born. This was a new program designed to fight for the rights of people of non-heteronormative sexual orientations and gender identities.

It all began when activist Yasmin Silvia Portales shared her dissatisfaction with the absence, at the time, of spaces for meeting the social demands of sexually diverse persons and for advocating for sexual and reproductive rights.

Mientras, ¿qué hacemos las personas LGBTI a las cuales la filiación política llevó a distintos grupos de la izquierda libertaria y anticapitalista? Nos corresponde ampliar los marcos ideológicos desde los cuales se debate el asunto de la discriminación por orientación sexual e identidad de género, introducir nuestras propias exigencias, aportar nuestras fuerzas, proponer otros caminos. Esto es política, ¿a quién le da miedo decirlo?

Meanwhile, what can we do as LGBT people when political affiliation has led us to different left-wing libertarian and anticapitalist groups? It's our responsibility to broaden the ideological framework for debating the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, present our own demands, join forces, and propose alternative solutions. This is politics. Why are we afraid to say so?

This call to arms, which Portales sent out to a group of friends and e-mail contacts, received a quick response. In my blog, Negra Cubana Tenía Que Ser, I wrote the following on the project in July of 2011:

Lo cierto es que en la Cuba de hoy seguimos asidos a una moral que concibe el matrimonio entre hombres y mujeres y los hijos e hijas para los heterosexuales. Como tampoco me adscribo ninguno de los (pocos) grupos existentes en el país, ni desde el activismo, mucho menos desde la teoría, vislumbro al Proyecto Arcoiris como el ejercicio ciudadano que nos permitirá, a lo sumo, apresurar la ratificación del nuevo Código de Familia, cuya aprobación, por la Asamblea Nacional, se ha retrasado por más de 16 años.

The truth is that in Cuba today we are tied to a moral fabric that conceives of families only as married heterosexual men and women along with their sons and daughters. Since I'm not attached to any of the (few) existing groups in this country, either as an activist, and much less as a theorist, I view Project Arcoiris as a civic responsibility that will allow us, in the end, to expedite the ratification of the new Family Code, whose passage by the National Assembly has been delayed for more than 16 years.

After the group held its first meeting, activist Isbel Díaz Torres from the Critical Observatory Network (“Red del Observatorio Crítico” in Spanish) expressed the following in his column in the Havana Times:

Me pareció captar entre los que asistimos, el deseo de dialogar sin asimetrías con todas las partes. Sería funesto que nos posicionáramos en un estrato superior para acceder al público LGBTI cubano para conocer sus intereses. Tampoco parece factible colocarnos por debajo en nuestras demandas a las instituciones estatales con quienes necesariamente interactuaremos.

In my view, it seemed to instill a desire, in all of us in attendance, to dialog with all parties in a balanced way. It would be fatal for us to position ourselves as superior in order to access the Cuban LGBTI community and better understand their issues. Nor does it seem feasible for us to position ourselves, in our demands, as underdogs to the state institutions with whom we must necessarily interact.

In September of 2012, Project Arcoiris created its blog, in which it immediately published its core concerns, which include the following:

El Proyecto Arcoiris cree que es necesario luchar, porque todavía hoy, en Cuba, es difícil salir a la calle cada día y vivir como personas no heterosexuales. Defendemos el derechos de negarnos a mentir a nuestras familias, comunidades, colectivos de trabajo, amistades; defendemos también el respeto a aquellas personas heterosexuales que nos apoyan contra la homofobia cotidiana.

Project Arcoiris believes that it's necessary to fight, because in Cuba today, it's still difficult to walk around in the streets every day and live as non-heterosexual persons. We uphold our right to refuse to lie to our families, our communities, our employers, and our friends; we also demand respect for those heterosexual persons who support us in our struggle against the homophobia we experience on a day-to-day basis.

And further on, we read:

Queremos para Cuba libertad y autodeterminación, queremos toda la riqueza que podamos producir honestamente, y queremos la prohibición legal de todas las formas de discriminación por sexo, edad, origen étnico o geográfico, religión, orientación sexual o identidad de género.

We desire liberty and self-determination for Cuba; we desire as much wealth as we can produce honestly, and we seek the legal prohibition of all forms of discrimination due to sex, age, ethnicity or geographical origin, religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

In the blog it is also possible to access issues of the digital newsletter Ahí Te Va, created by Arcoiris, which is also sent via e-mail.

Kiss-In for Diversity

Of all the activities carried out by Project Arcoiris, the “Kiss-In for Diversity” has, without a doubt, had the greatest impact on both a national and an international level. Its objective was to commemorate Gay Pride on the island on June 26th; this is a celebration which up to that time had never taken place in Cuba.

The Kiss-In was convened using information and communication technologies, something unprecedented in Cuba, which Portales referred to in a recent interview:

Creo que […] hicimos un punto de inflexión con el uso coordinado de diversos recursos comunicativos electrónicos –teléfonos fijos o móviles y redes sociales con base en Internet.

Varias entidades comerciales habían estado haciendo publicidad a través de los celulares en Cuba, pero Arcoiris ha inaugurado el uso de los móviles para convocatorias de perfil político y emancipatorio explícito, ¡y sin el apoyo del Estado!

I believe that [...] we created a turning point with our coordinated use of several electronic communications resources – telephones and mobile phones and Internet social media.

Although several business entities had been doing cellular advertising in Cuba, Arcoiris has inaugurated the use of mobile phones for explicit emancipatory political profile calling, and without State support!

The impact of the preparations for the Kiss-In, and of the event itself, was immeasurable: Martinoticias, Cubanet, IPS, EFE, and Global Voices, along with other media, published articles about this event.

Kiss-In for Diversity and Equality in Havana, Cuba. (Photo courtesy of Jorge Luis Baños.)

Kiss-In for Diversity and Equality in Havana, Cuba. (Photo courtesy of Jorge Luis Baños.)

The declaration read by Portales just before the Kiss-In began, which takes articles 42, 53, and 54 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba as its preamble, notes in one of its paragraphs that:

Por eso estamos aquí, ocupando el espacio público que la Revolución de 1959 conquistó para todas las personas de la nación sin distinciones, porque la Revolución será feminista, o no será, será antirracista, o no será, será abierta a las críticas de toda la ciudadanía, o no será, será antihomofóbica, o no será. Será, en fin, una lucha absoluta contra todas las discriminaciones, o no será verdaderamente socialista y las vidas de quienes murieron por implantar la dignidad plena del hombre y la mujer en esta tierra carecerán de sentido.

That is why we're here, occupying the public space that the Revolution of 1959 conquered fo all citizens of our nation without distinction, because this Revolution will either be feminist or it won't, it will either be anti-racist or it won't, it will either be open to the scrutiny of all citizens or it won't, it will either be anti-homophobic or it won't. At the end of the day, this will either be an absolute struggle against all discrimination, or it will not be truly socialist, and the lives of those who died to establish full dignity for all men and women in this land will be rendered meaningless.

The Present Moment

Because we were interested in knowing what Project Arcoiris is currently focusing on, we interviewed its founder, blogger Yasmin Silvia Portales, and blogger Luis Rondón Paz, who works specifically with updating the project's blog.

Regarding the activities the project is involved with now, Yasmin Silvia commented:

Ahora concentramos esfuerzos en la organización de una delegación cubana a los Gay Games, que serán en agosto de 2014 en Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Cuba nunca ha estado en los Gay Games, y consideramos que es una idea excelente para el proceso de construcción de la comunidad LGBTQ de acá. Por supuesto, que es un proyecto enorme, en cuanto a gente involucrada y recursos. El CENESEX nos ha reconocido como interlocutores y nos prestaron asesoría en los primeros pasos organizativos.

Right now we're concentrating our efforts on organizing a Cuban delegation to the Gay Games, which will take place in August of 2014 in Cleveland, Ohio, USA. Cuba has never been involved in the Gay Games, so we consider this to be an excellent idea for the process of building up the LGBTQ community here. This is, of course, an enormous undertaking when you consider the number of people and resources involved. CENESEX [the Cuban National Center for Sex Education] has recognized us as partners and has advised us on the first steps to take in organization.

The Project has recently created a blog with the same name and content on the CubaVa platform. The blogger commented on the new opportunities that this space is creating:

Clonar el blog en Cubava.cu es un paso muy importante para acercarnos a Cuba, para socializar las acciones del grupo y generar un espacio de memoria del activismo LGBT. Es pertinente aclarar que el acceso a internet en Cuba tiene carácter limitado (31% de la población) y segregado, pues la mayor parte de estas personas en realidad solo pueden navegar la “intranet”: sitios web dentro del dominio “.cu”. Ahora Proyecto Arcoíris tiene un espacio de activismo LGBT y diálogo potencial dentro de la red nacional, accesible desde cualquier lugar de Cuba. Esperamos entonces que más gente se entere de lo que hacemos y opine, critique –de modo respetuoso– y hasta inicie sus propias acciones en otras zonas de la isla.

Cloning our blog on CubaVa.cu was a very important step in moving closer to Cuba, to socialize the group's actions and creating memory space for LGBT activism. It's relevant to clarify that Internet access in Cuba is limited (31% of the population) and segregated, because most of these people can only surf the “intranet:” websites within the “.cu” domain. Project Arcoiris now has a space for LGBT activism and the potential for dialog within the national network, accessible from anywhere in Cuba. So we hope that more people will find out about what we're doing and offer their comments and criticisms – in a respectful way – and even initiate their own actions in other regions of the island.

Speaking on the same topic, Luis Rondón Paz, founder of the Project, points out:

Pienso que su promoción [del Proyecto Arcoiris] en la naciente plataforma blog al interior de la isla cubana aportaría un granito de arena para la construcción de esa cultura de debate que tanto necesita la futura sociedad socialista diversa, inclusiva, democrática y justa que entre todas y todos deseamos tener.

I think [Project Arcoiris's] promotional efforts to the emerging blog platform inside Cuba could add another grain of sand to the construction of a culture of debate which the coming diverse and equitable socialist, even democratic, society needs, and that we all wish to have.

One very current issue on the Cuban docket is the preliminary draft law of the new Labor Code. Regarding rights protection for sexually diverse persons within the Labor Code, Yasmin Silvia specifies:

Creo que el nuevo Código del Trabajo es un proyecto neoliberal, muy enfocado en facilitar la explotación de la clase obrera cubana en el proceso de reconstrucción del capitalismo. Como tal, esta Ley no tiene una base emancipadora, menos aún de reconocimiento de los problemas específicos de los diversos grupos identitarios que integran la nación.

Fíjate que todo el lenguaje es sexista, y las mujeres solo son mencionadas como madres, y se hace una vaga referencia a la discriminación por color de la piel, pero con el término “raza”. Respecto al Código actual, los mecanismos para la reclamación de justicia laboral han sido limitados, y no se incorporan fenómenos ampliamente reconocidos como problemáticos en el ámbito laboral, como el acoso sexual o moral.

I believe the new Labor Code is a neoliberal project, very focused on facilitating the exploitation of the Cuban working class in the process of reconstructing capitalism. As such, this Law does not have an emancipatory base, and much less a recognition of the specific problems faced by diverse identity groups that make up the nation.

If you think about it, all of the language is sexist, and women are only mentioned as mothers, and a vague reference is made to discrimination by skin color, but utilizing the term “race.” With respect to the Code as it currently stands, the mechanisms for claiming worker justice have been restricted, and issues that are widely recognized as problematic in the work environment, such as sexual and psychological harassment, have not been addressed.

For his part, Rondón states:

Lo triste del Código de Trabajo es que hoy si a un jefe le da el deseo de decir que no trabajas porque eres “flojito” o muy “macho” no tienes a donde acudir, porque en la ley no existe respaldo alguno ante discriminaciones de este tipo [...]

The sad thing about the Labor Code is that right now, if a boss feels like telling you that you can't work because you're “lazy” or “too manly,” you have nowhere to turn, because in the law there's no protection at all against that kind of discrimination [...] [...]

Project Arcoiris also has a page on Facebook which, like the blog, is monitored by several members of the group, with the intention of minimizing the adverse effects that go hand-in-hand with blogging from an island with poor connectivity and extremely slow connections.

November 22 2013

Cuban Intellectuals Debate the Prohibition of 3D Private Cinemas on the Island

3D cinema closed down. Image by Aylin Pérez, reproduced with permission.

3D cinema shut down. Image by Aylin Pérez, reproduced with permission.

[All links in this article lead to Spanish-language content]

Ever since the official newspaper, Granma, announced the immediate ban on 3D cinemas run by the private sector, blogs and social networks have been awash with criticism.

The blog Cine cubano, la pupila insomne offers a sample of the opinions of various intellectuals and commentators, taking into account that “occasions in which the voices of those who are impacted by the measures of the higher levels of Power in Cuba are rare.” According to the blogger and author, Juan Antonio García Borrego, the measure has provoked conflicting emotions:

Primero, porque pienso en esos particulares que han hecho sus inversiones (que no son diez centavos) amparados en un texto legal que ahora los deja sin modo de reclamar. Y luego, porque no me queda claro si le medida obedece a la “política”, a secas, o si va respaldada por un estudio serio de lo que viene aconteciendo como tendencia en este universo tecnológico, asociado al consumo audiovisual.

Firstly, because I’m thinking of those private individuals who have made their investments (which are by no means small), based on a legal document which has now left them with no procedure to complain. And secondly, because it’s just not clear to me if this measure is simply kowtowing to “policy” or if it is supported by serious studies of what is emerging as a trend in this technological world, associated with media consumption.

Within the licenses that the Cuban state has granted to private businesses is the “Operador de equipos de recreación” or “Operator of recreational facilities” license, the remit of which is “the installation, operation or lease of facilities for the recreation of the public.”

The license, which excludes nautical facilities, underlines the compliance with regulations regarding security and protection of the facilities and of those using them. Nonetheless, the decision to close down all 3D cinemas is grounded on the nonexistence of a specific regulation for this type of activity, although there are no provisions explicitly prohibiting it, either. According to Gustavo Arcos, “In a situation like this, the real world dynamic indicates that one must created. If the activity proliferates and has success and a social impact there must be a reason.” In Arcos’ view:

La medida se vuelve aún más absurda cuando se sabe que para operar dichos locales, los dueños debían mostrar a los inspectores una licencia emitida desde hace varios años por las propias instancias estatales. Si el Estado se equivocó al otorgárselas bajo una figura tan ambigua, por qué deben los particulares, que tan grande inversión hicieron para preparar y disponer de sus locales, quedarse de buenas a primeras y sin mediar ningún tipo de aviso, estigmatizados, con sus negocios cerrados y enfrentando enormes pérdidas.

The measure begins to look even more absurd when you know that in order to operate these establishments, the owners must show inspectors a license granted several years ago by these very government bodies. If the State was wrong in granting these licenses under such an ambiguous premise, why should these private individuals, who have invested so much in preparing and offering these establishments to the public, out of the blue, and with no type of warning, be stigmatized, have their businesses closed down, and face huge losses.

State alternatives?

This past August, well behind its private sector counterparts, the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (Instituto Cubano del Arte e Industria Cinematográfica ICAIC )opened a 3D cinema in Havana, which showed films like Titanic and Nitro Circus, among others.

The very timid range of offerings by the state sector reaffirms Borrego’s concerns on the State’s potential for “offering the population, in the immediate future, an alternative to what these sole proprietors had already began to offer. To purchase the necessary equipment for all of the cinemas in the country is simply unthinkable.” The Cuban intellectual, Abelardo Mena, also wonders:

¿Qué sentirían los dueños de las salas cinematográficas en 1959 cuando les aplicaron, del día a la noche, sin interés en negociación alguna, la clausura de sus negocios? Y miren ahora, macilentos, el estado de los cines.

How did the cinema owners back in 1959 feel, when overnight, with no interest in negotiating, the closing of their businesses was imposed on them? And look, now, at the haggard state the cinemas are in.

The professor of the University of Havana, Pedro Noa, reiterates that:

es una verdad de Perogrullo, repetida hasta la saciedad, el estado deplorable de las salas de exhibición cinematográfica a lo largo de toda la Isla. En La Habana, se pueden contar con los dedos de una mano, los cines que conservan cierta dignidad.

It’s a truism, repeated ad nauseum: the deplorable state of the cinemas across the island. In Havana, you can count with the fingers of one hand the cinemas that have managed to hang on to a certain air of dignity.

In his article on the ban of 3D cinemas, he states that Roberto Smith, director of the ICAIC,

había señalado que el Instituto no estaba preparado para asumir formatos digitales que ya estaban circulando en el Mundo y que esa era una de las dificultades tecnológicas que iba a enfrentar el Festival del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano en su próxima edición de diciembre.

had stated that the Institute was not prepared to handle digital formats which were already circulating in the world and that this was one of the technological difficulties which the Festival del Nuevo Cine Latinoamericano (Festival of New Latin American Cinema) was going to confront in its upcoming December edition.

In the light of the current situation, Noa wonders,

se imaginan (…)que en la Casa del Festival se aparezca uno de los dueños de las salas 3-D de la Capital y le diga a la Presidencia del evento: todo lo que tengan en ese formato digital, envíenmelo, que yo lo exhibo durante esos días con la condición de que me incluyan entre los espacios de exhibición oficiales… La posible respuesta, después de la Nota informativa publicada en Granma el 2 de noviembre, es obvia; pero en ese momento, la posibilidad de que eso ocurriera, me dejó pensando.

you can imagine (…) in the Casa del Festival, one of the owners of the 3D cinemas showing up and saying to the President of the event: everything you have in digital format, send it to me, so I can show it these days, on the condition that you include me in the official exhibition space…The possible response, following the Notice published in Granma on the 2nd of November, is obvious; but at the moment, the possibility of that happening has got me thinking.

State-sanctioned taste

One of the most well-worn criticisms of the private cinemas is the alleged banality of the content. According to García Borrego,

las características de las nuevas tecnologías ponen cada vez más a la mano aquella aspiración que de siempre ha tenido el público de todos los tiempos: ver lo que la gente quiera, no lo que otros le impongan.

The characteristics of new technologies increasingly put within reach the public’s long held aspiration: what the people want to watch, not what others have imposed on them.

For Abelardo Mena,

se trata, en el fondo, de una discusión sobre los modelos de gobernabilidad y/o educación social: el modelo de la escuelita (niños siéntenseeee! escuchen al maestro) o el modelo dialógico previsto incluso por Marx o Paulo Freire (una sociedad se educa a sí misma y eso incluye al partido proletario).

It’s, fundamentally, a discussion on the models of governability and social education: the school model (sit down children! Listen to Teacher,) or the dialogue model, as prescribed by Marx and Paulo Freire (a society which educates itself, and this includes the proletariat).

In his article, Mena warns:

No debe ni puede existir un consumo cultural estatalista. ¿O es que aplicaremos también el Detector de Ideologías, diseñado por Lazaro Saveedra, a descubrir- como en 1984- si nuestros dirigentes son o no reguetoneros en la intimidad de sus casas? ¿O si son suficientemente cultos para entender el acto de gobernar en sus dimensiones más profundas?.

A state-sanctioned cultural consumption cannot and should not exist. Or should we also apply an Ideology Detector, as designed by Lazaro Saveedra, to find out – as in 1984 – if our leaders are or are not reggaeton artists in the privacy of their homes? Or if they are sufficiently cultured to understand the act of governance in its most profound dimensions?

This point of view was previously tackled by Víctor Fowler, who states that:

si bien cualquier Estado tiene el derecho y la obligación de regular y normar las actividades económicas que en el territorio que abarca son realizadas, ninguno lo tiene para decidir (y esto es de lo que principalmente trata el conflicto) cuál debe de ser el consumo cultural de sus nacionales.

If the State has the right and obligation to regulate and normalize the economic activities within its borders, no one has the right to decide (and this is what the conflict is principally about) what citizens should consuming in cultural terms.

Fowler questions the demonization of a space [the 3D cinema, in this case] of a more superficial form of media consumption, which has also been fed and fueled by state cinema chains, as well as state television, with its broadcasts of US TV series and cookie-cutter programming.

Hints for the future

The majority of those involved in the debate on the ban of the 3D cinemas agree on the need for some form of regulation or provision of this activity. García Borrego adds that the great challenge is for those who think that cultural policies on the audiovisual sector should not be the terrain of prohibition and censorship (pointless steps at this stage), but of intelligent creativity that takes advantage of  technological development for the most diverse purposes.

The state should take into account the criteria of the intellectuals and Cuban citizens. Many of the harshest criticisms refer to the level of inattention to public opinion in the country. In an open letter, Víctor Fowler stresses:

El presente mensaje breve que les envío tiene que como objeto el expresar –pese a que no tenga importancia alguna para algo que ya se decidió y aplicó- mi desacuerdo con la medida.

This brief message I am sending to you is intended to express –despite the fact that it has no significance because the decision has been made and applied– my disagreement with this measure.

With respect to the role of the State, Fowler suggests that

le corresponde la obligación de facilitar una mejor educación y disfrute de la cultura realmente universales, durante la ejecución de sus proyectos esboza y presenta la meta de aquello que considera la virtud ciudadana respecto a la relación entre el individuo nacional y la cultura.

It has the obligation to provide better education and to allow for truly universal access to culture, and in the course of its projects outline and present the objective of civic virtue in regard to the relationship between the individual citizen and culture.

November 18 2013

NACLA-Global Voices Partnership Tackles Gender & Sexuality in Latin America & the Caribbean

Women of Latin America and the Caribbean took to the Streets of Bogota on the the 12th International Feminist Meeting in 2011 to demand an end to violence against women and girls. Photo from Flickr user Say NO - UNiTE  (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Women of Latin America and the Caribbean took to the Streets of Bogota during the 12th International Feminist Meeting in 2011 to demand an end to violence against women and girls. Photo from Flickr user Say NO – UNiTE, under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

As part of the partnership between Global Voices and NACLA (North American Congress on Latin America), a team of five Global Voices authors from Latin America and the Caribbean will contribute weekly articles for a series about women, gender, and LGBT issues. We draw from failures and successes in Latin America and the Caribbean with an eye toward equality, advancement, and resistance for and by women and LGBT people across all borders.

We asked these five authors to tell us why they think that covering these themes in the region is important. We also asked them to share some of the online projects that they’ve discovered while covering LGBT and gender issues.

Sandra

Sandra Abd'Allah-Alvarez Ramírez [es] is Cuban. She describes herself as “a bisexual woman who loves another woman with whom she is formally married.”

“I’m Cuban, and that’s the main reason why I insistently tackle non-heteronormative sexuality, because in Cuba we have much to accomplish in that regard,” she explains. Sandra, who had to move to Germany to marry her partner, is part of Proyecto Arcoiris [es], a group of activists who are fighting against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in Cuba.

Sandra pointed us to Pikara Magazine [es], a website where she often contributes [es] articles and interviews. Pikara Magazine covers news with a gender perspective, featuring people and stories that rarely appear in the media.

She also recommends visiting the blog Feminist Network Project, which seeks to “connect feminist activists around the world.”

Sandra blogs at Negra cubana tenía que ser [es] and tweets at @negracubana [es].

Ángel

“I am the son of a wonderful single mother. [She is] a person with an indomitable character, an independent spirit, and has an enviable strength. That’s why I'm interested in issues of gender equity,” Ángel Carrión [es], a Puerto Rican musician and blogger, explains.

Ángel says he has always been interested in stories about people who are marginalized by society. He thinks that valuable knowledge and perspectives are lost when people are excluded. Furthermore, Ángel feels he has a duty to draw attention to “the invisible,” and to help educate and change mentalities about LGBT and gender issues.

He recommends several projects from Puerto Rico, like Proyecto Matria [es], an organization that seeks to help victims of domestic and sexual violence on the island. He also mentions the Committee Against Homophobia and Discrimination [es], a group that started at the University of Puerto Rico, and the LGBTT Community Center of Puerto Rico [es], which offers a variety of services (legal and psychological) for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, and Transgender community.

You can follow Ángel on Twitter @angel15amc [es] and read his blog Diálogo Libre [es].

2013 pride and equality march in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Felipe Longoni, uploaded to Flickr by Movilh Chile under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

2013 pride and equality march in Santiago, Chile. Photo by Felipe Longoni, uploaded to Flickr by Movilh Chile under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Laura

Laura Vidal is a Venezuelan researcher exploring societies, their culture, and their stories. She currently lives in France.

In her opinion, “gender equality and the portrayal of movements defending the freedom of LGBT communities are fraught with misunderstandings—many intentional.” She adds that in Latin America, “the concept of gender is fiercely attacked by conservative ideas that have changed little over the years.”

Laura thinks that the debate about gender and LGBT issues in the region needs to improve, and that it is troubling to see how different parts of society dehumanize women and the LGBT community.

When asked about projects dealing with these issues, Laura mentioned the work of Coral Herrera Gómez [es], a Spanish scholar focusing on gender theory who Laura is interviewing for this series. She also mentioned the NGO Aliadas en Cadena, which organizes workshops for women affected by poverty in Venezuela.

Laura tweets at @lenguaraz.

Pamela

Pamela Martínez Achecar [es], a Dominican economist and researcher, recognizes that although Latin America and Caribbean countries have advanced rapidly in economic development and in legislation to expand freedoms for its citizens, women and the LGBT community continue to struggle to receive the same treatment their male, often straight, peers receive.

She thinks that “it is therefore vital to guide the focus of public attention to these struggles, many waged in silence, to raise awareness and to highlight the great efforts of many who are fighting against inequality.”

Pamela recommends following the Center for Gender Studies [es] from the Santo Domingo Institute of Technology, a center “devoted to higher education, research, and advocacy on public policies from a gender perspective.” She also pointed us to the Dominican feminist organization Colectiva Mujer y Salud [es] (Women and Health Collective).

Pamela blogs at Pensando a contracorriente [es] and tweets at @LlamenmePam [es].

Andrea

For Mexican journalist Andrea Arzaba, “gender equality doesn’t exist in Latin America, especially in rural communities.”

Andrea has met women from Southern Mexico who are not allowed to study beyond secondary school, “simply because they were born as women.” She has also witnessed cases of women who endure physical and psychological abuse because they are economically dependent on a man. “These are some of the cases that have inspired me to write about gender equality and to bring these issues to the online discussion.”

Andrea follows the work of World Pulse, a nonprofit social media enterprise that’s using digital media to give women from around the world a space where they can connect to each other and speak out about their issues. She also recommends following the blog Mujeres Viajeras [es] (Traveling women).

Andrea started The Sunflower Post, a blog covering news from around the world with a gender perspective, and is currently writing for several websites like Future ChallengesAnimal Político [es] and IJNET. You can read her personal blog at One Lucky Life and follow her on Twitter at @andrea_arzaba.

*

Global Voices’ mission is to shed light on stories that remain untold in the mainstream media. Women, gender, and LGBT issues are generally either invisible or distorted in public discourse around the world. This invisibilization is one of the reasons we have made the coverage of these important topics one of our priorities, and a part of our partnership with NACLA.

Stay tuned to read Sandra, Angel, Laura, Pamela, and Andrea’s posts during the following weeks!

Firuzeh Shokooh Valle contributed to this post.

November 07 2013

Cuban Government Agency Investigates Incident of Homophobic Violence First Reported Online

Afromodernidades[All links lead to Spanish language pages.]

The Cuban intellectual Alberto Abreu Arcia reported in his blog Afromodernidades about an incident of physical violence against a group of homosexual men in the city of Cardenas, in the western province of Matanzas, on October 4. The National State Center for Sex Education (CENESEX in Spanish) then started an investigation.

This is yet another example of how events in Cuban society which are first reported on social networks and digital spaces ultimately find resonance in official institutions. 

La madrugada de hoy jueves estos actos de agresividad adquirieron connotaciones más violentas cuando varios hombres en un coche se presentaron en el Rápido ubicado en la esquina de Ruíz y Coronel Verdugo, frente a la Plaza Malacof, justo al doblar de mi casa, donde acostumbran a reunirse muchos de ellos y comenzaron a agredirlos verbal y físicamente, recibiendo uno de ellos, en la espalda, varios planazos machete.

This morning at dawn these aggressive acts became more violent when several men in a car came to Rapido located on the corner of Ruiz and Coronel Verdugo, in front of the Malacof Plaza, just before turning towards my house, where many of them began to verbally and physically attack them, getting one of them on the back, and several fell face down after being attacked with a machete.

Abreu, who, in addition to being an activist is a renowned cultural studies scholar, later writes about about the implications of homosexuals simply exercising their citizen rights, and the responsibility of state institutions:

La actitud de este grupo de gays viene a recordar aquello, de que los derechos y los espacios no se mendigan, sino que se conquistan. (…) Y allí pienso estar, al lado de ellos, porque lo cierto es que a pesar del machete, los planazos, los fustazos, el coche, los cocheros y otros atributos de un entorno pre, uno se cansa. Si las leyes y las instituciones llamadas a ampararnos llegan: perfecto, sino ya da igual. Los maricones tan bien tenemos sangre en las venas, y vamos descubriendo otras formas de empoderarnos, quizás no tan civilizadas (contenidas, disciplinadas), pero son las armas, el otro saber: el saber de gente, que vamos encontrando noche a noche, para el vivir, pensar y enfrentar la calle.

The attitude of this group of gays reminds the issue of of rights and spaces not being begged for, but conquered (…) And I plan to be there, next to them, because truthfully in spite of the machete, falling face down, the whippings, the car, the drivers and other characteristics of a beautiful setting, it gets tiring. If the laws and institutions called to shield us arrive, then that's perfect, but it's not enough. We faggots also have blood in our veins, and we're figuring out other ways to empower ourselves, perhaps not so civil ones (neither contained nor disciplined), but they are our weapons, the other way of knowing: the way of knowing about others, that we are finding out night after night, to live, to think and confront the street.

On the bog, messages supporting the post were received continuously from other digital spaces:

Todavía hoy continúan llegando correos de solidaridad por el texto Cocheros homofóbicos agreden a grupo gays en Cárdenas, firmados por diferentes blogueros, activistas y luchadores contra la homofobia entre los que se encuentran el Proyecto Arcoiris y el sitio Afrocubaweb.

Even to this day, letters of solidarity still continue to arrive [...] signed by different bloggers, activists, and fighters against homophobia; among them the Rainbow Project and the Afrocubaweb site.

Additionally, the reprinting of the initial post signed by Abreu was uploaded onto the Rainbow Project and replicated from @bitacorasdecuba's account:

 bitcub

On October 8, the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), which is under the Ministry of Public Health, posted a note on their official site where they recognized the information: “For several days, information about supposed protests of violence against homosexual people in the Matancera city of Cardenas has been circulating online and through alerts received by LGBT activists (..)”. 

Later, the Center specified its intention to investigate this matter:

Por lo que esto representa para la población LGBTHI cubana, y por su repercusión en materia de respeto a los derechos sexuales como derechos humanos mismos, el Servicio de Orientación Jurídica del Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual (CENESEX), desde que tuvo conocimiento del asunto desarrolla un proceso de indagación sobre los mencionados acontecimientos, el cual permitirá determinar su veracidad, darle seguimiento, y en próximos días publicar en este sitio nuestra versión de lo ocurrido.

Because of what this represents for the Cuban LGBT population, and its impact on sexual rights as being equal to human rights, the Service for Legal Advice of the National Center for Sex Education has developed a process of inquiry about the events since we have known about this matter, which will allow us to determine the veracity, monitor it, and in the coming days, to publish our version of what occurred on our site.

So specialists from the institution moved to the place where the facts were, as Abreu reports from his blog, in the post published on October 22:

De igual forma el pasado miércoles 16 de octubre un grupo de CENESEX visitó la ciudad de Cárdenas y realizó una minuciosa investigación sobre los sucesos descriptos en mi texto. Los resultados de la misma, según me comentaron, serán publicados en su sitio web.

In the same way, on Wednesday, October 16, a group from CENESEX visited Cardenas city and conducted a thorough investigation of the incidents described in my text. The results will be published on their website, according to what they told me.

Abreu is currently waiting for the conclusions of the investigation.

November 04 2013

Goodbye “CUC”, Unification of Dual Monetary System Begins in Cuba

Three CUC. Image taken from Hola Cuba.

Three CUC. Image taken from Hola Cuba.

The official Cuban newspaper Granma announced [es] the beginning of the monetary unification process within the country. Cuba is the only country in the world where two currencies circulate: the Cuban peso (CUP) and the convertible peso (CUC). 

According to the newspaper:

la unificación monetaria no es una medida que resuelve por sí sola todos los problemas actuales de la economía, pero su aplicación es imprescindible a fin de garantizar el restablecimiento del valor del peso cubano y de sus funciones como dinero, es decir de unidad de cuenta, medio de pago y de atesoramiento.

Monetary unification is not a measure that will resolve all of the current economic problems all by itself, but its application is necessary in order to guarantee the restoration of the value of the Cuban peso and of its function as a currency, that is to say, its use in accounting, as a method of payment and of savings.

According to an article [es] published in Cubainformación by the French investigator and professor Salim Lamrani:

En 1993, ante la grave crisis económica que golpeó la isla tras la desintegración de la Unión Soviética, las autoridades de La Habana decidieron legalizar la circulación del dólar estadounidense en el país. Era necesario encontrar las divisas indispensables al funcionamiento de la economía y del comercio y subvenir a las necesidades de la población, particularmente en el sector alimentario. Así, dos monedas circulaban en el país: el dólar y el peso cubano (CUP).

En 1994, además del peso cubano y del dólar, el Banco Central de Cuba creó el peso convertible (CUC) con un valor igual al dólar, lo que hace de Cuba el único país del mundo que imprime una doble moneda. El CUC se usa particularmente en el sector del turismo y para adquirir productos de importación. Así, de 1994 a 2004 circularon tres monedas en Cuba, hasta la desaparición del dólar en 2004, tras las nuevas sanciones económicas que impuso la administración Bush. Ahora, el peso cubano circula con el peso convertible con una notable diferencia de valor: hacen falta 25 CUP para conseguir 1 CUC.

In 1993, confronting the great economic crisis that struck the island after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, authorities in Havana decided to legalize the circulation of the US dollar in the country. It was necessary to find indispensable foreign currencies for the functioning of the economy and commerce and provide for the necessities of the population, particularly in the food industry. So, two currencies circulated in the country: the dollar and the Cuban peso (CUP). 

In 1994, along with the Cuban peso and the dollar, the Central Bank of Cuba created the convertible peso (CUC) with the same value as the dollar, which makes Cuba the only country in the world that prints two currencies. Thus, from 1994 to 2004, three currencies circulated in Cuba, until the phasing out of the dollar in 2004, due to new economic sanctions that the Bush administration imposed. Now, the Cuban peso circulates with the convertible peso at a significant difference in value: it takes 25 CUP to obtain 1 CUC.

Three Cuban pesos. Image taken from Wikipedia under a fair use license.

Three Cuban pesos. Image taken from Wikipedia under a fair use license.

The official note from Granma announces that “the main changes in this first stage will take place in the juridical person (corporate personhood) sector”, with the aim to encourage “conditions for an increase in efficiency, the best evaluation of economic developments, and a stimulus to the sectors that produce goods and services for export and replacement of imports.”

The phasing out of the CUC has received significant attention from the international press, blogs and economic analysts. In an interview granted to the magazine Espacio Laical [es], the Cuban economist Pavel Vidal warned:

El Gobierno debe manejar con inteligencia dos brechas que aparecerán en el proceso de eliminación de la dualidad monetaria. La primera es la brecha temporal que existe entre los costos y los beneficios de la devaluación del tipo de cambio oficial. Los costos son ciertos y se manifestarán en el corto plazo generando estrés en los balances de las empresas e inflación. Mientras que los mayores beneficios se apreciarán en el mediano plazo y son beneficios potenciales que deberán aprovechar las empresas estatales, sobre las cuales siempre pesa la duda en cuanto a su capacidad para reaccionar ante un nuevo marco de incentivos, en particular en una economía centralmente planificada y donde la burocracia ha venido rezagando la reforma.

La segunda brecha se encuentra entre las expectativas que tiene la población sobre la eliminación de la dualidad monetaria y los resultados que verdaderamente se pueden alcanzar. La reforma monetaria evidenciará que la dualidad monetaria no es la principal responsable del bajo poder adquisitivo del salario ni de las desigualdades como erróneamente se tiende a pensar. Estos son asuntos con determinantes estructurales y no solo monetarios. La baja productividad del sector estatal es la causante última de los bajos salarios y, en correspondencia, la que provoca las desigualdades en relación a otras fuentes de ingresos familiares.  

The government must intelligently handle two gaps that will appear during the elimination process of the dual currency. The first is the temporary gap that will exist between the costs and benefits of the devaluation of the official exchange rate. The costs are certain and will manifest themselves in the short term, putting stress on the balance sheets of companies and inflation. Meanwhile, the greatest benefits will be evident in the medium term and are potential benefits that state-run companies will need to take advantage of. Doubt always weighs upon these companies, on account of their capacity to react before a new incentive framework, in particular in a centrally planned economy where the bureaucracy has been lagging behind the reform.The second gap is between the expectations that the population has about the elimination of the dual currency system and the results that can truly be achieved. The monetary reform will show that the dual currency is not the main factor responsible for the low purchasing power of wages nor of the inequalities as one erroneously tends to think. These are issues with determining factors that are structural and not just monetary. The low productivity of the national sector is the ultimate cause of low wages and, accordingly, that which provokes inequalities in relation to other sources of household income.

In the blogosphere, Gisselle Morales, in her blog Cubaprofunda, summarizes [es] some of her main worries:

Dejando a un lado los problemas de la macroeconomía, demasiado complejos para mi aritmética básica, lo que más me preocupa es el efecto de semejante cambio para el cubano común: ¿en qué moneda se valorará el esfuerzo?, ¿cuál será el poder adquisitivo real del salario?, ¿saltará algún día, de los manuales marxistas a la realidad, aquello de “a cada cual, según su trabajo”?

Ignoring for the moment the problems of macroeconomics, too complex for my basic arithmetic, that which worries me most is the effect of such a change for the common Cuban: in which currency will my effort be valued?, what will the real purchasing power of wages be?, will the notion of “to each according to his work” jump from the Marxist manuals to reality someday?

Several commenters pointed out [es] the absence of references to wages in this first official communication. According to Javier Soler, author of Porque Cuba [es], “the note is simply a reminder that this path must be taken but that it is not yet even traced.”

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