Human Rights in Cuba

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Daily Archives: April 4, 2013

The Oldest Profession / Ignacio Estrada
Posted on April 3, 2013
by Ignacio Estrada

Havana, Cuba. The oldest profession has returned to Cuban streets and
provides a stable source of income for a vast number of mostly young Cubans.

Regardless of time or weather, there are no shortages of sex workers in
Havana to satisfy a sexual appetite. The revolution of 1959 promised
equality for all but the largest share of its benefits went to those in
positions of power, their cronies or closest relatives. In its wake and
in spite of shutting down the old nightclubs and brothels, prostitution
has returned as one of the best paid professions today.

The trade is practiced by those we least suspect — coworkers, neighbors
or even classmates. Large numbers of people in recent years have changed
their morals like chameleons change colors and lead double lives.

I have nothing against those who choose to become prostitutes. Quite the
opposite. I believe that it's time that the Cuban government legalize
the practice, unionize the workers and allow them, as is done in other
countries, to be licensed as legitimate Sex Workers.

Male and female prostitution is not only practiced in the Capital but it
extends to every territory. There are known brothels, escort services
and red zones, the last which are prone to violence and crime. Charges
are different for citizens and foreigners and are even higher when part
of the profits go to a broker or a pimp.

Without sanitary practices and health screenings, prostitution has
caused an increase in the spread of veneral diseases. The rate of
HIV/STDs is now higher than it has ever been in the nation's history.

There needs to be a call to action to demand that all who provide or use
these services follow safe sexual practices.

While some parents are proud because their children bring home new
clothes, perfumes, gifts or other items, others mourn the loss of a son
or daughter to violence, to abuse or to illnesses such as HIV. There are
also those who are happy that their children have managed to leave Cuba
to live elsewhere and can return to visit them carrying gifts.

As a nation, we need to put an end to injustice and legitimize this line
of work so it's treated the same way as any other profession.
Legalization would provide protection under the law as well as
protection from officers of the law who abuse their power to extort and
harass the sex workers.

It is important that parents, family and citizens safeguard children,
supervise their activities, know where they are at all times and ensure
that they are not exploited or misled, especially for sexual purposes.

While I have nothing against prostitution, I condemn those who take
advantage of minors for sexual favors in exchange for gifts or money.
The foreign press and other outlets report that child prostitution
exists. I am unaware of any such case as a reporter but if I learned of
one I would have no problem denouncing it in an article.

Legalization of sex workers does not condone civil disobedience. We need
to find a way to keep our streets and neighborhoods clean and safe, to
protect the workers and the customers from disease and to regulate and
legitimize a commonly practiced trade.

Translated by: Vivian S. Bedoya

25 March 2013 Continue reading
Permanence, Legitimacy and the Future in Havana / Juan Juan Almeida
Posted on April 3, 2013

If there is one thing I learned from being close to power, it was not to
focus on explicit actions but rather on non-verbal messages that go
unstated. It is precisely for this reason that today, while many are
captivated by dreamy visions and hopeful about evolutionary developments
that to me still seem embryonic, the Cuban government is approving and
reaffirming steps towards a greater permanence, legitimacy and future
for itself.

I have 103 reasons — three of them personal — for being opposed to what
is called Revolution. But that does not mean that I cannot see the
growing empowerment of an administration that on the one hand combines
investments in key areas such as tourism, technology and education while
at the same time guarantees the sustainability of the system by
increasing the number and size of certain personal bank accounts and
overseas investments. I will comment more on this at another time.

It is clear that the abuses, apathy, incessant propaganda, a surfeit of
rhetoric and ongoing requests for martyrology-worthy sacrifice have
caused the majority of the population to distance itself not only from
the government, but from the opposition as well.

The housewife, the farmer, the worker, the doctor, the thief and the
student are neither political nor apolitical, but rather anti-political.
The government is aware of this and has taken concrete steps, pretending
to bridge this gap between the leaders and the led by appointing
executives who are younger… sorry, I meant to say less elderly, less
corrupt and more in touch with the people, although in practice none of
them have real freedom or executive power.

Last year there was an unusual freeze on the military budget. Several
days earlier the General asked the armed forces community for its trust.
Political ploy or not, it is one more thing to round out an image of a
pragmatic leader aware of administrative and financial limitations.

The eyes of foreign investors, however, see a slow but recovering
economy, open to foreign investment and eager for free trade. Since it
is almost a rule that capital is unconcerned with ideology but worships
opportunity, the swift negotiator quickly falls into the mix and ends up
being fodder for the government, which uses him to advance its interests
and pressure governments, states and monarchies. They learn too late
that recouping investments is not a function of production levels or the
labor market, but rather of avoiding the leaks in the very dilapidated
state plumbing system.

Fluent in diplomacy and official propaganda, they know that today's
world is not about militant leftists or well-to-do rightists, but about
people who lean towards one side or the other based on their own overall
interests. Therefore, many agreements are facilitated, giving teeth to
those who cannot smile and colors who those who cannot see. From an
endless number of patients they humanely raise armies of the grateful.

The Cuban government is preparing itself by forced march to confront the
future, which I can see upon crossing the street. I do not want to
appear negative, because I am not, but I cannot help thinking of my
astute grandmother, who possessed a wisdom without equal, when she used
to tell me, "There are two kinds of people in this world — those who
have power, and those referred to as 'the nobody bosses of nothing.'"

Juan Juan Almeida

28 March 2013 Continue reading
School Is Not Synonymous with Education
April 3, 2013
Kabir Vega Castellanos*

HAVANA TIMES — I recently saw a documentary expressing opinions on
education. But whose opinions were these? The teachers themselves.

I wish that many children and young people in Cuba could see it. It
reminded me of all my old feelings, as I realized the objective cruelty
of school.

I think the documentary is Argentinean, though in it are interviewed
professionals from several Spanish-speaking countries. "Education Is
Prohibited"(La Educación Prohibida) shows how education emerged, its
evolution in different periods of history and what it has become.

One result: formerly 98 percent of children were interested in learning
and would pick up a book to read at home, while today this figure is
only 10 percent. One of the people interviewed said that when Monday's
come around, most children think: "What a shame. Now I have to go to

But what's worse is that most teachers feel the same.

"School is not synonymous with education" said these teachers. I was
most impressed when one teacher said: "Everyone talks about peace, but
no one is educated for peace. Teaching is based on competition, and
competition is the beginning of any war."

It's absolutely true that one has to compete all the time in school, and
we're always ignoring that we our individuals, people with different
interests. I was quite surprised to learn that in countries considered
"developed," there's also a great deal of dissatisfaction with the

The documentary explained that human beings learn naturally, out of need
and curiosity, but that school ends up killing both qualities among
students, who are forced to merely repeat and memorize for a passing
grade, without the slightest interest in what they're doing.

Other respondents said people only learn when they're enjoying what
they're doing.

Everyone's conclusion was that the real purpose of education isn't to
help us understand life and all the difficulties that lie ahead.

The goal of schools is to develop a docile and obedient citizen, to turn
them into puppets of corporations and the state, additional widgets in a
monstrous machine – in "socialist" as well as capitalist countries.
Those aren't schools, but factories.

At the end one teacher speaks with great emotion. You can see she can't
contain her tears. She said, "Love is all that a child needs, and that
everything else, what they need for the world, comes on its own.
However, a child who hasn't received love is hardly capable of giving."

The film is dedicated to "all children and young people who want to grow
up in freedom."

I guess we have a long way to go for thoughts like these to be taken
into account in Cuba, but just the fact that there are people thinking
and expressing these things and that we can now see them here (though
not on TV) is already something hopeful.
(*) Kabir is a young Cuban who was not allowed to attend his senior high
school because of his long hair. Continue reading
Threats to religious freedom in Cuba
Published 04 April 2013 | ASSIST News Service

Events in the first quarter of 2013 point to an ongoing trend of a
broader political crackdown on religious freedom in Cuba, while reported
violations tripled in 2012.

That's according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide's (CSW) latest report
on religious freedom in Cuba.

Religious freedom violations reported to CSW in 2012, many involving
dozens of people at a time, rose to 120 compared to 40 in 2011.

CSW said in a news release that those numbers do not include the
hundreds of devout Catholics who were arrested, sometimes with force,
and arbitrarily imprisoned during the week of the Pope's visit, in order
to prevent them from attending any of the scheduled masses or other events.

After a period in which it appeared that the government was moving
towards more subtle and refined pressure on church leaders, CSW said
2012 saw a return of the use of more brutal and public tactics.

For the first time in years, CSW received multiple reports of violent
beatings of Protestant pastors in different parts of the country.

In one particularly troubling case, CSW reported, Pastor Reutilio
Columbie of the Shalom Christian Center, a Pentecostal church in Moa,
Holguín Province, was left with permanent brain damage.

That was following a violent attack as he traveled from his home to the
provincial capital to file a legal complaint against local Communist
Party officials, who had illegally confiscated a vehicle owned by and
licensed to the church.

The government has in general moved away from issuing lengthy prison
sentences to political dissidents. CSW said it now uses a strategy of
frequent, temporary arbitrary detention without charge; a tactic
increasingly used against religious leaders and Christians who are
prevented from attending Sunday morning services.

CSW said there were also increased reports of threats of forced closure
and demolition of church buildings, as well as confiscation of property.
They were often ordered by the Office of Religious Affairs (ORA), an arm
of the Central Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, and which has
authority over all religious groups and associations.

Discrimination against Christians continues to be a problem, and
children are particularly vulnerable.

CSW said earlier this month a primary school-aged girl who attends a
Baptist church in Ciego de Avila province was banned from school and
threatened with expulsion for refusing to proclaim that "Comandante Hugo
Chávez was more important than Jesus Christ" during mandatory memorial
activities organized in the wake of President Chávez' death.

CSW has also received reports that children of church leaders,
particularly outside Havana, are frequently singled out for harassment
and ridicule because of their faith by teachers and school administrators.

CSW's Advocacy Director Andrew Johnston said in the news release,
"Recent developments led many to hope for a more positive era for
religious freedom in Cuba. However, the reality on the ground for church
leaders representing the full spectrum of denominations suggests that
the reforms and privileges accorded to a few religious groups have been
mostly cosmetic."

Johnston continued, "The government's stance towards religious groups,
epitomized by the actions of the ORA, suggests that religious
organisations, and in particular their leaders, are still considered
potentially dangerous and there are concerted efforts to exert as much
control as possible over their activities. We urge the Cuban government,
as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political
Rights, to guarantee the right to freedom of religion or belief for all
of its citizens." Continue reading
Nibulon plants to export grain to Cuba
April 4, 2013, 1:55 p.m. | Business — by Interfax-Ukraine

Mykolaiv-based Nibulon agricultural company, one of the largest
producers and exporters of grain and oilseed in Ukraine, is considering
exports of corn, wheat and soybeans to Cuba, reads a posting on the Web
site of the company on Thursday.

The report says that preliminary agreements on supplies of the said
crops were reached with Cuba's Alimport foreign trade company.

The company said that during a visit of representatives of the Cuban
company to Mykolaiv, the volumes and terms of supplies of crops to Cuba
were discussed. The agreements could be signed soon.

Nibulon said that the interest of Cuba to large suppliers of grain crops
is linked to complicated climate conditions for agriculture in the
country and badly developed logistics.

Cuba could be the 61st export partner of Nibulon.

Nibulon was established in 1991 and is one of the largest operators on
the grain market. The company has elevators with a total capacity of 1.6
million tonnes, as well as its own transshipment terminal in Mykolaiv.

Nibulon has since 2009 been implementing a project to commission 17
grain elevators and river terminals, as well as build 57 vessels,
including 14 sea and river tugboats with an overall deadweight of
200,000 tonnes. Continue reading
Posted on Wednesday, 04.03.13

Yoani Sánchez's 'Tweet Up' lures 250 people to Arsht Center

The questions for Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez came in fast via Twitter
during Wednesday's town hall-style meeting at downtown Miami's Adrienne
Arsht Center for the Performing Arts.

About 250 people gathered to see and hear Sánchez inside a conference
room of the opera house. Many more joined the so-called Tweet Up by cell
phone and computer, lobbing questions from cyberspace that ranged from
the direct to the provocative to the humorous.

The stream of Twitter queries, most written in Spanish, were projected
on a big screen behind the stage where Sánchez sat:

"Will you please explain how lifting the U.S. trade embargo can help
Cuban people and political reform,'' asked one.

"How do you pretend to represent Cubans when you live a lifestyle that's
not permitted in Cuba?'' queried another.

"Why is it that we Cubans can never begin punctually?'' joked another
after the event began 15 minutes late.

Sánchez, who is visiting Miami as part of an 80-day international tour,
spoke only Spanish. She did not answer every question posed on Twitter
or by the audience. There were simply too many for an event that lasted
about one hour — and moderator Pamela Silva Conde, co-anchor of
Univision's news show Primer Impacto (First Impact), selected only about
a dozen from the hundreds of questions.

But clearly many in Miami remain interested in the dissident blogger's
point of view on life in communist Cuba, her experiences in South
Florida, and her ability to connect with so many followers outside the

Among those attending: actor Andy Garcia, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado and
his predecessor, Manny Diaz, and David Lawrence, former publisher of The
Miami Herald and founding board member of The Children's Trust.

Ramiro Ortiz, a Cuban exile and president of HistoryMiami (formerly the
Historical Museum of Southern Florida), said he wanted to see Sánchez
because of her courage and credibility as an outspoken critic of the
Castro regime who still lives on the island.

"This is an historic event,'' said Ortiz, who was seeing Sánchez for the
first time since she began a public speaking tour of Miami on Monday.

"Here [in Miami] we are talking,'' he said. "Over there, she is taking

Said Tony Friguls, a Cuban exile and Miami resident who also was in the
audience: "There is no oppressive regime that can contradict clear and
correct information.''

Others said they were struck by Sánchez's innovative dissidence,
expressed through her blog ( and frequent
Twitter posts (@yoanisanchez).

"She's at the forefront of a digital dissidence, and it's impossible to
stop or contain,'' said Alejandro Vitale, vice president of a Miami
marketing agency.

Vitale said he also was impressed with "the level of connectedness"
between the Cuban blogger and her many followers around the world,
explaining that he began following Sánchez on Twitter, and "she started
following me back.''

During the Tweet Up, Sánchez spoke of her hopes for her first trip
abroad since becoming an internationally renowned blogger about six
years ago. "I hope this trip will be the trip that changes my life,''
she said.

Asked what people in the United States can do to help those in Cuba, she
urged Americans to, among other things, give their old cell phones to
Cubans on the island because, Sánchez said, cell phones are the second
most effective communication tool on the island after television sets.

She accused Cuba's communist government of promoting rancorous
propaganda and hateful speech that divides Cubans on the island and
those in exile.

"Cubans are ready for the embrace'' of liberty, she said.

Sánchez explained her reasons for stating that the U.S. trade embargo
against Cuba should be lifted: The Cuban government blames every problem
on the decades-long blockade. "I'm tired of the pretext,'' she said.

She declined to reveal too much about how she publishes her blog from
the island because "then they won't let me do it,'' she said.

Sánchez also said she expects repercussions upon her return to Cuba.

She said most likely the Cuban government will employ "character
assassination'' as they have in the past by broadcasting images on TV of
her face surrounded by American currency, suggesting she is a pawn of
the United States — or at a keyboard with images of attack helicopters,
suggesting she is a "cyber terrorist.''

Then Sánchez addressed a question that she said comes up often and "I've
clarified many times already'' — How does she pay for her international

Before explaining, though, Sánchez posed a question of her own: "I would
like Raul Castro to answer: who finances his lifestyle?'' she said. "The
answer is: the Cuban people. It's an embarrassment.''

She said donations solicited online through an independent website
helped fund her trip to Brazil, though she did not name the website. She
said her trip to Amsterdam was paid for by human rights organization
Amnesty International, which invited her to its film festival. Her trips
to Mexico, New York and Washington, D.C., she said, were financed by
academic institutions.

"I haven't lacked a roof,'' she said. "I haven't lacked a plate of food.
What I've lacked is the time to eat the plate of food.'' Continue reading
Posted on Thursday, 04.04.13

UM professor: Cuba's electricity has been sagging for years
By Juan O. Tamayo

Cuba's electricity sector has been going steadily downhill in the past
five or six years because of bad investments, lack of controls and
hurricane damages, according to an updated report by a University of
Miami professor.

"They had a little improvement until 2005 or 2006, but since then it's
been falling," said Manuel Cereijo, a professor of electrical
engineering who has long monitored the sector and written several
reports on its activity.

Cereijos' latest figures show that the electricity lost between the
generating plants and consumers rose from 18 percent of power generated
in 2005 to 30 percent last year, compared to about 5 percent in other

The number of days with blackouts rose from 100 to 125 in the same
period, he reported, and the total time of interruptions in the system
rose from 480,000 hours in 2008 to 900,000 hours last year.

Meanwhile, peak demand rose steadily, from 2,200 megawatts to 3,500
megawatts, leading to interruptions and other problems. The island today
needs an immediate addition of 500 megawatts in generating capacity,
Cereijo added.

Cuba was hit by a growing string of blackouts last summer, capped by a
massive outage in September that left an estimated 5 million people
without power for up to 12 hours in the western half of the island.

Cereijo said he gathers his figures from the Cuban government's own
National Statistics Office (ONE), electricity sector employees who
defected and now live abroad and companies that sell equipment to the
island, among others.

A retired deputy dean of the engineering faculty at Florida
International University, Cereijo wrote a lengthy report on Cuba's power
sector in 2011. He will present an update at UM on April 17.

Electricity generation and distribution on the island were hard hit in
the early 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed and stopped sending
cheap oil and spare parts for the island's Soviet-made equipment.

Cubans joked at the time they had more darkness than light, and called
the occasional return of power "light-ins."

Electricity production improved in the 2000s as the island began
spending an estimated $3.5 billion on smaller generators to counter the
steady deterioration of its larger and older plants, Cereijo noted.

But the smaller plants were only stopgap measures, he added, designed to
provide power to large institutions such as hospitals during
emergencies, not to work for long stretches at a time. Cubans also have
complained about their noxious exhaust fumes.

The island had 17 main generating plants in 1989 and now has only seven
that are working, Cereijo said. The most modern of its high-voltage
lines was installed in the 1970s and used outdated Soviet technology.

Three devastating hurricanes hit Cuba in 2008, and some of the damages
caused by Hurricane Sandy in the eastern part of Cuba last year, mostly
to lines and transformers, have yet to be repaired, according to reports
from dissidents in the region.

Uruguay just last month donated $300,000 worth of materials to fix
damage to the power grid caused by Sandy, which hit hardest Oct. 25 in
the city and province of Santiago de Cuba.

Underlining Cuba's need for more generating capacity, the government
announced in December that it had reopened its oldest hydro-power
generating station, built in 1912 in Pinar del Rio province, with new
Chinese technology.

A British firm, Havana Energy, also announced in November that it had
signed a deal with the Cuban government to produce energy on the island
from renewable sources, such as cane refuse and other vegetation.

Cuban officials gave no detailed explanation for the September blackout,
saying only that it was caused by an "interruption" in a high-voltage
line near the city of Ciego de Avila, about 250 miles east of Havana.

The outage blacked out the western half of the island, from Pinar del
Rio to the province of Villa Clara, for five to 12 hours. Other
blackouts were reported around the same times in the eastern end of the
island, but it was never clear if they were related.

Cuba's government news monopoly has also reported repeatedly on the
theft of materials from the electricity sector — from cables to
transmission towers as well as their steel and aluminum girders, nuts
and bolts — that cause smaller blackouts. Continue reading
Posted on Thursday, 04.04.13

Seven members of the National Ballet of Cuba defect
By Juan O. Tamayo

The seven young members of the internationally acclaimed National Ballet
of Cuba who defected last month after a tour in Mexico came to the
United States in search of wider artistic horizons, one of them has

The dancers defected "to be in a place where one can grow artistically,"
Ariadnni Martín, 20, said during an appearance in the television program
Sevcec a Fondo hosted by Pedro Sevcec on America TeVe.

Martin appeared on the program Tuesday along with Annie Ruiz Díaz, 24,
Randy Crespo, 22, and Luis Víctor Santana, 23. The other defectors were
identified as Edward González, 23, José Justiz, 20, and Alejandro
Méndez, 20.

The decision to defect "was hard but we made it firmly, without thinking
about the past, only the future," said Ruiz Diaz.

Crespo said his decision was especially difficult because he's an only
son, but added that he felt he had to make the most of his youth because
a ballet dancer's career is generally short. Ruiz Diaz said she was the
only one with family in the United States.

The four said the group agreed to defect while they were still in Cuba,
and left when their company performed in Mexico. They set out last month
from Chetumal on Mexico's Caribbean coast and headed north to the border
with the United States.

Several Cuban dancers have defected when their companies were abroad,
but the National Ballet of Cuba (NBC), home of famed ballerina Alicia
Alonso, is considered to be the premiere classical ballet group in Latin

In Havana, Ramona de Saá, director of the National Ballet School,
confirmed that seven members of the NBC had defected in Mexico and
declared, "It hurts us," according to an Associated Press report.

The AP report also quoted an unidentified official of the NBC as
confirming that seven dancers had defected but describing them as "not
yet known at the international level."

De Saá was quoted as saying that six of the seven defectors studied at
her school and that one of them had been "like a daughter."

She also told the AP that some ballet dancers who defect never succeed
abroad and wind up working as waiters or returned to a country where the
government supports ballet. "We are privileged. In the world of ballet,
the situation is difficult," she noted. Continue reading
Citizen Helplessness / Fernando Damaso
Posted on April 3, 2013

The Electric Utility, it seems, opens a hole in what's left of the
sidewalk to replace a pole, does its work, and leaves as a souvenir the
broken sidewalk, a pile of dirt of prevent or hinder the passage of
pedestrians and places, barely, a piece of a piece of wood from a cable
spool, and eyes that saw them go.

The Havana Water Department opens a trench in some street, even if it's
newly paves, puts in its pipes, fills it with dirt and, barely, covers
it with a thin layer of cement. In a few days the stretch becomes a
pothole that prevents or hinders the passage of vehicles and eyes that
saw them go.

You arrive at the door of a neighborhood store that sells in freely
convertible currency (CUC) and, when you tries to enter, the guard tells
you to wait, that the entry is two by two. You look inward, through the
glass, and observe there are only three customers and you ask, "Why two
by two?" Finally you go and buy your products. The cashier is next to
the guard at the door. He looks at your products, and the cashier
collects you money and when you are going out you have to show your
purchases and proof you paid for them, as he rummages through your
plastic bag.

The kiosk, also selling in CUC, where there offer a few dairy products
and open and there's an employee inside, watching the pedestrians pass.
You greet him the clerk, without returning the greeting, says they're
not selling anything because there's no electricity. You are stunned and
ask: "Is it because you don't know how to add with pen and paper?"

These are a few examples of what constitutes an infinitely small part of
civic helplessness. Someone may say: protest, do not accept it, demand
your rights. You can, but it's like plowing the desert, and you only
risk a rude or violent response, depending on the mood of the person you
demand them from, who enjoys impunity. What about the authorities? Fine,
thank you. They are concerned with other things, preferably politics.

This is the result of living in a country where, for more than fifty
years, the exercise of citizens' rights and respect for them has been a
pending matter.

2 April 2013 Continue reading
Zapata lives
Zapata lives
No place to live
No place to live