Monthly Archives: February 2011

News of Information War

Few countries can compete with Cuba in the daily production of bad news. It’s a sad reality, which I wish I didn’t know, but a very true one: We have become competent exporters of unpleasant news, exceeded by only a small handful of nations.

So much so that more than one television station, more than one world newspaper, maintains its current news quota thanks to Cuba and its outrages. And we know that the good news of the world is not what fills the programs and opinion columns.

When I stepped on U.S. soil, for example, almost immediately the diligent producers of bad news sent me my corresponding dose: they suspended my mother’s email account that she had maintained for her duties in medical school.

Needless to say, her lack of communication with me, at the moment, is an effective weapon to punish me for my unacceptable attitude.

Now I have learned that the four letters that make up the name of my country, seen in headlines or pronounced by someone returning from a tropical vacation, rarely contain something like repeated scarcities, camouflaged dismissals, repression, prohibitions, strategies never accomplished.

This time, the dose of bad news comes to me from an incorruptible friend — a fearless chatterbox — who from a subsidiary of ETECSA (the only phone company in Cuba) in Santa Clara warns:

“They are taking away almost all the internet accounts of the workers. Not just in this company, but in others like Copextel as well. The argument is that there are too many staff with access whose work doesn’t specifically require a web connection. So as you already know, we probably won’t be able to talk any more.”

And I don’t know whether to be surprised, indignant, take it as a joke, or follow the most common route for those who don’t live on the Island: wash my hands of it while browsing, with complete freedom, any site I like.

But I still haven’t learned to do the latter, and therefore I say: What is frankly appalling is the capacity the owners of our Island display to change the pretext when the circumstances change making it necessary to rearrange the prohibitions.

Let’s see.

Until recently, the stellar argument to justify Cubans’ inaccessibility to the Internet was more or less: “We have limited and expensive access, via satellite, because the American imperialists don’t give us access to fiber optic cables. So we must prioritize those most in need.”

It was never clear who determined the actual level of need between one citizen and another, or how to explain that only foreigners could contract for a legal connection on the Island, while a Cuban with money to pay for it could not.

But there we were.

But as it now happens, the “expensive satellite — limited connection — imperialist blockade” factor is about to disappear thanks to the work and grace of our sister Bolivarian Republic: From Venezuela a fiber optic cable has been docked in Playa Siboney since February 8, which will presumably solve the former problem.

What is the discourse now? What precise words, timely, studied, are repeated at the time of giving a social connotation to this new redeemer-cable?

Let’s look at the statements to Prensa Latina of Waldo Reboredo, vice president of “Caribbean Wide Telecommunications,” the Venezuelan-Cuban company that undertook the operation.

“The submarine cable will increase the current data transmission speed by three thousand times. However, laying the cable alone does not increase the Internet capacity in Cuba, since the deployment of connectivity is not resolved overnight because of the high cost of other needed investments.”

So what does this mean?:

“Our priority is to continue to create collective centers of access, in addition to strengthening the connections in centers of scientific research, education and health.”

Clearer than water: Let no one rub their hands thinking of normal access, for example from home. Let no one believe that this cable will offer free navigation for the disconnected. Let Yoani Sanchez hold off on launching fireworks from her 14th floor apartment.

Previously, the operating theater is prepared with full intentions: the new bad news, that more Cubans will lose their access to the network of networks, is not coincidence. As nothing is coincidence in my coincidental Island.

Let’s say it in plain English: The Electronic Battle has begun in Cuba, and the army is ready. How? Closing the cracks, the possible breaches, that the enemy could take advantage of. Andy account that is not demonstrably necessary, completely secure, must go down or it could be turned into enemy ammunition.

It doesn’t matter if it’s on ETESCA or Infomed. The priority is to secure the flanks. God save us from uncomfortable bloggers taking advantage of an account that’s not deactivated.

The broadcast — fortunately — of cyber-cop Eduardo Fontes’s lecture to the yawning Cuban military should not be interpreted as an isolated or unconnected event: It is the preparations, the preamble that tells us that the new battlefield (in his own words!) is the Internet. And in this direction they march, combative.

Yes, don’t you doubt it: Cuba is a strong contender in the world market for ugly news, bad omens. Little is heard of a million and more laid off workers. Little of stoning peaceful women dressed in white. Little of silencing, excluding, sanctioning, exiling. Now, the unusual: My Island in the Caribbean makes news because it has decided to use the Internet to not communicate.

Sometimes I wonder where such ingenuity, such wealth, comes from.

February 24 2011

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Posted by on February 24, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea


Uncomfortable Freedoms

Left: Sen. Marco Rubio. Right: Sen. Bob Menendez.

One of the most notable differences between living and growing socially in a democratic country versus doing so in a country governed by totalitarian precepts, is the respect for freedom to make one’s own decisions. The sovereign freedom to choose in each moment what to do with one’s own life.

“Great freedom implies great responsibility,” a friend told me on my arrival in the United States. Let’s simplify those words to the most elemental: If no one–not institutions, nor political police, nor the State–controls your religion or ideology; if no one curtails your freedom of expression or decides how much money you earn and what you spend it on, all the responsibility for these acts rest with you.

And how good that is.

When governments or state officials forget their limits and begin to decide what kind of religion its people should practice, or what television they should watch (in Cuba today they broadcast a nightly program called “The Best of Telesur,” where they select, with tweezers, what Cubans should see even within this “friendly” channel), when the government begins to regulate, for example, where its citizens can or cannot travel, the foundations of democracy, by definition, are cracking.

This basic premise, it seems, has been forgotten by Senators Marco Rubio (Florida), and Bob Menendez (New Jersey), in their attempt to block the Obama administration’s expansion of travel to Cuba.

And I stress “attempt,” because, fortunately, when there is great nonsense there will always be great common sense to contain it: Their proposal has just been rejected, and at least for now Congress won’t even discuss it.

What was it about this time? Stopping the expansion of flights to Cuba for certain purposes to which the White House has given a green light–academic, religious and humanitarian travel–and dismantling the prohibitions that George W. Bush, in his infinite litany of mistakes, implemented against Cuba during his tenure.

The argument of the Republican Senator Rubio seems to be taken from the same discourse as the former president’s, when he argued Cuban-Americans should not be able to return to the country of their birth more than once every three years: “To increase direct commercial or charter flights to state sponsors of terrorism is totally irresponsible.”

And in addition: ““There is no reason for the United States to help enrich state sponsors of terrorism.”

Before analyzing the veracity or accuracy of these words about Cuba as a country that promotes terrorism in its most direct sense, before even calculating how much wealth the government of the Island actually accrues through these flights, we should look at the matter through the following prism:

How is it possible that the United States itself, which, in the name of supreme democracy, for example, respects the presence within its borders of Muslims hostile to the foundations of this nation (and I’m speaking here of those Muslims who did not hide their joy and praise to Allah at the time of the 9/11 massacre), can then seek to curb the freedom of people to travel wherever they see fit?

From another perspective, one can believe that some people make poor spending decisions when, for example, they devote their lives to alcohol. But the state does not try to stop them by force, with laws that prohibit spending money on alcohol. We already saw what happened in the United States alone when the absurd “Dry Law”–Prohibition–took effect in 1919.

So, if the founding framework that sustains this nation is democracy in its most basic sense, Senators Rubio and Menendez may well believe that travel to Cuba and help to Cuban families is oxygen to the government of the Island (an argument that from my point of view is ridiculous), but they must NOT restrict the rights of Cuban Americans to decide what they want to do with their own money earned through honest work.

Above all, they should not decide this when it is not the stomachs of their mothers or children who are finding sustenance in these trips or remittances.

And on this point, I will raise my flag: I am not willing to believe in the purity of intentions, the moral honestly of those who allegedly advocate for the welfare and full freedom of Cuba, but who at the same time ignore their families and don’t interest themselves in whether they are able to eat twice a day or are clothed in rags.

The truth is that in the vast majority of cases, those who argue vehemently against financial aid for Cuban families, and against family visits, meet one of two conditions: (1) They have no one on the Island, or (2) They are terrible children, terrible parents, terrible siblings; and in that case their opinion means nothing to me.

As a matter of policy, it is quite possible to have civil liberties that make certain interests uncomfortable. Interests that are fair and justified, or interests that are petty. Individual freedoms which, if they didn’t exist, could greatly facilitate the implementation of measures which in the long term could be beneficial to a particular end.

But it’s important never to forget that the narrow line that separates democracy from authoritarianism is always crossed by a single first step–believing in the power to decide, for example, how often people can travel to a certain country, or who can travel there and who cannot–and it is the responsibility of those who grow up in fully free societies to never jeopardize their foundations.


Posted by on February 20, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea


Reinventing Slavery

Talking about Cuban doctors today brings to mind a new kind of slavery, of sad pieces used on a chessboard. Through misfortune, the doctor Oscar Elías Biscet — a free man in the damp shadow of his cell — is hardly alone.

I believe that few professionals in the world face a situation more precarious in regard to individual liberties, than this army of doctors that in my Cuba of the twenty-first century are not masters of their own lives.

True: No one in Cuba is the master of their life. But the men and women in white coats, even less so.

I am thinking now about one more, one recently arrived in special conditions, pouring a drop into the receptacle of the outrageous. His name is Rafael Fontirroche, pediatric surgeon and he needed to make a hasty escape to the United States, and later on to denounce the corruption of the medical program in Nicaragua, to which he belonged at the time.

Obviously, the story of this surgeon isn’t anything extraordinary.  It just joins the ranks of the doctors who, speaking of their lives, knowing the almost eternal punishment that awaits them, decide to escape from the countries to which they were sent by the Government and to remake their lives where they will be the true owners of them.

Everything began with a new economic strategy.  The redeeming idea, the injection of a mountain of money in a dying economy, consists of forgetting about carnivals and coffee, forgetting about beaches and tourism, forgetting also about the army of computer specialists with which the Greater Antilles tried to lead a production of world class software. Forget any prior strategy… and look to the men of Healthcare.

Like everything in my island country: A visionary of power gave the order, and the whole nation undertook the task.  It will be a bit more than a decade since then.

I seem to remember precisely those times when the medical euphoria had its main peak: I was studying in a high school in my city, year 2000, and suddenly a career until that moment difficult to obtain, privilege of the hardworking and talented few, was made available to everybody.

Entrance exams for careers in Healthcare, especially Medicine, become impossible to fail. The academic level to qualify for the profession fell spectacularly.  The sign was clear: “We need to form a legion of doctors.”  No matter what.

And later, of course, began the international proposals.  Based on what? With what card up the sleeve? Well, with a controversial but true fact: the level of Healthcare professionals, in Cuba, is undeniably high.

We separate scarce technology from educational level.  We separate the ruins in which one finds the hospital network in Cuba, with instruments and methods from the Jurassic period — that allow, for example, wrong cancer diagnosis like the one they gave me four months ago — from the talent and dedication that Cuban doctors exhibit in their daily work.

Starting from there, our Government very thoughtfully decided what to do with the destinies of these professionals. “They will be our soldiers in white lab coats” — said the Chief Comandante one time.  And things were never the same.

Because soldiers only obey orders. And strict orders, unbreakable, under penalty of hard punishments and strict consequences.

They began to be sent to the most unexpected corners on the planet.  Both to countries that established hard cash payments in exchange for medical service, and to regions hit by hurricanes, earthquakes, and so much disaster that they disappeared throughout the four corners of the globe, where the international political lobby was the only reward.

What do these altruistic doctors say, in support, when Cuban Television cameras put a microphone in front of them?  They say: “I do it for love of solidarity.” They say: “I do it for internationalism.” And I, and many, are surprised by the skill in lying which has been inoculated under our skin in so many years of revolutionary socialism.

Because the truth is that those men of science abandon their recently born children, abandon their wives — who in many cases, from then on no longer will be — they leave their own lives in Cuba, because it’s the only way to raise their terrible economic state.

And they leave also, the vast majority of them, with heavy hearts bound for Pakistan and Haiti, bound for lands where cholera or poisonous snakes lie in wait for them, because they know well the blackmail underlying the order to leave: If they don’t do it now, if they refuse, they will never be called for “missions” in Venezuela, South Africa, or Bolivia.  The countries where they could really make some money.

And let’s say once more “something” about money, because like in all cases, the leaders of their battalion, the think tanks of these solidarity missions, know that he who divides and distributes gets the biggest cut.  The Cuban State business in Healthcare professionals is more repulsive by the minute.

Just to give an example: In 2010 the British Medical Journal classified as “slavery” the situation of certain Cuban doctors in Portugal who received a salary much lower than the minimum established in that country, in spite of the Portuguese government paying the same for them as for native-born professionals, the only difference being that they had to pay it through the Cuban Embassy.

In route to their hands the pay was reduced to a symbolic sum.  Annoying.

However, since it will never be lower than what they are paid for hours spent in Cuba where the maximum they can reach after years of achievement and experience is around 40 CUC (roughly $40 U.S. a month), these tropical doctors feel themselves fortunate.  And they shut up.

Nobody dares to protest.  Those who forget their condition as state property and raise their voices against injustice have two routes: Ruthless sacking from their careers on the Island, where they will never return to be full professionals; or the destiny that the surgeon Fontirroche chose: Exile.  Forever.

That’s why we then arrive at one of the central points of this condition of medical serfdom: since by grace of a presidential decision they become exclusive property “of the Nation,” nowhere on the globe exist beings with less possibility to emigrate in the usual way than them.

First: Because they are penalized with 5 years of waiting, at times more, until the fantastic Permission to Leave arrives in their hands. In this time they are sent to remote areas, mountainous, sparsely inhabited, as atonement for their sin of wanting freedom.

And next: Because in case they decide to “desert” from the assigned missions, the castle raises the drawbridge forever, and never again can they return to Cuba.  They are converted into another crowd of exiles due to the decision of the big bosses of our Gulag.

Here I have met, by the hundreds: Stomatologists who crossed Venezuelan borders with nerves swollen by fear and desolation; nurses, orthopedists, recent young graduates that after landing in Namibia or Guatemala enrolled in semi-illegal expeditions to the United States, knowing that Cuba where they were born and where they left their families and wives will, in the future, continue to feed their memories and melancholy.

While the owners of their Island live, they cannot enter.

Looking behind the curtain of smoke that this case creates, I think that more than pain or insensitivity, the history of some doctors that suddenly lost all autonomy and mutated into state property, should cause fright, some sleepless nights, in those Cubans who still can travel without 5 years of official purgatory.

Raise your hands those who think you know, with total confidence, what will be the next economic strategy implemented by the establishment to save, this time for certain, the Nation from total ruin.  Raise your hands whoever is sure that soon the members of a new army whose liberty will be cut off by official decree won’t include chess players, accountants or amateur singers.

Translated by Dodi 2.0 and others

February 14 2011

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Posted by on February 14, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea


May We Never Forget

The video posted with this blog never should have been seen, I think. Moreover, it never should have existed, it never should have been shot. Because once it was, once it grows in the uncontainable technological universe, it becomes impossible to keep it in the shade, to not let it be.

Let’s be honest: sometimes, ignorance protects. Yes. I say it with all its letters: I would have slept in better peace, my expression would have been less gloomy, if I had not devoted 5 minutes and 28 seconds to watching it. Because, once it is watched, if we carry inside us what is known as decorum, or what we call the soul, we can never be the same afterwards.

His name is Juan Zamora González. We don’t know his age, but I assume he is older than 70. This we know: he presently lives in Villa Clara, and, years ago—when his arms could firmly carry a rifle—he risked his blood, his being. He placed his life in the hands of a beautiful chimera, the revolutionary triumph of an entire nation looking for a promising future. He did it, like many others, in the hope of his humility. Full of faith.

And I, the eternal “talker”, am speechless this time. I don’t know if I should apologize for that too. The testimony of a crushed man, a man bitten by disgrace, has stolen my impulse and my sleep.

Because, as of today, I only have one credo, one strict dogma that rules my existence: humanism. Like that. Pure and simple. I love humankind. I love my race. I, like renaissance people four hundred years ago, also believe in humankind and admire its divine existence.

And for this reason, for, as a basic principle, loving humankind, I despise those who sully others, who frustrate others, who rob others of their existence. Be it an assassin with demoniac hands, or a system with its all-exclusive gears.

And because of that I also ask myself, feeling my own rage winning over my body, growing inside me with subtle ferocity:

What deplorable race do we Cubans turn ourselves into when we cease to love our own kind, the neighbor who suffers and stays silent, when we devote our hours and lives to intolerance and repression? What dark essence is inside those who can devote their time to learning how to censor blogs, how to block free discourse, how to attack ladies dressed in white, when a man such as this is starving to death in front of their unperturbed noses?

No. It cannot be true, dear readers. It cannot be, Cubans everywhere, inside and abroad: look at the face of Juan Zamora González. Feel his pain. Cry when this man smiles in shame while he tells of how he has sold the tiles of his roof so he can eat, while he tells of how if he still lives is because the knife he used to try to end his agony was not even sharp enough.

And now I don’t apologize for posting the video, for interrupting the peace of those who watch it: now I say let us all watch it. Especially those who go on shouting their “Vivas!”, those who do not spare any praises in favor of an accomplished Revolution—for the humble and by the humble—and those who have lost their memory under an amnesia of corruption and power.

Let us look at the face of this poor soul, and let us know that each minute of silence, apathy and hatred, each minute we choose to forget that the least fortunate drown in their sorrows while local papers—like Colombus—speak of the most beautiful land on Earth, each minute we refuse to fight for the joy of a nation that is still midway between boredom and unhappiness, condemns us all a little.

Translated by T

February 8 2011


The Cyber Battle

Not quite three months ago, on November 12, 2010, I published a post titled Operation Blogger: Algorithm for a Disaster, where I described as vividly as possible a “conference” of Cuban authorities with journalists from the official media, in a new push to form a Cyber-Army to fight in support of the Revolution.

A video just published in various blogs and virtual spaces describes with image what I tried to relate then with words. A video that confirms that accuracy of that post, which many branded as false or overstated.

To those who didn’t believe in the new national campaign in Cuba, launched under the implicit name, “The Cyber Battle,” and to those who believed but didn’t have a reference point to measure how much was real in my narration, the faith in my journalistic honesty, I post for you hear this revealing video which relieves me of the need to say more.


La ciber policia en Cuba from Coral Negro on Vimeo.

February 4 2011

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Posted by on February 4, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea


The Pharaohs of My Egypt

Exploding on the sands of the world, the dissatisfied burst. Mobs of low-paid workers, fed up with lies and empty promises, remember that governments have no more power than their subjects choose to give them, and they say, “Enough already.” They say: “Out with the tyrants.” Out with the perpetual satraps, who have made of our country a region of bare survival. A land without happiness.

Tunisia exploded first, and a domino effect spills over multiple countries. Yemen, Algeria, Jordan. And now Egypt, cradle of humanity, that threatens to remove the Mubarak cancer by the force of the protesters.

May god rest his soul: men like the Romanian Ceaucescu know what I mean when I say popular force. The world moves, the crushed crawl out from under the boots, deciding to be more than bits and pieces. Deciding to decide for themselves. It has happened many times. It will continue to come to pass, by terrestrial or divine law.

Meanwhile, my island, silent as the stone raft of Saramago, fleet unscathed. No one is shaken off. Forgetting that once, back in 1930 — when we were so worthy — we extirpated the jackass claws of Machado, and twenty-nine years later, again exercising the right of dissent, erased the Tyrant Batista, cause of so many evils, whom God, as with Ceaucescu, did not allow to rest in peace.

I wonder: why not Cuba? As I watch TV, listen to the demands of the volatile Egyptians. Listen, for example: “We got tired of lies, misery. For decades we endured the dictator Mubarak who has ruined this country.” We hear Egyptian scholars say:” I am a lawyer and live like a beggar. I earn $60 a month, and my rent alone is $75.” And we can not avoid the immediate association with our island.

I’ve heard all the arguments of the Egyptians. And I do not think there is one, I repeat — not one — which does not apply to my country. The same hunger and hopelessness, the same distaste for an inept government; the very low wages that don’t stretch even to survive, the underground corruption; the warning, just look at the living standards of the ruling class; and now, ironically, Cuba is also added to the list of countries with high unemployment.

And then there arises, inevitably, the pointed question: Why not Cuba?

If I had to respond I would start by pointing out a subtle reality: The control of information in my tranquilized country is, aberrantly, more fierce than in countries such as those that have just exploded. For those who don’t believe information has such an important role, I suggest they ask themselves: Why has the opening act of every classic dictatorship in History been to seize the methods of communication?

Look at the evidence, the steps in the snow that leave traces of intent and allow us to understand the reality: the newspaper Granma has published the article “Chain of illegalities” of the journalist (sic) Anaysi Fernández. A sad text reminding Cubans who claim  information not classified by the state, who try to watch television through a cable connected toa clandestine satellite dish, that these acts will remain a crime for which they will feel the full weight of the law.

Clearly and without ambiguity the official Cuban journalist (sic) says: “On television broadcasts illegally distributed destabilizing and interventionist messages arrive daily, messages that are oblivious to the cultural values that dignify the human being.” Underline the word “destabilizing” which tells us a lot.

It also tells us a lot that the finance society Rafin returned the only telecommunications company in Cuba (ETECSA) to purely State hands, after buying the Italian Telecom 27% stake in the Cuban telephone business.

Translate this into practice: For $706 million the Cuban Government has acquired full control of national telephone service, fixed and mobile, without the inoffensive but always worrying oversight of the Italian partners. If before the handover, when even one “destabilizing” incident occurred somewhere in the country the phones of some “restless” citizens stopped working, including my own, the picture looks bleaker today.

Looking at the other side of the equation, then, this massive revolt in Egypt was planned and organized through communication via Twitter and Facebook. Made in Internet coordination where the voices are freer and the censors more inept.

Which is the reason why there is no freely accessible internet in Cuba. And the reason why the brand new fiber optic cable — ah! delicious theme for this blog! — from the Bolivarian Venezuela to Siboney Beach Santiago, rather than liberate Cuban, rather than connect them to the world, will suffocate communication. As of now I bet on it. And I would be delighted to lose.

This is why in Cuba all of the worrying telephones are tapped and the conversations recorded. The reason international television is exuberantly blockaded, and its free messages, messages of individuality where the frivolous coexists with the profound, the banal with the rich, must be countered even if doing so requires eliminating radioelectronic space. They know what’s at stake: The survival of the system.

There are other factors evaluated in this game of speculation. There are more fruits in the basket, more or less weight, to ponder the differences between a distressed but docile island, and other nations now raging hunger for democracy and prosperity.

Using factors of social psychology (Cubans persist today in the idea that nothing can be done, nothing can change their reality) and the undoubted superiority of the establishment in my country in the use of “pre-criminal” repression, they don’t want for riots to happen to put tanks in the street. In the case of Cuba, the tanks are invisible, but have never ceased to be there: “The streets belong to Fidel! The streets belong to the revolutionaries!” shout the mobs. Let no one dare, eh?

But if I had to bring some basic, core, defining argument to comprehend the nearly incomprehensible, the immutability of some oppressed versus the outbursts of many others, I would say: The Pharaohs of my Egypt know that if they can isolate their slaves from the world, keep them incommunicado, they will. And whether we like it or not, their results continue to be magisterial.

February 1 2011

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Posted by on February 1, 2011 in Ernesto Morales Licea