Just as during the more than 50-year tragic conflict, Cuban civil society continues representing an apple of discord between Cuba and the United States in the times of the thaw, which was sealed with the opening of the respective embassies in Havana and Washington.
In a year marked by the talks between the two neighbours, the island’s civil society continued trapped between obstacles and the historic misunderstandings of its role, though new spaces continued emerging for its development in the reform channelled by the government of Raúl Castro, which include a greater domestic opening to private enterprise and of the island to the world, like its first-time participation in a Summit of the Americas.
|During the 7th Summit of the Americas Panama 2015 the persistent conflicts came to light about the nature of Cuban civil society, which in its broadest definition includes initiatives close to the official, moderate and opponents of the socialist government.|
U.S. officials arrived in Havana with the northerly winds, but also organisations seeking a greater approach to Cuban citizens, like the Washington D.C. Choir of Gay Men, who as ambassadors of respect for sexual diversity offered concerts in Havana from July 10 to 17.
Cases of censorship like that of theatre director Juan Carlos Cremata and his production company El Ingenio demonstrated the persistence of past ways of acting, but compared to other periods voices from the intellectual and artistic sector did not doubt in openly manifesting themselves against these acts.
Also registered were displays of recognition of new citizen initiatives like singer-songwriter Silvio Rodríguez’ acceptance of a prize for his initiative of Tour of the Barrios granted by the Cuba Possible project, coordinated by Catholic laypersons Lenier González and Roberto Veiga.
A severe drought, out-of-season rains and the migratory crisis of Cubans that broke out at the close of the year in Central America seasoned the year that ended without the legislative advances demanded for a long time by citizens like making more flexible the Law of Associations (1986) and the approval of a new Family Code (1975).
Internet in the eye of the debate
|The year of Leonardo PaduraThe creator of the fiction character Mario Conde was crowned in 2015 with the Princess of Asturias Prize for Literature, a sign of his unquestionable place in the history of Cuban literature.Here is a selection of other events related to the brilliant novelist:|
Persons glued to the screen of their phones, tablets or computers are the new ingredient of the island’s parks and other public spaces where the state-run Telecommunications Company of Cuba installed 58 Wi-Fi points of wireless connection to the Internet, at the prohibitive price of two dollars an hour.
This slight improvement and the public commitment of the authorities to meet the global Connect Agenda 2020, which for this year aims to connect half of the Cuban homes to the Internet and that 60 per cent of the population have a cell phone, gave some hope to the people that this indispensable service for the development of contemporary life will get here.
Cuban youths are the segment of society that most demand Internet and at the same time the protagonists of transgressing initiatives in the area of the new Information and Communication Technologies, which even find alternatives in the lack of connection like the apps for cell phones that are updated in the private cell phone repair businesses; the selection of audiovisuals, TV series and other digital materials called Weekly Package sold every week in all the corners of the island; and the informatics systems created for the management of private real estate agencies.
With restrictions and legal voids, the ventures linked to information technology have opened a space in private enterprise and the non-agricultural cooperatives, though they could be more profitable and be inserted into the global market with more access to the Internet.
Undoubtedly, the technological subject marked the year, when in addition the movement of promoters of free software enjoyed a boom, the academic sector requested participation in the government plans to computerise Cuban society and bloggers Taylor Torres and Norges Rodríguez organised a workshop in the Norwegian Embassy to share international experiences and identify Cuba’s economic opportunities if it is opened to the Internet.
No to violence
A large billboard in the centric Havana intersection of Independencia and Salvador Allende avenues for the first time featured a poster of the National Campaign of No to Violence against Women.
During the entire year, the problem of sexist mistreatment maintained its escalade from darkness to light, but it still has not been able to make legislative advances.
The research, with the aid of the state-run Centre for Women Studies and the National Office of Statistics and Information, seeks to detect gaps in the ties between men and women, in each sex, kicked off on September 2015 with a trial run in the central province of Villa Clara, and is expected to end in 2016.
The Cuban section of the UNiTE campaign to put an end to violence against women and girls worked to be coordinated with the Development Agenda 2030. It prioritised the training of communicators and groups of men and women promoters of a culture of peace, according to its technical coordinator, Dalia Acosta.
Moreover, the United Nations System in Cuba systematically awarded the UNiTE to the Commitment of Equality and Gender Non-Violence prize. The prize recognised institutions, organisations, networks, national personalities or specific initiatives that significantly promote equality and gender non-violence, like the non-governmental Federation of Cuban Women, filmmaker Lizette Vila and the Iberian-American and African Network of Masculinities.
The artistic and sports sectors’ ambassadors for a culture of peace towards women increased through already established and individual networks, as is the case of singer Diana Fuentes. The urgent need to incorporate men more in the change and struggle for gender equality, neo-sexism and the unfavourable situation of middle-age, senior citizen and caretaker women also gained force in the debates.
Once again the Arnulfo Romero Solidarity and Reflection Group (OAR) coordinated the Week of Non-Violence toward Women around November 25, when the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women was celebrated.
With activities in the capital and several provinces, the programme of activities included expo fairs of creators, forums in provincial capitals and isolated communities, competitions of women programmers in the University of Computer Science and the participation of private businesses. And they concluded with a massive commitment by men in the Casa del Alba Cultural, where they were able to use the Internet and join the global campaign Heforshe, with the public adhesion of more than 500,000 men worldwide in favour of gender equality.
Low profile of racial issue
There was little movement among the activism for racial equality in Cuba during the year, despite the beginning of the Decade of Afro-Descendants declared by the United Nations.
In fact, the Cuban Day against Racial Discrimination, organised by the Cuban chapter of the Afro-Descendant Regional Coordinator for the Americas and the Caribbean (ARAAC), was left without a second edition, after having closed 2014 with a programme of activities that promoted the understanding and feeling of equality in the younger generations, while it received unusual media attention.
|A team from the state-run National Centre of Medical Genetics studied with genetic markers 1,019 persons from all the provinces, aged 18 to 95 and who lived in urban and rural zones. It concluded that 72 per cent of the genes of the Cuban population come from European ancestors, 20 per cent from Africa and eight per cent from Native Americans.|
Some initiatives organised timely activities, where the debate was maintained about the current racist gaps in Cuban society, the need to revive the activism, the new form of racism, the discriminatory stereotypes inculcated by families, the problems of Afro-descendant women and the need to vindicate associations and the legacy of non-white men and women.
Racial Unity Alliance, a young citizens initiative mainly made up by jurists, maintained their work of giving legal advice and denunciating the cases of racism in different spheres. Its coordinator, attorney Deyni Abreu, pointed out that the juridical and socio-cultural project defends the right of black men and women to have an adequate image in different media, without jokes or caricatures.
And the text “Asere, NúncueItiá, Ecobio Enyene Abacuá. Algunos documentos y apuntes para una historia de las hermandades abacuá de la ciudad de La Habana” byactivist and researcher Tato Quiñones sawthe light at the International Book Fair 2015. The volume systematised the origins, influence and participation in history of that religious brotherhood, made up only of men.
New media appear on the scene
After the decline of bulletins like El Guardabosque – environmentalist – and the reestablishment of Desde La Ceiba – with emphasis on racial issues -,in 2015 new media proposals outside the control of the State and with diverse forms of financing started moving. Some of them recover their expenditures through the payments for publicity and others bet on the micro sponsorship through the Internet.
Headed by journalist and former university professor Elaine Díaz, the Periodismo de Barrio website came on the scene on October 18 to make visible vulnerable communities and promote sustainable local development and the adaptation to climate change. According to its founder, the independent journalistic and non-profit organisation aims to place at centre stage persons affected by disasters and seeks to become an aid mechanism for the work of local governments.
Díaz, who is in favour of economic transparency in her media, reported that she took off with what remained of the grant she had been given by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism of Harvard University, the United States.
Historian LogobonaOlukone and poet AfibolaSifunola created the printed bulletin TUTUTUTU with the aim of empowering and making visible the experiences of black and non-heteronormative women. With an initial print run of 200 copies, which saw the light on May 25, the printing and distribution expenses of the non-profit publication are defrayed by its two editors.
LGBTI rights in the same place
Without being able to achieve the old demand of the legal union between persons of the same sex, the activism for sexual and reproductive rights continued taking baby steps in the education and sensitising of the Cuban population about homophobia and transphobia, with the national campaign that in 2015 highlighted the right to employment.
The news of the homicide of 24-year-old Yosvani Muñoz, presumably a transvestite, in a park in the city of Pinar del Río, in the easternmost province of this Caribbean country, transcended in alternative media while the 8th Cuban Week against Homophobia and Transphobia was been held, from May 5 to 15. According to different versions, the unfortunate event took place on April 26 in a zone with poor lighting, visited by homosexuals and transsexuals as a place for cruising or gay encounters.
And again the alarm went off about the murder of men who have sex with other men in places for this purpose or by persons they met in those places, a problem dealt with by activists in 2014. The need to define which of these cases are hate crimes was also highlighted.
In that sense, gay activist Francisco Rodríguez favoured on his blog on June 1 “contemplating lesbophobia, homophobia and transphobia as aggravating factors when imposing a sanction on any individual who commits a crime against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and intersexuals (LGBTI),” as part of the modifications being made to the Penal Code, in force since 1987.
Writer Belkis González, an open lesbian and Christian woman, became a district People’s Power delegate on April 19 in a barrio of the Havana municipality of Diez de Octubre. Charliery de Dios, as she prefers to be called, is another non-heterosexual person in the government after in 2012 woman nurse and trans Adela became in Caibarién, Villa Clara, the People’s Power delegate.
Moreover, the Department for the Protection of Citizens Rights, of the Havana Provincial District Attorney’s Office, established a monthly meeting with the juridical advice group of the state-run National Centre for Sex Education (CENESEX) to legally process LGBTI persons’complaints and denunciations received by that institution.
And, at the close of the year, activists from Cienfuegos sent to CENESEX more than 200 signatures of persons in favour of legalising homosexual unions in Cuba, together with an open letter to the Commission of Constitutional and Juridical Affairs of Parliament.
Other issues dealt with in discussion spaces and blogs by activists during the year were the police harassment of homosexuals, the inclusion of the LGBTI community in churches, homophobic harassment in the schools, discrimination in private businesses, gay subcultures, the diverse forms of paternity, the multiple unions and the legitimacy and threats to meeting and sex sites.
Pope Francis in Cuba and Santeria priests unite
Francis I’s visit and his three masses in Havana, Holguín and Santiago de Cuba in September increased the Catholic Church’s leading role and established that Church as an interlocutor well-heard by the socialist government in its economic, political and social reform, which includes domestic changes and a diplomatic game that scored the rapprochement with the former archenemy of the United States.
But the most surprising milestone was the unification to launch in 2016 a single Letter of the Year, orientations and recommendations of the Oracle of the Afro-Cuban religion, of the two principal authorities that up to now published separate predictions: the Miguel FeblesPadrón Commission of the Letter of the Year (10 de Octubre) and the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba. The news was announced on July 4 during a joint press conference headed by Lázaro Cuesta, organiser of the commission, and José Manuel Pérez, president of the association.
And on September 25, 2015, Pastor Elaine Saralegui officiated in the city of Matanzas the inaugural cult of the first Christian church of Cuba, which includes, makes visible and is fully oriented at the positive ministering to LGBTI persons. The congregation, which hopes to achieve juridical recognition, is located in the provincial capital and has a small cult house in the neighbouring city of Cárdenas.
Though it is still not carrying out religious ceremonies, close to 200 Yucatan descendants who live in Madruga, a municipality in the province of Mayabeque, were organised and started discovering their Mayan roots. With the aid of the Guatemalan embassy in Havana and the support of the local authorities, the Maya-Yucateca and Friends of Madruga Cultural Association is trying to connect with their origins and promote a project channelled atrescuing and preserving their traditions, the Guatemalan ambassador to Cuba, Juan León, and DeysiChusco, president of the association, announced.
Other events, other debates
Animal Protection Law: The Animal Protection working group of Havana (PAC) in January began collecting signatures to propose to the Cuban unicameral parliament a draft Law for animal protection. Located in the Cuban capital, PAC hopes to collect 10,000 signatures of citizens to present the legislative project in the face of the growing unpunished manifestations of cruelty toward animals.
Foundation vs.transgenics: The Antonio Núñez Jiménez Foundation of Nature and Man called for the strengthening of organic and family agriculture in Cuba, to the detriment of the genetically modified organisms for agriculture. The declaration, which insisted on the old scientific debate with a peak moment in 2010, was launched on January 15.
Tania Bruguera: After artist Tania Bruguera’s failed attempt on December 30, 2015 to carry out a new edition of her well-known performance El susurro de Tatlin in Havana’s Revolution Square, the “activist” resigned on January 5 to her membership in the non-governmental Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba and gave back to the Culture Ministry the Distinction for National Culture that was given to her in 2002.
Bruguera, who lives and works between her country of birth and New York, independently carried out other activities in Havana which join art and political activism with conflicts with the local authorities.
The Cremata case: The production of “El Rey se muere,” original of the Rumanian-French Eugene Ionesco (1912-1994) and directed by Juan Carlos Cremata, was taken out of the publicity board of the Tito Junco hall, in the capital’s Bertolt Brecht Cultural Centre, on July 6, where only two functions were held for the public.
On July 7 a short note by the National Council of Scenic Arts indicated that the decision was due “to the strategies for the development of Cuban scenic art, the permanent dialogue between the institution and the daily artistic practice, in favour of achieving more pro-positive states between poetic obsessions of our creators and the Nation’s cultural policy.”
Marvin Yaquis, director of the state-run Theatre Centre of Havana, signed resolution No. 10/2015 of September 7 which cancelled starting October 5 Cremata’s contract in the theatre sector and decreed the end of his scenic project El Ingenio.
Numerous reactions against this event, which they described as censorship, appeared on blogs and the social networks, and a Twittering was even organised with the label #RestablezcanElingenio.
No-Profit Cinema Festival: Famous actor Jorge Perugorría is presiding since August the No-Profit Cinema Festival, with a project founded by filmmaker HumbertoSolás (1941-2008) and which he directed until his death. The festival, held in the seaside city of Gibara, in eastern Cuba, which for years promoted and taught how to make audio-visual materials with few resources, was going through an unstable period.
A new year began with a first time unified Letter of the Afro-Cuban religion, which announced “migratory outbreaks,” “increase of foreign investments,” “opening of agreements and meetings between countries” and “social outbreaks caused by desperation.”
But the mayor concern of the first months of 2016 is the price hike and the precarious conditions of the agricultural markets, a heavy burden for the families that still do not feel the improvements in their lives of the economic reforms or the thaw with the United States.
The historic visit from March 20 to 22 of Barack Obama, who was received by the population with respect and even empathy, took place in this scenario.
The activities carried out by Obama in Havana, the majority directed at the extensive and complex arc of Cuban civil society from the private and cooperative sector, civil organisations legally registered and representatives of the internal opposition reaffirmed the persistence of historic tensions that surround and even hinder the development of Cuban citizens.
And the question of the year is what changes in terms of civil society will emanate from the 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), to be held April 16 to 19, where the march of the implemented transformations will be reviewed, the economic and social model to be built in the country and the fulfilment of the agreements of the First National Conference of the PCC (2012), the only space until now that included the social component in the reforms, will be conceptualised.
But until now the congress held every five years threatens with taking place without including spaces of citizen participation, as has been done in all the other congresses, according to observers.
Computer science and cultural consumption
Annual reviews on Cuban civil society
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