The year 2017 was marked by the rollback in the rapprochement between Cuba and the United States, the adoption of migratory regulations and the coming into force of new measures for the private sector of the economy, the latter described as restrictive by a part of Cuban civil society.
In a context marked by the start of the process of general elections, citizens demanded greater spaces for dialogue and debate in relation to issues like the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersexual (LGBTI) persons, gender-based violence, the defense of the environment, animal protection and the need to have a legal framework for the means of communication, particularly a law on the press.
Floating in the space of the unregulated, self-managed digital magazines, which enhanced the media environment, continued emerging in the Caribbean nation.
And the already more consolidated, El Estornudo, Vistar Magazine andPeriodismo de Barrio, were joined by Tremenda Nota, an initiativededicated to issues related to sex and sexuality.
Some of these autonomous means of communication explore the possibility of working in an associated way, as is the case of Colectivo + Voces, a platform that groups together the magazines El Toque, Play Off and Apulpso.
|Young journalists win international awards
In 2017 young Cuban journalists who write in self-managed media won several international recognitions.
The feature article Historia de un paria (The Story of a Pariah), by Jorge Carrasco, in September won the Gabriel GarcíaMárquez Journalism Award in the text category, an award granted by the Gabriel GarcíaMárquez Foundation for the New Iberian-American Journalism (FNPI), based in the Colombian city of Medellín.
Published in the independent magazine El Estornudo, the article focuses on the vicissitudes of Farah, a famous Havana transvestite who relates episodes of exclusion and discrimination.
In addition, the FNPI granted the Gabriel GarcíaMárquez Cultural Journalism grant to Cuban Rafael González Escalona, one of the founders of Cachivache Media, a website on technology, culture and society that existed from February 2016 to September 2017.
And the King of Spain Award, given in January 2018, had among its prizewinners Cuban Julio Batista, who won the Special Prize for Environmental and Sustainable Development Journalism for the feature article Las aguasmuertas del Havana Club (The Dead Waters of the Havana Club), published on the site Periodismo de Barrio in August 2017.
The investigative feature describes how the waste from the distillery of the town of Santa Cruz del Norte, where the famous Havana Club rum is produced, affects the Chipriona inlet, now bathed by waters contaminated with diverse toxic waste.
Debate on visual environments had a fertile space during the first months of the year, with discussions on political centrism in Cuba, which polarized intellectuals, journalists, artists and cybernauts, in a country where controversies about politics and ideology different from socialism are rare.
The racial issue lived a moment of great media visibility when a young resident in the Cuban capital denounced a discriminatory act that motivated reflections on the promised the public coverage of racial discrimination.
The Cuban people also saw how the Donald Trump administration cooled bilateral relations between Havana and Washington, based on alleged attacks against U.S. and Canadian diplomats and their families which caused them health problems in the Caribbean nation.
Meanwhile, the European Union started implementing the Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, which it achieved with Cuba in 2016 after two years and seven rounds of talks, where the participation of civil society has been included.
Hurricane Irma’s passage through the country’s northern coast and the damages caused to an already declining Cuban economy, the lack of supplies in the markets, the persistent problems in the public transportation system, made 2017 a year of many uncertainties for Cuban citizens.
Centrism in the bull’s eye
For several months, in what has perhaps been one of the longest controversies in the times of the social media, blogs, newspapers and websites, intellectuals, artists, journalists and cybernauts debated about the so-called political centrism in Cuba.
Over and above some personal attacks, most of the participants dealt with the possible repercussions of centrism in the stability and continuity of the current socialist political system.
As a result of the debate, which included among the most followed spaces the blogs La pupila Insomne, Post Cuba and Segunda Cita and the Cubadebate website,a digital book titled Centrismo en Cuba: otra vuelta de turca hacia la derecha (Centrism in Cuba: Another Turn of the Key toward the Right) came to light, which compiles 19 texts describing “how attempts are being made to plant in minds the centrist option,” compiler and journalist Manuel HenríquezLagarde affirms in his prologue.
The journalist endorses that the current of thought that he places in the center “has taken on a greater protagonist role in the Cuban media landscape after Cuba and the United States jointly announced on December 17, 2014 the normalization of their relations.”
In early October, the project Cubaposible.Unlaboratorio de Ideas, led by Catholic laymen Roberto Veiga and Lenier González, published the text ¿“Centrismo” o ejercicio de la libertadciudadana en Cuba? (“Centrism” or Exercise of Citizens’ Right in Cuba?), which is a compilation of posts, articles and some commentaries that mainly circulated between May and August 2017.
The text comprises a collection of opinions that came to light in the sites Cubadebateand Cuba Posible, and in the blogs La pupila insomne, Post Cuba, Segunda cita, Libros del crepúsculo and El estado como tal, among others, in addition to some commentaries that gave rise to a great controversy on Facebook.
The volume, which contains 91 texts, also includes annexes, as well as a chronology and a map of the texts and their interactions. “Our aim with the map is that it provide a view of the balance between the texts of different positions and, above all, to make visible the interactions that took place as supports, replicas and duplicates,” González and José RaúlGallego, authors of the introduction, pointed out.
More waiting for inclusive LGBTI laws
In 2017 the activism for the rights of LGTBI persons achieved a greater protagonist role in the media and for the first time was able to enter an important social space: schools.
The Meeting against Homophobia and Transphobia, which the National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX) organizes since 2007, celebrated its 10th edition from May 3 to 20, this time dedicated to promoting safer and more inclusive classrooms, a topic which will also be maintained in 2018 under the slogan “For schools without homophobia or transphobia.”
The campaign, which centers around May 17, International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, took place in the entire country, with special emphasis in the central venue of the city of Santa Clara, 268 kilometers to the east of Havana.
For the first time in Cuba multiple spaces were created which, for several weeks, reflected on homophobic school harassment, a problem that exists, although “there is no awareness of it,” said Mariela Castro Espín, director of CENESEX.
“We have advanced at a political level, because the topic has been positioned in the Party (Cuban Communist, the only one), which has to take care, and has done so, that our proposals are expressed in the country’s policy, even at the legislative level,” she affirmed.
Latin America and the Caribbean also described as an unprecedented experience a socio-theological event that brought together trans leaders and persons of diverse Christian denominations in the Matanzas Theological Evangelical Seminar in western Cuba.
The mass and the debate, integrated into the event’s program, were attended by U.S. Canadian, Brazilian and Cuban reverends, who explained their experiences as transsexual Christian pastors and the biblical and theological roots that sustain them.
The foreign guests commented that they had never before shared such a plural space, with persons of so many religious denominations, since the exchange brought together more than 60 participants from Presbyterian, Episcopal, Baptist, Pentecostal churches as well as from the Christian Student Movement.
Despite the advances recognized by the CENESEX and activists of the LGBTI community in Cuba, the updating of the Family Code, created in 1975 and updated in 1992, is still being postponed, which prevents the recognition of the legal union and marriage of people of the same sex.
In relation to this, in late March 2017 Mariela Castro told the press that “before the last congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (held April 2016) it was defined that as soon as the Constitution was changed all the legislative changes packages being prepared would come after that.”
Until now a public date has not been announced about the constitutional reform, which is why the LGBTI demands are still on the waiting list.
First national statistics on gender-based violence
The activist movement for women’s rights and the prevention of gender-based violence won spaces in 2017 as part of the consolidation of different campaigns and the commitment of institutions, organizations, networks and groups of persons who systematically deal with those issues.
An important hallmark occurred in late December, when the TV news program Mesa Redonda announced the preliminary results of the national poll on gender equality.
Mayda Alvarez, director of the Center for Women Studies (CEM), of the non-governmental Federation of Cuban Women, reported that 52 percent of the 19,189 consulted persons said there was little violence in Cuba, 10 percent opined it did not exist, while 29.7 percent, fundamentally women, considered there was a great deal of violence.
The study, carried out in 2016 by the CEM and the state-run National Bureau of Statistics and Information, is the first national poll since 1989.
With music and dance, the project Tod@sContracorriente on December 10 issued a call for a citizens’ march that closed the 16 days of international activism for no violence against women and girls.
The walk, led by feminist singer Rochy Ameneiro, toured several streets of the populous municipality of Centro Habana, in the Cuban capital, to the rhythm of bachata, salsa and samba.
As a novelty, the violence barometer made its debut among the information materials distributed to the population. This is a tool introduced this year in Cuba by the United NationsUNiTE campaign to measure the reach of the different manifestations of mistreatment.
And although the majority of the efforts were directed at diverse publics, this year several initiatives prioritized work with the young population with the aim of changing the sexist attitudes and beliefs starting at an early age.
Once again the “EresMás” Campaign for No Violence against Women and Girls, coordinated since 2007 by the non-governmental Oscar Arnulfo Romero Center (OAR), was one of the moments of greatest visibility and social impact, with an extensive program of activities held between October and mid-December, focusing on November 25, established by the UN as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.
In 2017 the OAR was able to make the actions reach 12 of the 15 Cuban provinces, with the eastern province of Las Tunas as the main venue.
The Cuban chapter of the UNiTE Campaign to put an end to violence against women and girls, promoted by the UN, continues with the training of artists and communicators on issues related to gender-based violence, the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development and the use of the social media for activism.
The work in favor of women’s rights and no violence had the contribution of the non-governmental Iberian-American and African Network of Masculinities (RIAM), an academic group that celebrated its 10th anniversary with a day devoted to showing the good practices and knowledge accumulated in the promotion of changes in men for gender equality.
The RIAM issued a call to the 7th Cuban Meeting of Studies on Masculinities, held November 15-18 in the Women’s Publishing House of the Federation of Cuban Women. The forum, titled “Masculinities in Cooperation,” ended with the proposal of creating a Latin American cooperation platform on masculinities.
As an example of the concerns regarding males and their experiences in the agenda of several organizations, on November 18 the documentary Soy papá… de cualquiermanera(I’m a Dad…No Matter What), by directors Ingrid León and Lizette Vila, of the Palomas project, was premiered in the Havana Yara movie theater. This is an audiovisual that in addition was dedicated to International Men’s Day, held every November 19.
On the other hand, the Communication and Activism Sociocultural Project ¡Súmate! continued its campaign to raise awareness in Havana’s art schools, in junior high schools and cultural centers.
In addition, the National Union of Jurists of Cuban continued the training of its members throughout the country with panels, courses, workshops, postgraduate studies, national and international meetings.
|You can find the coverage on the 2017 Day for No Violence against Women and Girls on https://www.ipscuba.net/dosieres/por-la-no-violencia-hacia-las-mujeres-y-las-ninas/.|
Cuban anti-racism…but it moves
The Cuban anti-racist movement seems to be advancing in a scenario marked by a greater visibility of activism and the academia in different spaces of Cuban society, including the social media, blogs and some presence in the state-run press.
The moment of greatest public debate took place in the middle of the year, when the weekly Trabajadores, in its issue of July 2 published in its digital version a letter by Yanay Aguirre Calderín, a University of Havana law student.
In the letter, the young woman said that, in the capital’s municipality of Marianao and due to her skin color, the driver of an almendrón (a private taxi) in which she was traveling forced her to get out of the vehicle.
The incident led to numerous criticisms on the social media and livened up the controversy about the need to strengthen the anti-discriminatory laws in Cuba.
Finally, on October 1, the General Attorney’s Office of the Republic of Cuba issued a reply in which it affirmed that the driver’s preventative imprisonment was revoked and he was given an administrative fine, after he apologized to the young woman and she had accepted the apology.
The incident confirms the concerns of anti-racist activists who in recent years have warned about some discriminatory manifestations, among them the appearance of a fascist sign and the recurrent publication of job offers on websites withthe requisite that the person be white.
In addition, the anti-racist movement in 2017 witnessed an increase of its activities.
The non-governmental Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba carried out a cycle of lectures and a colloquium on race, sponsored by the NicolásGuillén Foundation and the José Antonio Aponte Committee.
Moreover, the Brotherhood of Negritude (CONEG) participated in the 94th session of the UN Committee for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, while another group of activists attended the meeting Afro-Cuban Movement, Realities and Challenges, organized by the Afro-Latin American Research Institute of Harvard University, in the United States.
Another landmark was the inclusion, for the first time, of all the martyrs of November 27, 1871 in the tribute that university students organize every year.
The pilgrimage, which pays tribute to the eight medical students unjustly executed by firing squad by the Spanish colony, also went to the Abakuá monument dedicated to the five anonymous black heroes who unsuccessfully tried to rescue the young men.
Some calls which were issued for talks and meetings centered their interest on the realities of the Caribbean nation’s Afro-descendant population and their ties to the Afro community of Latin America.
In relation to this, the Chair for Afro-descendant Studies of the state-run Center for Psychological and Sociological Research (CIPS) invited Cuban professor Alejandro de la Fuente, director of the Afro-Latin American Research Institute of Harvard University.
During a meeting with the participation of Nicaraguan activist Dorotea Wilson, general coordinator of the Afro-Latin American, Afro-Caribbean and Diaspora Women’s Network, a group of women from diverse Cuban civil society organizations, institutions and groups also debated about the country’s advances and ebbing on the problem and the possibilities of creating future spaces for dialogue on a local and regional level.
|Academia and activism make visible Cuban anti-racist movement|
Autonomous media diversify the vision on Cuban reality
After the boom in blogs in the first decade of the 21st century, recent years seem to be marked by the emergence of new self-managed media, in which Cuban freelance journalists publish their work as well as some who, still linked to the state-run media, use those spaces that pay more and have flexibility in their media agenda.
The fact that the Cuban Constitution forbids private ownership over the means of communication and that there is only legal recognition for the state-run press has not decreased the number of self-financed initiatives, some of them with the backing of international cooperation, others which have emerged based on microsponsorship or with a business model anchored to publicity and the sale of some communication services to the growing private sector.
The list of autonomous experiences in Cuban journalism include, among others, Periodismo de Barrio, El Toque, El Estornudo,Postdata,Vistar Magazine and Play Off, all of them with a digital circulation, on the Internet as well as the Weekly Package, an offline distribution mechanism that covers the entire country.
In December 2017 the magazine Tremenda Nota came to light, a magazine in Spanish and English dedicated to multiple subjects, although with emphasis on sex and sexuality.
In its letter of presentation they allege that it will be “made from within the island” and they only seek “to write to break myths and taboos about Cuba.”
According to international tendencies, in Cuba some of the self-managed magazines also explore the possibility of working in an integrated way as a multimedia space, as is the case of Colectivo Más Voces, a platform that groups together the magazines El Toque, Play Off and A pulpso.
The Colectivo Más Voces brings together Cuban media, journalists, bloggers, photographers, designers, video makers and caricaturists, who “as actors of civil society” work “to empower the Cuban people through communication tools,” they highlight in their editorial.
However, in September of this year Cachivache Media also disappeared, a project designed to explore topics of culture, technology and society, which published 72 posts in multimedia supports in its 18 months of existence.
The state-run press returned again to being at the center of several controversies, one of them when it reported on the dismissal of Pelayo Terry, editor-in-chief of the newspaper Granma (organ of the Communist Party of Cuba, the only one in the country).
The incident provoked angry reactions in the journalists’ union, since the note published on November 9 by Granma barely gave details about the reasons for his separation from his post after four years of work.
Almost a month later, Granma announced that Yailín Orta would take the reins of the newspaper, to become the first woman to head the Caribbean nation’s main newspaper ever since its foundation on October 3, 1965.
Another moment of tension occurred when the Marta Abreu Central University of Las Villas expelled first-year journalism student Karla María Pérez González for being a member of an organization catalogued as part of the opposition by the Cuban government.
The decision to expel the young woman from the Cuban higher education center generated opinions disapproval on the social media and on several Cuban blogs.
Another debate about journalism and the means of communication in Cuba had as protagonists more than a dozen web platforms which echoed diatribe generated by a post by blogger Harold Cárdenas titled “The indispensable journalists,” published on January 31 in La Joven Cuba.
The discussions’ tone was raised and even motivated journalist and activist for sexual rights Francisco Rodríguez Cruz to describe them as a “dialogue of the deaf” in the text “Open Letter to Iroel Sánchez or I’m Afraid that You Can be Harming the Revolution”, which came out on February 8 on the blog Paquito el de Cuba and was addressed to Iroel Sánchez, author of the blog La pupila insomne.
Even when last year was intense in controversies and debates related to the media’s reality, it ended with the usual silence regarding the much demanded law on information, communication and the media, whose process is a mystery since while for some years now there has been talk behind closed doors about its drawing up, it hasn’t even been submitted to consultation in the profession closest to the subject.
|Who are Más Voces?
The ColectivoMásVoces is a platform that groups together the magazines El Toque, Play Off and Apulpso.
El Toque affirms in its page that it is characterized for “telling short stories, with several protagonists presented through narrative resources on online and offline formats,” with a “focus very concentrated on telling the journalistic stories that involve young people in the transformation of our country, but also on phenomena that because of their absence from the media agendas would seem to not be taking place.”
Play Off, meanwhile, is a magazine specializing in sports, founded in 2015 and with ISSN patent in Spain, while Apulpso appeared for the first time in the Weekly Package in October 2017 and is dedicated to comic strips.
Private sector, an uncertain course
The Cuban economy’s private sector continues developing despite the fact that in 2017 it again experienced restrictions, such as the temporary suspension of the granting of new permits for 27 commercial activities and the elimination of another five.
That did not prevent the consolidation of initiatives focused on the training, exchange and promotion of new businesses, many of which have decided to have greater ties with the communities and to contribute more to local development.
One of the most successful examples of proposals centered on the accompaniment and advice to businesses is the Cuba Emprende Project, which in five years and a half of its creation has benefited more than 2,000 persons, who have participated in its workshops, courses, meetings and expo fairs.
With venues in Havana, Cienfuegos and Camagüey, this initiative of the Catholic Church trains persons on subjects like human development, management, finances and accounting, marketing, legal and fiscal aspects, sales, business plans and social responsibility.
An important moment in the year for Cuba Emprende was the 5th Anniversary of Expobusiness Fair, held May 24-26 in the Father Félix Varela Cultural Center, in Havana’s historic center.
Entrepreneurs from several of the country’s provinces met there to exchange experiences and promote their products and services, in an event that for the first time awarded a prize to Social Business Responsibility which distinguished those who promote a work committed to local and environmental development and inclusion.
Events took place in 2017 that denote a certain interest by some persons linked to the private sector to coordinate their demand for their rights and dialogue with the Cuban authorities.
In late August, a group of 43 persons sent a letter to the Labor and Social Security Ministry of the Caribbean nation as part of what they called an “initiative of dialogue” about the current situation of the non-state sector.
The idea emerged after the authorities announced the temporary suspension of the granting of new permits for 27 private activities and the elimination of another five.
In December, and after more than 70 days without a reply, the collective reiterated its wish to meet with Labor Minister Margarita Marlene González. But it was not until December 28, 2017 that high-ranking executives of the Ministry met with Marta Deus and OnielDíaz, two of the 43 entrepreneurs.
The socialized information given by Díaz on Facebook specified that during the talk topics were dealt with like the wholesale market, import with a commercial character by individuals, taxes, the permits and their reach and the need to maintain spaces for dialogue, among others.
The activist described the exchange as “a meeting of coincidences and discrepancies” and a space that they aim to “expand and defend.”
Other topics debated:
– Will Raúl Castro leave the presidency?: President Raúl Castro’s words caused many comments,in favor as well as against, regarding what he ratified in several speeches in relation that in 2018 Cuba will have a new president. “When the National Assembly is constituted, my second and last term at the head of the State and Government will have concluded and Cuba will have a new president,” Castro said on December 21.
The current electoral period began in 2017 and, despite the delays because of the effects of Hurricane Irma in September, the process continues and the names of the 605 citizens elected to integrate the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP, unicameral parliament) have already been announced.
The elections to vote for the members of the provincial and national assemblies are previewed for next March 11 and on April 19 the new ANPP should be constituted, with the likely naming of a new president.
–Migratory measures: On October 28 the Cuban authorities announced a package of four measures, which took effect on January 1, 2018 and included the elimination of the authorization stamp to travel to Cuba on the passport of Cuban émigrés, as well as the authorization for Cuban citizens residing abroad to enter and leave the island on recreational vessels, through two specialized companies.
The permit to enter the country by Cuban citizens who left the country illegally was also established, except for those who did so through the U.S. Naval Base in Guantánamo, in the country’s eastern region.
Finally, the domiciling requisite for the children of Cubans residing abroad was eliminated for those who were born in another country, being able to obtain Cuban citizenship and IDs.
However, aspects like the need to extend the valid period of the Cuban passport every two years, even though it is valid for six years, continue being polemical. This procedure is in addition very expensive when it is done abroad.
The demands also continue for a greater flexibility of the customs regulations and doubts associated to the mechanisms to acquire citizenship in the Caribbean nation.
–Animal protection: On the second Sunday of April, a group of persons expressed themselves about the approval of an animal protection law in Cuba, an event that seems to have been organized by the non-profit project Cubans in Defense of Animals (CeDA), which posted on its Facebook profile photos of the activity and wrote “we need an Animal Protection Law now.”
That same day, the capital’s Animal Protection group (PAC) posted on its blog an invitation to multiple activities on the outskirts of Havana.
A month later, a video showing a brutal act of violence against a dog, it seems committed in a municipality in eastern Cuba, set off the alarms of the pro animal rights activists, who criticized the incident in an open letter that circulated by email by the ecologist group Cubanos en la Red.
In the letter they called for carrying out more proactive actions by the media and the rest of society.
–Book on Cuba-U.S. dialogue: The book Encuentro, diálogo y acuerdo. El Papa Francisco, Cuba y EstadosUnidos (Meeting, Dialogue and Agreement.Pope Francis, Cuba and the United States; Paulinas publishers, 2017) revealed aspects unknown about the Catholic Church’s mediation in the process of reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States on December 17, 2014.
Written by Cardinal Jaime Ortega, a referential witness of the thaw between Washington and Havana, the book details the contribution of Pope Francis and diverse ecclesiastical figures to the negotiations, the roles of Cuban President Raúl Castro and then U.S. President Barack Obama (2008-2016) and other events barely publicized. The text was presented in Havana precisely on the day that U.S. President Donald Trump announced a change in his country’s Cuba policy.
–Last goodbye: In 2017 the Cuban academic sphere lost important personalities, among them lawyer Armando Hart Dávalos, who passed away at the age of 87. Hart wasa former education minister and president of the José Martí Cultural Society.
Professor, essayist and historian Fernando Martínez Heredia, 2006 National Prize for Social Sciences, said goodbye at 78 in Havana; and researcher and art critic Desiderio Navarro passed away at the age of 69 when he still headed the magazine Criterios.
The journalism union lost Antonio Moltó, who at 74 still presided over the Union of Journalists of Cuba. In addition, Omayda Alonso, who headed the Radio Reloj station, died at the age of 52.
Sports journalism lost one of its deans, Professor Enrique MontesinosDelvaty, with 45 years of work in the daily Granma.
In the religious sphere, Bárbara Cumplido, from Holguín, was murdered. She was working as a pastor of the Church of God. And Babalawo (priest in the Afro-Cuban religion) Enrique Hernández, Tata Nganga, died at the age of 99 in the Havana municipality of Guanabacoa.
The Federation of Cuban Women regretted the death of Marta Depress, who passed away at the age of 89 and whose trajectory included being a part of the national secretariat of the women’s organization and one of the first women to form part of the Council of State.
2018: a year of changes?
In a year marked by the imminent change in the country’s political leadership, Cuban civil society doesn’t expect its demands to be paid much attention in the first semester, when the focus of attention will be on the new president.
The official constitution of the National Assembly of People’s Power will not take place until next April 19, which presages that the start of 2018 will be characterized by expectations and uncertainties in that sense.
However, the anti-racist, pro sexual rights and animal protection activists plan to continue their demands for an increase in spaces for dialogue with the authorities and the establishment of legislative actions.
The cooling of relations between Washington and Havana will also continue generating uncertainty and will mark the reality of many Cuban families with very strong human ties in the United States.
The Brotherhood of Negritude, which will celebrate 20 years in 2018, is planning actions in the first months of this year, in an attempt to retake its space of reflection and debate about racial issues and demand from the authorities more communication with the diverse anti-racist activist projects.
Even when the Afro-Descendant Decade (2015-2025), promoted by the UN, represents an opportunity to position the subject, the Cuban movement in favor of the rights of Afro-descendant persons has as a pending subject cooperating and establishing a fluid dialogue with the Cuban authorities in that sense. (2018)
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