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Christmas Card From Cuba: Thaw Delivers Santa Claus, But Not Human Rights

Essay: A dissident blogger recalls the secret Christmas of her youth. The holidays are now acknowledged out in the open, but the other troublesome topic -- human rights -- is still off limits.

The colors and contradictions of Havana (Leshaines123)
The colors and contradictions of Havana (Leshaines123)
Yoani Sánchez

HAVANAOf all the naughty words and phrases I remember from childhood, two stood out as being particularly taboo: "Christmas' and "Human Rights."

I remember hearing the first occasionally, but only in a hushed voice. It was something a grandmother might mention from time to time, someone who'd once had the experience of decorated trees, Christmas sweets and turkey. But the second of those off-limits words, when acknowledged at all, was muttered with contempt – to allude to our so-called enemies: people who were said to be involved in counterrevolutionary acts.

That's how I grew up, far from the end-of-year festivities enjoyed in so many other countries and believing that evil lurked behind the U.N."s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. My limited vocabulary was evidence of how I'd been conditioned to be full of fears and to accept restriction after restriction.

This December, the shops are adorned with flashing lights and trees brimming with decorations. A rather slim Santa Claus smiles through a store window in a major Havana shopping mall. When people meet up with each other they casually say things like "Merry Christmas," or "I'm out doing my Christmas shopping," or "Come on over to the house to celebrate Christmas."

The "human rights crowd"

Yes, Christmas – considered for decades to be a bad word – has made its way back into the island's general vocabulary. But that same neighbor who might invite you over for a Christmas meal may also tell you: "Watch out. Don't get too close to those people. They're part of the human rights crowd."

At some protest rally somewhere on the island, the mention of "human rights' will still prompt the political policeman stationed on the corner to mummer into his radio: "Yes, here come some of those people from the Human Rights faction." We all have a friend still who tells us to keep our voices down, saying "if you're going to talk about that kind of ‘stuff," it's better to turn the music up."

A hypothetical snow has begun falling on our red Christmas caps. But before it even has time to collect, it's being washed away by the same tropical downpour of intolerance and arrests that has swamped Cuba for decades and that blows the breath right back into the mouths of anyone who dares utter the words "human rights."

Read the original story in Spanish

Photo - Leshaines123

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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

What Are Iran's Real Intentions? Watch What The Houthis Do Next

Three commercial ships traveling through the Red Sea were attacked by missiles launched by Iran-backed Yemeni Houthi rebels, while the U.S. Navy shot down three drones. Tensions that are linked to the ongoing war in Gaza conflict and that may serve as an indication as to Iran's wider intentions.

photo of Raisi of iran speaking in parliament

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi at the Iranian parliament in Tehran.

Icana News Agency via ZUMA
Pierre Haski


PARIS — It’s a parallel war that has so far claimed fewer victims and attracted less public attention than the one in Gaza. Yet it increasingly poses a serious threat of escalating at any time.

This conflict playing out in the international waters of the Red Sea, a strategic maritime route, features the U.S. Navy pitted against Yemen's Houthi rebels. But the stakes go beyond the Yemeni militants — with the latter being supported by Iran, which has a hand in virtually every hotspot in the region.

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Since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, the Houthis have been making headlines, despite Yemen’s distance from the Gaza front. Starting with missiles launched directed toward southern Israel, which were intercepted by U.S. forces. Then came attacks on ships belonging, or suspected of belonging, to Israeli interests.

On Sunday, no fewer than three commercial ships were targeted by ballistic missiles in the Red Sea. The missiles caused minor damage and no casualties. Meanwhile, three drones were intercepted and destroyed by the U.S. Navy, currently deployed in full force in the region.

The Houthis claimed responsibility for these attacks, stating their intention to block Israeli ships' passage for as long as there was war in Gaza. The ships targeted on Sunday were registered in Panama, but at least one of them was Israeli. In the days before, several other ships were attacked and an Israeli cargo ship carrying cars was seized, and is still being held in the Yemeni port of Hodeida.

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