El Toque
ElTOQUE is an independent multimedia platform focused on the storytelling of Cuba
A woman buys medicine in a pharmacy with almost no products amid COVID19 pandemic , in Cuba
Glenda Boza Ibarra and Sabrina López Camaraza

Where Are My Meds? Cubans Facing Mental Illness In COVID Times

While Cuba has historically been praised for its health care system, the pandemic has struck the population hard, even those not infected. Among the victims are those suffering from psychological ailments whose prescriptions couldn't be filled because of closed borders and economic crises.

Chavely was raised with strict discipline: she couldn't bring friends home or go out to play for long periods of time, and her television and reading consumption was closely monitored.

The pressure grew in the preparation courses for university entrance exams. Chavely began to get low marks in math, physics, and chemistry. They changed her to a different classroom, then to a new school. She had extracurricular studying time and meeting up with friends became strictly forbidden. At home, she faced continuous scolding. The most difficult moment of her life was while preparing for the university entrance tests.

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A photo of Brazilian Presiden Jair Bolsonaro
Pedro Silva Barros

Latin American Pariah, The Cost Of Brazil's Isolationism

By turning its back on regional integration, the conservative government of Jair Bolsonaro is putting ideology above the country's long-term economic and political interests.


After two decades of leading the process of Latin American integration, Brazil's absence at the recent summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) underscores a dramatic change, of course, that is costing the regional giant both politically and economically.

Brazil's isolation isn't, of course, without precedent. Asked once if the Portuguese language would be part of a future "Hispanic" identity, the Mexican author Carlos Fuentes replied that Brazil was a continent unto itself. He saw the country as being a case apart in Latin America given its imperial history, and the circumstances under which it gained independence, nearly 200 years ago.

Indeed, for at least a century after its independence, in 1822, Brazil wasn't even considered to be part of Latin America. The first general history of Latin America that included Brazil was written in 1922 by Scotsman William Spence Robertson, a professor at the University of Illinois.

As time went on, however, Brazil very much earned its place in Latin America and became a champion, furthermore, of integration — both regionally and beyond, as noted by Ernesto Samper, a former president of Colombia (1994-1998) who later served as secretary-general of UNASUR (Union of South American Nations).

Samper once qualified Brazil as a transatlantic generator of agreements between different regional positions. He too sees Brazil as having abandoned its regional vocation.

Brazil's sinking trade with the rest of Latin America

Its absence at the recent CELAC summit, which began Sept. 18 in Mexico City, is glaring in that regard. By far the region's largest country, Brazil was the only one not represented at the event. This was a summit, furthermore, that was meant to renew multilateral presidential diplomacy, which was faltering before the pandemic.

The absence contrasts sharply with the leadership role Brazil, under then president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2011), displayed in 2008 when, for the first time in history, the heads of 33 Latin American and the Caribbean States met without the presence of the United States, Canada or another outside power.

Ten years on, Brazil is in self-isolation

That summit took place in the Brazilian city of Bahía and established a common agenda for integration and development. Two years later, through a fusion with the Rio Group, that same alignment of regional governments became the CELAC. And at the time of the 2011 CELAC summit, a communiqué issued by the then government of Dilma Rousseff, president from 2011 to 2016, noted that Brazil had embassies in all states represented at the summit and that its regional trade had quadrupled between 2002 and 2010 to reach $78 billion.

Ten years on, Brazil is in self-isolation, and this will have both political and economic costs — for the region as a whole. The absence of multilateral agreements has made Latin America more polarized and fragmented politically, and more disintegrated commercially. And by not participating in integrative efforts, Brazil is giving up its political leadership and facing economic losses.

Its trade with Latin America has plummeted, dropping from $70 billion in 2017 to $52 billion in late 2020. That included a sharp drop in the trade balance in its favor. Brazil's total trade with the region's 32 countries was 33% less in 2020 than in 2010, at the height of its regional political leadership.

A photo of then President Donald Trump with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro shaking hands at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.

President Donald Trump with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach.

Allen Eyestone/TNS/ZUMA

Is the Bolsonaro government right?

In January 2020, Brazil suspended its participation in CELAC, stating that the conditions weren't right for the group's "activity in the current context of regional crisis." More specifically, the rightist Bolsonaro government was dissatisfied with the prospect of attending any gathering with the communist regimes of Cuba and Venezuela. Its response was simply to withdraw.

Unlike most Latin American countries, Brazil has kept its embassy and consulates closed in Venezuela since April 2020. The following month, it closed five embassies in the Caribbean. Not surprisingly, its exports to all those countries fell in 2020. The average year-on-year fall was 13%, and in the case of the Dominican Republic, exports dropped 38%.

Is the Bolsonaro government right? Is CELAC just a leftist association?

Unlike other regional groupings like MERCOSUR or UNASUR, it does not even have a charter approved by regional parliaments or its administration. And yet, CELAC summits worked fairly well between 2008 and 2016. Agreements were reached despite ideological differences, and the region managed to speak as a block to the EU and China.

It wouldn't be sensible to hold such summits with either power merely through the Organization of American States (OAS) and without the backing of a regional grouping.

CELAC's diversity is shown in the fact that in the last decade, its rotating presidents have had different political backgrounds. In 2013 it was Chile's Sebastián Piñera, a conservative. The next year the centrist Laura Chinchilla of Costa Rica was in charge, and in 2016, the presidency went to the leftist Rafael Correa of Ecuador.

The Trump effect on Latin America

The group's gatherings had never attracted fewer than 20 leaders, at least not until January 2017, when only four leaders attended the Punta Cana summit, in the Dominican Republic. Donald Trump had just become president of the United States, and talks of détente with Cuba, dating from the Obama administration, were at a standstill.

Critics took the line that CELAC and UNASUR were "Bolivarian" clubs to back Cuba and Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro. And yet, Argentina's then president, the conservative Mauricio Macri (2015-2019), had become the rotating president of UNASUR that year and presented a candidate for its secretary-general while defending the group's original ideas.

All of that led, in August 2017, to the formation of the Lima Group, involving 12 American states including Canada. In its first declaration — in a bid to isolate Venezuela — the group urged the suspension of the next CELAC-EU summit scheduled for October 2017.

In January 2019, the Lima Group recognized Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's acting president. It was a move to strip Maduro of legitimacy. But Mexico then withdrew from the Lima Group, followed by Argentina and now Peru. It seems now that the 12 member states had more impact on the Venezuelan crisis before the Lima Group was formed. Their last declaration was from January 2021, days before the end of the Trump presidency.

A mirror and some light

In the meantime, Mexico, under the socialist President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has successfully filled the vacuum left by Brazil. The summit of 16 presidents recently held in Mexico City, with the presence of three center-right presidents from Ecuador, Paraguay and Uruguay, crowns its diplomacy and shows that the policy of isolating Venezuela is exhausted.

Mexico has also been hosting talks between the Venezuelan opposition and government, with Norwegian mediation, and committed itself to different CELAC activities in the past year. The agenda includes plans to create a Latin American space agency and to donate vaccines to countries like Belize, Bolivia and Paraguay.

By sticking, in contrast, to the position of not speaking to Cuba or Venezuela, Brazil has shown its inability to present regional states with a positive agenda. It's now isolated, as a result, on its own continent. The Latin American country that benefited most from integration is now suffering the most from isolation.

What Brazil needs more than anything, perhaps, is a mirror and some light — to give it some clarity on both its past and on where it might go from here.

*Pedro Silva Barros (PhD, University of Sao Paulo) is an economist and researcher at the Applied Economics Research Institute in Brasilia.

North Korea Fires Missiles, R. Kelly Guilty, New John Lennon Song
In The News
Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin & Bertrand Hauger

North Korea Fires Missiles, R. Kelly Guilty, New John Lennon Song

👋 Hyvää huomenta!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where North Korea conducts its third weapon tests in just over two weeks, R&B singer R. Kelly is found guilty of sex trafficking, and an unearthed John Lennon tape is up for auction in Denmark. Meanwhile, we take a look at why despite being an oil- and gas-rich country, Iran has been marred by widespread blackouts in recent years.



• North Korea fires missile into the sea: North Korea has launched a short-range missile into the Sea of Japan, officials in South Korea and Japan say, Pyongyang's third weapon tests in just over two weeks. The launch came just before the country's ambassador to the United Nations urged the U.S. to scrap its "double standards" on weapons programs.

• China lets American siblings return home after 3 years: U.S. citizens Cynthia and Victor Liu, whose father Liu Changming is one of China's most wanted fugitives, have returned to the U.S. after being prevented from leaving China since 2018. The move coincides with a U.S. deal that led to the high-profile release from Canada of top Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou last weekend.

• UK puts military on standby to ease fuel pressures: After a fourth day of panic buying that left fuel pumps dry, the UK is training military drivers to deliver fuel supply to stations if necessary. The surge in demand came after a driver shortage led to empty supermarket shelves and raised fears about fuel deliveries.

• COVID update: U.S. president Joe Biden received a third dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, just days after booster doses were approved by federal health authorities. Meanwhile, the Philippines approves coronavirus vaccines for children as young as 12 as the country battles a surge in cases linked to the Delta variant, as Japan is set to lift its state of emergency in all regions at the end of this week.

• Three Polish regions repeal anti-LGBT declarations: Following the lead of the Swietokryskie region, three other regions in Poland voted to scrap resolutions that declared them free of "LGBT ideology." The EU had threatened to withdraw funding earlier this month.

• R. Kelly found guilty of sex trafficking: American R&B star R. Kelly was convicted of racketeering and sex trafficking after running a scheme to sexually abuse women and children for two decades. The singer could face decades in prison at sentencing, due in May.

• Never released John Lennon song up for auction: A long-lost tape containing an interview and an unheard song by John Lennon, which was recorded in 1970 in Denmark by a group of schoolboys, will be auctioned in Copenhagen this Tuesday.


Greek daily Nea Kriti reports on the magnitude 6 "deadly earthquake" which struck the island of Crete yesterday, killing one man, injuring 20 and destroying several old buildings.


Why the power keeps getting cut in oil-rich Iran

Iran has no shortage of oil and gas. And yet, its people and industries are having to contend right now with regular power cuts. The question, then, is why, and what — if anything — the Iranian government can hope to do about it, writes Roshanak Astaraki in Persian-language daily Kayhan-London.

⚡ Power cuts began in mid to late 2020, for some evident reasons such as the use of outdated gas power plants, reduced rainfall that has severely cut hydroelectric output, and lagging plans to boost solar power production. Their effects have included interruption of basic services, including in hospitals, and in production, which has led to layoffs. These are fueling dissatisfaction among a population already exasperated with state mismanagement in various areas.

🔋 For 50 years now, countries have focused on the need to replace fossil fuels with alternative energy sources. The UN held a conference on new energy sources as early as 1961. Iran engaged in those debates at the time, but its diversification plans were forgotten after the 1979 revolution. This neglect has turned a country once tipped to play a decisive role in energy markets into a fuel beggar. The regime's sixth development plan (2016-2021) envisaged a 5% share for renewables in Iran's energy production mix, but as of now, it's barely 1%.

🛢️ Iran has the world's second largest natural gas reserves and is fourth with regards to oil reserves. Nevertheless, it cannot meet domestic fuel needs. In the winter of 2020-21, many gas-powered plants had to use mazout as fuel, which reduced their output and caused severe pollution in cities. Shortages are expected this winter too, as demand is set to rise. The government is at an advanced stage in talks with Turkmenistan to import gas.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com



Move over, Quattro Formaggi: At the Sirha gastronomic in Lyon, Parisian chef Julien Serri, cheesemaker François Robin and YouTuber Morgan VS broke the world record for the most cheese varieties on one pizza. According to Robin, the resulting taste was "surprising."


"Islam first."

— As the Taliban toughen up their restrictions on women, the new chancellor for Kabul University, Mohammed Ashraf Ghairat, tweeted that "as long as real Islamic environment is not provided for all, women would be barred from teaching or studying at the institution". Such policy reflects the Taliban's first time in power in the 1990s, when women were banned from school, beaten up for transgressing the rules, and were only allowed to go out in public in the presence of a male relative.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin & Bertrand Hauger

Cuba: Growing Internet Access Is About Money Not Freedom
Farid Kahhat

Cuba: Growing Internet Access Is About Money Not Freedom

People used social media to help organize the large, anti-government protests that took place on the island last July. And yet, unlike their counterparts in China, Cuban authorities are loath to prohibit access to such sites. Do the math.


Mobile phones, as the former Facebook executive Antonio García Martínez writes in his blog The Pull Request, were illegal in Cuba until 2008. Even after that, it took another decade before people were allowed to connect those phones to the internet. And more recently, on July 11 — when people held large protests (organized in large part online) — Cuban authorities blocked the internet for several hours.

Overall, however, internet access is finally available in Cuba, albeit with some limitations — for two reasons. The first is the expensive. An Amnesty International report titled Cuba's Internet Paradox reveals that the connection cost, as of 2017, was $1.50 per hour, a tremendous amount for people where the average monthly wage is roughly $25.

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Cubans of all stripes took to this street this week
Santiago Villa

Cuba Is A Dictatorship, Latin American Left Doesn't Seem To Care

Sympathizers of the Cuban communist regime tend to justify Cuba's violence on protesters and present it as a victim of Western imperialism.


BOGOTÁ — There is a dictatorship in Cuba, and people have come out to protest, demanding freedom. This simple fact, with which any democratic person can sympathize, is rejected by sectors of the Left in Latin America. They have shown there is a big gap in their commitment to democracy, which must be addressed and rectified to leave no ambiguity in any political movement's commitment to civil liberties.

Furthermore, Latin American leftist movements have repeatedly worked against democratic institutions once in power. There's a litany of examples: Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia have endured to a greater or lesser degree leftist governments that have carried out partial or structural coups to eliminate the opposition, concentrate power or perpetuate themselves in it.

One reason why Colombia's Left had a tough time in the last presidential elections, and why (the leftist candidate) Gustavo Petro generates so much resistance, is because many voters do not believe him when he says he is a democrat. They see him as another caudillo in the making, who would eliminate democratic checks and balances the moment he rose to power.

That's using a people's dignity as a bargaining chip.

There are ways of evading the Cuban question, an uncomfortable one for the Left. For example through ambiguous declarations, by calling for dialogue one moment, then suggesting the protests are being fomented from abroad, or citing the distraction that is the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Alternatively, they will say nothing about Cuba while talking endlessly about Colombia, Spain, Argentina or Chile.

The embargo is a criminal policy, but it has served Cuba's dictatorship more than it has the United States. Thanks to the embargo, the dictatorial regime has had a perfect excuse to justify its monumental failure. The embargo also assures it the sympathy of the Latin American Left, which is anti-U.S. in principle. You can hear people saying the United States must first lift its embargo before we can talk about any opening, democracy, human or civil rights in Cuba! That's using a people's dignity as a bargaining chip.

One can understand the nostalgia, the dreams of a socialist utopia and decades of romanticism. But political sentimentality cannot weaken commitment to democracy nor hide the savagery of 100 people jailed or disappeared in a single day of protests. There is another myth, that Cuba has an exemplary healthcare system and there is food for everyone, and it only needs to listen more to ordinary folk. This myth is the work of a propaganda machine. People are hungry and there isn't healthcare for everyone. Above all, people want freedom.

Let us pop the little bubble. Cuba is an island where musicians, artists, writers, journalists and opponents are jailed, or continuously monitored. Its supposedly socialist government is inefficient and criminal.

There is something decidedly dangerous about people who defend the Cuban regime: how much repression would they defend in their own countries should one of their own ideology (or what they peddle as their ideology) take power? I am hoping these sympathizers do not want a Cuban-style dictatorship at home. But they shouldn't even want it for Cuba.

Members of the San Isidro movement hold up a banner reading 'Culture and Liberty'
Manuel Cuesta Morúa*

San Isidro v. Stalinism: Cuba's Eternal Obsession With Artists

Cuba's dissident artists are challenging not just the communist state's repression, but also its claim to be the socio-cultural guide for the nation.


HAVANA — Joseph Stalin's famous response to Pope Pius XII's criticism of the Soviet regime was to brush aside the pontiff, asking: "How many divisions does he have?"

Totalitarian terror is safe indeed inside its borders, a machine designed to control society without armies. Stalin could claim victory when novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn was thrown out of communist Russia, and yet faced posthumous defeat when the Soviet state rehabilitated its critic, the scientist Andrei Sakharov. Arms play no role in totalitarian terror's anonymous routines and quiet paperwork. That is something sectors of Latin America's political left cannot understand, not seeing in Cuba that the bloody antics of dictatorships live on.

Totalitarianism is clear on one thing: To govern, it must demolish the disruptive field of symbolism. That is why Stalin won't disappear. He has migrated to Cuba, instead, to face down the Movimiento San Isidro, a dissident artists' collective.

Paradoxically, the Castro brothers were evolving toward an authoritarian model wherein civil liberties were starting to be a less costly and dramatic bone of contention, provided the state's hegemony was not challenged. Independent music, art and poetry festivals were suppressed as they could become public venues and gathering spaces for an active mass of psychedelic youngsters. But small-format spaces managed to find a way of living alongside the regime of the Castro brothers in its terminal phase.

But their successor government, whose belated attempt to lift the Communist party into the leading role, has recovered Stalin. So, while the Castros must face history's judgement, the government of President Miguel Díaz-Canel is up against a combined crisis of legitimacy and leadership. And in that situation, culture becomes a central challenge.

The San Isidro Movement is at the root of the government's dual-legitimacy problem: as the single party wielding all power, and as the country's ideological home.

It is poetic justice.

With a decree to contain the cultural movement at the start of its administration, its authors were reacting to a robustly emerging reality on the margins: that of all those expelled from the institutions and pushed out of society. The San Isidro movement sums that up. Its symbolic power unites a sidelined social body and street anger, with the creative mind of free artists who cannot be confronted aesthetically, conceptually or imaginatively.

The party's repressive response merely highlights and accelerates culture's movement from inside to outside the state. This libertarian movement and its wealth of multiple manifestations, like its social hymn, Patria y Vida, is changing the paradigm that serves as reference to Cuban society.

Emerging as it did from street-level cultural resistance, the San Isidro movement pitted itself against the state in the two areas where original Stalinism had triumphed: the destruction of the bodies of victims and the disappearance of their art. With its dismal communication strategy, the Cuban state has legitimated the latter — and to safeguard its weakened image, launched an operation to rehabilitate the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara. In the street.

It's poetic justice. In its new, impoverished version, Stalinism is defeated in San Isidro. Culture can be transgressive, corrosive and liberating when it hits you by surprise.

*Cuesta is a Cuban writer and dissident.

In a street in Havana, Cuba
Marcelo Cantelmi

Raul Castro's Exit, Biden's Arrival And The Future Of Venezuela

With Trump now out of the picture, Cuba and Venezuela — both in economic shambles — are once more toying with piecemeal liberalization, Clarín's international affairs chief explains.


Power and authority are not necessarily synonymous. Force is not authority, and can even indicate weakness. The philosopher Max Weber observed that dominance is only legitimate when people recognize and accept authority. In some democracies, rulers have compensated the fading of legitimacy with higher doses of authoritarianism. The pandemic has exacerbated this distortion.

This is the conjuncture facing several experiments in governance that are imperfect, populist or downright dictatorial. Cuba, Venezuela, China, Russia, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey all fit these labels to a greater or lesser extent.

In some of those cases, what's helped that big-stick-style authoritarianism survive is a setting where income distribution is at least consistent. China, fore example, breathed new life into its authoritarian system with the capitalist experiment begun by the late leader Deng Xiaoping. Its brand of modernization may have left the Chinese indifferent to the concept of communism, but not to the social mobility the system assures them.

Today, the People's Republic has the world's biggest middle class, with a per capita income that keeps growing. Vietnam has a broadly similar situation, while Saudi Arabia has spent big chunks of its oil fortune to bolster wages, pay subsidies and keep the peace.

Regimes without economic success can only rely on coercion.

Regimes without economic success can only rely on coercion, which has shown stark limitations. In Paraguay, the regime of General Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) fell with the end of the generous funds spent on the Itaipú dam. With no more "sweeteners' for his cronies, Stroessner was sent packing when another soldier, Colonel Lino Oviedo, marched into the presidential office holding a hand grenade.

With North Africa during the Arab Spring, rising food prices pushed people onto the streets to challenge the authority of their rulers. Anyone who claims ideology can make up for such pedestrian needs as food and personal fulfillment should listen to speeches made by Cuba's Raúl Castro when he took over the presidency from his late brother, Fidel. The revolutionary veteran who announced his retirement days ago, aged almost 90 years, admitted in the middle of the last decade that the communist island's "insignificant wages' had cut through its youth's "revolutionary conscience."

The Cuban case confirms you can do a lot with history, except negate its dynamics. A section of Cuba's gerontocracy seems to have understood that history is not static, and understands what it means to fall into an abyss. The younger of the Castros warned his peers in the nomenklatura that unless things changed in Cuba, the communist polity would fall.

When Venezuela stopped sending it money, Cuba sought out historic negotiations with the administration of President Barack Obama, to break decades of isolation and attract vital investments. This détente, later dashed by Donald Trump's erratic geopolitics, is now back on the table.

Castro's retirement and the handover of powers to his political godson Miguel Díaz-Canel point in that direction. Castro has also taken with him some old party hands opposed to any glasnost. One is Ramiro Valdés, who designed Venezuela's repressive apparatus of recent years.

Raúl Castro took over the presidency from his late brother, Fidel — Photo: Ernesto Mastrascusa/EFE via ZUMA Press

Castro and Díaz-Canel made similar sounds at the recent Eighth Party Congress. Both spoke in favor of normalized ties with the United States, like those it maintains with other states including Vietnam, whose capitalist economy and communist political control is a model that Castro wants Cuba to follow.

Vietnam's economy has grown in leaps since the 1980s, when it dropped its opposition to the free market. It even grew 2.9% in the pandemic year of 2020, when Cuba's economy shrank 11%. Interestingly, Castro has admitted that 50 years of U.S. blockades were not the only reason for Cuba's economic failures.

Today, Cuba's "Fatherland or Death" motto may well morph into "Open Up or Die," as a columnist in the Spanish paper El País recently observed. Like Venezuela, the island nation is suffering an aggravation of inflationary trends that is fueling discontent, protests and repression. In 2020, the price of clothes and foodstuffs doubled or even tripled, while services like electricity quadrupled. The decision last January to have a single exchange rate contributed to this inflation.

For now, Cuba must wait before the seeds it has thrown at the U.S. germinate. The administration of President Joe Biden won't do anything with Cuba until after congressional elections of 2022. It must boost its legislative power and cannot afford to lose Florida, as it did in last year's presidential elections.

Florida's Hispanic, anti-communist voters don't want anything to do with Cuba — whatever the subtleties. If the Democrats stumble in mid-term polls there, it means Trump could return. That might be good news for China in its race to become the world's paramount power, but would not in any case halt changes on the island.

Cuba's ally and pupil Venezuela might open the oil sector to private investments.

Cuba's ally and pupil Venezuela is also shifting its positions, beginning with its economy. Last year, on the advice of the Russian Economy ministry, a state commission discussed opening the oil sector to private investments.

The government of President Nicolás Maduro is preparing legislation to end the state's monopoly on oil through the firm PDVSA. And in January, the state began talking to concessionary firms on how to broaden participation in exploiting the country's pharaonic crude reserves. With output having dropped below 500,000 barrels a day, Venezuela needs investments that can match their scale to revive a crucial source of revenues.

While U.S. sanctions are an immediate obstacle, there are ways private firms could take over Venezuelan assets without falling afoul of laws. The U.S. forbids any business with PDVSA, the Venezuelan regime and its helpers. In theory, independent firms could take over businesses no longer controlled by PDVSA. Bloomberg is already reporting anti-sanctions lobbying by big oil and financial firms in the U.S., concerned about losing Venezuela to competitors.

Washington might initially allow U.S. firms to swap fuel for Venezuelan crude, which Trump blocked. This might be done before the midterm elections, using humanitarian pretexts.

Many in the northern hemisphere think a process of détente opens a straight path to regime change in Venezuela, while parts of Venezuela's middle class are already banking on a gradual transformation. And if Cuba begins heading in another direction and loosens its grip, Venezuela's regime may also do what it must, to survive.

The government has ratcheted up its pressures on the San Isidro group
Rubén Chababo*

Cuba Up To Old Tricks, A New Crackdown On Dissenting Artists

As the world is distracted by COVID-19 and regional leftists turn a blind eye, the Cuban regime relaunches its secretive practice of civil-society repression.

BUENOS AIRES — A new wave of repression has been unleashed in Cuba and, once again, its victims are the San Isidro artists' collective who have been denouncing the communist regime's arbitrary acts and power abuse for years. This comes at a time of censorship and harassment of all thinking on the island that does not fit in with what is accepted and regulated by the state bureaucracy.

A few months ago as the world was experiencing its first lockdown, news of the arrest in Havana of the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara managed to filter out of the island and reach the desks of major newspapers in Europe and Latin America.

A sustained international campaign effectively forced authorities to release him, to avoid international charges that the regime is violating fundamental human rights. However, there were many who warned that Otero's release should not be seen as a welcome turnaround in the regime's hostility to the rights of Cuban citizens. They believed that it would only be a matter of time, within days or weeks, before the regime would turn on dissident groups with the same severity and violence as before.

The government has ratcheted up its pressure.

And they were right. The government has ratcheted up its pressure on the San Isidro group whose members are now confined in an old house in Havana, and on hunger strike to press for the release of their imprisoned colleagues. The villa has been encircled by state security forces who will not let friends or family gain access to those inside.

The tragedy of political and intellectual dissidence in Cuba goes beyond such daily humiliations endured by these artists. It includes the immense loneliness of these dissidents in the face of the state's continuous bullying. In spite of the evidence and reports reaching the progressive camp in Europe and Latin America, there is a refusal to speak out and use their influential voices to break the global wall of indifference to conditions in Cuba. This dogged silence means they prefer to maintain an emotional and ideological loyalty to the Cuban revolution and to leaders who have long ceased to represent the ideals of egalitarian justice in this hemisphere.

As I write this, the San Isidro artists are still holding out against the state's agents but their strength is fading. While this siege continues, we must replicate the international solidarity that successfully got Otero Alcántara out of prison, break the omertá around Cuba and inform more people of what is happening on this island.

By firmly declaring our non-consent to this and any other oppression, we may help to finally put an end to Cuba's persecution of artistic and political dissidence.

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Thousands of Cubans took to the streets of Havana yesterday in a rare anti-government protest
El Toque

The Latest: Cuban Protests, Jordanian Coup Arrests, Racist Reaction To England Loss

Welcome to Monday, where thousands of Cubans join rare protests against the government, Jordan arrests suspected coup organizers and it's a full-blown festa in Italy after the national soccer team's Euro win, as racists make loss even worse for England. With the Cannes Festival red carpet out, Les Echos looks at how Netflix and other platforms are helping French actors and filmmakers make their way in Hollywood.

• Thousands protest in Cuba: For the first time in decades, thousands of Cubans took to the streets in anti-government protests, expressing frustration over the ongoing economic crisis that led to a shortage of essential goods on the island. The government's handling of the coronavirus has also sparked anger, with some chanting that current President, Miguel Diaz-Canel, must step down.

• Police in Haiti arrest key suspect: A 63-year-old Haitian national and doctor, Christian Emmanuel Sanon, has been arrested in connection to the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse. Sanon, who arrived in Haiti via private jet in June, is alleged to be a "key suspect" in having organized the murder.

• Ethiopian leader officially wins contested election: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed will remain in power after his party won an overwhelming majority of parliamentary seats. The results, which have been criticized by members of the international community, come after the jailing of opposition leaders throughout the campaign process and amid the Tigray conflict, where large swaths of the country were unable to vote.

• Jordanian monarchy officials sentenced over coup attempt: A Jordanian court has sentenced two officials, Bassem Awadallah, a former top aide to the royal family, and Sharif Hassan bin Zaid, a minor royal, to 15 years in prison on charges of sedition and incitement. The two allegedly attempted to push former heir, Prince Hamzah, to the throne in order to undermine current leader, King Abdullah II.

• 11 killed in India lightning strike: A lightning strike at the popular Indian tourist attraction, Amer Fort, in the Rajasthan state, is responsible for the deaths of at least 11 people. The lightning hit a tower, causing a wall to collapse and bury at least 11 people. Another 11 people were rescued and remain in stable condition, as the search for other survivors continues.

• Billionaire blasts off: Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, successfully launched into space, making him the first person to do so on a rocket he helped to fund. Branson's flight, which also included three other Virgin Galactic employees, comes just nine days before Jeff Bezos is set to take off into space in his own company's spacecraft.

• Wandering elephant finds its way home: One of the elephants in a herd that trekked over 500 km across China has found its way back to its home reserve. However, the rest of the herd continues to press on in what seems to be a never ending journey. The elephants became popular last month after escaping their nature reserve and beginning a long, inexplicable migration, marked by several group naps, which were conveniently captured by nearby drones.

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In Havana, Cuba
Gabriel Salvia*

Where Is The Outrage In Latin America Over Cuba?

The island nation hasn't had a free election for more than 70 years. And yet, as millions take to the streets across the region, the Cuban regime keeps getting a pass.


BUENOS AIRES — While people in some Latin American countries are taking to the streets right now and voicing discontent with their respective governments, in Cuba, a new constitution was adopted this year that, like its predecessor, enshrines political segregation and prevents people from speaking out against the the government's political cult.

In fact, this constitution is even more menacing in its suppression of dissent. Article 4 of the new charter states that "the defense of the socialist fatherland is the greatest honor for and supreme duty of every Cuban. Betrayal of the fatherland is the gravest of crimes, and anyone committing this is liable to the severest of sanctions."

Cuba's socialist system "is irrevocable," the constitution goes on to say. "Citizens have the right to fight by any means necessary, including armed struggle if no other means are possible, against anyone seeking to overthrow the political, social and economic order established by this Constitution." And with regards to political segregation, the document allows for the "separation and sidelining of a person or group of persons for social, political or cultural reasons."

Raul Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel on Apr. 19, 2018 in Havana, Cuba. — Photo: Irene Perez/Xinhua/ZUMA

Bear in mind that in Cuba's constitutional referendum — which was held on Feb. 24 of this year and organized in such as way as to entirely favor the Yes vote sought by the regime — around 800,000 Cubans voted No to this constitution. They opposed, in other words, the express threat contained in Article 4.

All of this raises some confounding questions. Where else in Latin America would anyone accept a single ideology in their country, or the threat of "armed" confrontation should you not share those views? Where is the regional reaction to this juridical aberration and criminalization of human rights? And what does it take to prompt Latin America's indignation and to make it react to Cuba's political apartheid?

We have to fight for our freedom, but also the freedom of others.

People across Latin America are marching to boost democracy, and yet very few seem angered by the fact that the last, properly contested election in Cuba was in 1948 — 71 years ago!

Four years after that, in 1952, Fulgencio Batista imposed one-man rule on the island before the Castro brothers imposed their own dictatorship in 1959. Today, Fidel's brother Raúl, the last president, remains effectively in charge.

This is the real Cuba, with political prisoners like José Daniel Ferrer, head of the dissident UNPACU party; homosexuals like Oscar Casanellar repressed before the world's gaze for protesting peacefully; artists like Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara repeatedly detained; democracy activists like Boris González Arenas, Marthadela Tamayo and dozens more forbidden from leaving the country; and journalists like the 14Ymedio correspondent Luz Escobar, or Camila Acosta of Cubanet, who are practically confined to their homes.

And there are the now decimated Ladies in White, who once marched peacefully after attending mass at the Church of Santa Rita, with their leader Berta Soler, hounded and harassed by a dozen female agents every time she leaves her home on Sunday with a placard demanding freedom.

Without widespread indignation and rejection of the Cuban regime and its exclusive ideology or expressions of solidarity with dissidents there, we cannot really expect or ask for more, or better, democracy in other regional countries.

Frankly, Latin America's political indifference to the state of Cuba is unacceptable. People demand rights from their own governments but reject the same rights for Cubans who cannot even vote in free elections. As the Czech writer Václav Havel said, we have to fight for our freedom, but also the freedom of others.​

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But there are a growing number of salsotecas wherever there is a South American diaspora
Nahuel Gallotta

Salsa, A Brand New Beat For Tango-Loving Buenos Aires

Immigrants from Venezuela, Colombia and elsewhere in Latin America are making their presence felt in the Argentine capital, where more than a dozen salsotecas have opened in the past decade.

BUENOS AIRES — In London it's Elephant and Castle. New York has several, including East Harlem. And in Paris, of course, there's the Latin Quarter. Most of the large cities in the United States, Europe and even Asia have at least one Latino neighborhood.

Interestingly enough, there isn't one as such in Buenos Aires, this most European of Latin American capitals. But there are a growing number of salsotecas, salsa clubs that spring up and thrive wherever there are significant concentrations of Colombians, Peruvians and Venezuelans.

Salsa clubs first emerged in New York in the 1970s, when Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, Cubans and immigrants from elsewhere in Latin America began to make their rhythms popular with groups like the Fania All-Stars. As the years went by, salsotecas opened in other U.S. cities, as well as in Europe. And these days, they don't just play salsa music. Club goers also shake it to the rhythms of bachata, reggaeton and merengue.

Salsa is truly taking hold in Buenos Aires — Photo: El Nuevo Dia, Jose L. Cruz Cande/GDA/ZUMA

In Buenos Aires, a city famed for its own music and dance tradition — the tango — about 15 or so salsa clubs have opened in the past decade. Among the first was Caracas Bar (Guatemala 4802), which opened in 2009, before Colombians and Venezuelans had a noticeable presence in the city. In fact, its first customers were mostly Argentines, some of whom had lived in Venezuela and wanted a place to recall old times.

Its Venezuelan manager and bartender, Félix Ovalles, came to Buenos Aires in 2006, and says the drinks he serve — a mix of rum and fresh fruit juices — "heat you up." He misses home. "You come in here and ask for a drink. Hector Lavoe is playing. You hear the waiters talk, and you're back in your country. You never get over being far from home. Salsotecas are places that heal this wound for a bit. You feel like you are on your way home."

You never get over being far from home. Salsatheques are places that heal this wound for a bit. You feel like you are on your way home.

Keep in mind that for these communities, music is much more important than it is for the average Argentine. In their countries, the day starts with music. It is their morning news bulletin. There is music at the office. Taxis are practically little discos. And on Sundays, it's music all day at home, and loud.

"It's another rhythm of living. We live and die with music, it's inside us," says Hernán Reynoso, better known as DJ Luny's. He arrived in 2006 from Santo Domingo, and has worked in about 10 salsa clubs. Today you'll find him at the Dubai Star Lounge in the San Telmo district. Like Caracas Bar, this place also serves Caribbean food. Sensitive to the Argentine passion for football, many such clubs have giant screens and open even earlier on match nights.

Home away from home

Salsa clubs are increasingly fond of live shows. The Peruvian venue Your Club, in central Buenos Aires, has hosted the Puerto Rican singers Tito Nieves and Maelo Ruíz. More and more are coming to play in Buenos Aires, often arriving alone knowing there will be a local band to play for them.

"You have a sense of opening the door and finding people you don't know but who have the same tastes and similar conditions to yours. They too miss their home, music and food. Many come alone. It's like a meeting place for compatriots," says barman Ovalles

León Newton is Cuban. He came to Buenos Aires 20 years ago and began making a living giving salsa classes. Over the years and with a few trips to and from Cuba, he felt the city lacked an exclusive Cuban salsa joint. Tired of listening to just one or two of the best known songs from his country, in 2011 he opened El Toque Cimarrón (Perú 571), which on Fridays becomes Fanía Funché, a musical event and venue catering for Colombians and Venezuelans.

"I knew there was a public that loved Cuban salsa, and I devoted myself just to that," says Newton. "El Toque Cimarrón is a project to revalue Cuban music. We want to give it the heat it has and has lost due to misinformation."

Dancing is the most important thing, by far. Followed by meeting people and seduction.

Like Havana's best salsa clubs, El Toque has live bands playing every night. That's how Cuban salsa emerged, says Newton — "for the people." Argentine customers abound, and the place may have inspired quite a few of the habitués to travel to Cuba. "The atmosphere is like the Argentine tango club. The gentlemen stand up, approach women and invite them to dance," he adds. "Dancing is the most important thing, by far. Followed by meeting people and seduction."

For DJ Luny's, there are two types of places in Buenos Aires: regular clubs that play salsa — and tend to attract Argentines in the their 40s or above who "come to practice" what they are learning in salsa classes; and salsotecas, where people can find "the real essence of salsa."

The majority of the people in salsotecas are foreigners, DJ Luny's explains. But some Argentines go there as well, especially younger people who are drawn to the music or just because they're curious. It's ike a cultural excursion, a way to try new foods and experience something totally different.

Watch: OneShot, Guerrillero Heroico - Alberto Diaz Korda

Watch: OneShot, Guerrillero Heroico - Alberto Diaz Korda

On this day 90 years ago, one of the world's most famous revolution figures was born. OneShot commemorates Ernesto "Che" Guevara's birthday with a photo taken at the funeral for the victims of the La Coubre explosion, on March 4, 1960 — a picture that stresses the intensity of his gaze and poise and that is recognized worldwide.

Guerrillero Heroico — (Alberto Diaz Korda/OneShot)

OneShot is a new digital format to tell the story of a single photograph in an immersive one-minute video.

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