While internet access is still relatively new in Cuba, there has already been some controversy when it comes to citizens criticizing public officials online. According to the Miami Herald, Twitter users have seen some of their profiles and comments regarding government officials blocked or removed altogether. Twitter users took to social media to voice their concern about having their voices and comments silenced by public officials.
Limited internet access in Cuba began in 2008 but it wasn’t until last December when mobile phones became readily available.
Cuban leader Miguel Díaz-Canel promoted the idea of having a platform where Cuban officials and regular citizens could interact. With such a relatively new technology at the hands of public officials, they have swayed away from criticism. With internet access and Wi-Fi hotspots just becoming accessible to all on the island, many are getting their feet wet when it comes to social media. That includes government and public officials.
Jovann Silva Delgado, a Cuban lawyer who lives in the U.S, was recently blocked online by José Ramón Cabañas, the ambassador of Cuba in Washington. Silva says he was blocked by Cabañas because he criticized a protest last year initiated by the Cuban delegation at the United Nations.
“Beyond the political position of a public official, who holds a post presumably supported by voters, the social media networks of officials are to give an account of their management, which is paid with everyone’s money,” Silva told the Miami Herald.
This issue has been happening to multiple people trying to interact with public officials in Cuba.
Another user, Norges Rodríguez, founder of YucaByte, an online project on communication technology, said he was blocked. Rodríguez found out he was blocked by Jorge Luis Perdomo, minister of communications in Cuba, after trying to mention him in a tweet.
“Well, today I tried to mention the minister [of communications] in a tweet and I found out that I am blocked. I think I was respectful the last time I mentioned him,“ Rodríguez said in a tweet.
The Inventory project, a repository of open data for Cuba, is trying to list the names of Cuban officials who block citizens on social media.
The Inventory Project, invited users who have been blocked by public officials to give info on who blocked them to create a larger database. The Twitter profile asked users to provide a tweet with the the name of the user, the person who blocked, the date and a screenshot of the message that was blocked.
There has already been a long list of officials who have been reported for blocking citizens. Among them are National Assembly member Mariela Castro, daughter of former president Raúl Castro and Juan Antonio Fernández, ambassador of Cuba in Austria.
Just last May, a U.S. judge banned public officials from blocking those who criticize them online.
In the U.S., it’s a complete different story when it comes to citizens criticizing public officials. Last May, U.S. District Judge Naomi Reice Buchwald said that officials like President Donald Trump violated the First Amendment when he blocked Twitter users who criticized him. The ruling was a victory for free speech and a harsh rebuke to Trump’s effort to prevent his critics from engaging with him on social media.
While there has been no law or ruling similar in Cuba, you can only expect some kind of action to be taken eventually. Social media interactions between citizens and public officials is still relatively new in Cuba but that gives no excuse to silence voices. Especially those trying to create public dialogue with leaders and government officials.
Everyone is talking about “Chernobyl,” the HBO miniseries that retells the apocalyptic nuclear accident in Ukraine and its chilling, bleak aftermath. The TV show is meticulous in its reconstruction of the Soviet Era event, pointing at how the government response tried to keep panic under control. Truth is, the accident was one of the worst the world has ever seen and in the years of the Cold War. It was a catastrophic reminder that even though we might have political and ideological differences, we only have one planet.
The event happened on April 26, 1985, when the now infamous No. 4 reactor of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near Pripyat in what is now Ukraine, superheated and caused a steam explosion. Radiation was released and the area became uninhabitable. Casualties estimates vary depending on how they are counted: some only count the immediate aftermath of the accident, while others take into consideration the effects that radiation had on life expectancy. As many as 200,000 died, according to Greenpeace. At the time, more than 600,000 civilians and military personnel were drafted to contain the nuclear fallout.
At the time, as you know (and if you don’t its time to brush up on your contemporary world history), the world was basically divided in three: countries that aligned with the United States, countries that aligned with the Soviet Union and a few non-aligned countries. Among the Soviet Bloc countries, Cuba stood out for its response to the Chernobyl disaster. How? Well, putting to work its team of world-renowned doctors, who treated young Ukrainians affected by the radiation.
Cuba created a massive health center for the children of Chernobyl after the deadly disaster.
About 30 kilometers from Havana lay a holiday village that was converted into an enormous facility in which the Castro regime treated children that were affected by radiation poisoning. Most of these kids came from Ukraine, but up until 1992 the program also cared for little ones from Russia and Belarus. Originally Cuba received 139 children, but the number soon increased exponentially.
The number of treated children is impressive and quite shocking.
As many as 25,000 children (yes, 25,000, a whole small town) were treated between 1990 and 2011, according to Cubadebate. This is a gargantuan effort that needed considerable logistical planning.
The illnesses these kids suffered required medical specialists.
The kids were mainly treated for cancer, deformations, and muscle atrophy. Among all the things that the revolutionary regime in the island could have done better, its medical training is not one of them. Cuban oncologists and physiotherapists are among the best in the world. Other specialties that were needed: dermatology, endocrinology, and gastroenterology.
But why did the Cuban government do this?
Besides being aligned with the former Soviet Union, Cuba follows a principle of internationalism, which is a political principle which goes beyond nationalism and advocates a greater political or economic cooperation among nations and people. Cuban doctors have not only provided aid to these Ukranian children but have also spearheaded relief efforts in countries like Venezuela and Brazil. According to Foreign Affairs, “Cuban health care workers have given aid to 158 nations, and Cuba has trained 38,000 doctors from 121 countries without charge”. Those are really impressive numbers.
Despite tremendous efforts, this was not easy or cheap for Cuba.
The collapse of the Soviet Union, for which Chernobyl holds partial blame, was also a hard blow to Cuba’s economy. All of a sudden, Cuba’s main export customer was gone. Despite this, the Tarara center continued its operations. One Cuban doctor told TeleSUR in 2017: “Although Cuba went through economically difficult times, our state continued to offer specialized treatment to minors, fulfilling a commitment of solidarity”. Dr. Julio Medina, who was the general coordinator of the program, told the official newspaper, Granma: “Many people who are unaware of our ideals still wonder what Cuba might be after. It is simple: we do not give what we have in excess; we share all that we have”.
Unfortunately, these efforts have been mostly ignored by Western media.
Despite being a feel-good story amidst the avalanche of bad news that we listen, read and watch every day, this story has been swept under the heavy rug of history, perhaps due to geopolitical reasons. At the time, outlets like The New York Times published information on the matter. With the success of HBO’s show, this has been pointed out. A reader of The Guardian, one Dr. Doreen Weppler-Grogan, wrote a letter stating:
“No other country in the world launched such a massive programme. The Cubans responded – as ‘an ethical and moral,’ not a political question, as it was put at the time, and the programme continued despite changing governments in the Ukraine.”
“Today, the aftermath persists. Just a few weeks ago, Cuba announced that it will resume the programme in a new facility for the sons and daughters of the victims, who are now showing ailments similar to those of their parents.”
Tarara was a community, not only a big hospital.
The facilities were adapted to provide a healthy environment for the victims. Besides the medical areas, it included schools, a cooking center, a theater, parks, and recreation areas. In 2005 one of the kids, a 16-year-old girl named Alina Petrusha, told the Sunday Telegraph: “It helps. We sit under the infrared lamp and they put a lotion on our heads. Then we go to the beach.”
Everyone knows how expensive medical treatments are, but for the patients being treated in Tarara, treatment was free.
As reported by The Guardian in 2009, treatment at Tarara was free. Most children were orphans or came from very poor families who could not afford care. Then, the deputy director of the program, Dr. Maria Teresa Oliva, told The Guardian: ” Ukraine now has a capitalist economy and for most of the families these kinds of treatments are very costly. Here, thanks to the revolution, we can provide everything for free”. In 2009, Natalia Kisilova, mother of Mikhail Kisilov, a 15-year-old boy who was born with one outer ear and auditory canal missing, told Noticias Financieras: ‘In my country, the treatment that my son receives would cost 80,000 euros (105,362 dollars)”. This would have been unaffordable, to say the least.
The program survived due to Ukraine-Cuba collaboration.
It is estimated that Cuba spent $300 million USD a year in the program. By 2009 Ukraine covered transportation, while room, board, schooling, and medical services were covered by the Cuban government. In 2011 Ukranian president Viktor Yanukovich visited the center alongside then Cuban President Raul Castro. A year earlier the Ukranian Foreign Minister Konstantin Grishenko said: “We will never forget what Cuba has done for us.”
You can watch this documentary to get the full story.
There is a 50-minute documentary that tells the story of the medical program at Tarara. Doctors talk about the effects of radiation in an approachable, if chilling, way. You can watch the documentary with English subtitles here.
You can also watch this footage from AP about the program in Cuba for Chernobyl children.
We see celebrities all the time at the airport. Sometimes they’re noteworthy (Edward James Olmos, Rosario Dawson), sometimes they’re yawners (Gérard Depardieu), but imagine seeing one half of Outkast at your gate. Wouldn’t you freak out? That’s exactly what happened to a New York-based journalist.
Antonia Cereijido, a producer for NPR’s Latino USA podcast, was casually waiting for her flight at the Los Angeles Airport when she spotted André 3000.
The sighting almost wasn’t meant to be. Cerejido explained that she had missed her first flight.
“The crazy thing is I was supposed to take a flight at 11:15 the night before,” she told Slate in an interview, “but there were 50 minutes of traffic at the airport, so I missed my flight. I was very upset. I had to buy flights for the next day, and I was annoyed. I arrived super early, like, “I’m not going to miss my second flight.”
When she realized it was him, she — as any smart person would do — asked to take a picture with him.
“Well, I think I said, ‘I’m a big fan of yours,’ and then because my friend had said, ‘That’s not a flute,’ I asked, ‘What instrument is that?’ and he said, ‘Oh, it’s a flute. It’s an indigenous double flute.’ Then I asked to take a photo. I was sort of starstruck. I took the photo, and I went away as quickly as possible before I said anything and I sat down. Then we all boarded the plane, and I uploaded the post on Instagram and on Twitter. I saw that it was popular because it was probably only up for 10 minutes and it had 600 likes.”
Yeah, her tweet was popular. It’s gotten more than 50K retweets.
“I had one tweet before get kind of popular,” she told Slate. “It was, like, a thousand likes, so I was excited. Then I turned my phone off. And then, when we landed six hours later, it had 68,000 likes. And actually, my first feeling was dread. I felt kind of bad, like, what if I’m outing—what if this is what he does, he goes to places and plays the flute and kind of stays low-key? Because it wasn’t like he was asking for a lot of attention—he was doing his own thing. And I could tell that he saw I was staring at him when he was going back-and-forth, but it wasn’t like he was mad at the attention. He was just sort of neutral.”
But, about that indigenous flute.
People on social media actually questioned her about her flute knowledge, but she got the response directly from André and the makers.
“I just got off the phone with Guillermo Martinez the man who made Andres’s beautiful flute, she tweeted. “It’s a Mayan double flute. He and his shop are doing incredible work by keeping the music if indigenous North American communities alive. Here is his website: https://www.quetzalcoatlmusic.org/ “
The best part about the story is how Outkast is part of her family history.
“My family is originally from Argentina, and when we first moved from New York to San Diego, it was so different from my experience up until then that my family became really close,” she told Slate. “And there were two things we listened to all the time: the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Outkast. And we became obsessed with the Speakerboxxx/The Love Below album. My mom had a dream that André 3000 taught us the “Hey Ya!” dance. I always remembered that, because it was such a funny thing for my mom to say. And so I have this very fond feeling about him, and he lived up to that. My mom dreamed that he would be nice and teach us something, and that happened to me in real life, which is so crazy.”