Musings of a Blind Man (3) / Angel Santiesteban

At this point in the historic events that have taken place in recent days between Cuba and the United States, it is not worthwhile to have regrets, but rather to understand the reasons for these events, and try to find a positive view of them.

I dare say that President Obama has passed the ball to the Cuban rulers. Now they have in their court what they have been long been clamoring for. We shall see what they are capable of doing with it. Most likely, the Castro brothers will not know what to do with the new possibility that can only lead to the path of liberty and democracy. This is something that they are unwilling to concede, albeit knowing of the great chance that the Republicans will assume power in the next U.S. elections and will revoke a good part or all that Obama has given them – which as a policy matter is never possible.

Barack Obama knows that he can play with these possibilities for another year and, in a certain way, it is his personal vengeance against the opposition party. Although in his speech he mentioned relations with China and Vietnam, the question is whether the U.S. is willing to tolerate human rights violations in a country so historically and geographically close. I do not accord to Cuba the same status as those other two communist countries. I am of the view that Cuba will demonstrate to the world its inability to allow individual freedoms, even though the Castro brothers will be unable to return to power – the older one due to physical limitations, the younger because of the very legislation that he himself approved.

Of course, we are all more than certain that the president who will be installed will be no more than a puppet whose strings will be in the hands of the Castro family if, by then, one of their own offspring is not put in power so that the cycle of history can repeat itself.

Ángel Santiesteban-Prats

December, 2014. Jaimanitas Border Patrol Prison Unit, Havana.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

With Raul Castro, Are the Poor Poorer? / Ivan Garcia

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Iván García, 26 February 2015 — José lives with his wife and five kids, crammed into a nine by twelve foot space with a wooden platform, in a shack in Santos Suárez, a slum south of Havana.

The tenement is a precarious spot where the electric cables hang from the roof,  water runs down the narrow central passage from the plumbing leaks, and a disgusting smell of sewage hangs in your nose for hours.

That shack forms part of a group of ramshackle settlements where more than 90 thousand Havanans live, according to Joel, a housing official in the 10 de Octubre municipality.

There are worse places. On the outskirts of the capital, shantytowns are spreading like the invasive marabou weed. There are more than 50 of them. Houses made of sections of aluminium and cardboard, without any sanitation, where the occupants get their electricity supply by “informal” means.

But, going back to Santos Suárez. José says he is forty, but his sickly pale skin and his face puffed up from excessive drink, not enough to eat and poor quality of life make him look like an old man.

José is in that part of the population which doesn’t receive remittances and can’t get convertible pesos. He works at anything. Looking after flowerbeds, carrying debris, or ice cubes. On a good day, he makes 70 pesos, about $3. “All of it goes on food. And the rest on alcohol”, he says.

His family’s typical diet consists of two spoons of white rice, and a large spoon of stew once a week, a boiled egg and a quarter chicken or chopped beef mixed with soya which is distributed once a month via his ration book. “I just have a coffee for breakfast. My bread from the ration book I give to my kids.”

Ten years ago, he was imprisoned for stealing light bulbs and armchairs from houses in his area. “I stole from pure necessity. I sold the light bulbs or daylight colour tubes for 30 pesos. The iron chairs went for 10 CUC. I once got 25 chavitos (CUC)  for a wooden chair. I was able to buy a cot for my daughter with that money”, José remembers, sitting in the doorway of a pharmacy in Serrano Street.

When you ask him about Raúl Castro’s economic reforms, or what he hopes for from the new diplomatic change of direction between Cuba and the United States, he puts on a poker face.

“What changes? With Raúl we poor people are even poorer. Here anyone who hasn’t any connections with the system or a family in Miami is in a difficult situation. I don’t even want to talk about the old people. There are a lot of things wrong about Fidel, but when he was in charge, the social services and what you could get through your ration book allowed you to live better. Not now. Every day Cubans like me get less from the government. Many people are happy to be on better terms with the Americans, but what can Obama do? He isn’t the president of Cuba,” he points out, while he takes a long swig of the worst possible alcohol out of a plastic bottle.

The streets of Havana swarm with hundreds of people like José asking for change, pulling out scraps from rubbish bins, or sleeping on cardboard boxes in uninhabitable buildings.

In the entrance of a building in Carmen Street, on the corner of 10th of October, about 10 people are there selling second-hand books, old shoes and junk. Nelson, a gay man about 60 years old, suffers from chronic diabetes. He sells old magazines. As far as he is concerned, the revolution can be summed up in a word: “shit”.

“It’s all just speeches. They said it was a revolution of humble people and for humble people, but it was a lie. Poor people were always badly off, but now we are more fucked than ever. What Raúl has brought us has been capitalism, of the worst kind. Fidel didn’t tolerate many things, including the homosexuals, but we lived a little better. The poor will always be poor, in a dictatorship or in a democracy”, asserts Nelson.

Like in the film Goodbye Lenin, directed by Wolfgang Becker, where the East Germans feel nostalgic about the Communist era, in Cuba, those whose lives are stuck in a tale of poverty, feel longing for the decade from 1970 to 1980, when the state gave you every nine days a pound of beef per person, through your ration book, a can of condensed milk cost 20 centavos and the shelves in the stores were full of Russian jams.

For Havanans like Nelson and José, you can’t eat democracy.

Photo: The conditions Yumila Lora Castillo, who is 8 years old and has a malignant tumor, is living in. Marelis Castillo, her mother, told Jorge Bello Domínguez, from the Cuban Community Communicators Network (who took the photo), that they haven’t even authorised the diet of meat and milk that people with cancer in Cuba are entitled to. A mother of two other children, Marelis lives in this inhuman situation in El Gabriel, in the municipality of Güira de Melena, Artemisa province, some 85 kilometers southwest of Havana.

Translated by GH

Cuban Civil Society Open Forum Holds Third Meeting / 14ymedio

Meeting of Cuban Civil Society Open Forum. (14ymedio)

Meeting of Cuban Civil Society Open Forum. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 February 2015 – The Cuban Civil Society Open Forum held its third meeting this Wednesday with 25 people attending, among them activists, opponents and members of civic groups. The first point on the agenda was the approval of a document titled “Ethical Path for Cuban Civil Society,” which lays out the basic principles that should be supported. Also under discussion were internal organizational issues relative to the inclusion and representation of the participants.

A motion of solidarity with Venezuela (see below) was passed during the day and important agreements were made with regards to the attendance of Cuban civil society at the Summit of the Americas in Panama, to be held this coming April 10-11. Finally, those present were invited to make proposals about the elements and improvements that should be included in the next Elections Act, announced last Monday in an official note after the Tenth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

On this occasion there were new faces Continue reading

Seven Steps to Kill Orlando Zapata Tamayo / Luis Felipe Rojas

Orlando Zapata Tamayo

Luis Felipe Rojas — I published this post a few days after that needless death. Now I again denounce the death and express the same ideas about it. It’s my homage to my brother, Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

I am still experiencing the pain caused by that avoidable death, and I feel impotent because I didn’t attend the funeral honoring him due to political impediments, but that hasn’t stopped me from saying that in any case, what I present here seem to be the seven final steps that advanced the repressive machinery used to kill Zapata.

1. Setting up that para-judicial theater that imposed a sentence of 63 years on him for contempt.

2. The continuous beatings accompanied by obscene words and insults about his race and the region where he lived (shitty negro, shitty peasant). Continue reading

OLPL in “A New U.S.-Cuba Policy: Did Cuba Win?”


Fifty-plus years of US diplomatic stalemate and economic sanctions have failed to bring freedom to the Cuban people because they were not designed to bring freedom to the Cuban people, but to penalize a regime that started by sequestering Cuban sovereignty by violent and anti-democratic procedures (reestablishment of death penalty, radical hatred speech, citizen apartheid), by the illegalization of civil society and all forms of property (both private and public, including the press), and by tyrannizing every institutional power into a despotic State, plus the militarization of the nation to the point of demanding a nuclear attack against the United States from Cuban territory.

The 50-plus years to come of US diplomatic relations and capitalist engagement with Cuba can neither guarantee the advance of fundamental freedoms in my country, nor our liberation from the successive Castro generations, because a market economy is not a redemptive formula and it has already been implemented by authoritarian systems as a tool for tyrannical control of all basic rights. And this is a wicked word that President Obama, Pope Francis and General Castro have secretly agreed to postpone: the rights of the Cuban people. Continue reading

An Ethical Path for Civil Society / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Meeting of Cuban Civil Society Open Forum (Photo: Luz Escobar)

Meeting of Cuban Civil Society Open Forum (Photo: Luz Escobar)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 25 February 2015 — This Wednesday, February 25th, 2015, a new meeting of the members Espacio Abierto [Cuban Civil Society Open Forum] of the independent civil society took place with a broad representation of members of various pro-democracy projects throughout the Island, as well as independent journalists. A total of 25 participants took part in the symposium, where, in addition, views on issues of interest to the Cuban reality were exchanged.

On this occasion, among the most important points of the discussion adopted by full consensus was the document “An ethical roadway for Cuban civil society” which — as its name suggests — provides a guide for the basic principles governing the conclave, and a Motion of Solidarity with civil society and the Venezuelan opposition at a time when the repression tends to flare up with a statement that emphasizes leaders like Leopoldo López, who recently served a year in prison; Maria Corina Machado, a former deputy who was attacked Continue reading

Birds of Ill Omen / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

A man talks on a pay phone in Havana (photo Alejandro Ernesto/EFE)

A man talks on a pay phone in Havana (photo Alejandro Ernesto/EFE)

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14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, 28 February 2015 — A topic that is raised for discussion these days is the obsolete argument that some official voices never stop repeating at every opportunity they have to strain relations between Cuba and the United States or rather between Cuba and the Outside World. I am referring to the supposed “need” of implementing “appropriate measures designed to avoid the penetration that the enemy hopes to make into Cuban society.”

Just a few days ago, in the context of the first National Workshop on Computing and Cyber-Security held in Havana, with the physical or virtual presence of thousands of computer engineers, really absurd speeches Continue reading

Blindness Leads the Way / Rebeca Monzo

Rebeca Monzo, 8 February 2015 — After reading an article from the January 31, 2015 issue of the newspaper Granma  about Cuba and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) entitled “Cooperation Leads the Way,” a ton of questions came to mind about the subject at hand.

It has been forty years since a UNDP office was established in our country with the objective to collaborate with the island’s government on the promotion of social development and public well-being.

From my meager understanding, the only party to have benefited from this has been the government itself, especially in terms of the favorable publicity it has received. They make up a negligible part Continue reading

New Electoral Law: New Wine in Old Wineskins? / Miriam Celaya

Meeting of the National Assembly (NeoClubPress)

Meeting of the National Assembly (NeoClubPress)

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After the Tenth Assembly of the Central Committee (CC) of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) the news about the next “enactment of a new electoral law; and the subsequent holding of general elections” has begun to circulate in the official media. Such an important announcement in a country where, for more than 60 years ago no general election has taken place, is mentioned almost tangentially, just nine words in an informational note on the above Assembly, whose “focal point” had to do with issues related to the preparations for the celebration of the April 2016 Sixth Congress of the single party.

So this is how the casual style of the announcement turns out so very misleading, downplaying a code Continue reading

Salaries for Doctors on the Island Will Increase / Cubanet, Roberto Jesus Quinones

cubanet square logoCubanet, Roberto Jesus Quinones, Guantanamo, 16 February 2015 — A rumor is keeping  the medical sector in Guantanamo euphoric, and it provokes immediate outbursts of joy in hospital corridors, in homes and in every place the supposedly good news is known. No one knows the origin of the rumor nor its hidden intent.

According to those who are in charge of spreading it, very soon the government will increase the salary for doctors. And, as happens with every rumor, there are always those who know everything about it and affirm that the new increase will be put into force to try to contain the exodus of physicians abroad by way of Continue reading

A Bucket of Cold Water / Cubanet, Rafael Alcides

Photo from the internet

cubanet square logoImagine you are at a party where a suckling pig is being roasted and all of a sudden, at the height of the festivities, Raúl Castro comes along with a bucket of water and douses out the fire. I cannot conjure a more apt image to illustrate the effect the army general’s speech at the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) summit had on the spirits of Cuba’s dissidents.

What Raul said was a recycling of what the secretary of state was saying. It was the spitting image, cut to size, to summarize the state of affairs. While the inhospitable bucket of water was being filled, he left it to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) to release the statement by the American government indicating that the reestablishment of diplomatic ties between that country and ours did not include a lifting of the embargo, the closure of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo or permission for American tourists Continue reading