“I Only Know That I Am Afraid” / Tania Diez Castro / HemosOido

HAVANA, Cuba — For almost the first three years of his regime, Fidel Castro was not interested in Cuban intellectuals. He did not forgive their passivity during the years of revolutionary insurrection. They had not put bombs in the street, nor did they engage in armed conflict with the previous dictator’s police. Even those who lived abroad did not do anything for the revolutionary triumph. He never forgave them. Neither he nor other political leaders considered them revolutionaries either before or after the Revolution.

Che Guevara had left it written forever in his little Marxist manual Socialism and Man in Cuba: “The guilt of many of our intellectuals and artists resides in their original sin: they are not authentically revolutionary. We can try to graft the elm tree so that it will produce pears, but at the same time we must plant pear trees.”

But the pears that Che mentioned had nothing to do with human beings because an intellectual, writer or artist is characterized by his sensitivity, his pride, his sincerity. In general, they are solitary and proud.

But also they are, and that is their misfortune, an easy nut to crack, above all for a dictator with good spurs.

During those almost first three years of the Revolution, the most convulsive of the Castro regime — the number of those shot increased and the few jails were stuffed with more than 10,000 political prisoners — surely writers did not fail to observe how Fidel Castro was cracking the free press when after December 27, 1959, he gave the order to introduce the first “post-scripts” at the bottom of articles adverse to his government, supposedly written by the graphics workers.

It was evident that Fidel Castro, who controlled the whole country, did not want to approach them to fill leadership positions of cultural institutions founded by the regime, like the Institute of Art and Cinematographic Industry, House of the Americas, the Latin News Press Agency and numerous newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations that were nationalized.

For minister of education he preferred Armando Hart. For the House of the Americas, a woman very far from being an intellectual, Haydee Santamaria.  For the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, Papito Serguera, and for the Naitonal Council of Culture, Vicentina Antuna and Edith Garcia Buchaca, two women unknown in cultural domain.

The first approach that Fidel Castro had with writers, June 16, 1961, in the National Library of Havana, could not have been worse. It was there where he exclaimed his famous remark, “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing,” and where he made clear that those who were dedicated to Art had to submit themselves to the will of the Revolution, something that is still in force.

The maximum leader left that closed-door meeting more than pleased on seeing the expressions of surprise and fear of many of those present, and above all by the words of Virgilio Pinera, one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century when he said: “I just know that I am scared, very scared.” That precisely was what the new Cuban leader most needed to hear from the intellectual throng: Fear, to be able to govern at his whim.

Two months later the Fist Congress of Cuban Writers and Artists was held, and UNEAC was founded.  The intellectuals had fallen into line.

If something was said about that palatial headquarters, property of a Cuban emigrant, it is that the Commandant was allergic to all who had their own judgment, and for that reason he would never visit it, as it happened.

It is remembered still today that in a public speech on March 13, 1966, he attacked the homosexuals of UNEAC, threatening to send them to work agriculture in the concentration camps of Camaguey province. The “Enlightened One,” as today the president of UNEAC Miguel Barnet calls the Cuban dictator, kept his word. Numerous writers and graphic artists found themselves punished with forced labor in the unforgettable Military Units to Assist Production — UMAP.

These Nazi-style units were created in 1964 and closed four years later after persistent international complaints. If anyone knew and knows still the most hidden thoughts of the intellectuals, besides their sexual intimacy, it is the Enlightened One, thanks to his army of spies, members of the political police who work in the shadows of the mansion of 17th and H, in the Havana’s Vedado where UNEAC put down roots.

In 1977, one cannot forget the most cruel and abominable blow that the Enlightened One directed against the writers of UNEAC when his army of political police extracted from the drawers of the headquarters the files of more than 100 members — among them was mine as founder — so that they were definitively and without any explanation separated from the Literature Section of that institution.

Cubanet, April 11, 2014

Translated by mlk.

Eleven Years Since the Baragua / Lilianne Ruiz

HAVANA, Cuba – On April 12, 2003, media throughout the world carried the news of the execution of three young Cubans for their involvement in the hijacking of the Regla-based boat “Baraguá.” They were trying to flee the country and get to the United States.

Leftist newspapers, sympathetic to the Cuban regime, tried to justify the act, writing: “the government wanted to strike at the roots of airplane and boat hijackings.” They admitted that the punishment was intended to send a message, meaning that none of the accused was entitled to a fair trial.

Some went further. Heinz Dieterich Steffan (who later became the ideologist of “Socialism of the XXI Century”), told on his website how the then-president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, was sending a message to the White House: “You have declared war and your first soldiers have fallen.” And he later added: “I want you to know how to interpret the message of the firing squad, so there is no more bloodshed.”

The executions occurred just over a week after the group of 11 young men, armed with a gun and a knife, had diverted the ferry some 30 miles offshore.

How did it all happen?

The hijackers, upon boarding the boat, fired a shot in the air and one yelled: “This is fucked! We’re going to the U.S.!” After 30 miles the fuel ran out and the boat drifted. The sea was very choppy, so in an act of tragic naivety they agreed to be towed to the port of Mariel with the promise that the authorities there would give them fuel.

They didn’t tie anyone up (as—according to family members of the accused—the prosecution claimed). If they had, how do you explain that upon arriving at Mariel some passengers, at a signal from security agents, jumped into the water? Enrique Copello Castillo, who tried to prevent one of the foreigners on board from escaping, had the gun. But he didn’t use it even when the situation got out of his control. This shows that he was not a criminal, just a young person desperate to reach the United States, in search of freedom and the chance for personal advancement.

On April 8, 2003, after a summary trial, the sentence was issued: Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro L. Sevilla García, and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac were condemned to death. The rest of those involved in the attempted hijacking were given prison sentences: life imprisonment for Harold Alcala Aramburo, Maykel Delgado Aramburo, Ramon Henry Grillo and Yoanny Thomas Gonzalez; 30 years for Ledea Wilmer Perez; and from 2 to 5 years for the women traveling with them.

In March of that same year, the government had jailed 75 human-rights activists, independent journalists, and political dissidents. These were in the Villa Marista prison when the hijackers were taken to that infamous headquarters of the  Cuban political police. Ricardo González Alfonso, the now-exiled independent journalist and one of the 75, has left behind a disturbing account of the last hours of Enrique Copello Castillo, who shared his cell.

The day of the trial, a State Security captain took him to an office to explain that, although they were seeking the death penalty for Copello Castillo, there was a chance he would not be executed. He therefore asked for González Alfonso’s cooperation in helping save the condemned man’s life if he tried to commit suicide. In light of what happened on April 11, when the condemned were taken before the firing squad without notice to their families, it can be interpreted that the captain was in charge of “supply”: he could not allow the scapegoats to escape their own sacrifice. How could they make an example of Copello Castillo if he had not attended his own execution?

Danger Zone

On San Francisco Street in Havana, between Jesus Peregrino and Salud streets, is the building where Bárbaro L. Sevilla García lived with his mother, Rosa Maria. Some neighbors remember what happened on April 11, 2003. The street was full of cars with military license plates from 6:00 am., forming a police blockade. Some women from the Interior Ministry knocked at the door of Rosa Maria to tell her that her 22-year-old son had been shot at dawn. The woman started screaming and ran out to the street naked, yelling the whole time: “Down with Fidel!” and “Murderers!” Afterward she was forced to leave the country, say the neighbors, who did not give their names for out of concern for their safety.

A short time later police began moving into the building on the corner, on Salud Street. Even today the area is considered “dangerous.” Neighbors also warned this reporter not to take pictures of the demolished middle balcony where the mother and her son lived, because the green building on the corner of  Jesús Peregrino is the DTI (Department of Technical Investigations), a division of the Interior Ministry.

They did not use explosives, but charge will be used in court

Why so much harshness and speed in the execution of punishment if there was no alleged injury or loss of life during the kidnapping? The lawyer Edilio Hernández Herrera, of the Cuban Legal Association (AJC, independent), has prepared a legal opinion that reveals how the law was broken in Case 17 of 2003.

The defendants were tried for the crime of Acts of Terrorism. Law No. 93 “Against terrorism” was published on December 24, 2001, in the Official Gazette.

In the opinion of Hernández Herrera, the portions of the law that apply to the crime committed would be Articles 14.1 and 16.1.a, pertaining to the taking of hostages and acts against the safety of maritime navigation. But the court sentenced the boys for acts that certainly did not happen. The other offense charged, from Articles 10 and 11.c, referred to “acts committed with explosives, chemical, biological or other substances.” With this they intended to justify the sentences of the death penalty and life imprisonment.

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, an economist and independent journalist, one of the political prisoners of the Case of the 75, shared a cell in Villa Maristas with Dania Rojas Gongora, age 17, who was on the boat. She was the girlfriend of Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac, who was shot. The girl told how another mother learned that her son had been shot the day she was to bring him toiletries. The last time Dania saw her boyfriend alive, one of the guards said sarcastically: “Plan now how many children you are going to have.”

Roque Cabello has no doubt in stating:

“The dictator Fidel Castro wanted blood. He was furious also because in the midst of this, sending the 75 political dissidents to prison was turning out to be a fiasco. That gained worldwide condemnation. It was his decision: execution and life imprisonment for these young people. So those who are now continuing to serve a life sentence are prisoners of Fidel Castro.

Cubanet, April 11, 2014, Lilianne Ruiz

Translated by Tomás A.

A Misguided Decision / Fernando Damaso

Archive photo

The economic and political sanctions imposed on Russian and Ukrainian leaders and officials by the United States and the European Union in response to actions on the Crimean peninsula do not appear to have been thoroughly thought through by the West.

Without delving too deeply into history, we should remember that Crimea, including the peninsula of the same name, was once part of the Ottoman empire. It was annexed by the Russian empire in the 18th century during an expansion directed by Catherine the Great. It also included Poland and Lithuania, which— along with Russian territory — would many years later would make up present-day Ukraine.

The peninsula was occupied by the Nazis during WWII until its liberation by the Soviet army. In 1954 Nikita Khruschev, the first secretary of the Soviet Communist party, decided to transfer jurisdiction to the Republic of Ukraine. It was a time when the USSR included Ukraine as well as fourteen other Soviet republics. The Soviet Black Sea Fleet and its naval and air installations have been based on the peninsula for many years. The largest proportion of the population is ethnically Russian, followed by Ukrainians and then Tatars. In the 1990s the Russian parliament attempted to reintegrate the Crimean peninsula into Russia, but the effort went nowhere.

The latest events in Ukraine — namely the demise of Russia’s protege there as well as its almost assured admission to the European Union and subsequently to NATO — set off alarm bells in Moscow. From a defense standpoint, losing an ally like Ukraine would be terrible enough for Russia since it would leave its southwest frontier exposed to Western military positions. But to lose the Crimea as well would have been totally unacceptable since it would have posed a threat to the naval base for Russia’s Black Sea fleet, through which it gains access to the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The Russian president, who portrays himself as a leader intent on restoring Greater Russia and the country’s pride, could not act otherwise, lest it lead to domestic problems. He did what he had to do, to the delight of his countrymen.

The West, spurred by the rapid developments and upset by the action, tried to exert political pressure with threats, instead of pushing for a peaceful and reasonable solution, which could have included the non-interference of Russian in the current Ukraine and the acceptance of its government at the expense of the independence of the peninsula and its later reincorporation into Russia, if its the citizens so decided. When a government puts another government between a rock and a hard place, closing off any dignified exit, it must be willing to see it through to its ultimate consequences which, in this case, would have been to go to war, which it was clear to everyone that the West wouldn’t do; not for the Crimean peninsula nor for the Ukraine.

The situation created, the tensions and actions on both sides, poisoned the world political atmosphere and awakened the ghost of the Cold War, which seemed as if it belonged to history. If the independence of the Crimea peninsula had been negotiated, perhaps it would have later been used as international pressure against Russia demanding, in addition, their acceptance of the independence of Chechnya and Ossetia, autonomous republics situated in its territory, which have spent years demanding and fighting for it.

The same thing happened in the USSR at the beginning of the ’90s, when it ceased to exist. The Republics that made up the Union decided to become independent, as is happening now to Ukraine. The Crimea already forms part of Russia and it’s a fait accompli. The important thing now is to consolidate independence and ensure Ukraine’s political, economic and social stability.

21 March 2014

The Venezuelan Dialogue, From a Cuban Point of View / Yoani Sanchez

Photo from: http://runrun.es/economia/112438/la-mud-le-lavo-la-cara.html

The dialog between the Venezuelan opposition and Nicolas Maduro is in full swing. Its critics are many, its most visible loser: the Cuban government. For a system that for more than half a century has disqualified and reprimanded its dissidents, this discussion table must present a sad acknowledgement of its own inabilities.

Last Tuesday stunned Cuban viewers could watch a debate between the opposition forces in Venezuela and pro-government representatives. The controversial meeting was broadcast on TeleSur, which is characterized by its tendency to back the work of Chavism with its reporting. On this occasion, however, it was forced to also broadcast the concerns and arguments of the other side.

The requirement that cameras and microphones would be present at the discussion proved to be a magnificent political move by Maduro’s adversaries. In this way the audience is engaged in the dialog and it’s more difficult to publish distorted versions later. The participants on both sides were allowed ten minutes each, an exercise in synthesis that the Venezuelan president, clearly, couldn’t accomplish.

For disinformed Cubans, the first thing that jumped out at us was the high level of the arguments the opposition brought to the table. Figures, statistics and concrete examples expressed within a framework of respect. The next day the most commonly heard comment in the streets of Havana was the popular phrase, “They swept the floor with Maduro.” A clear reference to the crushing critiques of his rivals. The government supporters, however, were notably timid, fearful, and offered a discourse plagued with slogans.

There is no doubt, this discussion table has been a bitter pill to swallow for those who up until a few hours before were accusing their political opponents of being “fascists” and “enemies of the nation.” Venezuela will no longer be the same, although the negotiations end tomorrow and Nicolas Madura will once again take the microphone to hand out insults right and left. He acceded to a discussion and this marks a distance between the path followed by the Plaza of the Revolution and another that recently began for Miraflores.

And in Cuba? Is this also possible?

While the broadcast of the Venezuelan dialogue was airing, many of us asked ourselves if something similar could occur in our political scenario. Although the official press presents these conversations as a sign of strength on the part of Chavism, it has also kept enough distance so that we won’t get illusions of possible Cuban versions.

It is less chimeric to imagine Raul Castro getting on a plane and escaping the country than to project him sitting at a table with those he dubs counterrevolutionaries. For more than five decades, both he and his brother have been dedicated to demonizing dissident voices, such that now they are prevented from accepting a conversation with their critics. The danger posed by the impossibility of negotiations is that it leaves only the path to an overthrow, with its consequent trail of chaos and violence.

However, not only do the Cuban regime’s principal figures show reluctance before any negotiating table. The better part of the Island’s opposition doesn’t want to hear it spoken of. Before this double rejection, the agenda of a chimeric meeting fails to take shape. The opposition parties haven’t yet come together on a project for the country that can be coherently defended in any negotiation and look like a viable alternative. We members of the emerging civil society have reasons to feel concerned. Are the politicians now operating illegally in the country prepared to sustain a debate and capable of convincing an audience? Could they represent us with dignity when the time comes?

The answer to this question will only be known once the opportunity arises. Until now the Cuban political dissidence has concentrated more on tearing down than on elaborating foundational strategies; the greater part of their energy has been directed to opposing the governing Party rather than on persuading their potential followers within the population. Given the limitations on disseminating their programs and the numerous material restrictions they suffer, these groups have not been able to carry their message to a significant number of Cubans. It is not entirely their responsibility, but they should be aware that these deficiencies hinder them.

If tomorrow the table for a dialog was set, it would be unlikely that we would hear a speech from the Cuban opposition as well articulated as that achieved by their Venezuelan colleagues. However, although negotiation isn’t a current possibility, no one should be exempted from preparing for it. Cuba needs for the people before those possible microphones to be those who best represent the interests of the nation, its worries, its dreams. They may speak for us, the citizens, but please, do so coherently, without verbal violence and with arguments that convince us.

14 April 2014

Driving in Reverse / Miriam Celaya

Image from the Internet

(Originally published in Cubanet the April 11, 2014 , titled ” Raul Castro Goes in Reverse”)

Clearly, the new Foreign Investment Law “approved” by the usual parliamentary unanimity last March 29, 2014, has been the talk of the town on the topic of “Cuba”, for the Island’s official as well as for the independent and foreign press.

With the relaxation of the existing law–enacted in 1995–the new regulation is aiming to throw the ball to the opposite field: if Cuban residents of the US cannot invest in Cuba currently, it would no longer be because the regime bans it, but because of the shackles imposed by the embargo, a trick of the elderly olive green crocodile that continues with its wiles and snares despite the collapse of the system.

Amid the expectations of the government’s and of aspiring investors, there stretches a wide tuning fork of the ever-excluded: the common Cubans, or the “walking Cubans” as we say, whose opinions are not reflected in the media, magnifying their exclusion.

This time, however, the cancellation of the innate rights of Cubans is causing social unrest to multiply, in a scenario in which there are accelerated shortages in the commercial networks and persistent and increasing higher prices and a higher cost of living.

Rejection of the Investment Law

Shortages, as well as inflation, indexation and bans for certain items of the private trade, have caused many family businesses to close since January 2014 due to the uncertainty surrounding the heralded–and never properly explained–monetary unification.

In addition to the lack of positive expectations, these are the factors that thin out the social environment and lead to generally unfavorable reviews of the new law and its impact within Cuba.

An informal survey I conducted in recent days in Central Havana after the March 29th extraordinary session of parliament shows rejection of the new Law on Foreign Investment, almost as unanimous as the “approval” that occurred in the plenary: of a total of 50 individuals polled, 49 were critical of the law and only one was indifferent.

In fact, the issue has been present with relative frequency in many cliques not directly surveyed–uncommon in a population usually apathetic about laws–in which the dominant tendency was to criticize various aspects of the law.

The main reasons for the people’s discontent are summarized in several main points: the new law excludes, arbitrarily and despotically, Cuban nationals, which implies that the lack of opportunities for the Island’s Cubans is being maintained.

Foreign investors will not only have great advantages and tax considerations which have never been granted to the self-employed, tariff concessions with respect to imports (which is just what traders in imported items asked for and was not granted); the State will remain the employer of those who will labor in foreign-funded enterprises, implying consequent hiring based on Party loyalty–be it real or fake, and taxed wages; widening social gaps between sectors with higher levels of access to consumption and the more disadvantaged sectors (the latter constantly growing).

At the same time, many Cubans question the vagaries of government policy which, without any embarrassment, favors the capital of the expats-–the former “siquitrillados*, the bourgeoisie, gypsies, worms, traitors, scum, etc.”–over those who stayed behind in Cuba.

The logical conclusion, even for those who stayed relatively associated with the revolutionary process, or at least those who have not openly opposed the regime, is that leaving the country would have been a more sensible and timely option to have any chance of investing in the current situation. There are those who perceive this law as the regime’s betrayal to the “loyalty” of those who chose to stay, usually Cubans of lesser means.

Another topic that challenges the already diminished credibility of the government is the very fact of appealing to foreign capital as the saving grace of the system, when, the process of nationalization of 1959, it was deemed as one of the “fairer measures” and of greater significance undertaken, to “place in the hands of the people” what the filthy bourgeois capital had swiped from them.

Cubans wonder what sense it made to expel foreign capital and 55 years later to plead for its return. It’s like going backwards, but over a more unstable and damaged road. Wouldn’t we have saved ourselves over a half a century of material shortages and spiritual deprivation if we had kept companies that were already established in our country? How many benefits did we give up since the State, that unproductive, inefficient and lousy administrator, appropriated them?

What revolution are you taking about?

At any rate, the majority has a clear conscience that the revolution and its displays of social justice and equality are behind us, in some corner of the twisted road. “Do you think this new law will save the revolution?”

I provocatively ask an old man who sells newspapers in my neighborhood. “Girl! Which revolution are you referring to, the one that made Batista flee or the one that is making all Cubans escape? The 1959 revolution was over the moment ’this one’ handed over the country to the Russians, now the only thing the brother wants is to give it back to the Americans and to keep himself a nice slice.”

I probably never before heard such an accurate synthesis of what the history of the Revolution means today to many a Cuban.

*Translator’s note: Those who lost investment and personal property when companies were nationalized in 1959 and early 1960’s. From one of Fidel’s speeches, “we broke their wish bone and we will continue to break their wish bone”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

11 April 2014

The Revolution’s Pensioners / Reinaldo Emilio Cosan Alen

HAVANA, Cuba.  Jose Manuel Rosado, 74 years of age, from Havana del Este, stands in line at four in the morning to be among the first to “fill up his checkbook.”

The bank opens at 8:30 for multiple transactions.  Many other people like Jose Manuel will wait patiently, on foot, whether in intense sun or cold and rain if it is winter, in order to cash their retirement.  Jose, his two-hundred forty pesos (ten dollars average), which will vanish in the first food purchases and payments for services.

Maria Victoria, 81 years old, stands in line in front of Branch 286 of the People’s Savings Bank — a state bank — in the San Miguel del Padron township:

“I retired at 65.  I was a cook in a business the last thirty.  I worked another eight years.  The money goes to deficient nutrition. I “resolved” my food at my work, do you understand, for my home.  Now I almost cannot walk because of my ulcerous legs, I am diabetic. I rent a pedicab to go get my cash. A dollar going, another returning. Fifty pesos spent, but it is dangerous to walk through broken, dark streets, exposed to robberies to go to the bank.”

She pays another fifty pesos monthly on installment for a bank loan for the purchase of her Chinese refrigerator. She has paid off five years, five are still left.

Build up for whatever official or individual management: mail, Currency Exchange, tax payment, liquidation sale and transfer of property and vehicles, fines, repayments, deposits, bonds, required seals–foreign and national currency–monthly payments for dwelling, loans retirement and pension payments. Craziness!

Pensioner Eloy Marante, 76 years old, pays triple the tax for his courier license. Day by day, he loads, transports and distributes gas cylinders to homes with his tricycle, in order to obtain a supplement for his lean pension.

“We run errands in the warehouse, attentive to if they are selling the piece of chicken allowed to those on a special “health diet.” We pay electricity, telephone, gas. We take the little kids to school and pick them up; take the snacks to the kids in high school, also we do favors for neighbors for a small tip. Jobs that the family throws to the old people. The worst: standing in unending lines to exchange bills for coins because business clerks and bus drivers say they don’t have change!  An fraud*,because the government does not demand responsibility. . .” says Jose Manuel.

Milagros Penalver, director of Budget Control for the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, says there are 672,568 retirees and pensioners out of 2,041,392 people over 70 years of age, according to the Population and Household Census of 2012.

Significant is the prediction by the Center for Population Studies and development of the National Office of Statistics: 33.9 percent of the population will be over six decades old in 2035.  The birthrate continues in permanent decline because of factors so adverse to procreation.

*Translator’s note: The fraud is refusing to give the customer coins and so the business or bus driver “keeps the change.”

cosanoalen@yahoo.com

Cubanet, April 11, 2014, Reinaldo Emilio Cosan Alen

Translated by mlk

Toward a New Constitution / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

1397149468_1ideaconstitucionA group of Cubans in Cuba and its diaspora agreed to promote a road map for a constitutional consensus. Organizations and public figures from different generations, of all ideologies, religious beliefs and interests, we believe it is good that, firstly, we agree as to the type of constitution we want to establish or take as a reference for the creation of a new constitution, in accord with our time and reality.

The managing group making this project viable consists of Rogelio Travieso Pérez, Rafael León Rodríguez, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Fernando Palacio Mogar, Eroisis González Suárez, Veizant Voloi González, Wilfredo Vallín Almeida and Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado.

We want to escape from the vicious and corrupt circle of an elite that for decades has set the course of our country regardless of the opinion of its citizens. The constitutional road map arises also to bring down the perverse myth that was born with the ruling political model, in which Cuba is only a part of his children: extending one hand to take money from its emigrants and with the other pushing them away and separating them from an environment to which they rightfully belong. So for this reason we will work in common to seek a consensus and legal and constitutional order that emanates from citizens, from their diversity, place of residence and plurality.

Thousands of Cubans have already signed the call for a constituent assembly in Cuba and we continue to call on all our compatriots, wherever they are or reside, to join us in this effort, for arm ourselves with a new shield of civilized coexistence. In this undertaking we invite Cubans to offer their ideas about how to finally achieve a Cuba for all within in the law.

In order to promote these efforts, compatriots living abroad have created the site http://consensoconstitucional.com/ in which there is an update on this project.

We are drawing up a methodology in which we encourage Cubans interested in participating to submit papers in which they lay out, in about ten points, the reasons why they defend one or another constitutional proposal as a starting point for change in the “law of laws” in order to lead us toward the democratization of our nation.

This coming May, Cubans inside and outside of Cuba will begin to hold meetings in which we will debate ideas about this process of promoting consensus. Right now, we are working for the creating of “initiative tables” on the island and this design is just the start of a long road to justice, equity and a state of rights for all Cubans.

10 April 2014

Just One Account / Josue, Rojas Marin, Cuban Law Association

I live in a community with more than sixty buildings. Behind them, as is the case with my home, many residents—at the request of the government itself—began planting fruit trees and banana plants. When the marathon of demolishing everything began, I decided to make an estimate of the economic losses that were indiscriminately carried out by people who came from other cities to destroy what had been so passionately harvested for more than a decade.

Josué Rojas Marín

To give you an idea, there were about 300 banana plants when demolition started, some 50 new bunches were uprooted and another 130 were cut and thrown in a corner of the building, their remnants remaining there since July 2012. In that same time frame, 50 or 60 bunches had been collected monthly, which means about 660 per year, or about 16,500 pounds that were contributed to urban consumption and that represent about 9,900 pesos taken from the pockets of those citizens to whom no one came to meet their needs.What is more aggravating is that when the Director of Physical Planning visited the town and I gave him that assessment, he told me that it didn’t matter, that many residents reported that they now had more open space. I responded that people can’t live on open space, but they can live on food. He shut up and couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Translated by Tomás A.

4 April 2014

5 iOS Apps Essential for Cuba / Yoani Sanchez

Guava Mac

Where will the first Apple store in Havana be? I wonder sometimes when I am fabulating about the future. I imagine it on the corner of Galiano and Reina, above those arches that could well support an enormous apple. Although much is needed before we will see Steve Jobs’s creatures in a display window in Havana legally, these well-designed gadgets with their excellent technology have already broken into the national scene. In the informal market, the solidarity of so many travelers and the appetite for modernity have come together to make an iPad or MacBook Pro increasingly common in our lives.

The taste for iPhones has strengthened the market for applications for these smart phones. Useful packages, including games, maps of the whole country, dictionaries and audiovisual publications, can be acquired in numerous private workshops throughout the Island. The technicians in these matters are very young, offering also to unlock terminals, jailbreak, change the glass if it breaks, clean the start button, and supply a wide range of connectors to recharge the battery, or plug it into a computer. There is something for all tastes and pockets.

Among the iOS applications most requested by domestic customers, here is a list of the five essential ones. Tools needed to elude censorship, solve daily problems, and amuse us a little.

- OffMaps2: Excellent functionality with maps of several Cuban provinces and the ability to use these without an Internet connection. Its “street” is pretty true to live, with the addition of being able to locate sites of interests in our surroundings, wherever we are. The geo-locator service works by triangulating off cellphone towers and not by satellite. Although less precise, it keeps us from getting lost in cities and towns we visit for the first time.

-  Minipedia: An offline version of the famous interactive encyclopedia, Wikipedia. The advantage of this application is that it doesn’t require a jailbroken phone. You can get the Spanish XL database, updated but without images. Other apps compete with Minipedia, among them Wiki Español and the functionality of Wikipedia installed in the Safari navigator itself, although this latter needs a jailbroken phone.

- Messy SMS: For those interested in sending text messages to friends without the phone company being able to snoop on the contents, this application is perfect. You and your friend simply agree on a password and with that you can encrypt and decrypt texts sent. Fun, easy and necessary for those times when more than one indiscreet eye is spying on our private messaging.

-  WordLens: Nice functionality that mixes the camera with a translator for several languages. It allows you to immediately translate posters and written phrases within reach of our phone’s camera lens. Although the result is a word-by-word translation, without any literary or metaphoric flight, it helps in situations where we’re in a hurry and don’t know how to decipher what a text says.

- PhotoStudio: To edit your photos with just a few moves on the screen, this app comes in handy. It includes filters, the ability to crop or resize an image and even add text on it. After working on the photo, we have the option to save it, export it, or upload it to a social network… although this latter only if we have access to the Internet.

I hope that these slices of the apple serve as signs that point the way to a day when Apple, without restrictions, will come into our lives.

11 April 2014

Havana: The Poverty Behind the Glamour / Ivan Garcia

El-Fanguito-uno-de-los-barrios-marginales-de-La-Habana-620x330

View of El Fanguito, one of Havana’s slums

Just across from Cordoba park, in the Havana neighborhood of La Vibora, is nestled a luxury cafe called Villa Hernandez.  It is a stunning mansion built in the early 20th century and renovated in detail by its owner.

At the entrance, a friendly doorman shows clients the menu on a black leather-covered card.  A pina colada costs almost five dollars.  And a meal for three people not less than 70 cuc, the equivalent of four months’ salary for Zaida, employed by a dining room situated two blocks from the glamour of Villa Hernandez which attracts retired people, the elderly, and the poor from the area.

“It is not a dining room, it is a state restaurant for people of limited means. They call it ’Route 15,’ and the usual menu is white rice, an infamous pea porridge, and croquettes,” says Zaida.

Like the majority of the area’s residents, she has never sat on a stool in the Villa Hernandez bar to drink a mojito or to “nibble” tapas of Serrano ham.

A block from the dining room, on the corner of Acosta and Gelabert, in a house with high ceilings in danger of collapse, live 17 families crowded together.  The people have scrounged in order to transform the old rooms into dwellings.

The method for gaining space is to create lofts with wooden or concrete platforms between the walls. Each, on his own or according to his economic possibilities, has built bathrooms and kitchens without the assistance of an engineer or architect.

Even the old basement, where there once existed an animal stable, has been converted into a place that only with much imagination might be called a home.

The neighbors of the place see the Villa Hernandez restaurant as a foreign territory. “They have told me that they eat very well. I am ashamed to enter and ask about the menu. What for, if I have no money? At the end of the year they put up pretty decorations and a giant Santa Claus. I have told my children that this kind of restaurant is not within the reach of our pockets,” says Remigio.

Like small islets, in Havana there have emerged houses for rent, gymnasiums, tapas bars, cafes and private restaurants much like those that a poor Cuban only sees in foreign films.

There exists a nocturnal Havana with many lights, elegant designs and excess air conditioning which is usually the letter of introduction for the apparent success of the controversial economic reforms promoted by Raul Castro.

It is good that little private businesses emerge. The majority of the population approves cutting out by the roots dependence on the State, the main agent of the socialized misery that is lived in Cuba.

But old people, the retired, professionals, and state workers ask themselves when fair salary reforms will happen that will permit a worker to acquire a household appliance or drink a beer in a private bar.

“That’s what it’s about. Almost all we Cubans approve of people opening businesses. After all, in economic matters, the government has shown a lethal inefficiency. But there are two discussions: one is sold to potential foreign investors and another internal that keeps crushing the commitment to Marxism and to governing in order to favor the poorest,” says Amado, an engineer.

In the business field, the government has opened the door, but not completely.  In the promulgated economic guidelines, it is recognized that the small businesses are designed such that people do not accumulate great capital.

A large segment of party officials and the official press believes it sees in each private entrepreneur a future criminal.

At the moment, self-employment is surrounded with high taxes, the expansion of the opening of a wholesale market, and a legion of state inspectors who demand a multitude of parameters, as if it were anchored in Manhattan or Zurich and not in a nation that has short supplies of things from toothpaste and deodorant to even salt and eggs.

The regime takes advantage of the poor to sell the Cuban brand. “Marketing has been created that shows an island interspersed with images of tenements, mulattas dancing to reggaeton, happy young people drinking rum, US cars from the ’50’s, the National Hotel and luxury restaurants,” says Carlos, a sociologist.

Successful managers, like Enrique Nunez, owner of La Guarida, situated in the mostly black neighborhood of San Leopoldo in downtown Havana, also benefit from the environment in order to grow their businesses.

La Guarida was one of the locations in the film Strawberry and Chocolate by the deceased director Tomas Gutierrez Alea. There, among many others, have dined Queen Sofia of Spain, Diego Armando Maradona and US congressmen.

The dilapidated multifamily building where it is located, with sheets put out to dry on interior balconies and unemployed mulattos and blacks playing dominoes at the foot of the stairway, has become the particular stamp of La Guarida.

“Yes, it’s embarrassing. But to carry on culinary or hospitality businesses in ruinous neighborhoods replete with hustlers and prostitutes, is an added value that works.  Maybe that happens because Havana is still not a violent or dangerous city like Caracas. And the naive Europeans like that touch of modernity surrounded by African misery,” points out the owner of a bar in the old part of the capital.

While the governmental propaganda exaggerates the economic opening, Zaida asks if someday her salary in the State dining room will permit her to have a daiquiri in Villa Hernandez. For her, for now, it would be easier for it to snow in Cuba.

Ivan Garcia

Photo:  El Fanguito, old neighborhood of indigents in El Vedado, Havana, arose in 1935, at the mouth of the river Almendares, in the now-disappeared fishing village of Bongo and Gavilan. With Fidel Castro’s arrival in power, this and other Havana slums not only did not disappear but were growing. At any time, El Fanguito, La Timba, Los Pocitos, La Jata, Romerillo, El Canal, La Cuevita, Indalla, and La Corea, among others, are included in sightseeing tours through the capital, in order to be in tune with the fashion of mixing glamour with poverty, as occurs in Rio de Janeiro with the slums. The photo was taken from Cubanet (TQ).

Translated by mlk.

10 April 2014

Something That Goes Beyond the Law / Josue Rojas Marin, Cuban Law Association

Atty. Josue Rojas Marin

Some landlords from Santa Lucia beach in the Camaguey province find themselves confused before a measure imposed by officials from Immigration and Aliens. Since last year, they have made them sign a document obliging them to be responsible for the cars rented by tourist staying in their homes, in spite of the fact that they sign a rental contract with the agency.  As is logical, there is nothing in the law that imposes a responsibility for property that forms no part of the accommodation.

They also have to keep the home’s door wide open, as we say in good Cuban, in order not to obstruct a surprise inspection, abrogating to the inspectors the right to write or cross things out in the rental registry book, in spite of the fact that it is not they but the Municipal Housing Department that is responsible for controlling this document, so it is required that a responsible person not leave the dwelling unattended, even when there are no guests.

The landlords often suffer unexpected visits by police agents who also write in the registry books, conduct illegal searches, take the registry book without any legal process and return it whenever they want.

All that affects the rental activity and consequently their income.

Translated by mlk.
31 March 2014

Cuba Opens the Gates to Foreign Capital / Ivan Garcia

cuba-contenedores-620x330When a government’s financial figures are in the red, everything takes on new urgency. By now the formulas to address the problem are well-known. Often new tax measures are imposed while bloated public spending is slashed.

But if the goal is to attract American dollars, euros or other forms of hard currency, then any reforms must tempt likely foreign investors and Cuban exiles alike.

The situation is pressing. Venezuela, the spigot from which Cuba’s oil flows, is in a firestorm of criminal and political violence and economic chaos. China is an ideological partner but only makes loans if it can reap some benefit.

The Cuban government does not have a lot of room to maneuver. Its solution has been to open things up a little but not completely. Except in the areas of health, education and defense, Cuba is for sale.

The communist party’s propaganda experts have been trying to sugarcoat the message to its audience. In recent months government officials have been working to attract foreign capital by offering investors a more important role in the Cuban economy.

“Foreign financial resources would do more than provide a complementary role to domestic investment initiatives and would play an important role, even in areas such as agriculture, where foreign investment has been rare,” said Pedro San Jorge, Director of Economic Policy at the Ministry for Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, in January.

In an interview with the newspaper Granma on March 17, José Luis Toledo Santander, Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly of People’s Power for Constitutional and Legal Affairs, said the new law “will also provide for a range of investments so that those who wish may know the areas of interest in the country.”

“This action will also be a breakthrough in terms of the paperwork required to make an investment by creating a more streamlined process,” the official added in response to a common complaint by business people that the Cuban bureaucracy is too slow.

Toledo Santander said the new law “also includes incentives and tax exemptions in certain circumstances, as well as an easing of customs duties to encourage investment.”

He stressed that “the process of foreign investment will be introduced without the country relinquishing its sovereignty or its chosen social and political system: socialism. This new law will allow foreign investment to be better targeted so that it serves the best interests of national development without concessions or setbacks.”

On Saturday March 29 the national television news broadcast reported sometime after 1 PM that the single-voice Cuban parliament had unanimously passed a new foreign investment law without providing more details

The new law provides for an exception to one passed in 1995 which assigned foreign capital a “complimentary” role in Cuban state investments. This meant that foreign investors could hold no more than a 50% stake in any joint venture.

The proportion was higher when it came to technology and retail businesses but only because of a strong interest in these sectors on the part of military autocrats. Between 1996 and 2003 roughly 400 firms in the mining, hospitality, food, automotive and real estate sectors were created in Cuba with foreign capital.

All were small-scale and supervised closely by authorities. Now it’s a choice of life or death. Fidel Castro’s revolution generated many promises and speeches, but these did nothing to foster the economic development that the country needed.

Cuba imports everything from toothbrushes to ball-point pens. Large areas of arable land are overrun with the invasive Marabou weed, and produce little or nothing. In 2013 the government imported almost two billion dollars worth of food.

Since 1959 government leaders have continuously promised ample harvests of malanga, potatoes and oranges coffee as well as a glass of milk per person per day, but the inefficient economic system hampers any such nationial initiatives.

Finally the last trump card was played. It involved opening the gates by luring foreign investors with generous tax exemptions. They included Cubans living in the United States and Europe but not virulent anti-Castro Cuban-Americans from Florida.

If they toned down their strident anti-Castro rhetoric, then perhaps Alfonso Fanjul, Carlos Saladrigas and company might come under consideration also.

Of course, it is not all clear sailing. The U.S. embargo presents a powerful obstacle to any business venture on the island. And the Castro brothers are not serious business partners.

On the contrary. They have changed or corrected course at whim in response to shifting political dynamics. Of the roughly 400 foreign firms that existed in 1998, only about 200 remained in operation as of spring 2014.

Several foreign businessmen, including Canadians, have been threatened with imprisonment while others, like Chilean Max Marambio*, have had arrest warrants issued against them by Cuban prosecutors.

Raul Castro, who inherited power by decree from his brother Fidel in 2006, has tried to clean up government institutions and establish more legal coherence, abolishing absurd laws that prevented the Cubans renting hotel rooms, having mobile phones and selling their own homes and cars.

In January 2013 a new emigration law was adopted that made it easier for Cubans, including dissidents, to travel abroad. Internet access became available, though at jaw-dropping prices, and Peugeot cars went on sale, though priced as if they were Lamborghinis.

For many European and American politicians, Cuba is in the process of becoming a modern nation whose past sins as well, as it’s the lack of democracy and freedom of expression, must be forgiven. Others say it’s just a ploy to buy time.

The average Cuba, whose morning coffee does not include milk, who has only one hot meal a day and who wastes two hours a day commuting to and from work on the inefficient public transport system, is not likely to be impressed with the much hyped opportunities.

Those who open private restaurants or receive remittances from overseas can weather the storm. Those who work for the state — in other words, most people — are the ones having it the worst.

Although the regime may try to camouflage its new policies by resorting to various ideological stunts, the person on the street realizes that the new Cuban reality is nothing more than state capitalism painted over in red.

For a wide segment of the Cuban population, the new investment law is a distant echo. It is yet to be see if it bring them any benefits.

Ivan Garcia

Photo: Container ship entering Havana’s harbor. Operations at the Port of Havana will move once the port at Mariel is fully operational. Photo from Martí Noticias.

*Translator’s note: In 2010 Cuban prosecutors accused Marambio and his firm, Río Zaza, of corruption. Marambio claimed the actions were retribution on the part of Fidel and Raul Castro for his support for Marco Enríquez-Ominami, a candidate in Chile’s 2009 presidential election. Marambio filed suit with the International Court of Arbitration in Paris against his Cuban business partner, Coralsa, a state-owned juice and dairy company. On July 17 the court found in favor of Marambio and ordered Coralsa to pay over $17.5 million dollars in damages “for refusing to cooperate in good faith” in the process of liquidating Rio Zaza.

30 March 2014