Berta Soler believes that conflicts in the group are due to ‘infiltrators’

Berta Soler in a file photo
Berta Soler in a file photo

(EFE) 21 March 2015 — The leader of the Cuban dissident movement Ladies in White,BertaSoler, is “convinced” that“Cuban State Security is hiding” behind the conflicts within the group and which led to the separation of some of its members.

Soler pointed to a History student, Alejandro Yañez, as the person who leaked a video that shows an angry internal conflict and stated that the one responsible for the leak is “someone sent by [Cuban] State Security” since 2007, to gather information and “promote misunderstandings in the group,” as affirmed by the newspaper El Nuevo Herald.

The incident earned the dissident criticisms, especially within the Cuban exile community in the United States, after which Soler decided to submit her leadership to a referendum held this month in Havana in which she was ratified as the movement’s leader.

“I think it doesn’t end because the Government has stuck its hands and body into this,” said Soler, who nevertheless affirmed that the experience taught her to rectify.

In the video in question, several members of the group, Soler among them, demonstrate with shouts against Alejandrina Garcia de la Riva, an activist who was “suspended” and who appeared at the group’s site as a “provocation.”

The leader of the movement also said that on her return to Havana she would personally deliver the keys to the group’s site to Laura María Labrada Pollán, daughter of Ladies in White founder, the deceased Laura Pollán, whose home has been the movement’s headquarters since its founding.

Last Thursday, Laura Labrada announced in Havana that she would create a foundation in honor of her mother and would not authorize Soler to use the name Laura Pollán, after criticizing the “unfortunate events that have raised questions” about the prestige of the organization.

Soler said she “respects” Labrada’s decision, and although the movement could continue to use its current name, Laura Pollán Ladies in White Movement, she would not “get into this family problem.”

Soler said that “respect” the decision of Labrada, and although the movement could continue using its current name, Laura Pollán Ladies in White Laura Movement, she will not “get involved in this family problem.”

“We are against the Cuban government, not against anyone of the people. Laura will always be present in us,” said Soler.

In the interview, the dissident preferred not to give details about the use of the 50,000 euros that the movement received from the European Parliament when, in 2013, it received the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, among other reasons because she doesn’t want to “reveal information to the Cuban government nor to State Security.”

The people who have placed their trust and monetary incentives in the movement, “know how the money is used,” she added.

The “Ladies in White” movement was created by women members of the families of the 75 dissidents condemned to prison during the “Black Spring” of 2003 (now released), among whom are Angel Moya, Soler’s husband, and Hector Maseda, Pollán’s widower.

In Cuba Drought Wreaks Havoc on World Water Day / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Artesian well (14ymedio)
Artesian well (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 22 March 2015 — Spring has officially arrived, but without the rain. Every day the drama worsens in the Cuban countryside, especially in the East. Throughout the length and breadth of the country, the private agricultural sector is experiencing a very difficult situation, because of the precariousness of resources and the lack of methods to transport water.

While the world celebrates International Water Day many farmers look to the sky to try to predict when the rains will come. The year has begun with negative omens. Between November 2014 and the end of January an accumulated shortage of rain has affected 52% of the country. Among the provinces most affected are Pinar del Río, Artemisa, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo.

Camagüey, which provides a quarter of the country’s production of milk and meat, is in a state of emergency because of the rainfall deficit and the low level of its reservoirs. Keeping the livestock fed and the crops irrigated has become an almost impossible task. The problems do not stop there. continue reading

The region’s weather center has warned of the danger of forest fires in the coming weeks.

In the city of tinajones (claypots), families who have a well feel fortunate, while others depend on water trucks and buy drinking water from street merchants who trade in different quantities such as jars, jugs and buckets.

The poor condition of supply networks with millions of leaks, means that a high percentage of pumped water is lost

The Government and the National Institute of Water Resources (INRH) call to increase saving measures and better organize distribution cycles. However the poor condition of the supply networks, with millions of leaks, means that a high percentage of pumped water is lost.

The province of Sancti Spiritus faces a similar situation. At least 25 water supply sources are below minimum capacity and 43,000 people depend on water trucks for cooking, washing, domestic hygiene and irrigating the fields. Experts agree that the worst is yet to come, when temperatures rise along with consumption of the precious liquid.

The city of Trinidad is also going through a difficult time dealing with an increase in tourism while its water systems are virtually empty. Its main source of supply, the San Juan de Letrán Springs, located in the Escambray Mountains, are only supplying 25 quarts per second right now, versus the 110 that normally occurs for these dates. 

The city of Trinidad is also going through a difficult time dealing with an increase in tourism while its water systems are virtually empty

 Maurilio Gonzalez, who lives on the outskirts of the city of Ciego de Ávila, shows his emaciated cattle surrounded by flies. He complains that the pastures aren’t providing the food needed to sustain the dairy herd. “I have to leave very early every morning to see from what center I might get byproducts from sugar-making so that at least my cattle don’t die.” Pointing to the land around him, he says, “There is no grass anywhere, it is all burned up by the sun.”

Havana does not escape the problems associated with drought. Antonio Castillo, deputy director of operations for Havana Water (AH), told the state media that at the end of April the supply sources for the capital’s water will be at levels between normal and unfavorable. If rain is not abundant in May, the city will face serious problems with distribution.

Josefina Iriarte lives in a part of Old Havana that only receives water through so-called pipes. “A few weeks ago the supply became more regular and prices went up,” says this resident of Cuba Street, whose sons are experts at dragging water tanks from hundreds of yards away. The whole house is designed to store every drop. “But you can’t get it if there isn’t any and the longer it doesn’t rain the harder it gets.”

The reservoirs of Santiago de Cuba only store 255,769,000 cubic meters right now, 37% of their capacity and one of the lowest levels in recent years. Dams showing alarming situations are the Protesta de Baraguá Dam and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Dam, the largest in the country which are responsible for supplying water to the neighboring provinces of Holguin, Granma and Guantanamo, on the eastern end of the island.

Don’t just look up and hope that the rains fall; we must rethink our models of water consumption

 Cuba has 242 dams, dozens of micro dams and about 2,420 aqueducts. The networks run over 37,000 miles with 70 water treatment plants and 3,200 miles of sewers. But most of that infrastructure shows some deterioration and in some cases is in a calamitous state. Millions of quarts a year are wasted due to damaged taps and pipes that spill the water before it reaches residences and farms.

Because of the leaks and broken pipes much of the precious liquid is wasted  (Silvia Corbelle)
Because of the leaks and broken pipes much of the precious liquid is wasted (Silvia Corbelle)

Last February, the Director of Organization, Planning and Information of the National Institute of Water Resources (INRH), Bladimir Matos, called for “a culture of conservation among users” to try to mitigate the effects of the current drought and to confront the challenges for the country and around the globe with regards to water reserves.

The United Nations has put out a call to think about how to distribute water resources more efficiently and equitably in the future. In other words, don’t just look up and hope that the rains fall; we must rethink our models of water consumption.

 

Heavy Police Operation against Merchants and Carriers / 14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yosmany Mayeta Labrada, Santiago de Cuba, 21 March 2015 — Since early this Saturday, a heavy police operation had as its objective self-employed workers, street vendors and private carriers in Santiago de Cuba. The forces of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) reported that the raid was aimed against high meat prices in the farmer’s markets and the sale of potatoes in illegal distribution networks.

Most of the arrests and fines occurred in the Venceremos and Altamira suburbs of Santiago de Cuba. The uniformed agents arrived in the first hours of the morning and demanded the vendors show their licenses for engaging in commercial activity. Until midday, the toll of the operation was the seizure of dozens of kilograms of pork meat and thousands of pesos in fines.

Romilio Jardines, vendor of meat and agricultural products, was fined 700 Cuban pesos, although he said that his merchandise was not removed. Nevertheless, he affirmed that “they came prepared in case one refused.” The operation included special forces known as “black berets” who surrounded the area’s markets and the main streets of both suburbs. continue reading

Alexander Benitez was among merchants who suffered the seizure of his products. “The found me selling pork meat at 27 pesos a pound in the doorway of my house and they came and demanded the license,” recounts this Santiago native. “When they saw that I had no license they confiscated the meat, the scales and also fined me 1,500 pesos.” Benitez says that he approached the police to get the scales back “because they were borrowed” but “they handcuffed me and put me in the police car.”

One of the covert sellers, who preferred to remain anonymous, confirmed that it was true that “many self-employed workers have very expensive meat and a pound of potatoes for seven pesos, but the government in the state markets has none at any price.” The residents of the province complain that the tuber has still not been distributed to the people through the network of state markets, although in other cities its sale has already begun.

Not only sellers of meat and agricultural products were the objective of the police operation, but also drivers of cars and motorcycles were investigated. Among them the driver of a private transportation truck who was fined 2,500 pesos and had his license plate taken away. One motorcyclist for a state enterprise also was sanctioned 30 pesos for not having changed the license plate to the new system that has been implemented in the country.

By the beginning of the afternoon, many merchants and carriers in the Venceremos and Altamira suburbs were fined, but once the police began to withdraw their forces, the areas around the farmer’s markets started slowly to fill again with vendors and drivers.

 Translated by MLK

Wheeling and Dealing with Plastic / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Plastic footwear stall at the market of La Cuevita (14ymedio)
Plastic footwear stall at the market of La Cuevita (14ymedio)

Markets all over the Island are supplied with objects made on the illegal circuit of a material mostly derived from industrial waste or leftovers from the dump

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 20 March 2015 – At the market of La Cuevita in San Miguel del Padron, some thousand people from all over the Island daily buy household goods, flip-flops and toys, all made of plastic. The purchasers come especially from rural areas where the economic situation is more precarious and the only thing that abounds is scarcity.

In order to sell in the market it is necessary to have a state license and a letter signed by the producers, also authorized, from whom the articles must be bought. The inspectors who pass through the sales stalls may require this letter, but in practice they pass with hand extended seeking money in exchange for not imposing a fine of 1,500 pesos on whomever continue reading

has skipped the State’s rules of the game.

There are many manufacturers who have no license. In the Cotorro township flip-flops are manufactured and in La Guinera, a settlement located in San Miguel del Padron, there are producers of household goods. The toys, with twisted forms and faded colors, are brought from the eastern part of the country.

The first step is gathering the recyclable plastic among the wastes of industrial smelting and rummaging through the garbage in search of plastic items that can be exploited, without discarding the possibility of melting the trash cans themselves. In order to improve the quality of the final product, the manufacturers add virgin plastic. This granulated raw material is bought under the table, gotten directly from state warehouses.

The mishmash is heated. When the material is quite melted it is injected under pressure into various molds. The injecting machines as well as the molds are produced by hand. When it liquefies, the homogenized paste takes on an earthy color, but artisans save the day using different colored dyes.

According to one of these artisans, who allows no photos on his patio, in many neighborhoods of the capital the police would have to search patio by patio and house by house because “reality is stubborn,” as he learned many years ago in a Communist Party school. “Even beer can be canned clandestinely,” he says. “Such machines are all over Havana. Where you least imagine it, there is one. The problem is to make the product and get it immediately out so that the chain is not discovered.”

The bowls and plates, funnels or any other object resulting from this mix of materials are not completely safe for storage of food intended for human consumption. “I don’t use any of the bowls that I buy in the candonga for keeping food from one day to the other. But they are cheaper than those made in China which are sold in the hard currency stores and cost a third of a worker’s salary,” says Morena, a housewife who frequents the market.

The vendors place themselves at the entrance to the market. Some offer strings of onion and garlic, others little nylon bags. An old lady sells a bag of potatoes that she has just bought after a long line, and a teen carries a box of ice where he keeps popsicles that sell for 15 Cuban pesos. They often have to go running. A patrol passes every twenty minutes.

The police pass by often while overseeing legal sales in the market (14ymedio)
The police pass by often while overseeing legal sales in the market (14ymedio)

“If you resist arrest, they beat you. Then they take you to the 11th Police Station, and railroad you and you don’t know if you’ll come out with a fine of 1,500 Cuban pesos or go directly to the Valle Grande prison,” says the popsicle salesman.

A man in his forties recounts how the police detained him once, accusing him of retailing without any proof, and they asked him for his identity card just because he was carrying a briefcase full of plastic plates that he had just bought. “It would be of no use to say it is my hobby to throw them in the air to practice my slingshot aim. Just like if they want to they seize everything and give you a fine. The police do not act for the benefit of the people,” he laments.

Mireya, almost seventy years of age, is the last link in the productive chain of plastic products. While others work in little brigades for a particular producer, authorized or not, she does it alone. She has put together brooms and brushes manually, with production wastes from state industry, for more than 20 years. “If they catch me doing this I can have serious problems with the authorities. I don’t do it to get rich. I have to assemble 100 brushes to earn 400 Cuban pesos [about $16 U.S.], and from that I have to invest part in order to buy the materials,” she explains.

Mireya does not want to get a license because she thinks the taxes are too high. Besides, she could not justify the materials that she uses to fabricate her brooms because, in spite of dealing with industrial waste, there exists no legal way of acquiring them. The bases and the bristles she buys from someone who, like her, has no license either and sells them more cheaply.

“What I would have left after paying for the license and the taxes would be more or less the same as the wage of a state worker. With that, added to my pension of 270 pesos, I can’t even live ten days. If you don’t believe what I am saying, take the rice and beans from the store, divide it into 30 piles to see how you eat and how you live. Then necessarily you have to live wheeling and dealing,” she concludes without ceasing to close the plastic threads with wire pincers.

Translated by MLK

Nineteen Cubans sentenced for the diversion of eight million eggs / 14ymedio

Thirty unit egg cartons (14ymedio)
Thirty unit egg cartons (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

Nineteen citizens who worked for the Havana Base Business Unit for the Collection and Distribution of Eggs and the Provincial Commerce Company were sentenced this week for the diversion of more than eight million eggs. The Prosecutor asked for sentences ranging from 8 to 20 years, according to a report today in the newspaper Granma.

The diverted merchandise represented 389 invoiced shipments that never reached their destination, which caused “an economic impact exceeding 8,907,562 pesos.” The official newspaper referred to the crimes imputed to the accused as ranging from misappropriation to falsification of bank and continue reading

commercial documents.

The systematic theft began in March of 2012 when the Avicola Production and Commercialization Company officially took on the UEB Collection and Distribution of Havana Eggs. A short time later, after intensive analysis of the entity’s situation, the director of UEB asked to be released due to “illness, which pointed to the existence of serious irregularities.”

From that moment, an investigation of the free distribution of eggs in the capital was opened. A complaint was also opened before the Territorial Department of Criminal Investigations and Operations and a special audit of UEB requested.

With these new controls, “there came to light accounting errors, breaches of obligations on the part of the directors, specialists and drivers, violations of established routes for the delivery of eggs, the falsification of invoices; as well as the existence of an entire criminal chain, fueled by the lacerating lack of control, the vulnerability of the procedures and the total loss of ethical and moral principles.”

An article presented the testimony of the penal investigators in the case, first deputy Barbara Rondon Vega and Capital Pedro E. Cordero Riveron, belonging to the Criminal Investigation and Operations Division. According to Granma, Gilberto Diaz Mojena, UEB marketing, “authorized the billing of notable quantitites of eggs to different entities, located in the municipalities of La Habana del Este, Cerro, Mrianao and La Lisa, basically.”

Cartons of eggs, with thirty units each, were sold on the black market at a price between 35 and 40 Cuban pesos

“At the end of the month […] María Regla Pis Martínez, deputy director of commerce of the Provincial Trading Company […] altered the actual pre-prepared plan for units located in those areas, to make them coincide with the actual deliveries.”

Another of those involved, the driver Valery Caballero Moreda, “with the illegal sale of 1,209,600 eggs, contained in 53 invoices, caused a monetary effect upwards of 1,814,400 pesos. Meanwhile, the driver Juan Eliecer Perdomo caused a shortfall of 839,700 pesos, due to the illegal distribution of 559,800 eggs, corresponding to 29 invoices.”

The cartons of eggs, with thirty units each, were sold on the black market at a price between 35 and 40 Cuban pesos, although at times of scarcities the price could go much higher.

Granma concludes that, “While it’s true that the convictions, although severe, don’t resolve the problem alone, sometimes the malefactors need to feel the full weight of the Law, beyond their shame in front of their families and society.”

“Recognizing changes does not mean we go along” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

José Daniel Ferrer, Felix Navarro, Hector Maseda, Jorge Olivera and Librado Linares
José Daniel Ferrer, Felix Navarro, Hector Maseda, Jorge Olivera and Librado Linares

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Havana, 19 March 2015 — Twelve years after the Black Spring, 14ymedio chats with some of the former political prisoners currently living on the Island. Two questions have been posed to those activists condemned in March 2003: one about their decision to stay in Cuba, and the other about how they see the country today.

José Daniel Ferrer

The whole time we were in prison, the Castro brothers’ regime did its best to pressure us, to force us to abandon the country. A few of us decided to say no, regardless of the circumstances. Today I am more convinced than ever that my having stayed is worth it. We are doing our modest bit to have a nation where there will never again be something like that spring of 2003, when so many compatriots paid with prison for attempting to exercise their most sacred rights.

“Today I am more convinced than ever that my having stayed is worth it”

Many things have changed, but they still maintain the repression, and sometimes increase it, against human rights activists and also against the people. Recognizing the changes doesn’t mean we go along, because what we don’t have is a prosperous and democratic Cuba. In the last days when I walked freely on the street, at the beginning of 2003, some people approached us and whispered in our ears, “I heard you,” referring to having heard us on some station like Radio Martí, one of the few media where they could learn about what the pro-democracy forces were doing.

Felix Navarro

Having stayed in Cuba after leaving prison is probably the best idea I’ve had in my entire life. continue reading

 On Saturday July 10, the day on which I spent my 57th birthday in prison, I received a call from Cardinal Ortega. He informed me that he was forming the third group of ex-prisoners and that I could leave together with my family. I thanked him for the gesture and the fact that the Church had always fought alongside the unprotected and against the injustices, but I would not abandon the country even if I had to serve the entire 25 years of my sentence. On 22 March he called me again and the next day they released me from prison. Along with José Daniel Ferrer, I was the last to get home.

Right now I’m on conditional release, on parole, but I am convinced that sooner or later they are going to allow me to travel normally like any other Cuban. In my case, I have no intention of traveling abroad as long as the president of Cuba is not a democratically elected member of civil society.

“I would not abandon the country even if I had to serve the entire 25 years of my sentence”

In my opinion, the country has changed, but for the worse. It is true that since the beginning of December of last year the political police have stopped repressing in the way they had been the expressions of peaceful struggle of the Ladies in White in Cardenas and Colon. Before that, every Sunday they prevented their walking down the street, they were beaten and insulted, put into vehicles and abandoned to their fate at whatever place. This doesn’t happen any more and we believe it is very helpful, but the repression continues in other ways, with police citations and surveillance.

Héctor Maseda

I was contacted three times by the Cardinal to leave for Spain and I said no. When they told me I could get out of prison on parole I refused, making my point that Raul Castro had announced months ago that we would all be released. I left prison against my will. In September 2014 I made a complaint to the People’s Power Provincial Court in the section for crimes against the security of the State and the Council of State for them to release me unconditionally. They responded that the court had determined that I would have to remain under control. I have no interest in leaving the country, this is my decision and I don’t have to explain it to anyone.

“I left prison against my will”

Some changes have occurred in our country, but I continue to insist that they are not fundamental. The government of Raul Castro maintains very rigid positions. The fact that relations with the United States are being reestablished is perhaps the most notable change, but behind this are the economic interests of the Cuban and American governments. In the case of Raul Castro, what he wants is to extend his dynasty in power, but I can’t see what the benefits are for the Cuban people.

Jorge Olivera

Just under five years ago I decided not to accept the offer to go into exile in Spain. I received a lot of criticism, but my closest friends, my wife and my family supported me in my decision. At one time I desired to leave Cuba, but one has a right to change and today I have no regrets. In the most difficult moment of the dilemma I chose to stay for many reasons, one of them is the trajectory of the independent press, where I worked with Habana Press since 1995, and also my convictions. After thinking about all aspects, I considered it better to stay here trying to open spaces for independent journalism, to bring our experience to the young people. I am here, happy, although it seems a contradiction in terms, because I am doing what I love and contributing with my modest efforts to a better country.

“The country has changed and will change again, perhaps not with the speed we want”

Life is dialectical and everything changes. Sometimes we do not notice because we are in the forest, but the world has changed and Cuba as well. The Cuba of 12 years ago was very different. Now, for example, events that no one expected have occurred, like the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States. They have opened spaces that were unthinkable back then, there are people who don’t see it that way, people who think it is very little, others say nothing has changed. The country has changed and will change, perhaps not with the speed those of us on the pro-democratic route would like, but there have been changes. Our work is made visible with the existence of new technologies, Internet and cellphones; discreet but important spaces have opened up that have contributed in a greater or lesser way to improving our work, both in the political opposition and in the alternative civil society.

Librado Linares

When I had been in prison for about a year and a half in Combinado del Este in Havana, some officials from State Security interviewed me to find out my willingness to leave Cuba as a way to be released from prison. I told them flat out no, and their leader assured me I would serve the 20 years without any benefit. I decided to stay because of the commitment I have to the development of a dynamic of change that will do away with the Castros’ totalitarianism and produce a transition to democracy. On the other hand, I greatly identify with and have a great sense of belonging to Cuban culture, with its values, the people in the neighborhood, the climate, with las parrandas de Camajuaní. I can’t find this in any other country.

“We are more pluralistic, less monolithic”

Some experts in the areas of transition have said that there are four types of non-democratic regimes: totalitarian, post-totalitarian, sultanistic and totalitarian, but in the ‘90s a process of “de-totalitarian-ization” began and this has happened because of the pressure from the internal opposition and internationally and because of other reasons, including biological. The regime has been evolving toward post-totalitarianism and perhaps intends to move towards an authoritarian military regime.

They want to stay in power and that has led to allowing certain improvements in freedom of movement, they have facilitated aspects of the issue of ownership and non-state management of the economy, such as land leases and non-farm cooperatives. Despite the enormous repression, the opposition has been gaining spaces. We are more plural, less monolithic. People are forgetting their fear, breaking their chains and learning to speak up in public and to demand their rights.

Summit of the Americas: Fear of Others’ Ideas and Little Faith in Their Own / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Eliécer Ávila, Havana, 19 March 2015 – In less than a month the Summit of the Americas will be held in Panama, on April 10-11. A good part of the world will focus its attention this time on Cuba and the United States, the two countries that have announced their intention to reestablish bilateral relations, ruptured more than 50 years ago.

Many hope that this summit will not be like so many others, but rather a milestone in history, embracing the essential discussion about the only non-democratic state in the hemisphere, a discussion that has been unreasonably postponed for more than half a century.

Before the imminent possibility of no control over all the variables of the meeting, the Cuban government is ever more nervous. One of the plays already seen backstage, is accusing the dissidents of wanting to “undermine” continue reading

the ALBA alternative summit and other absurdities of this style launched by their opinion agents on the Internet.

Anyone who knows how these mechanisms operate is aware that these opinion matrices are not injected for fun, but rather in pursuit of creating an adequate framework for other moves that can range from preventing some people from leaving Cuba to organizing acts of repudiation and their other usual activities in their actions in Panama.

Still fresh in our memories are the spectacles orchestrated by the Cuban embassies on Yoani Sanchez’s first tour, especially in Latin America. Also, more recently, in Guadalajara as a part of the cultural summit in which the sympathizers of the Cuban government grabbed the microphones, spit and offended those who, with much effort, were trying to speak in a civilized manner.

Why so afraid of words? Should America forever endure the rudeness of a government that believes itself superior, divine and unquestionable?

Why so afraid of words? Should America forever endure the rudeness of a government that believes itself superior, divine and unquestionable?

This time, in addition to the external shock troops, they will bring their own civil society. Civil because they will not be put in uniform, civil although they have cars with official plates, official budgets, official sites and, best of all, a discourse more official than that of the government itself.

But none of this matters if the hosts manage to create a decent and safe space for all voices to be heard. Hopefully, a little bit of political decency will surprise us. It’s high time.

Laura Labrada and a Hundred Ladies in White Distance Themselves From Berta Soler / 14ymedio

Laura Labrada during the press conference at the headquarters of the Ladies in White (14ymedio)
Laura Labrada during the press conference at the headquarters of the Ladies in White (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 19 March 2015 — In a press conference Thursday in Havana, the Lady in White Laura Labrada, daughter of the late Laura Pollán, announced the creation of a foundation with the name of her mother said she wouldn’t allow “Berta Soler to use the name of [her] mother in her movement.”

In a long document, read in front of independent journalists and foreign correspondents, Labrada accused Soler of poor leadership of the movement and “adopting irreverent conduct.” She added, “I respect from a distance what [Soler] does and her effort, for this she should use her own name, which history will view with mistrust.”

The foundation, which will be created shortly, will have as its objective support for the most disadvantaged people, according to Labrada, especially children and the elderly. During the round of questions, the Lady in White said that in making these decisions she counted on the support of “more than a hundred women,” belonging continue reading

to the movement.

There have been lamentable events, which have challenged not only the prestige of the organization but also its intended purpose

In the first point of the statement, Labrada says that since the death of her mother, “There have been lamentable events, which have challenged not only the prestige of the organization but also its intended purpose and its methods.”

She highlighted, “Unjustified expulsions, resignations for mistreatment, misunderstandings and the lack of democracy. The intrusions of people from outside the movement in decision-making, fights between men and incitements to violence, internal repudiation rallies in the style of the Castro regime, and disqualifications.”

The conference has taken place a few weeks since a hundred women, among them Labrada herself, signed a letter in which they asked for changes within the Ladies in White. The organization was going through “a very difficult situation with undemocratic procedures that are happening in the headquarters of our organization,” the document asserted.

Berta Soler, who assumed the leadership of the group after the death of Laura Pollán, responded to the call for a referendum on her leadership. She received a widely favorable result, getting 180 votes out of a total of 201.

The organization has faced other problems in the past year. In September 2014, a group of women in the province of Santiago de Cuba, led by Belkis Cantillo, founded Citizens for Democracy. This decision was taken following the disagreements between Belkis Cantillo and Berta Soler that caused the separation of dozens of women from the Ladies in White.

The Ladies in White movement arose after the arrests of the Black Spring, exactly 12 years ago. A group of women dressed in white marched after attending mass at the Santa Rita parish in the Miramar neighborhood, to peacefully protest and give visibility to the situation of the political prisoners jailed that March of 2003. Laura Pollán stood out, together with Miriam Leyva and Gisela Delgado, and became the leader of the group and the most recognized figure internationally. The Ladies in White received the European Parliament’s Sakharov Price, which they did not collect until 2013, as the Government did not allow them to travel to participate in the award ceremony.

The house at 963 Neptune Street “cannot be returned to the women who participated in the act of repudiation against Alejandrina García de la Riva”

In her statements, Labrada referred to the negotiations between the governments of Cuba and the United States and said that “we support and recognize the decision of the United States government, a historic event that offers new opportunities to establish true democracy in Cuba. Then it will depend on us, the people, to know how to take advantage of it to construct a strong civil society that visualizes the path to freedom.”

To a question from 14ymedio about the property at 963 Neptune, Laura Labrada said that this house “cannot be returned to the women who participated in an act of repudiation against Alejandrina García de la Riva.”

The house, located in Cental Havana, has been the headquarters of the Ladies in White since it emerged in 2003 and, until her death in 2011, the leader of the movement Laura Pollán lived there. The house has been the direct target of acts of repudiation, monitoring and control by the political police during all those years, and in it have been carried out numerous activities such as literary teas – the most important meetings of the organization – and tributes or memorials to other figures of the opposition movement. In addition, the place served as a shelter for women activists who came from other provinces to the capital. Currently living in the house is Laura Pollán’s widower, Hector Masada, who was one of the 75 opponents imprisoned during the Black Spring.

Berta Soler Confirmed as Leader of Ladies in White / 14ymedio

Ladies in White showing empty ballot box before voting. (14ymedio)
Ladies in White showing empty ballot box before voting. (14ymedio)

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14ymedio, Havana, 11 March 2015 – On Wednesday the Ladies in White confirmed the continuity of their current leader, Berta Soler, at the front of their movement with an overwhelming majority of 180 votes in favor with a total of 201 participants in the recall referendum. A total of 16 members of the group opted for change in leadership and three ballots were annulled while three were left blank; 32 members with the right to vote preferred not to do so.

On learning the outcome, the Ladies cheered Soler. The Matanzas delection, present at the site, read a statement in which they said they turned out in force for the consultation. The re-elected leader congratulated the entire organization for the referendum, those who said yes, who said no, and who annulled their ballots. The shock troops of the acts of repudiation did not appear. continue reading

Delegations from Havana, Pinar del Rio, Ciego de Avila have gathered this Wednesday at the organization’s headquarters at 963 Neptune Street, in Central Havana, to participate in the consultation in the presence of three observers: Raul Borges Alvarez, President the Party for Democratic Unity of Cuba; Antonio Gonzalez Rodiles, Estado de Sats, and Reinaldo Escobar, journalist with14ymedio .

Of the 104 convened (92 from Havana, five from Pinar del Río and seven from Ciego de Ávila), 79 voted. A total of 71 among them chose “yes”, six opted for

The election board was composed of five members of the executive of the Ladies in White: Aliuska Gómez, Lázara Barbara Sendiña, Lismeirys Quintana, Lourdes Esquivel and Magaly Norvis.

The results of the voting conducted in other provinces since last Friday had given a solid majority to Berta Soler, who declined to participate in the vote.

“No matter where I live, I will keep working for the freedom of Cuba” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Marta Beatriz Roque, Cabello Ángel Moya, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, Diosdado González Marrero and Eduardo Díaz Fleitas
Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello, Ángel Moya, Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique, Diosdado González Marrero and Eduardo Díaz Fleitas

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 18 March 2015 — Twelve years after the Black Spring, 14ymedio chats with some of the former political prisoners currently living on the Island. Two questions have been posed to those activists condemned in March 2003: one about their decision to stay in Cuba, and the other about how they see the country today.

Marta Beatriz Roque Cabello

I left prison in late 2004, paroled by the regime for reasons of health. They never offered me the chance to go abroad, but it wouldn’t have occurred to me. My closest family, and most distant as well, live abroad, but I never had plans to abandon the Island. I am a Spanish citizen because my family did the paperwork, I visited the embassy of that country the day they told me to fill out the forms and then got a passport, about four years ago.
continue reading

This is no longer the same country it was in the spring of 2003. The government has been forced to return certain rights to the citizens, regardless of the fact that we can’t make use of them. At that time, for example, a Cuban was not permitted to say in the hotels. Now it’s not prohibited, but the economy doesn’t allow the ordinary citizen to exercise that right. Who, other than “papá’s kids” [the Castro offspring] has the money to pay for a room? Another thing is the ability to travel abroad. Those of us who are on parole are not allowed to travel, or we know that if we do it we will not be allowed to return.

The government has been forced to return certain rights to the citizens, regardless of the fact that we can’t make use of them”

I remember Cardinal Ortega, in a statement published by the newspaper Granma, said that all of us would be set free, but they only freed those who chose to go into exile. That is a way of punishing us for not accepting deportation, it is a whim of the commander in chief and a mockery of Spain and of the Church. On 31 October last year we made a formal demand for a document of freedom, but we never got an answer. We only have an identity card.

Angel Moya

I got out of prison because of the efforts made by the Government of Spain and the Catholic Church with the Government of Cuba, but especially thanks to the internal pressures, which came from the actions of the Ladies in White, the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, and Guillermo Fariña’s hunger strike. No one ever pressured me to leave Cuba. The Cardinal called me and proposed it and I said no. My decision was to stay and continue to fight for the freedom of Cuba and I’ve never regretted that. It was very important that I had the support of my wife, Berta Soler, who has always agreed with our staying.

My decision was to stay and continue to fight for the freedom of Cuba and I’ve never regretted that

The country has not evolved at all in terms of human rights. Just look at the lists of arbitrary detentions issued monthly by the Human Rights Committee and Hablemos Press. The methods used by the State Security include beatings and abuses of all kinds. The repression has intensified to prevent the population from joining the activism. It is true that they have not been making the same mistake of the Black Spring, because that was a failure that cost the government dearly, but they continue to imprison people for political reasons and still refuse to ratify the international covenants on human rights.

Arnaldo Ramos Lauzurique

I left prison in November 2010. Just before, Cardinal Ortega called me and told me he was preparing for the prisoners of our cause to leave the country. I told him I wasn’t interested. It was a decision I’ve thought about a lot since that time, but I wouldn’t take it back. If I wanted to leave Cuba now it would have to be forever, but I’m not going to accept this blackmail. On leaving prison they gave us a little piece of paper to get an ID card, but I never managed to get anything legal. My family shares this decision and when your family supports you, the decision is more firm.

If I wanted to leave Cuba now it would have to be forever

The opposition still hasn’t been able to consolidate itself. The constant emigration of people with experience does a lot of damage to us, these exits don’t allow us to consolidate. Of course the regime was forced to take some actions, but it was done out of pure pragmatism. They have no interest in changing. In this similar situation of restoring relations with the United States I can’t see clearly what their real interests are. Maduro from Venezuela is an influence in this, because he isn’t happy to see there is a possibility of coming to an arrangement with Cuba.

Diosdado González Marrero

Right now, almost four years after thye released us, I continue to see it as a question of principles to have made the decision not to give in to the Government’s pressure and accept exile as a condition for leaving prison. I saw it then and I continue to see it the same way now. In about a week I’m going to join my family abroad. I am leaving the Island, but I will stay in Cuba. I tried to leave like a normal visit, but it’s not allowed. My wife and I even went to the cardinal to intercede, but it wasn’t possible to resolve our request. I am leaving for two reasons: my desire to reunite with my children and grandchildren, and because we Cubans have to live in democracy. I have done my best for the unity of the opposition, but it’s very difficult, there are too many individual interests in each organization. No matter where I live, I will continue working for the freedom of Cuba.

I am leaving the Island, but I will stay in Cuba

Having spent eight years in those places that don’t even deserve to be called prisons, and coming back out to the street, I saw that everything was worse. After you get acclimated again, you can get used to anything. Now we see changes. There are things that Cubans have the right to, that they couldn’t do before. Get a cellphone, connect to the Internet, travel, those were goals that seemed impossible, likewise with the development of private businesses or land leasing, but politically, nothing. After Fidel Castro got sick and handed over power to his brother, they started to eliminate prohibitions and now, with the conversations between the Cuban regime and the American government, things will get better still, especially with the flow of tourists from the United States.

Eduardo Diaz Fleitas

They released me just a few days before I served eight years in prison. Cardinal Jaime Ortega called me to suggest that I accept leaving for Spain in order to be released. I told him I wasn’t interested in leaving Cuba. Having stayed on the Island has been very important because my commitment is to fight for the changes we need. I never regret having stayed here, and I don’t think I will leave under any circumstances.

Having stayed on the Island has been very important because my commitment is to fight for the changes we need

The biggest change the country has suffered in the last 12 years that I see is the greater deterioration. There is no respect for human dignity nor any kind of improvement in any order of life. Now we need the regime to decide to accept real changes and seek peace for the progress of the country.

Fidel Castro Warns That Venezuela Has Latin America’s Best Equipped Army / 14ymedio

Cartoon bubble:  "Forget about the Gringos; don’t worry, boy, I have the control!" Cartoon by Manuel Guillen (La Prensa, Nicaragua)
Cartoon bubble: “Forget about the Gringos; don’t worry, boy, I have the control!” Cartoon by Manuel Guillen (La Prensa, Nicaragua)

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14ymedio, 17 March 2015 – Coinciding with this Tuesday’s meeting in Caracas of the Summit for the Bolivarian Alliance for America (ALBA) to analyze the latest confrontation between the United States and Venezuela, Fidel Castro has written a letter published by the newspaper Granma in which he praises the attitude of the “heroic people of Bolivar and Chavez” and reminds us that “Venezuela has the best equipped soldiers and officers of Latin America.

The Cuban ex-president stresses the “exemplary discipline and the spirit of the National Bolivarian Armed Forces,” and concludes that “whatever the imperialism of the United States does, it can never count on doing what it did during so many years,” referring to the military coups that occurred in Latin America in the 20th Century. “When you met with those officers in recent days, you could tell they are ready to give their last drop of blood for continue reading

the Homeland,” says Castro.

The historic leader of the Revolution remembers that Hugo Chavez was the one who took the initiative to found ALBA in order to “share with his Caribbean brothers” Venezuela’s natural resources that were, according to the ex-leader, going to American businesses and Venezuelan millionaires.

“Simon Bolivar dedicated himself fully to the colossal work of freeing the continent,” points out Castro going epic. “With less than 1% of the planet’s surface, [Venezuela] possesses the greatest oil reserves in the world. For a whole century it was obliged to produce all the fuel that the European and United States powers needed. Even though today the hydrocarbons formed over millions of years would be consumed in no more than a century, and we human beings who today number 7.2 billion, in ten more years that will double and in two hundred will exceed 21 billion, only the wonders of the most advanced technology may permit the survival of the human species a little longer. Why is the fabulous mass media not used to inform and educate about these realities that each person in his sound judgment must know, instead of promoting deception?”

Fidel Castro says goodbye to Maduro, as is customary, with a “brotherly hug” that he extends this time to all Venezuelans and the peoples of ALBA.

Translated by MLK

For a Parliament Without a Nominating Committee / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Voting in the National Assembly
Voting in the National Assembly

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 16 March 2015 – The National Assembly of People’s Power, or what foreign journalists simplified as the Cuban Parliament, consists of some 612 members. None of them performed any action to achieve their seat; all were taken by surprise when Nominating Committee announced that their name would be on the list of proposed members. Voters who voted for them either were forced to choose between one or the other, but all were approved in a block of 612 candidates. One for each existing post.

About half of these candidates were selected by the Nominating Committee from a list of nearly 15,000 district delegates around the country. The rest were “taken” by this Committee from among other personalities who, without being grassroots delegates continue reading

, stood out for their work in the arts, science or sports, or for accumulating certain historical, political or military merits.

The Parliament is a representative range of our society, except in the field of political opinions

The Committee is careful to maintain an appropriate ratio between young and old; men and women; whites, blacks and mestizos; workers, peasants and intellectuals; and, of course, making sure the fifteen provinces are equally represented. No one can deny that the Parliament is a representative range of our society, at least from the point of view of age, gender, race, occupation and regional profile.

Where there is no plurality is in the field of political opinions. In fact, the voters don’t know the candidates’ views and only assume they must be “revolutionary” because the Committee selected them.

How will this diversity be interpreted when the new Electoral Law that has been announced is enacted?

First, the Nominating Committee should be eliminated. Article 68 of the electoral law provides that:

The Nominating Committees is made up of representatives from the Cuban Workers Center, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Woman, the National Association of Small Farmers, the University Students Federation, and the Secondary Students Federation, appointed by the respective national, provincial and municipal boards, at the request of the National, Provincial and Municipal Electoral Commissions.

It is this composition of the Commission that allows the official propagandists to claim that it is not the Communist Party that proposes the candidates. What is not explained is that most of the top leaders of these organizations (which appoint their representatives to the Commission) are at least members of the Central Committee of the Party and that in the statutes of each of these entities is a clause which requires fidelity to the highest political body.

In voting, unanimity is the rule; votes against are the few exceptions

 In the nearly 40 years of the National Assembly of People’s Power’s existence there is no trace of a single adverse vote on a law or a measure proposed by the government, nor has anyone registered any significant argument; is not possible to identify trends, wings, sectors or anything of that kind. In voting, unanimity is the rule; votes against, the few exceptions.

If the new Law modifies this detail, among others, to enter Parliament you should have to have something of your own to propose; if there came to be a deputy who gets to this place for people who think alike and who raised his or her voice or hand in favor of a new idea, the other roosters in this pen would crow…

In a nation where almost everyone has their own point of view but where few have the courage to express it publicly, especially if it deviates from the official line; in a nation that has spent 63 years without civil liberties, where there are at least three generations domesticated under tight ideological tutelage; in a nation like that there will be no democratic experience of a real Parliament just because a new electoral law is enacted.

However, in this house of cards, the slightest movement of a deck can have unexpected consequences in a country where so many people dream of profound changes.

A Simple Proposal for Elections / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 16 March 2015 – I always heard Ricardo Alarcon repeat, during his time as President of the National Assembly of People’s Power, that the Cuban electoral system was the most democratic in the world. The truth is that the weighted advantages of this system not only have never been demonstrated, but it finds itself under challenge with the announcement of a new electoral law.

Democracy is not only the government of the people and the enormous role of the citizenry in moving forward, to later discover that a Nominating Committee chosen by the Party or the Government has included a series of names which, not by coincidence, are continue reading

the figures who lead the country.

Democracy is also the aspiration for a good government of the people, and not this almost forty-year-old institutionalized formula in which the people are subject to the government and must carry out its will. Instead of a head of state-constituent relationship that is only practiced through voice and show of hand “debates,” what needs to be done is to submit a referendum to the ballot box.

Cubans interested in politics are following the issue closely, because over the years the limitations of our electoral law – which restricts the right to vote of Cubans who live outside the Island – have become clear. In addition to the political fidelity of a candidate, people want to know his or her abilities and proposals to improve government management; and democracy also includes the right to elect via direct and secret vote the top leaders of the nation. These and other modifications are leading a process of discussion and approval that apparently will culminate in a new electoral law planned for 2018.

As pointed out by civil society and the citizenry with regards to modifications of the electoral law, parts of the law need to be repealed and new measures need to be implemented, even with impacts on the Constitution; thus, in the upcoming April elections, nothing new will happen. But there is an action that can be taken without need for amendments, one which would speak to transparency which has always been questioned in the People’s Power elections.

It would be an act of transparency on the part of the government, which has always handled with absolute secrecy the breakdown of the numbers

Such action has to do with the results of the voting, which citizens learn through the consolidation published in the press and from the immediate data in their electoral college.

The proposal is simple: starting from these elections publish a tabloid with the detailed information by precinct or electoral college, circumscription, municipality or province, up to the consolidation of national information. In this way any citizen can know the vote totals for any electoral college in the country. This tabloid can be sold on newsstands and offered to subscribers. It can also appear on the digital site of the National Bureau of Statistics and the National Assembly of People’s Power.

It would be an act of transparency on the part of the government, which has always handled with absolute secrecy the breakdown of the numbers, and it would allow everyone to compare what they observed on election day voting in their electoral college with the published results. Nobody could speak subjectively, since the figures would speak for themselves.

Taking care to previously verify one’s name and details on the voters list.

 

Union of Young Communists (UJC): Who Is For That? / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

9th Congress of the UJC (EFE)
9th Congress of the UJC (EFE)

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14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 24 February 2015 — The only thing Damian shares with Karl Marx may be the thick beard. In everything else, the Havana engineering student is quite different from the German philosopher who wrote Das Kapital. And the main contrast between them is found in their ways of thinking because for this young man who enjoys sporting the lumberjack style – the “lumberjack” fashion is spreading through the capital – the last thing he wants to talk about is class struggle, historical demands or communism. “Who is for that?” he asks.

To judge by his tone, it seems few. Instead, youngsters like Damian and his girlfriend, or the friends with whom they usually meet in places like the Bertold Brecht café theater or the Cuban Art Factory, prefer to talk about European football leagues while drinking beer paid for in hard currency. Things like the 10th Congress of the Union of Young Communists (UJC) appear nowhere in their conversations, despite the official propaganda that has been unleashed in an intense campaign about the event. According to the press permitted in Cuba, this “will be a congress that looks like Cuban youth.”

Adhering strictly to that maxim, for starters, a good part of the delegates to the Congress must come from abroad, given the number of people who are leaving Cuba. Of the almost half million who have emigrated in the last ten years, a high percentage are young continue reading

people seeking opportunities that their country is incapable of offering them. Damian talks about that also, his desire to leave, and about something curious: the majority of his friends who have managed to do it used to belong to the UJC. “It’s a double standard,” he says. The most radical and exclusive leftist militants went on to live under “cruel” capitalism.

Nevertheless, the increasing emigration is a taboo subject in the current municipal assemblies preceding the big meeting of the young communists. According to a leader of the organization interviewed Monday on national television, such assemblies are in their final stage and from them must emerge a document with “the major problems raised” by their members then to be discussed in the “grass-roots committees.” Only then would topics be chosen for taking to the final Congress, and this via mechanisms perhaps too arbitrary, as usually happens in a country governed by an elite that stopped being young a long time ago.

Among those pre-Congress “proposals,” the leader said, “the transformations themselves of the organization” have prominence. Although there are also “recreation as a necessity,” and the ever greater challenges that globalized cultural consumption poses for “proper” values; or the search for fun spaces whose availability in Cuba now depends only on how much money – that beast that communism tried to eradicate with time – the customers are able to offer.

It is also said that other subjects from the official list will be youth employment and opportunities for study. This Congress will be carried out in a context in which the private sector is gaining appeal in the face of the previously omnipresent State and where university courses are of little use in earning a decent wage. The “updating of the economic model” has not prevented the phenomenon of labor migration from skilled positions to others of lower skill but greater remuneration.

One could not miss, among the “proposals made” that the communist leader mentioned, the “responsibility of the youth with respect to the continuity of the Revolution.” Something logical coming from one who defines himself as the “vanguard” of young Cubans and whose main function is indoctrination. “The UJC not only has the responsibility for the revolutionary and communist formation of new generations, but also (…) that the organization that represents them, directs them, guides them, and leads them towards each one of the transformations of our society,” said the interviewee in the morning report.

Accused of being elitist for assuming the right to speak on behalf of the broad spectrum of young society, the Union is demonstrating a lack of a monolithic nature that contrasts with the discourse of assured historical continuity. Rarely do ordinary Cubans hear on official television an expression of lack of trust in an institution that used to be sacred. This is the reason that the organization’s directors themselves are considering working more closely with the “youth universe,” a classification with which they usually refer to non-members.

The most novel feature about this Congress is the new landscape that emerged after December 17 and the consequent view of rapprochement with the United States, the preferred geographic destination of youth who, like the unbeliever Damian, pursue the dream of prospering outside of Cuba.

Belonging to the UJC is no longer a guarantee to access the state meritocracy. Even the most popular singers, even if they keep a prudent distance from the open political opposition, have never carried communist youth membership cards. What icons or deals does the UJC have to offer?

Traditionally, to be part of the organization meant an advantage for those who aspired to good recommendations in their records, obligatory for a university career or a job, the guarantee of belonging to a more favored caste. Today, with young Cubans competing to see who has the best cell phone, it is no longer like that. Without having been officially recognized, the principal enemies today of the Union of Young Communists are political apathy, the loss of its significance and its function as a social placeholder.

The tie to the UJC has turned into a stigma and even a cause of ridicule among youth. Young people often call its members “militontos” (member-idiots) in their private conversations. In a society where intransigence stopped being a virtue and everyone resorts to illegality in order to live, the role of the “correct” has lost too much impact and is even satirized by official media. “Who is for that?” Damian, who definitely “is not for that,” repeats over and over.

Translated by MLK

Rationing in Venezuela: A ‘Déjà vu’ for Cubans / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

The ration book (14ymedio)
The ration book (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 11 March 2015 — Commissar Nicolas Maduro, president of Venezuela to the misfortune of its people and – let’s admit it – also for the prolongation of our own misfortune, has just announced recently the installation of 20,000 digital fingerprint readers in state food markets and in several private sector retail chains that, according to him, adopted the initiative “voluntarily” after meetings held with the government.

Let’s draw a merciful veil over the aforementioned secret meetings and imagine the atmosphere that must have reigned there in the midst of the “permanent economic war” that Venezuela suffers, the successive “soft coups” that have been provoked almost bi-weekly in that South American nation – according to the president’s denunciations – and the growing repression of opposition factions and civil society that demonstrate publicly and openly against the government. continue reading

It is not very hard to guess what caused the “voluntariness” of these businessmen, who are definitively representatives of the “oligarchies” constantly defamed in official speeches and press.

But returning to the topic of Comrade-President Maduro’s above-mentioned fingerprint readers, his lofty purpose is, while guaranteeing the feeding of the people, to counter smuggling, or more exactly, “the smugglers” since smuggling can exist without socialism but socialism has never existed without smuggling.

This way, the fingerprint readers – which will limit the purchase of foods and other products in high demand whose supply has been greatly depressed causing lines, hoarding and disturbances in the stores – now are added to the prior rationing through magnetic cards established in 2014. It is clear that the Bolshevik Nicolas has not the least ability to overcome his country’s economic crisis, but at least in contemporary times the new technologies permit digital management of the misery. It is without doubt a real contribution of Socialism in the 21st Century which the late Hugo predicted in his glory days, before being planted in the Mountain Barracks and turned into a tiny little bird dispensing bad advice*.

Decades later, the Venezuelan government model – if it is possible to call it that – is dragging the country in a sort of reverse race through experiences similar to those that we Cubans have gone through under Castro-ism.

Those of us born before or in the years immediately following the catastrophic accident of January 1959 remember clearly some of the bureaucratic variants created to manage poverty, an ill that the older ones among us believed had been almost overcome with the economic boom experienced in the 50’s.

This administrative strategy, typical of war and famine economies, was first established for food products, and a little later, with the decline of Cuban industries due to the extreme nationalization of the economy, it was rapidly extended to other consumer products, such as clothing, footwear and other goods. Then came the industrial products book, popularly known as the store booklet, which currently functions only for the acquisition of school uniforms.

This version of control not only indicated the limits of access to the said articles, but it also reached the point of establishing shopping schedules for groups, with subsections inspired in the strongly sexist standards of the Revolution, which assigned two days a week – Monday and Thursday – on which only women workers could shop; an enviable privilege in the widespread poverty that, moreover, took for granted in a Revolutionary way that trifles like shopping were not worthy of men.

Decades of shortages, manipulated in detail by those in power, sowed in ordinary Cubans an extreme dependence on the State – an always insufficient provider but the only one possible – and a whole culture of systematized poverty that includes a peculiar glossary with phrases that we drag around even today in popular speech: “what they are offering” in this or that establishment, “what’s assigned to you,” “what’s expiring,” “plan jaba**,” “chicken diet***” and many similar ones that reflect the national acceptance of misery as the common destiny, something that one day – hopefully not too distant – should embarrass us.

Rationing in Cuba has been quite an institution that has played a role in the socio-economic realm and also in the political, functioning more as an instrument of subjection of the people by the Government than as a true guarantor of a just distribution of consumer goods, established with a vulgar egalitarianism that annulled individual initiative and turned the citizen into dough.

The ration book has constituted a mechanism of social control, even to the point that currently the Government has not been able to eliminate it, on pain of absolutely abandoning the most disadvantaged social sectors, especially the elderly without filial protection and the many humble homes which receive no remittances from abroad nor have any other hard currency income. In spite of that, the food products rationed and subsidized through the book – that artifact that constitutes a complete leftover of the Cold War – are today fewer than a dozen, and they barely cover precariously some of the most pressing food needs while the rate of inflation keeps increasing and wages hardly have even symbolic value.

Bread lines (14ymedio)
Bread lines (14ymedio)

That is why, when I now witness the Venezuelan rationing process, when I hear the openness with which Comrade-President Nicolas Maduro disguises in modernity the cataclysm of misery that looms for his people, I cannot escape a kind of jolt, like déjà vu. We Cubans already traveled that path, we walked half a century over its thorns and we are convinced that it only leads to disaster. We have painfully and abundantly proven that misery is the only thing that, divided among many, touches more.

Personally, I hope that the poor Venezuelans, who lately pursue their food anxiously and stand in long lines at stores with empty shelves, manage in time to avoid that serious confusion that sometimes leads people to interpret as justice that which is the manipulation and burial of freedoms.

Translator’s notes:
* Nicolas Maduro says that Hugo Chavez appears to him as a tiny little bird, and dispenses advice. In this video, otherwise in Spanish, he imitates the sounds the bird makes flying around his head and then imitates the bird whistling a message. 
** “Plan jaba” is literally “sack plan” and can mean one of two things: (A) you leave your bag and come back and pick it up at a convenient time so you don’t have to wait in line all day, which is allowed for some working people; or (B) you get a “special bag of extras” because of age, illness or pregnancy, and again, you just pick it up.
*** “Chicken diet” means that you get extra protein because of age, illness or pregnancy.

Translated by MLK