Cuba’s Constitution of 1976: An Historic Setback / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, 1 March 2016 —  “Two Benchmarks of the Cuban Republic” — an article by Pedro Antonio Garcia which appeared in the journal Granma on February 24 — makes a comparison between the 1901 and 1976 constitutions that merits further discussion. Let us look further at three of the author’s main points.

1. It was not the Cuban Revolution that brought down representative democracy but rather the coup d’etat, led by Fulgencio Batista on March 10, 1952, which interrupted the constitutional rhythm of the country. Batista dismissed the president-elect, dissolved Congress and abolished both the constitution of 1940 and the electoral statutes of 1943. Continue reading “Cuba’s Constitution of 1976: An Historic Setback / Dimas Castellano”

The Foreign Investment Law: A Litany of Squandered Opportunities / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellanos, 11 March 2016 — Under the title of “Inversión extranjera, puntal para el desarrollo (Foreign investment, Key to Development” on Friday, March 4, 2016, the daily paper Granma  published a conversation between journalists Sheyla Delgado and Óscar Sanchez with Déborah Rivas, representing the Foreign Trade and Investment Ministry.

In the introductory paragraph the journalists cited how the Professor of Negotiation Emilio Rodríguez Mañalich used to say in class: “Opportunity is like a white blackbird that flies by just once … and if you fail to take advantage of it, you might never see it again.” They go on to say that: “It is precisely opportunities that have been the most immediate result of Law No. 118 on Foreign Investment in the country…” Continue reading “The Foreign Investment Law: A Litany of Squandered Opportunities / Dimas Castellano”

The Importance of Obama’s Visit / Dimas Castellano

A man in an Obama shirt on Havana's Malecon
A man in an Obama shirt on Havana’s Malecon (Reuters, Havana)

Dimas Castellanos, 18 March 2016 — The damage done to US economic interests by the 1959 Revolution led to the deterioration of relations between the two countries. In the midst of the Cold War, disagreements led to a rupture in relations and Cuba’s alliance with the Soviet Union. In this context the Cuban government, in defense of its national “sovereignty”, nationalized the economy, dismantled civil society, restricted freedoms, and took the road towards totalitarianism.

The economic inefficiency of the model introduced was patched up by Soviet subsidies until the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe unveiled the mirage and sunk Cuba into a crisis – dubbed with with the euphemism of “Special Period in Time of Peace” – that has still not been overcome. From that point forward the changes introduced, including the reforms initiated in 2008, have failed. Shortages, high prices, low wages, discontent, corruption and the exodus characterized Continue reading “The Importance of Obama’s Visit / Dimas Castellano”

Crisis in Agriculture: Land for Those Who Work It / Dimas Castellanos

By Dimas Castellano, 9 February 2016

Property and crisis

Once the Cuban Government arrived in power, imbued by an exacerbated voluntarism, it ignored the laws that govern the economy and subordinated them to ideology. From this moment on, the loss of the autonomy that is required by economic processes was converted into a factor of poverty.

In 1959, with the first agrarian reform law, the Government handed over property titles to 100,000 farmers but concentrated in its own hands some 40.2 percent of cultivable land. In 1963, with the second agrarian reform law, the 1,000 farms that had more than five horses swelled the fund of State lands, which grew to almost 70 percent.

In 1976, with the objective of decreasing the numbers of small owners, the Government initiated a project of “cooperativization,” through which it created the Cooperatives of Agricultural Production (CPA), thereby raising the share of land that was State property to 75 percent. The result was inefficiency, scarcity of products and high prices, which obliged the Government in 1993 to convert Continue reading “Crisis in Agriculture: Land for Those Who Work It / Dimas Castellanos”

What People Are We Talking About? / Dimas Castellanos

Havana (El Nuevo Herald)

Dimas Castellanos, 18 January 2016 — A commentary on five foreign policy issues raised by the Cuban president, Raul Castro, on December 29, 2015 during the closing session of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

1. Since 2015 there have been benefits from mutually advantageous, cooperative relationships with various countries, particularly the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.

True, but these benefits are the result of a relationship that does not follow the normal laws of commerce. The reduction or total loss of Venezuelan petroleum subsidies and its impact on Cuba would be a repeat of what happened with subsidies from the former Soviet Union. Both examples illustrate the impossibility of sustaining an economy that is not self-supporting and the government’s inability to learn from past lessons. The cold, hard fact is that events in Venezuela help explain the real cause of the reported decline in GDP in 2015. Continue reading “What People Are We Talking About? / Dimas Castellanos”

Five Points: Sorting Through Raul Castro’s Economic Speech

Dimas Castellanos, 16 January 2016 — A commentary on five economic issues raised by the Cuban president on December 29, 2015 during the closing session of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

1. The president stated that, though the effects of the US blockade remain unchanged and external economic constraints have worsened in the second half of the year, Cuba’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 4% in 2015.

Not only have the effects of the “blockade” changed, financial constraints have eased. Measures taken by the White House after the announcement of restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries have led to a relaxation of the embargo. Meanwhile, negotiations to reduce external debt have eased economic constraints, especially after the Club of Paris wrote off three-quarters of Cuba’s debts. Continue reading “Five Points: Sorting Through Raul Castro’s Economic Speech”

The Cuban Exodus: Causes and Effects / Dimas Castellanos

A raft is transported to the coast during the ’rafters crisis’ in 1994. (WILLY Castellanos)

Dimas Castellanos, 30 November 2015 — The unstoppable exodus of Cubans has become a crisis once again. While thousands of our compatriots are stuck at the border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua, the Government of Cuba chooses to ignore the main cause.

In recent months, thousands of Cubans have been traveling through Central America for the United States. On 15 November the Nicaraguan authorities blocked their way. On 17 November, Cuba’s Ministry of Foreign Relations stated that these Cubans are “victims of the politicization of the immigration issue by the Government of the United States, of the Cuban Adjustment Act and, in particular, of the application of the call ’wet foot-dry foot’ policy.” Continue reading “The Cuban Exodus: Causes and Effects / Dimas Castellanos”

The Growth of GDP, and the Cuban Railway: Past and Present / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, 31 July 2105 — According to a report presented by the Minister of Economy and Planning, Marino Murillo Jorge, in the Fifth Ordinary Sessional Period of the National Assembly of Popular Power, during the first haf year of 2015, the GDP grew by 4.7%.

In reference to transport, among other things, he said: in the first half year of 2015 this sector grew 6.5%, but the goods sector fell short by 700,000 tons, so that there is production which could not be transported and raw materials which was not delivered on time to its destination; between 20 and 25% of the $2,100,000 which, up to the month of March, was paid for demurrage of containers and ships was caused by deficiencies in the railway system and road transport. In order that delegates might understand the importance and characteristics of transport, he explained that for journeys of over 280 km the best way to transport things is the railway, so that, it is important that its activity levels return to normal. Continue reading “The Growth of GDP, and the Cuban Railway: Past and Present / Dimas Castellano”

How Does History Help Us? / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, Havana, 17 September 2015 — 120 years ago, between 13th and 18th September 1895, twenty delegates selected from the five corps that the Libertador’s Army was divided into, and formed into a Constituent Assembly, promulgated the Constitution of Jimaguayú.

This Constitution, different from others in that it wasn’t structured in three parts — organic, dogmatic, and with a reform clause — but rather contained 24 consecutive articles without divisions into titles, sections or chapters. In it the Government of the Republic resided in a Government Council with legislative and executive powers. The executive power devolved upon the President (Salvador Cisneros Betancourt), while the legislative power stayed in the hands of the Government Council. In addition to a judicial power, organised by the Council, but functioning independently. The posts of General in Chief and Lieutenant General were vested in Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo respectively. Continue reading “How Does History Help Us? / Dimas Castellano”

What Human Rights Are They Talking About? / Dimas Castellanos

Dimas Castellanos, 6 February 2015 — The conversations about normalisation of relations between Cuba and the United States, which were held in Havana on 21st and 22nd January, didn’t, as far as we know, advance the matter of human rights, because of differing understandings about the topic.

From the Magna Carta in 1215, up to the international treaties of 1966 — by way of the Act of Habeas Corpus (1674), the English Bill of Rights (1689), the Declaration of American Independence (1776), the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789), and the Universal Declaration (1948) — human rights, at least in the west, are universal, indivisible, and interdependent and are expressed in concepts and principles to do with recognition, respect, and observance of judicial guarantees which protect the integrity and dignity of the human being. Therefore, the referred-to difference lies in reasons unconnected with this concept. A quick look at our constitutional history will demonstrate this. Continue reading “What Human Rights Are They Talking About? / Dimas Castellanos”

The New Scenario and the Absence of the Citizen / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellenos, Mexico City,  1 September 2015 — In Cuba, the concurrence among the failure of its totalitarian model, the aging of its leaders and the society. For this impact to be a positive one requires the presence of a missing factor: the citizen. If this thesis begs the question of how it is possible that in a country that is part of the Western world, and which has distinguished history of struggles, the citizen does not exist, the answer leads us to a complex phenomenon that demands more attention than has been given to it up to now.

The most immediate–although not the only–cause is contained in the dismantling of civil society that took place in Cuba in the Revolution’s first years, and in its later institutionalization. Civic education, the foundation of the citizen, began in Cuba in 1821 with Father Félix Varela[1], who upon assuming the post of head of the Constitution Department at San Carlos Seminary, defined it as the “institution of liberty and of the rights of man,” and conceived it as a means “to teach civic virtues.” Continue reading “The New Scenario and the Absence of the Citizen / Dimas Castellano”

Cuba Will Change To the Degree That We Cubans Change / Dimas Castellanos

Dimas Castellanos, 3 July 2015 — The leaders of Cuba and the United States have just announced the first and most important result of the process of normalizing relations between the two countries: the reopening of their embassies in Washington and Havana.

The 196 days elapsed between 17 December 2014 and 1 July 2015 is 100 times less than what passed between that 3rd of January of 1961, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower decided to break diplomatic relations with government of Cuba. Because of its significance, that brief period will remain recorded in the history of the two nations, but especially in that of Cuba, creating as it does a favorable scenario for the changes that the “Largest of the Antilles” urgently needs.

Time will tell how long it will take to recover what was destroyed in more than half a century. In that sense, the opening of the embassies is only the first step in a long and complex path, for the magnitude of the anthropological damage that has been suffered will require much time, effort and will to recover. But, without a doubt, resuming diplomatic relations will produce an inevitable impact in the medium-long term on the fundamental liberties and the reconstruction of the citizenry, which constitute the two greatest deprivations of the Cuban people. Continue reading “Cuba Will Change To the Degree That We Cubans Change / Dimas Castellanos”

More But Still Falling Short / Dimas Castellano

Dimas Castellano, 25 May 2015 — The goal was to match the results obtained in 1912. Failure to meet this target is nothing new, nor are the reasons why.

At the closing session of the XI Congress of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP) on May 17, the second secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) said in reference to the sugar harvest, “We will produce almost 300,000 tons more than last year, but we did not meet our target.”

Such failures are nothing new. It has happened year after year due to negative impacts of voluntary work brigades and nationalization of the economy. In the case of sugar production it fell from 8.2 million tons in 1989 to 1.1 million tons in the 2009-2010 harvest, the same amount produced in 1904. Continue reading “More But Still Falling Short / Dimas Castellano”

Causes and Dangers of the Government’s Erratic Course / Dimas Castellano

The Antecedents

The Revolutionaries who took power in 1959 substituted the 1940 Constitution for the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State*, the Prime Minister assumed the powers of the Head of Government, and the Council of Ministers replaced the Congress. Measures for “the benefit of the people” were decreed that legitimized the power acquired through force. At the same time, civil society was dismantled and civic and political liberties cut. Power was concentrated in the leader, private property passed into the hands of the state, institutionality was undone, and the condition of being a citizen disappeared.

Economic inefficiency was superseded by Soviet subsidies until the collapse the socialist bloc sunk the country into a profound crisis. In response, the government introduced some provisional reforms subordinate to political power. With the triumph of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela a new godfather emerged, and the Cuban government, freed from the pressure of the crisis, put a stop to the reforms. Between that moment and the substitution of the Leader of the Revolution [when Raul Castro stepping in for Fidel Castro], between July 2006 and February 2008, economic deterioration determined the start of new changes within a context of modernizing the model.

The Failure

The transfer of power among the same forces that had held it since 1959 preordained that the order, depth and speed of the changes would remain subordinate again to political interests. This condition disabled the Minimal Plan of Reforms put forth by General Raúl Castro, which aimed to achieve a strong and efficient agriculture, reduce imports, increase exports, attract investments, halt illegalities, check corruption, deflate the public payrolls, and propel self-employment.

Continue reading “Causes and Dangers of the Government’s Erratic Course / Dimas Castellano”

The Reestablishment of Civil Society: An Unavoidable Necessity / Dimas Castellanos

Dimas Castellanos, 10 April 2015 — If by “civil society” we mean a group of autonomous associations, public spaces, rights, and liberties by which citizens exchange opinions, make decisions and participate in political, economic and social matters that interest them–with no more authorization than what emanates from the laws of the land–then we need to agree that this institution existed in Cuba since colonial times, developed during the Republic, disappeared after 1959, and is now in a process of resurgence.

Early Existence

Starting in the first half of the 19th century, illustrious figures such as Father Félix Varela, who called the constitutional studies program at the San Carlos seminary a “curriculum of liberty and the rights of man” and strove to provide an education in virtues; José Antonio Saco, who from the Revista Bimestre Cubana (Cuban Bimonthly Magazine) generated debates that fostered civic consciousness; Domingo Delmonte who, when this medium and other spaces were closed down, found in conversational gatherings a way of continuing the debates without official authorization; and José de la Luz y Caballero, who devoted himself to civic education as a premise of social change, with their labors forged the field for citizen participation. Continue reading “The Reestablishment of Civil Society: An Unavoidable Necessity / Dimas Castellanos”