Current Ideas / Dimas Castellanos

One hundred and twenty-five years after his death on August 11, 1888, the scientific results that the eminent chemist, physiologist, agronomist, industrial technologist and science writer Alvaro Reynoso y Valdez bequeathed us are still on the waiting list.  While the official Cuban press pays exaggerated attention to events and people linked to politics and wars, it limits mention of Reynoso as part of the celebrated anniversaries without investigating his work or pressing for his contributions to become productive results.

Alvaro Reynoso, one of the Cubans who collaborated through science for the progress and formation of the basis of the Cuban nation, studied at San Cristobal (Carraguao) college, graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the Havana Royal and Literary University, continued his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he graduated in 1856 and obtained a doctorate, becoming one of the best chemists of his era.

From the earliest years of study he began to publish his scientific results: a new procedure for the recognition of Iodine and Bromine; diverse new combinations of ammonia in ferrocyanides; action of the bases on salts and in particular on arsenides; separation of phosphoric acid from its combinations with metallic oxides; the presence of sugar in the urine of sick hysterics, epileptics and its relationship to respiration; the effect of bromide on poisoning by curare (a poison used by Indians to poison their arrows); studies about the artificial breeding of freshwater fish, and others.

On graduating in 1856 some twenty of his works had been presented in specialist publications in France and Spain.  He was elected a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences of Madrid and the Royal Academy of the History of Spain, he received the Royal Order “Professor of Chemistry Applied to Agriculture and Botany” from the Havana General Preparatory School and the “Professor of Enlarged Organic Chemistry” at the Central University of Madrid, among many honors.

On returning to Cuba in 1858 with a laboratory endowed with the most modern equipment and instruments, an excellent mineralogical collection and a valuable scientific library, he took possession of the Chemistry Chair and in 1859 replaced Jose Luis Casaseca as the director of the Havana Institute of Chemical Investigations, an institution that he converted into one of the world’s first agronomic stations.

Parallel with his investigative work he dedicated himself to writing.  In 1868 he began to collaborate as scientific writer for the Marina Daily, where he had a column in which he published articles about drinking water; he reviewed the first trial carried out in Cuba in April 1863 of the Fowler steam-powered plow, with which he began the mechanization of sugar cane in Cuba; he was a writer of the Annals and Memories of the Royal Development Board and the Royal Economic Society; he published in the Magazine of Agriculture of the Ranchers Circle on the island of Cuba and in other press organs.

Among his published works are: Details About Various Cuban Crops, where he compiled his contributions about non-sugar cane agriculture such as corn, coffee, cotton, tobacco; Progressive Studies on Various Scientific, Agricultural, and Industrial Subjects, a collection of articles published in the press about the cultivation of sugar cane in all its phases, as well as experimentation plans by the Institute of Chemical Investigations and the planting of sweet potatoes, yams, corn and rice destined for human and animal consumption.

In the middle of the 19th century, when Cuba was first in the world in production of sugar and the last in productivity, supporting his thesis that the true making of sugar is in the reeds, he devoted himself to resolving this contradiction. The results were gathered in his crowning work Study of the Culture of Sugarcane where he integrated all the related operations with the culture and harvest of the grass, from the negative effect of the logging of virgin forests to fresh grinding for avoiding alteration of the juices.  This work published in 1862 was re-published in Madrid in 1865, in Paris in 1878 and in Cuba in 1925 where it was re-printed in 1954 and 1959 in addition to being published in Holland.

An aspect of his ideas which is barely mentioned, is that Reynoso considered the autonomous participation of the Cubans in the political estate reform of the colony as a legitimate demand.  That’s why, in his systematic analysis he never avoided the topic of agricultural property.  He considered, just the same as Francisco de Frias and Jose Antonio Saco, the need to establish a sugar cane agriculture with native small farmers and immigrants, where the incentive of ownership, much different from the slave system, was a basic component to push forward the modernization of the agricultural economy.

However, in the year 2001, when due to the continuous decrease in sugar production, less than 3.5 million tons, the then Sugar Industry Minister, General Ulises Rosales del Toro announced two projects to reverse the situation: one, to restructure the sugar industry aimed at achieving industrial performance of 11% or extracting from each 100 tons of sugar cane, 11 tons of sugar; and the other one baptized with the name of the distinguished scientist with the objective of reaching 54 tons of sugar cane per hectare.  With both projects, as announced then, Cuba could produce 6 million tons of sugar (the amount produced in Cuba in 1948).

Towards that end, instead of taking into account all the elements which participated in the production process as taught by Reynoso, some 100 sugar factories were closed, with the land distributed for the use of other crops and sidestepping the damaging state monopoly on land ownership.  The amount of 2002-2003 harvest – the first after the implementation of the “novel task and one of the worse of all times” – was 2.1 million tons, barely half of the production in 1919.

From there and until the present time the industry inefficiency, the unavailability of sugar cane, the low results of land usage and the high cost of production per ton has repeated year after year.  In the last harvest, 2012-2013, the plan of 1.7 million tons was not reached for many reasons, but especially because of the unresolved problem of the land tenancy was attempted to be resolved through the leasing approach known as usufruct, maintaining the inefficient State as owner and the economy subordinated to politics and ideology; which shows not only in the sugar production but in the agricultural production and all facets of the economy.

Taken from: Diario de Cuba

14 August 2013

Free Baseball vs. Slave Baseball / Dimas Castellanos

The facts and news about the sport of balls and strikes, learned during the recently concluded month of July, settle the dispute between amateur and professional baseball in favor of the latter.

It started with the debut of Yovani Aragón in the World Port Tournament of  Rotterdam, a less demanding event than the Olympic Games and the World Classic, where the spiritual mentor captured the ninth title for Cuba.

It was followed by the series between the U.S. collegiate national team and the Cuban team, in which the Antillean team displayed the weakest performance in recent international matches: weak hitting, a high number of strikeouts, failure of the first batters, flawed tactics, errors in fielding and throwing to bases, and they stole 15 bases in 16 tries. For its part, the American squad also had a weak offense, but had 12 pitchers throwing between 93 and 98 miles per hour.

The Cubans, who had defeated the student selections in 8 of 10 tries, with more experience and with an average age of 26.6 years, were defeated by a team whose ages ranged between 19 and 23. The Cuban mentor, Victor Mesa, who hoped to win three or more games, had to settle for a crushing defeat. Something similar to what happened in the third World Baseball Classic, when he said “We will win the Classic. That’s why we came, not for anything else”; but he failed to improve on the fifth place finish in the second Classic.

To these two facts the following news was added:

1 – The Granma native Alfredo Despaigne, hired by the Campeche Pirates of the Mexican League, hit 6 for 6 on July 24, equaling the record set in 1936 by the “Immortal”, Martin Dihigo.

2 – Yasiel Puig, from Cienfuegos, was awarded the Best Player and Rookie of the Month for June, after his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 26 games he led in batting, was the leader in on-base percentage, hit seven home runs and drove in 16 runs. With 44 hits he was second on the all-time list of rookies in their first month, four behind the mark set by Joe DiMaggio in 1936.

3 – Jose Iglesias, infielder for the Boston Red Sox, was selected Rookie of the Month in the American League. In 25 games he batted .395 with four doubles, two triples, one homer, six RBIs, 17 runs and eight walks, had 11 games with two hits or more and a streak of 18 straight games with base hits.

4 – Jose Fernandez, pitcher for the Miami Marlins, with little more than three months in the major leagues, was named to the All-Star Game along with Aroldis Chapman of Holguin, closer for the Cincinnati Reds, while Yoenis Cespedes from Granma, of the Oakland Athletics, won the home-run competition during All-Star Week.

5 – Veterans of the Industriales team played several games during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the club in Miami, where the Industriales players from the island faced off against Industriales players living in the U.S.

JORGE EBRO el Nuevo Herald

The facts and news take us back to the time when professional baseball was abolished. Until then Cuba had a large presence in international events. After the First World Amateur Baseball Series, held in London in 1938, the following five were held at La Tropical Stadium in Havana, of which the island won four. Meanwhile the Caribbean Series was created at the request of Cuba, when in 1948 it proposed to delegates from Puerto Rico, Panama and Venezuela, to hold an annual series among the champion teams to decide the best of the region. Havana was host to the first in 1949. From there, until 1960, Cuba won 7 of the 12 series, the last five in a row.

In keeping with a longstanding relationship between politics and sport, the leader of the Revolution made a long speech about baseball. On January 2, 1967, he said: professional sport was eradicated, and above all, it was eradicated in that sport, which was one of the most popular: baseball… But more interesting is that never did any professional athlete whose business is the sport, play with such enthusiasm, so bravely, with such courage, as do our athletes, who are not professionals.

Certainly the Revolution took baseball to all the people in the country, constructed several stadiums, renamed the Grand Stadium the Latino-American Stadium of del Cerro, and added new bleachers. In exchange, it prevented Cuban players, with the qualities of stardom, from measuring themselves against the best players in the world and deprived the Island’s fans of the enjoyment of professional baseball which, live or on the radio and television, they had enjoyed from anywhere the country.However, professionalism was not eradicated, rather it was hidden. If a professional is someone who is paid by salary for the work performed, the players of the National Series, who received their salaries for that work, have been professionals from then until today.

With that “free” baseball Cuba established supremacy for decades in the Central American amateur, Pan American and global competitions. It proclaimed the great victory over “slave” baseball. Brimming with pride, in October 1975 it said: if in other Latin American countries there is no social revolution, there is no development of the social revolution; regardless of technique, regardless of how many trainers they hire, regardless of how many new things they devise, they can’t match Cuba’s successes in the sport.

The illusion vanished. Cuba had been beating the amateurs with a professional team. When the match-ups with the presence of professionals began, “slave” baseball proved superior to “free” baseball, as in the Classics. The results started to disappoint. But the worst has been the hundreds of players who have defected in search of “slavery,” which has affected especially pitchers. Almost all of the best pitchers of the last 20 years left the Island: From René Arocha to Odrisamer Despaigne and Misael Siverio and with them hundreds of players from all categories.

After a long and brilliant baseball history, measured against the best in the world and having triumphed, countries with no tradition in this sport beat us, or we win by scaring them. The climax has been, not the loss against other professionals, but against college students, true amateurs who faced the “amateurs” of the greatest of the Antilles and swept them in five games.

Cuba is in decline relative to the rest of the world. The dispute between amateur and professional baseball is decided in favor of the latter. The strategy outlined in 1961 needs to be abandoned. Although not publicly acknowledged, which is too much to ask, the most important thing is to accelerate the steps being taken to return to the road we should never have abandoned. For now Cuba will attend the upcoming Caribbean Series to be held in Margarita Island, Venezuela, but the dream of many fans and many of those who now shine in Professional Baseball, is to represent Cuba in the next Classic. It is not a big demand, it is simply to allow Cuban players residing abroad to defend the colors of their flag, as do players from the rest of the 15 countries participating.

Taken from: http://www.diariodecuba.com/deportes/1375365754_4465.html

6 August 2013

Political Opposition and Negotiations in Today’s Cuba / Dimas Castellanos

Interview of Dimas Castellanos by Ernesto Santana Zaldivar, published on April 26 and 29, 2013 in Cubanet.

Although still uttered timidly, recently you have begun to hear the word “negotiation” in some statements by the Cuban political opposition. Despite having diverse opinions about it, a negotiation is, in general, a process in which two or more parties try to find a mutually satisfactory solution to their problem, be it labor union, financial, military, commercial, political, etc.

The American expert on the subject, Herb Cohen, believes that “everything is negotiable” and defines negotiation as “a field of knowledge and action whose objective is to win the consent or the favor of the people from whom you want to get something.” He also says that the three main factors of a negotiation are power, information, and time.

In order to approach, from a Cuban historical perspective, an issue so complex, but which has had such importance for determining fundamental political changes in many countries and eras, we talked with sociologist and historian Dimas Castellanos, also known for his independent journalism in the digital magazine Consensus, in Diario de Cuba, and in other media.

Cubanet: Do you think there is still no pressure in Cuba that requires the government to negotiate?

Dimas Castellanos: First, this is not the case of an armed movement that occupied a region of the country over which the government now has no control, as in Colombia. Another thing that may force a government to negotiate is that the opposition has such influence over a sector of the population that it can create difficulties for the authorities.

In Cuba there is great discontent, manifested for example in the elections: almost fifteen percent of the voters did not go to the polls or annulled their ballots. But they did so spontaneously, by an individual act of conscience. No one should believe that this was in response to some opposition party that has that kind of drawing power.

So the government has no reason, nor anyone with whom, to negotiate. And on the other hand the opposition is not strong enough to prevent the government from doing what it wants.

Cubanet: What, in your opinion, is the reason for this situation?

Dimas Castellanos: In Cuba, there were always forces that at some point could compel those in power to do certain things. These forces do not exist today. When the revolutionary government took power, the first thing it did was to dismantle the whole network of institutions that existed, mainly civic institutions. So all the citizen organizations, which had been here since the end of the Ten-Year War, disappeared.

Civil society, which erupted with force in the Republic, achieved admirable results, as the strike by apprentices and masons demonstrated in 1901 and 1902, which spread to other sectors.

By 1910, the government was forced to enact several legislative measures favorable to the working class, such as the eight-hour day for government workers, payment in cash and not in tokens and vouchers (as before), and paid holidays.

The labor movement accomplished all that because it had real strength and could, for example, paralyze sugar mills or transportation. Cubans now are not as poor as they were, but we do not have unions and other civil society organizations able to play that role.

Cubanet: So is it essential, first of all, to set up the network again?

Dimas Castellanos: It’s hard to understand that this is a long-term battle. And you have to pace yourself and take advantage of all the gaps and openings to help the civic formation of citizens. Many dissidents want change for Cuba, just as I do, who am also part of the opposition, but I try to be as realistic as possible.

The government is sometimes forced to take some step, more for external reasons than from pressure from within Cuba. After more than fifty years, it has the luxury of making reforms from the same position of power, and therefore can determine the pace and direction they take. They can make a change in one direction, then take back a little, then shift it forward again, and play with it, but there is no internal force able to avoid it.

The government will negotiate when there is a force that compels it to negotiate, and that force has to be formed over the long term.

Cubanet: Do you share the opinion of many Cuban historians that the Protest of Baraguá represents a milestone in our history as a method of negotiating without compromising dignity?

Dimas Castellanos: I regret that the Zanjón Compact has not received the historical recognition that it should have, and that only the Protest of Baraguá has been glorified, because it demobilized the rebel troops in exchange for Spain allowing in Cuba a regime very similar to that which existed in Spain itself or in Puerto Rico.

The laws of the metropolis governed here starting from the Zanjón Compact, and from it came freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, among other benefits.

Despite all the limitations that it kept, there Cuban civil society was born and the first political parties were created. The union movement grew, newspapers spread, there were organizations of all kinds – political, fraternal, labor – that began to take on an enormous burden within society.

The burden was such that you cannot understand the beginning of the war in 1895 without the work that civil society did in the whole colony. That was a time, in terms of freedoms, very superior to what currently exists.

Due to the shortness of time that this form of communication offers and at the same time, due to the interest and to the meaty responses from Dimas Castellanos, we have divided this interview in two parts which will be available to the readers in a coming edition.

Cubanet: In his first responses for this two-part interview, Dimas Castellanos explained the reasons why, in his view, the peaceful opposition movement in Cuba is not yet in a position to force the government to sit at a negotiating table. He also set out his criterion from examples of notable negotiated events that took place throughout our history. Just for this aspect we return to the theme.

Cubanet: How do you assess the role played by civil society in Cuba, as far as negotiation is concerned, in the Republican era, from its beginnings to 1958?

Dimas Castellanos: Negotiation played a role of obvious importance. The Constitution of 1901 is an example. The interventionist U.S. government allowed the formation of a Constituent Assembly and created the conditions for it, but, as it had the force of the occupation, it made sure that the Platt Amendment was incorporated to secure their power over the country.

More progressive Cuban forces strongly opposed the amendment and even traveled to the United States, but failed except for a few small changes. Although during the revolution those who signed the Platt Amendment were condemned, the truth is that there were only two options: either sign the addendum to the Constitution or the United States maintained its military control over the country.

And there were no longer mambises nor the Cuban Revolutionary Party, nor an economy; and a people, moreover, tired of wars. The best minds saw that they could lose everything and accepted the Amendment – although it was an insult, a humiliation – as a tactic, to then gradually remove it, as they did.

In 1934 the Platt Amendment was finally abrogated. And it was all through negotiation.

Cubanet: And in terms of the Constitution of 1940?

Dimas Castellanos: It was a master class in negotiating in which the participants ranged from communists to the extreme right. They arrived at a Constitution that provided balance, though perhaps, in my opinion, it was above the civic potential of the Cuban people. That is why afterward our military tradition manages to prevail.

There was not a strong civic tradition, but rather a dictatorship tradition, which is demonstrated in the governments from 1902 until the fall of Machado in 1933. Between that year and 1940 was very turbulent. After 1937 they managed to calm the situation a little and finally return to a democratic exercise that culminated with the Constitution of 1940.

Batista cleanly won the presidential election. Then Grau defeated him in 1944 with the Aunténticos, winning again in ’48 with Prío, and in 1952 he looked certain to defeat the Orthodox Party, which was nothing more than an offshoot of the Authentic Party, whose main argument was the prevailing political and administrative corruption.

Curiously, this corruption did not affect society, because, even though we were not very advanced in public spirit, the morality of the Cuban people was very high. After the 1952 coup, those who wanted to overthrow Batista were divided into two camps: on one side,  the civic forces (the Law Society, the Medical Association, the Lions Club, Rotary Club, etc..), and on the other, those who opted for armed struggle.

Cubanet: We now know which was the winning side. What is not well understood, especially by the Cuban population, is what later happened with the negotiating capacity of our civil society.

Dimas Castellanos: The Revolution became the source of power, without any compromise with what existed before and swept it all away.

Actually, the Revolution had the support of only one part of the population (the fighting was carried out by a few thousand men in a population of six million), mainly peasant farmers, but the massive support occurred afterward and the Revolutionary government acted with skill. The result: it disarmed Cuban civil society, all the autonomous movements disappeared (of peasants, students, women, workers, etc.).

The unions were taken over in January 1959. Many who disagreed with that course thought that if Fidel Castro had taken power by force, he could also be overthrown by arms, but all violent resistance was defeated.

Cubanet: When can you say that Cuban civil society finally woke up, after the long slumber imposed by the Revolution?

Dimas Castellanos: In the late 80s and early 90s opposition organizations and political parties began to emerge, but very weakly, because of government repression first of all, and because many of the people continued to identify with the power, despite its failure, because the mindset does not change very quickly. Also because of the monopoly the government maintains over the media. It can say whatever it wants about the opposition and it is hard to deny internally. So it is isolated and marginalized.

From my point of view, the political parties that were created in the 90s are now worn out. That hurts a lot and no one likes to be told that, but I personally come from one of those parties, the Socialist Democratic, which has disappeared.

But a kind of proto civil society began to develop and there are movements with a very stable work, although they are not talked about much, such as Dagoberto Valdés, in Pinar del Rio, who has a method of advancing step by step and for years has insisted on the power of the small, with a theoretical basis for change, an accumulated political thought that should be used at some point.

But the problem of dictatorship continues, which we have always suffered with.

Cubanet: And what about the current conditions for strengthening the bargaining power of the opposition?

Dimas Castellanos: Now the government is exhausted and the model has proved unworkable.

With lack of freedoms there can be no development of anything, from the economy to sports. Everything is damaged, and the rulers do not want to engage in the suicide of promoting reforms that bring them to the end of the road, and result in their criminal prosecution.

To advance the economy and get out of the disaster, the government knows it has to connect back to the developed world, especially Western Europe and the United States, which conditions the relationship on respect for human rights, so it has begun to make small concessions.

In any event, the developed world believes that these reforms are still insufficient. That’s why the government is going to have to make more changes.

Cubanet: Do you think then that the new circumstances and the new waves of opponents are creating the conditions for a possible negotiator?

Dimas Castellanos: Whatever happens, the time for negotiation will come, though not in a situation like now exists.
The example is in the release of political prisoners, where there was no negotiation between the government and the opposition. Although many criticized the Church, I find that there was no other way and that civil society, which the Church is part of, was strengthened. Although the Church was able to meet some of its own demands, I don’t really think it was because it has common interests with the government, except for momentary tactical considerations. Strategically, the government and the Church are not going in the same direction.
There are now 400,000 self-employed workers who do not depend on the state. But what work has the opposition done among these workers? They do not think about human rights, but about their most basic needs. What they want is greater economic liberalization.
These 400,000 self-employed are a field in which we must work. We ought to create many more spaces, small schools about Cuban history, political courses, lessons about what a constitution is, about rights, because people will gradually come around.
The opposition has not given the importance that it should to the formation of civic society. You cannot fight for change if people do not even know where they have come from or where they are going.
The day that the opposition can say that the fifteen percent of the population that does not attend the elections is on its side, it will be a minority against the remaining eighty-five percent, but it will represent a great force because then it would be structured, and then it would be realistic to see the possibility of negotiations.

That’s what we have to work for. If we look at the history of Cuba, we see that we have always been changing, and yet we are now more backward in human rights than in 1878, because we backtracked on civil liberties. The Revolution of 1959 seemed like the greatest thing, but we fell into a trap and ended up worse than before. So our work has to be from the ground up and with patience.

Translated by Tomás A.

10 May 2013

UPEC and the Freedom of the Press / Dimas Castellanos

The few expectations generated by the Ninth Congress of the Union of Journalists and Writers of Cuba ( UPEC ), held last weekend, ended in frustration. The changes that demand journalism plays an effective role in social transformations were conspicuous by their absence. The conclave ignored the issue of press freedom, a vital issue to delve into the causes of the current crisis and suggest possible solutions, although Cuba has a rich history in this area.

The Camaguey national hero Ignacio Agramonte, in defending his thesis in law said: The right to think freely corresponds to the freedom of discussion, of doubt, of opinion, as phases or directions of that.

The press in Cuba was inaugurated with Papel Periodico (Newsprint) in Havana in 1790; it disseminated the accord reached with the Pact of Zanjón of 1878, thanks to which Juan Gualberto Gomez won the legal process against the colonial authorities which allowed the public disclosure of the ideas of those supporting independence. It was multiplied during the Republic: Diario de La Marina, Bohemia, El País, El Mundo, Alerta, Noticias de Hoy, La Calle, Prensa Libre, Carteles and Vanidades, to cite just ten. In 1930 there were 61 radio stations, a number that placed Cuba 4th worldwide; and as for television, in 1950, almost immediately after the United States, Television Radio Union Channel 4, the third television station in Latin America, followed the same year by Channel 6.

Thanks to the media, from the colony to the Republic , the debate of ideas reached such importance that it is impossible to explain any event in our history without considering the role of press freedom. The best evidence was the allegation of Dr. Fidel Castro, known as History Will Absolve Me, in which he said: Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time there was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its freedoms, a President, a Congress and Courts of Law. Everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with complete freedom. The people were not satisfied with the government, but the people could change it… Public opinion was respected and heeded and all problems of common interest were freely discussed. There were political parties, hours of doctrine on radio, debate programs on television, public meetings…”

The Russian historian, sociologist and politician Pavel Milyukov, in an article entitled In defense of the word, defined the press as the finest and most perfect expression of socio-psychological forms of interaction; he explained that the rules of relationship between man and society constitute the core of human rights and freedom of the press is the only civil liberty can guarantee all the others. continue reading

If, from the ideas expressed, we accept that press freedom is an indispensable factor for social development, any action to preclude it, can only be described as an act against the development of the country and the dignity of the people.

Yes, the nation really is everyone, Communists or not, revolutionaries or not, intellectuals or not, everyone has the right to think, express and disseminate their ideas freely, as active subjects in national issues. The opposite is exclusion, totalitarianism or apartheid. So in the age of the newest information technologies and communications, any restrictions on press freedom in a country with such a rich tradition of freedom are inadmissible.

Suffice it to recall that in difficult years like 1947, 1950 and the day after the assault on the Moncada barracks in 1953, Noticias de Hoy (News of Today), organ of the then Communist Party (People’s Socialist Party) was shut down. However, time and again, thanks to the so-called freedom of the “bourgeois” press, the communists, supported by much of the existing press, demanded that they be re-opened and succeeded, even though Noticias de Hoy advocated class struggle to overthrow the ruling system.

However — returning to the Cuban of today — the member of the Politburo, Miguel Diaz-Canel, at the closing ceremony of UPEC, suggested that what is needed to feed the desire to improve the press and make it more virtuous press is dialogue. That is, the official press is virtuous and those virtues, in his words, lie in having denounced the imperialist campaigns of internal and external enemies, so it is able and has as its mission to contribute to the achievement of a prosperous and sustainable socialism. We need to support — said Diaz-Canel — a set of principles for the Cuban press, extracted from the thoughts of José Martí and Fidel.

The question to Diaz-Canel is if what Fidel said about civil society and citizens’ freedoms during the Moncada trial retains its value, and with respect to Martí it is good to remember the central idea that he presented on the Third Anniversary of the Cuban Revolutionary Party: A people is composition of many wills, vile or pure, frank and grim, hindered by shyness or precipitated by ignorance.

Several journalists from the official press praised the subordination of the press for the purpose of PCC, as in the case of Oscar Sánchez Serra, in his article “The Congress of those we see, hear and read,” published in Granma on 15 July, that posited that the journalist is a builder of socialism.

But the person who more clearly summarized the praises of the subordination of the official press to the PCC was Victor Joaquin Ortega, who in a short editorial appeared in the weekly Tribuna de La Habana, Sunday, 14 July, wrote: “We are the weapon of the Communist Party of Cuba, the only one we need for the struggle, the son of the dignity and creative line of the Cuban Revolutionary Party founded and led by the Apostle [José Martí].”

These and other similar proposals demonstrate that the journalism of UPEC is the journalism of a political party and of a specific ideology, so that it cannot define itself as representative of the Cuban press in general, whose natural plurality extends beyond the communist ideas.

The official press sustains itself on the base of restrictions on the freedom of the press, it as not — as Jorge Barata expressed it well in a dossier on the subject published in Lay Space — plural, nor open, so it is prevented from speaking in the name of Cuban society in total. The PCC defines it politics, based on the limits established in the Cultural Congress of 1961: Within the Revolution everything. Against the Revolution nothing, a limit that should begin by defining what a revolution is and then demonstrating that there is a revolution in Cuba.

The exclusion is not only unjust and unacceptable, but unreal, because the new technologies prevent it. Another press has emerged, parallel and coexisting with the official press. Lay Space, Coexistence, Critical Observatory, Voices, the SPD Bulletin, Cuba Spring and dozens of blogs and websites that do not respond to the PCC, whose importance lies in the decision to participate, without permission, from differing views on the problems of the nation. An alternative journalism, independent, citizen and participatory, reflecting realities ignored by the official press and complying with the requirements of traditional journalism and includes others which are possible with the new technologies, despite the obstacles represented by the lack of freedom of the press.

From Diario de Cuba

2 July 2013

Interview with Dimas Castellanos

Dimas is second from right.

Dimas is second from right.

Interview with Dimas Castellanos Marti, historian and journalist.

From Havana, Felix Sautie Mederos

Por Esto! asks:

“Unravel the causes of the crisis our society finds itself in (…) The concept of race as a group of hereditary characteristics seems to lack foundation, as a social construction it has a damaging effect on human dignity (…) In 1959, the democratic, popular Revolution inflicted the hardest blow in the history of Cuban racism  (…) Then, racism, expelled by law, took refuge in the mind waiting for better times (…)” A pending challenge…

Dimas Cecilio Castellanos Marti is a name that’s repeated in digital spaces, on account of his articles which refer to current problems that impede the development of Cuba and the quest for historical clues that have influenced its emergence and evolution.  Like all people who write and publish their ideas, he has won friends and also detractors.  There are even some who discredit and try to silence him, considering him in the camp of the enemy.  These dogmatic perceptions have been caused by many divisions of Cubans, including between those in favor of social justice and distributive equality.  These are practices we have to eradicate and give a real 180 turn to these narrow minds that contribute little to the development and future and become a very significant indicator of the necessity to achieve the changing of minds that President Raul Castro has reiterated so often.  Perhaps it is because they don’t dare to debate with him about his opinions or because they opt for the easiest way to stay out of problems with what one could call “the established.”

It’s precisely in honor of this change of mind that I’m interviewing friend Dimas, with the goal of making explicit his life and his opinions without exception of any kind; I believe it interesting to express the thoughts of this author who, despite being excluded by some, stays strong in his progressive opinions in favor of peace, liberty, distributive equity and social justice.  I have had the opportunity to know him closely, we have been together in Christian efforts and in theological and Bible study.  I am a witness to his exceptional, unwavering closeness to Christianity.

I consider his research, his origin and his intellectual development worthy of divulging, even more so because of the significance that they have acquired due to the motive of the recent debate over the article published by the Cuban intellectual Roberto Zurbano in The New York Times with the controversial title, “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution hasn’t Begun,” which, according to its author, was a distortion of the original title he sent to the New York paper: “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution hasn’t Ended.”

Felix Sautie: I understand that you were a member of the Socialist Youth in the former province of Oriente and that you participated in the 8th Assembly of the Popular Socialist Party at the triumph of the Revolution.  Is that true?

Dimas Castellanos:  Yes, that happened.  I served in the Socialist Youth (JS), the youth organization of the Popular Socialist Party (PSP).  I was Secretary of my Base Committee, President of this organization in the municipality of Bayamo and Delegate at its last congress.  In 1960 I entered the ranks of the PSP, where I served until its dissolution in 1962.  It’s true that I participated in the 8th Assembly of PSP, celebrated in August of 1960, but not as a Delegate.  It just so happened that when this event was celebrated I was in the PSP National School for Leaders and it was decided that the students would participate in some sessions that were being celebrated in the Comodoro Hotel, very near where the school was located. In this Assembly, which was the last of the PSP, they approved the thesis: “Defend the Revolution and advance it,” which meant propel the democratic, popular revolution to socialism and communism, which were the objectives of the Communist Party of that time.

FS: How did you happen to join this Communist militancy and what has been your evolution since then up till now?

Dimas Castellanos: My joining the communist militancy had family and class roots.  My father, a tobacconist, was a member of the PSP.  He worked in our house along with 7 or 8 other cigar rollers.  From a young age I heard conversations about politics, culture, science and other subjects; something characteristic of this trade that permits talk and debate without interrupting production, which explains the high cultural training that workers in this sector had.  Also, though with less intensity, this happened in the typography trade, in which I worked as an apprentice in various print shops that existed in Bayamo.  In this cultural environment, along with the civics education from public school, my socialist ideas of liberty and social justice hatched and my vocation for politics, history and pedagogy developed. continue reading

As for my evolution I can tell you that in 1956, when the landing of the yacht Granma happened, I was only 14 years old, but I already had a considerable political consciousness.  For that reason I linked with the Socialist Youth and joined the PSP.  Later, in October of 1960, when the JS, together with the youth organizations of the Revolutionary Directorate March 13 and the Movement July 26, integrated into the Association of Rebel Youth (AJR), I was designated as president in Bayamo.  Following that, I held various positions in various municipalities and in the provincial management, both in AJR and in the Union of Communist Youth (UJC), until July of 1962.

From that moment until today, my ideas have evolved from the constant incorporation of new knowledge, from an open mind, from the busy political responsibilities, from participation in conferences and other events, from events I experiences around Real Socialism during my stay in Russia, from my studies in Political Science, from my participation in the Youth Centennial Column in the Cuban Military Mission in Ethiopia.  All of that, along with my constant reading has permitted me to develop a critical analysis of the progress of the revolutionary process.  Even though my socialist ideas (social justice and liberty) are the same, I understood the impossibility of constructing a socialist society on the back of civil liberties. For me, socialism cannot exist unless it’s democratic, which is impossible given the total control of the State over society.

FS: You were a worker starting from a young age, I believe a welder and you had many jobs, but currently you’re at the university level, you have been a university professor and you have a very active intellectual life. Do you want to explain to our readers of Por Esto! this cultural evolution, what are you doing now?

Dimas Castellanos: I started working as a boy, first helping my mother in the selling of clothes in rural areas, in being a distributor of fresh milk, in a workshop that made fine-cut tobacco, selling sweets and eggs in the streets, etc. Later, from age 11 on I worked in various shops as an apprentice of typography, blacksmiths, and welding, which was my final trade.  Precisely because I was a welder, when I left work in the management in UJC, the Commander Joel Iglesas, Secretary General of this organization with whom I had a magnificent relationship, started me in a work position in the construction of the Renté Thermoelectric plant.  Later I moved, within the same position, to the construction of buildings in the Jose Marti District, also in Santiago de Cuba.

Due to my working life, during my childhood I studied irregularly until the 5th grade of  education.  Being in Renté, now 21 years of age, I took an educational test in which I scored as 4th grade and from that level I restarted my studies, always on the night shift.  With the help of a private teacher (Ana Parodi Dominguez) I reached the 6th grade in 2 months and in 1964 I enrolled in Secundaria Obrera (Secondary Adult Basic Education)–one year in duration– and I entered into the Facultad Obrera Campesina (Higher Level Adult Basic Education) that functioned as an annex  of the University of Oriente, where in two and a half years I reached a level “equivalent” to a pre-college student.  In 1967 I was selected to study metallurgy in Russia, since at that time the Government of Cuba had the goal of converting the Island into a metallurgy power.  I stayed for 2 years in that country, but my basic accelerated training turned out to be insufficient to complete the studies: I had spent less that four years from 4th grade to 12th grade.  On my return to Cuba I spent six months in the Youth Centennial Column and in 1971 I enrolled in Political Science, where I was second in my class and I graduated with a Bachelor’s degree.  While waiting for my diploma, because of my condition as Student Aid in Social Psychology, I was allowed to simultaneously take various courses in the School of Psychology at the University of Havana, which helped me develop a much more holistic formation.

Once I graduated I started to work as a professor of Marxist Philosophy in the Agricultural Department of the University of Havana (which became the Superior Institute of Agriculture and Livestock of Havana in 1976), where, for not circumscribing myself to the schematism that was demanded in the teaching of this subject and for not being a member of the Communist Party, I was fired from teaching, despite the excellent evaluations I had obtained.  Following that I relocated as a technician of Information Science, I enrolled in various post-graduate courses and joined my philosophical knowledge with this activity, which they told me was “the philosophy of information.” In 1992 because of my socialist democrat ideas, I was excluded from the Ministry of Higher Education.

Currently, as an amateur historian, I dedicate myself to researching and writing about the relations between the Cuban predicament of today and the preceding history.  I publish the results in El Blog de Dimas and in various alternative digital publications.  I occupy myself with this activity, now that I consider that after having participated in the revolutionary process, having evolved culturally and politically and having an understanding of the role of history in the unfolding of social processes, I can’t do anything but help, from inside my country, to unravel the causes of the crisis which our society finds itself in.

FS: The disciplines that you have studied include Biblical studies and theology. What concepts do you have of spirituality and religious faith?  How do you place yourself in these dimensions of life?

Dimas Castellanos: In the year 2001, 26 years after finishing my bachelor’s degree in Political Science, I enrolled in the Institute of Biblical Studies and Theology (ISEBIT), where I graduated in 2006.  My interest in the study of theology came from lived spiritual experiences that didn’t have an explanation within the Marxist Theory.  I was baptized and joined the Movement of Christian Workers.  Once I familiarized myself with the essence of the Christian ideas I understood their relation with social justice, liberties and politics, which because of their impact on the destiny of people and people could not be far from Christ.  For this reason, I incorporated spirituality and religious faith into my world view.  If one of the manifestations of politics is the fulfillment of needs, or as some like to express it, the art of making the necessary possible, without a doubt Jesus practiced politics.  The debate then moves to explaining the peculiar form in which he did it.  If Jesus was, or was not, a revolutionary.

Revolution is one way to change reality, which overflows with social injustices, but always independent of the form it which it arises, it consists of an intent at an extreme solution which becomes active when legal and/or moderate attempts fail and imposes a radical modification of the existing situation.  The fact is that, by the use of violence, in revolutions it is always imposed on the most capable at work, as irrefutable demonstrated in universal history.

This form of fighting for justice is different from the teachings of Jesus, for whom forgiveness was a cornerstone.  Thus, between the revolutionary form of hoping to reach a “shining world” and the ways employed by Jesus Christ to reach the Kingdom of God, they only agree on the declared objective in favor of justice and the happiness of human beings.  From there they move apart, since forgiveness, love, peace and conviction are the characteristic foundations of the Christian doctrine.  So Jesus was not a stranger to the political dimension in which I placed my life.  More precisely, my adhesion to Christian ideas of ethics and social justice along with my vocation for history has considerably influenced the study of the founders of the Cuban nationality, starting with the Father Felix Varela.

FS: Then what importance do you give studies of history and their use in political and economic analysis?

Dimas Castellanos: All presents have their keys in the past, history becomes an indispensable source and an essential tool for the understanding of social phenomenon.  Men can accelerate or retard the progress of history, but they cannot stop it.  In Cuba, after 1959, they tried to attribute an eternal character to a temporary event, which drove the postponement of the constant transformations that all societies demand. Today, in breaking the stagnation for diverse causes, the country is seeing the obligation to correct the wrong path.  A task which surpasses any man, group, party, or institution and requires, therefore, the participation of everyone and a structural, systemic focus in tune with the crisis in which we are immersed, where historiography–analysis and interpretation of historical events–has a hugely important role to play; since it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to find viable ways out of our problems without taking into account the ideas contained in the civic, political, economic, cultural and scientific thinking of illustrious Cubans who came before us.  This passion for history is reflected in each opinion I present and in all the articles and essays that I write.

FS: I have had the opportunity to read some of your work on the problem of blacks in Cuba and we have sometimes discussed that subject.  In this line of thinking, I’d like to ask you some questions that I consider to be important.  

First of all: Really after everything the Revolution of 1959 has achieved to this date, are there still racial problems that affect the life and social development of the Cuban black and mulatto population?  And if this is true, could you give a brief outline on the subject?  

Dimas Castellanos: Yes, racial problems continue.  The concept of race as a group of hereditary characteristics lacks foundation, as a social construction it has a damaging effect on human dignity.  In Cuba it’s about a complex phenomenon intertwined with our economic, sociological, and cultural history which is reproduced in time.  In this sense I advance in the form of a thesis, some of the aspects and key moments:

Black Africans appeared on the Cuban scene in the beginning of the 16th century, but it was towards the end of the 18th century that their massive entrance transformed the ethnic composition of the population, the geography, the history, the culture and the social structure of the country.

Not being the owners of their own bodies and subjected to inhumane living conditions, blacks responded by rebelling: the cimarronería [1], the apalencamientos [2], and staged uprisings. Through these rebellions blacks almost single-handedly wrote a chapter of our national history.

Faced with total inequality with respect to whites, blacks became creole, but in a different way from white creoles, which, to paraphrase Jorge Manach, precluded their a putting common goal above of their distinguishing features.

During the 10 Years’ War, begun in 1868, land-owning whites aspired to economic and political liberty while blacks aspired to the abolition of slavery. The simultaneous existence of these goals — independence and abolition — constituted the starting point for the formation of a national consciousness in a context where inequality and racial discrimination acted in opposing directions. This war, though it ended without fully achieving its objective, dealt a blow to the institution of slavery by liberating slaves who had participated in battle during the war and legally endorsed some liberties (contained in the Zanjon Convention), which gave birth to Cuban civil society.

In the interim between the 10 Years’ War and the start of the War of 1895, Juan Gualberto Gomez — supported by the colonial resolutions that limited exclusion from service due to race — introduced various principles similar to those that Martin Luther King would use six decades later in the civil rights struggle of American blacks and founded the Directorio Central de Sociedades de Color. From his position as a social activist he mobilized thousands of blacks to resistance. Facing arduous incidents while adhering to the law, he won access to spaces and facilities such as balcony and orchestra seats in theaters as well as to public classrooms, which until then had been limited to white children.

At the re-initiation of the war of independence, when slavery had already been abolished, blacks were newly incorporated, this time with an agenda of social equality. As before, due to their expertise in the use of machetes and living in the jungle, equality and solidarity between black and white fighters overcame racial prejudice.

With the coming of the Republic, where these skills were useless, a sociological program aimed at reducing the economic and cultural gap between whites and blacks was lacking. That lack was reflected in public office, in commerce, banks, insurance agencies, communications, transportation, tobacco stores and even the armed forces, which replaced the Liberation Army was made up mostly of whites, in a country where the 60% of the fighters for independence had been black.

The constant frustrations in the early republican years led to the founding of the Independent Party of Color in 1908 and the armed uprising of its members in May 1912. This last action ended with the most horrible crime committed in our history, because in addition to the thousands of blacks who were killed, killing happened between white-skinned Cubans against black-skinned Cubans, once again hindering the unfinished process of a common identity and destiny.

In the 1930s, various press organs, radio stations and leading figures in Cuban politics and culture engaged in a public debate against racism, thereby aiding the integration and social and cultural development of blacks, and as a result, strengthening the awareness of a common destiny. One of the results was the inclusion, in the 1940 Constitution, of a legal principle essential to the promotion of equality between blacks and whites, that stated, “all discrimination on the basis of race, color or class or any other cause harmful to human dignity is illegal and punishable.” However, this beginning was left incomplete in the never enacted complementary criminal law against discrimination.

In 1959, the Democratic and Popular Revolution dealt the most serious blow to Cuban racism throughout its history. However, with the dismantling of the existing civil society, in addition to its benefits also lost were the civic instruments and spaces that had contributed to the progress made so far. The mistake was to believe that racial discrimination existed as a result of social classes, so that once these were eliminated, they proceeded to announce its end in Cuba. Such a significant “achievement” led to the decision to remove the subject from public debate. Thus, racism, expelled by law, took refuge in people’s minds, waiting for better times.

Nevertheless the equality of rights among blacks and whites proclaimed by law had a weak spot: inequality that had been inherited and left unresolved. In other words the starting point, seemingly the same for both blacks and whites, put the former at a serious disadvantage. This explains why universities that had been primarily black and mulatto re-acquired their previous racial profile over time. Why was this? Among the reasons were that black families, with rare exceptions, could not give their descendents’ studies the importance they required given their own backgrounds. (I remember my father, the grandson of a slave, telling my mother, “Leave him be! He will study when he is big.”) In other words the familial support so necessary to success was missing, which facilitated a return to the former status quo.

Even during the very real crisis Cuban socialism experienced in 1989, blacks did not emigrate for well-known historical reasons and missed out on the much-anticipated cash remittances from relatives overseas. Evidence of this can be seen in the re-appearance of social inequities, in the high proportion of blacks in prison, in their significant presence during the mass exodus of 1994, in their concentration in poor, marginalized neighborhoods and subsequently in the re-emergence of discrimination.

In short, throughout our history racism was not treated in the comprehensive way that such a complex phenomenon requires, as consequence it continues into the present in our society, through half a century of revolutionary power. The most recent proof of the debate is about the black intellectual Roberto Zurbano, director of the Editorial Fund of Casa de las Americas, suspended from this responsibility because of his article which The New York Times published under the headline “For Black in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Begun,” even though in an interview, he clarified that the original title was really that the revolution “hadn’t ended,” but reaffirmed his ideas that “on racism there is still much to discuss.”

In this polemic there are two distinguishing aspects: one, whether racism is present in Cuba or no; the other, the treatment of the subject given by Zurbano’s critics.

Regarding the former, exactly related to the theories presented, I will only refer to the two basic questions posed by Zurbano:

The economic difference created two contrasting realities that persist today.  The first is that of the white Cubans, who have mobilized their resources to enter into a new economy driven by the market and to reap the benefits of a kind of socialism that is supposedly more open.  The other is the plurality of the blacks, which is witness to the death of utopian socialism.

This statement confirms the similarity between the situation between the blacks higher up in the Republic, lacking economic means and instruction, and the lack of positioning today, to participate under conditions of equality when faced with the measures of economic liberty that are being dictated.  One fact that reveals the reproduction of the causes, one of the sources of Cuban’s participation are foreign shipments, before which blacks are at a total disadvantage.  Therefore, dark-skinned Cubans continue to be unequal from the start.

Racism has been hidden and has been reinforced in Cuba in part because it is not talked about.  The Government has not permitted racial prejudices to be debated or confronted either politically or culturally.  Instead, they frequently pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Here lies another key to the continuation of racism.  They suspended debate on the subject and now, 54 years later, it’s not only uncomfortable to accept it, but a few of the intellectuals who have attacked Zurbano even go so far as to deny its existence.

Regarding the second aspect, referring to the treatment given the subject by Zurbano’s critics, what jumps out is an additional difficulty in the eradication of racial discrimination in Cuba: the absence of cultural dialogue and debate that has essentially nullified the social sciences.

In Cuba it’s not possible to have a basic, objective dialogue without transgressing the limits imposed by the dominant ideology.  This is a sufficient obstacle to destroy the effectiveness of debate over solutions to social problems.  In this sense the statement of Guillermo Rodriguez Rivera: The Cuban Revolution not only began the struggle against racism and discrimination but nor can one can say that this struggle had never been so deep as in this moment of our history, it’s a proposal that completely lacks foundation.

In another part Rodriguez Rivera noted that Zurbano should investigate the subject with his elders.  This and other proposals of Zurbano’s critics reveal the limits established by the powers-that-be which comply in part with intellectuality; a behavior which tends to paralyze thought and debate, at the same time classifying within the absurd and worn down categories of friends and enemies those who think differently from what is permitted.

Without failing to recognize the role played by some emerging spaces for debate, the complexity of the subject of race in Cuba makes necessary public debate, where, paraphrasing Victor Fowler, all points of view participate.

Racial discrimination is and continues to be a serious obstacle towards sharing a common destiny among all Cubans.  For all of these reasons, the controversy provoked by Zurbano’s article should be converted into a road towards reaching a consensus among all possible solutions to the unresolved subject of racial discrimination.

FS: My second question is about the problems of persistent racism is: from your point of view what could be the essential lines of a solution?

Dimas Castellanos: I believe the essential lines towards a solution should emerge from research, political debate and consensus.  No one holds the truth in his hands, but we can shape it among all of us.  What is clear, as history has shown us, is that eradication does not only depend on the proclamation of laws, which is what has been done since the birth of the Republic until today, but also from a multidisciplinary analysis of its origin, development and treatment.

FS: And my third question on the subject: What relations might these problems have with the definition, evolution and development of our national identity?

Dimas Castellanos: If we understand that a nation–from the sociological point of view–is the fusion of principle social factors that make up a country, resulting from a long process of closeness and social, cultural and economic integration that gradually drives unity across difference, in a moment of history and in a determined territory, then the relation of the subject of racial discrimination is determined by the evolution and development of our national identity, since sharing a common destiny is impossible in conditions of inequality.  This is the remaining challenge.

FS: Finally, I should tell you that this is the first time we are interviewing you; perhaps in the future we will have to come back to these subjects, but before we finish I want to ask you if you have something you’d like to add to this publication.

Dimas Castellanos: The Conviction that the situation in Cuba will not find a viable exit, until both liberties and rights are permitted, first of all, the reconstruction of the concept of citizenship, today absent, and from there confronting the many challenges that Cuban society has in front of itself, to be able to insert itself into the age of globalization, information and new communication technology which has its starting point in the total incorporation of Cuba into the international agreements on human rights.

fsautie@yahoo.com

Notes:

[1] Cimarrones are runaway slaves: slaves fleeing their masters who lived solitary lives in the hills.

[2] Apalencados, stable communities of runaway salves, were located in areas difficult for their persecutors to access, such as shantytowns. Made up of a series huts, they were characterized by economic self-sufficiency.

[3] T. FERNANDEZ ROBAINA. Black in Cuba 1902-1958, p. 144

Unicorn, Sunday June 16, 2013

From Por Esto!

24 July 2013

On Racism There is Still Much to Discuss / Dimas Castellanos

Roberto Zurbano
Roberto Zurbano

This past March 23, the prize-winning essayist, critic and literary investigator Roberto Zurbano, who up until this moment functioned as the director of the Editorial Fund of Casa de las Americas, was dismissed from the position.  This measure was taken a few days after the US newspaper “The New York Times,” published an article under the headline “For Blacks in Cuba the Revolution Hasn’t Begun.”  In an interview given to The Associated Press, in which he clarified that the headline he gave his article was “For Blacks in Cuba, the Revolution Hasn’t Ended,” Zurbano reaffirmed his essential ideas on the subject when he stated that, “on racism there is still much to discuss.”

Rather than driving an objective reflection on the subject, the aforementioned article unfortunately provoked a bit of throat-slashing on the part of some Cuban intellectuals who did not share his opinions.

As it is, the ensuing controversy tested Zurbano’s proposal about the survival of racism in Cuba.  As this thesis coincided with opinions that I have shown in various works on racial discrimination in Cuba, I took advantage of the opportunity to return to the vital point of social relations in Cuba and their effect on the life and social development of the dark-skinned population in Cuba and consequently on all Cubans.

The essential point is that throughout our history racism was not treated in the comprehensive way that such a complex phenomenon requires. This failure is one of the causes for its endurance and continuation throughout the 20th century, in spite of half a century of revolutionary power. To augment this claim, I will briefly list in the form of a thesis a group of key facts, aspects and moments related to this social phenomenon. continue reading

The concept of race as a group of hereditary characteristics is certainly without foundation. As a social construct it has a damaging effect on human dignity. In Cuba, it stems from a complex phenomenon intertwined with our economic, sociological and cultural history which is replicated over time.

From a sociological point of view the nation is the fusion of the principal social factors which make up a country, resulting from a long process of gradual cohesion as well as social, cultural, and economic integration that gradually moves, in time and at a given moment, towards unity across differences.

Black Africans appeared on the Cuban scene in the beginning of the 16th century, but it was towards the end of the 18th century that their massive entrance transformed the ethnic composition of the population, the geography, the history, the culture and the social structure of the country.

Not being the owners of their own bodies and subjected to inhumane living conditions, blacks responded by rebelling. They became runaways, formed apalencamientos* and staged uprisings. Through these rebellions blacks almost single-handedly wrote a chapter of our national history.

Faced with total inequality with respect to whites, blacks became creole, but in a different way from white creoles, which, to paraphrase Jorge Manach, precluded their a sharing common goal on top of the distinguishing features.

During the 10 Years’ War, begun in 1868, land-owning whites aspired to economic and political liberty while blacks aspired to the abolition of slavery. The simultaneous existence of these goals — independence and abolition — constituted the starting point for the formation of a national consciousness in a context where inequality and racial discrimination acted in opposing directions. This war, though it ended without fully achieving its objective, dealt a blow to the institution of slavery by liberating slaves who had participated in battle during the war and legally endorsed some liberties (contained in the Zanjon Convention), which gave birth to Cuban civil society.

In the interim between the 10 Years’ War and the start of the War of 1895, Juan Gualberto Gomez — supported by the colonial resolutions that limited exclusion from service due to race — introduced various principles similar to those that Martin Luther King would use six decades later in the civil rights struggle of American blacks and founded the Directorio Central de Sociedades de Color. From his position as a social activist he mobilized thousands of blacks to resistance. Facing arduous incidents while adhering to the law, he won access to spaces and facilities such as balcony and orchestra seats in theaters as well as to public classrooms, which until then had been limited to white children.

At the re-initiation of the war of independence, when slavery had already been abolished, blacks were newly incorporated, this time with an agenda of social equality. As before, due to their expertise in the use of machetes and living in the jungle, equality and solidarity between black and white fighters overcame racial prejudice.

With the coming of the Republic, where these skills were useless, a sociological program aimed at reducing the economic and cultural gap between whites and blacks was lacking. That lack was reflected in public office, in commerce, banks, insurance agencies, communications, transportation, tobacco stores and even the armed forces, which replaced the Liberation Army was made up mostly of whites, in a country where the 60% of the fighters for independence had been black.

The persistence of inequalities and the constant frustrations in the early republican years led to the founding of the Independent Party of Color in 1908 and the armed uprising of its members in May 1912. This last action ended with the most horrible crime committed in our history, because in addition to the thousands of blacks who were killed, killing happened between white-skinned Cubans against black-skinned Cubans, once again hindering the unfinished process of a common identity and destiny.

In the 1930s, various press organs, radio stations and leading figures in Cuban politics and culture engaged in a public debate against racism, thereby aiding the integration and social and cultural development of blacks, and as a result, strengthening the awareness of a common destiny. One of the results was the inclusion, in the 1940 Constitution, of a legal principle essential to the promotion of equality between blacks and whites, that stated, “all discrimination on the basis of race, color or class or any other cause harmful to human dignity is illegal.” However, this principle was left incomplete in the never enacted criminal law against discrimination.

In 1959, the Democratic and Popular Revolution dealt the most serious blow to Cuban racism throughout its history. However, with the dismantling of the existing civil society, in addition to its benefits also lost were the civic instruments and spaces that had contributed to the progress made so far. The mistake was to believe that racial discrimination existed as a result of social classes, so that once these were eliminated, they proceeded to announce its end in Cuba. Such a significant “achievement” led to the decision to remove the subject from public debate. Thus, racism, expelled by law, took refuge in people’s minds, waiting for better times.

The equality of rights among blacks and whites proclaimed by law had a weak spot: inequality that had been inherited and left unresolved. In other words the starting point, seemingly the same for both blacks and whites, put the former at a serious disadvantage. This explains why universities that had been primarily black and mulatto re-acquired their previous racial profile over time. Why was this? Among the reasons were that black families, with rare exceptions, could not give their descendents’ studies the importance they required given their own backgrounds. (I remember my father, the grandson of a slave, telling my mother, “Leave him be! He will study when he is big.”) In other words the familial support so necessary to success was missing, which facilitated a return to the former status quo.

Even during the very real crisis Cuban socialism experienced in 1989, blacks did not emigrate for well-known historical reasons and missed out on the much-anticipated cash remittances from relatives overseas. Evidence of this can be seen in the re-appearance of social inequities, in the high proportion of blacks in prison, in their significant presence during the mass exodus of 1994, in their concentration in poor, marginalized neighborhoods and subsequently in the re-emergence of discrimination.

In short, throughout our history racism was not treated in the comprehensive way that such a complex phenomenon requires. In colonial times there was no interest in solving the problems of the black man. The issue was recognized during the republican era, which allowed for the right of association and political debate, addressed it in the constitution and achieved certain advances. These, however, were not accompanied by corresponding institutional measures.

The consequences of racism are reproduced and continue to be present in our society, where the decision to increase the proportion of blacks and people of mixed race en some bodies, as has happened in the National Assembly of People’s Power, gives evidence that the problem is still present.  The most recent proof is exactly the controversy around the black intellectual Roberto Zurbano.

In this polemic there are two distinguishing aspects: one, whether racism is present in Cuba or no; the other, the treatment of the subject given by Zurbano’s critics.

Regarding the former, exactly related to the theories presented, I will only refer to the two basic questions posed by Zurbano:

The economic difference created two contrasting realities that persist today.  The first is that of the white Cubans, who have mobilized their resources to enter into a new economy driven by the market and to reap the benefits of a kind of socialism that is supposedly more open.  The other is the plurality of the blacks, which is witness to the death of utopian socialism.

This statement confirms the similarity between the situation between the blacks higher up in the Republic, lacking economic means and instruction, and the lack of positioning today, to participate under conditions of equality when faced with the measures of economic liberty that are being dictated.  One fact that reveals the reproduction of the causes, one of the sources of Cuban’s participation are foreign shipments, before which blacks are at a total disadvantage.  Therefore, dark-skinned Cubans continue to be unequal from the start.

Racism has been hidden and has been reinforced in Cuba in part because it is not talked about.  The Government has not permitted racial prejudices to be debated or confronted either politically or culturally.  Instead, they frequently pretend that it doesn’t exist.

Here lies another key to the continuation of racism.  They suspended debate on the subject and now, 54 years later, it’s not only uncomfortable to accept it, but a few of the intellectuals who have attacked Zurbano even go so far as to deny its existence.

Regarding the second aspect, referring to the treatment given the subject by Zurbano’s critics, what jumps out is an additional difficulty in the eradication of racial discrimination in Cuba: the absence of cultural dialogue and debate that has essentially nullified the social sciences.

In Cuba it’s not possible to have a basic, objective dialogue without transgressing the limits imposed by the dominant ideology.  This is a sufficient obstacle to destroy the effectiveness of debate over solutions to social problems.  In this sense the statement of Guillermo Rodriguez Rivera: The Cuban revolution not only began the struggle against racism and discrimination but nor can one can say that this struggle had never been so deep as in this moment of our history, it’s a proposal that completely lacks foundation.

In another part Rodriguez Rivera noted that Zurbano should investigate the subject with his elders.  This and other proposals of Zurbano’s critics reveal the limits established by the powers-that-be which comply in part with intellectuality; a behavior which tends to paralyze thought and debate, at the same time classifying within the absurd and worn down categories of friends and enemies those who think differently from what is permitted.

Without failing to recognize the role played by some emerging spaces for debate, the complexity of the subject of race in Cuba makes necessary public debate, where, paraphrasing Victor Fowler, all points of view participate.

Racial discrimination is and continues to be a serious obstacle towards sharing a common destiny among all Cubans.  For all of these reasons, the controversy provoked by Zurbano’s article should be converted into a road towards reaching a consensus among all possible solutions to the unresolved subject of racial discrimination in Cuba, whose fundamental lines  emerge  from studies, public debate and consensus.

No one holds the truth in his hands, but we can shape it among all of us.  What is clear, as history has shown us, is that eradication does not only depend on the proclamation of laws, which is what has been done since the birth of the Republic until today, but also from a multidisciplinary analysis of its origin, development and treatment, as in necessary projects directed to this goal.

* Apalencados, stable communities of runaway salves, were located in areas difficult for their persecutors to access, such as shantytowns. Made up of a series huts, they were characterized by economic self-sufficiency.

Published in Convivencia

8 July 2013

Cuba: The Relationship Between Wages and Corruption / Dimas Castellano

Raul to anppExperience, supported by social sciences, teaches that interest is an indispensable engine for achieving goals. In the case of the economy, the ownership of the means of production and the amount of wages decisively influence the interests of producers. When that interest disappears, as happened in Cuba with the process of nationalization, the impediment to ownership and/or receiving wages that correspond to one’s efforts, forced Cubans to seek alternative sources to survive through the appropriation of the supposed property of the whole people.

Such conduct, prolonged over too great a time, becomes the moral component, that is, the socially accepted norms that are generalized throughout the whole society. To low wages Cubans responded with alternative activities; to the absence of civil society, with life underground; to the lack of materials, theft from the state; and to the closure of all the possibilities, with the escape into exile. Actions expressed in the same way in the nineteenth century; but now, not to abolish slavery and achieve independence, but to fight to survive. A collection of behaviors summarized in the popular expression: “Here what we must not do, is die.”

Given this reality, the government’s response focused on repression: police, surveillance, restrictions, inspectors and inspectors of the inspectors, expulsions, convictions and imprisonment. Actions on the effects, without taking into account that solutions require recognition of and action on the causes. continue reading

At the closing ceremony of the National Assembly of People’s Power on 7 July, the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), Raul Castro, said that the implementation of the Guidelines requires a permanent climate of order, discipline and exigency in Cuban society and the first step is to delve into the causes and conditions that have led to this phenomenon over many years.

He also added: We have perceived with pain during the 20-plus years of Special Period the growing deterioration of moral and civic values, such as honesty, decency, modesty, decorum, honor and sensitivity to others’ problems.

He enumerated the negative manifestations, known by everyone, including that to a part of society it has come to seem normal to steal from the State, concluding that: It is a real fact that the nobility of the Revolution has been abused when the full force of the law has not been utilized, however justified that might be, giving priority to persuasion and political work, which we must recognize has not always been sufficient. And recognizing that we have regressed in citizens’ culture and civics.

Despite what he declared, he failed to recognize that the grants received from abroad, based on ideological relationships and therefore beyond economic laws, were useless to promote development and that in its place, this “help” overlapped the inefficiency of the Cuban model until the collapse of the socialist camp revealed the falsity of the foundations that underpinned it.

At that time, instead of finally redirecting itself toward the creation of a proper and efficient economy, the Government limited itself to circumstantial changes in hopes of better times, until new subsidies, from Venezuela, allowed it to stop the reforms.

The attempt to ignore that the interrelated system of the elements that make up society suffers permanent mutations, which if not addressed in time compel us to reform the entire social structure, has characterized Raul Castro’s government. He is endowed with sufficient political will to preserve power, but without the need for structural reforms, decided to deepen the changes aimed at achieving a proper and efficient economy, but subordinated them to the maintenance of power, which explains the limitations and failures of commitment.

Amid these efforts, the disputed presidential elections in Venezuela in early 2013, triggered an alarm about the fragility of subsidies from the South American country, which has made the order of the day, with no possibility of retreat, the urgent need to deepen reforms already begun.

However, both the first measures implemented, like the most recent, occurring in the absence of a civil society with the capacity to influence them, has determined that the subject of the changes is the same that came to power in 1959. Given its prolonged duration, it has interests to defend and is responsible for everything that has happened, good or bad; a characteristic that prevents it from acting as might a movement that comes to power for the first time. For this reason the scope, direction, speed and pace of the changes have responded to the conservation of power.

Immersed in contradiction of advancing without structural reforms, the Government is facing the huge obstacle signified by the mismatches that have occurred in the social system for decades. Among these is the damaging effect of the disproportionate relationship between wages and the cost of living, as reflected in the prevailing corruption.

Read wages should at least be sufficient for the subsistence of workers and their families. This means that the minimum wage must provide a living, while incomes below that limit mark the “poverty line.” Since 1989, when a Cuban peso was worth almost nine times what it is worth now, the growth rate of wages began to be less than the rate of increase in prices, which explains why, despite increases in nominal wages, purchasing power has decreased to the point that wages are insufficient to survive.

With the average individual monthly salary, around 460 pesos (less than 20 CUC, which is less than $20), one can not cover basic needs. A study of two family units, one of them consisting of two people and the other of three, showed that the first family earns 800 pesos and spends 2391, almost three times more than its income; while the three-person family earns 1976 pesos and spends 4198, more than double what they take in.

The first family survives through remittances sent by a son who lives in the United States, while the second will not declare how they make up the difference. This disproportion is the main cause that, given the loss of the purchasing power of wages, the Cuban family dedicates itself massively to seeking alternative sources of income to survive, in most cases through activities outside the law.

Because it can only distribute what is produced, the government faces a complex contradiction. Cubans, unmotivated by salaries unrelated to the cost of living, are not willing to produce, and without increased production living conditions cannot improve.

The solution is not ideological calls for the people to step up, but to recognize the state as the main cause of the anomaly and so to decentralize the economy, allowing the formation of a middle class, freeing up everything that slows the increase in production, and even making possible the unification of the two currencies which would permit wage reform.

All this implies deepening the reforms to make them comprehensive in nature, including, of course, the restoration of civil liberties, something that so far the government has refused to do.

From Diario de Cuba

1 August 2013

If the Model Isn’t Working, What Hope Is There for the Copy? / Dimas Castellanos

In the second half of the 18th century Creole capabilities along with the effects of the English occupation of Havana and the Haitian revolution created favorable conditions for turning Cuba into a sugar powerhouse. Land owners understood the importance of rapidly developing the island’s agriculture before Haiti could recover. It was necessary to look to the neighboring island not only with compassion, said Francisco de Arango y Parreño, but also through political eyes. As a result Cuba became the main producer and exporter of sugar in the world.

Sugar production, which in 1860 was 447,000 tons, had reached 1,400,000 by 1895. In 1919 it exceeded 4,000,000. In 1925 it reached 5,300,000; in 1952 it was 7,200,000. In 1970, after a colossal effort that disrupted the entire Cuban economy, 8,500,000 tons were produced. After that, it began to decrease to the point that in 2001 it was no more than 3,500,000, a figure lower than that of 1919.

To reverse the decline General Ulises Rosales del Toro was appointed to head the Ministry of Sugar (MINAZ). The Sugar Industry Restructuring initiative and the Álvaro Reynoso Project were also implemented. The goal of the former was to achieve 11% output (to extract 11 tons of sugar for every 100 tons of sugar cane); the goal of the latter was to produce 54 tons of cane per hectare (according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization the world average was 63 tons).

The results of both projects led to 2.2 million tons being produced in 2002, 2.1 million in 2003, 2.52 in 2004 and 1.3 million in 2005 (a 40% decrease from the previous year). Results for 2006 and 2007 were similar to 2005. 2009 saw a slight increase to 1.4 million tons (the same as in 1895). The figures hit a low point in 2010 when only 1.1 million tons were produced. The annual average over ten years has barely topped 1.8 million tons. The harvest in 2011 remained below 1.3 million tons.

In response to its failures, MINAZ was replaced by the state sugar monopoly AZCUBA. With the two major factors that led to significantly reduced production on everyone’s minds, the organization made sure to plant enough cane and at the outset managed to secure almost all the necessary resources it had contracted for the 2012 harvest. Nevertheless, it was still only able to fulfill a target of 1,450,000 tons, and even then it did not meet its target date. Finally, in December 2012 — the beginning of the current harvest — AZCUBA decided to pool its accumulated knowledge and proposed a production quota of 1.7 million tons of sugar (20% higher than the previous harvest). It also announced that a majority of its factories would close before May to avoid the negative effects from that month’s heat and rain, factors which reduce the quality of sugarcane.

Difficulties quickly mounted. By the beginning of February there was a production delay of 7.8%. By the middle of March the state-run press noted that most of the thirteen sugar producing provinces would have to continue refining operations past the target date in order to be able to produce 1.7 million tons. By the end of March production delays had reached 18%. At the beginning of April the country was refining at 65% of its normal capacity due to a shortage of sugarcane. Cienfuegos and Artemisa provinces have reached approximately 90% of their goals. Matanzas has a shortfall of 30,000 tons while Villa Clara, Santiago de Cuba, Holguín, Las Tunas, Granma and Mayabeque are milling at 60% of normal capacity. At the end of May it was discovered that Camagüey, one of the provinces that had hoped to fulfill its quota, was lagging behind. Now, in late June, the end of the current harvest has still not been announced.

Results from the Uruguay central sugar refinery in Sancti Spiritus province, which for the last six years has fulfilled its technical economic quota, produced 8,000 tons more than the previous year and achieved an 11.95% rate of gross economic output, the highest in the country.

In summation, a change of management, the Sugar Industry Restructuring initiative, the Álvaro Reynoso Project, the closure of some one-hundred sugar factories, the reallocation of a large percentage of fields reserved for sugar cultivation to other crops, the replacement of MINAZ with AZCUBA and a varied package of economic and structural measures have not been sufficient to raise the per-hectare production of sugarcane or planned industrial output.

The 2013 harvest suffers from the same problems as those that preceded it: late starts, sugarcane shortages, low agricultural and industrial output, transportation problems, inadequate maintenance, industry-wide breakdowns, poor repairs to agricultural equipment, aging raw material, lack of spare parts, poorly trained personnel, administrative incompetence and high per-ton production costs, among other factors.

Although twenty years is nothing according to the popular tango anthem by Carlos Gardel and Alfredo Lepera*, in economic terms it is long enough to know it is time to get rid the current model. Whether discussing the obsolete or the updated version, it simply does not and cannot work. This is because economic issues remain subordinate to ideology. State ownership of property predominates and the system of economic planning has no relationship to reality, having been copied from the Soviet model. The situation is similar to that of Cuba at the end of the 18th century when solutions imposed by Spain were no longer appropriate given the changes that had occurred on the island. Francisco de Arango y Parreño summed it up nicely when he said, “If the model no longer works, what hope is there for the copy?”

Havana, June 3, 2013

1 Ponte Domingo, Francisco J. Arango y Parreño; estadista colonial cubano, Edición del Centenario, Havana, 1937, p. 27.

*Translator’s note: A reference to a line from Volver, a popular 1934 tango by Argentinian singer and composer Carlos Gardel and lyricist Alfredo Lepera.

Published June 17 in Diario de Cuba

The Cuban Communist Party and the Workers Central Union / Dimas Castellanos

The XCIII Plenary of the National Council of the Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC) that recently met under the chairmanship of the Second Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), agreed to postpone the celebration of its XX Congress, create an Organizing Committee and appoint Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento to its leadership.

The postponement of the XX Congress was made so that the newly created Organizing Committee would have more time to organize the event, which has a pending discussion on the Draft of the Labor Code Bill and on the Congress Rules document.

Considering that another Plenary of the National Council of the CTC in which the progress of the organization efforts for the Congress were discussed took place just a month ago, the following questions arise: Why wasn’t the date for the Congress proposed at the time? Why was Carmen Rosa López ratified at the front of the CTC until the celebration of the XX Congress? And why wasn’t the Organizing Committee created during the time of the convening or last month at the Plenary?

The answers seem to be related to the difficulties encountered in the preparatory meetings. If so, doubts point to a poor preparation and to the inability of the Second Secretary of the CTC to reach the goals set by the Communist Party (PCC). This assumption is based on the fact that Carmen Rosa López had been appointed as the head of the PCC until the celebration of the event and had been elected Member of the State Council, which indicated that she was going to be “the chosen one” as Secretary General in the XX Congress. However, surprisingly, she had just been replaced by Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento, who was the Secretary General of the PCC in the Province of Artemisa two weeks ago.

The discussion topics, according to the preparatory meetings of the XX Congress, will be related to the economy and represent an unavoidable duty for the CTC and its unions to achieve the conscious mobilization and participation of all workers in the fulfillment of the economic and social policies that were passed in the VI Congress.

Nonetheless, in the preparatory meetings the inadequacies that conspire against what the PCC expects from the union movement were highlighted. By that I mean keeping the CTC as the only labor union under the control of the PCC to ensure support for the implementation of the recent reform Guidelines; for such purpose it would be necessary to enroll all workers under the same union, the CTC, particularly those self-employed from the private sector, who would tend to grow and provide the strength without which reaching the expected results would be impossible.

Some of the criteria expressed during the process shed light on what happened. Salvador Valdés Mesa explained in Matanzas, on March 8th, that even when retirees, state and non-state affiliates, represent three sources of affiliation with different interests, it is the self-employed who are demanding special attention because of the novelty they represent to the union movement. Then later that month,  in the report to the XCII Plenary, Valdés emphasized in the shortcomings faced in the functioning of the organization, in the affiliation of workers and he made a call to combat crime, illegalities and to perfect the workers’ guard service.

Meanwhile in an interview published in Granma on April 27th, Carmen Rosa López said, “We still frequently find in the collective convening of workers that they have not been affiliated because of the shortcomings of our work,” and she also said that in all of the questionnaires and assessments completed this year the statements from the assembly members make reference to wages; which shows that the goals set took a different path from that of the workers’ concerns.

The recurring concerns expressed by the workers show their non-recognition of the unions as representatives of their interests, especially after the statement made by the Workers Central Union (CTC) in September of 2010 in favor of the layoffs, a measure that directly affected workers and their families. The statement said: Our State cannot nor should it continue to sponsor companies, institutions of production and services that are budgeted with inflated payrolls and result in losses that drag down the economy, which is counterproductive, generates bad habits, and distorts the codes of conduct of workers.

To summarize, the main goal of the Congress is to emphasize the performance that is expected from workers by the PCC in the implementation of the Guidelines for reform, not to address their particular problems, such as the insufficient wages and pensions in relation to the cost of living, among others, which has led Cubans to survive on the fringes of the law turning their backs on the so-called ideology while creating a negative attitude that hinders the realization of any social project.

We have to remember that unions in Cuba emerged to defend the interests of workers  when paid work began replacing slave labor; that the labor movement became widespread with the General Law of Associations of 1888 and then with freedoms and rights recognized in the Constitution of 1901; that it showed its strength with the founding of the National Confederation of Workers of Cuba in 1925 and with a general strike in 1933 that toppled Gerardo Machado’s regime; that it achieved the passing of a number of labor laws, including the most important in Cuban labor legislation — Decree 798 of 1938 — which was subsequently endorsed in the Constitution of the Republic; that this development led to the birth of the CTC in 1939; and that joint committees were created to set a minimum wage standard, the terms to the right of collective bargaining and other measures in line with the established by the International Labor Organization.

Therefore, unions became an important sector of Cuba’s civil society to the point that in 1945 the CTC became the second largest trade union in the region with half a million members.

The takeaway is that workers’ participation in programs from the State or a political party, if it takes place, must be based on the interests, needs and decisions of workers themselves, a vital premise to the defense of their own interests.

Therefore, the postponement of the date of the Congress, from November of this year to the first trimester of 2014, has its roots in the conversion of the CTC into an auxiliary organization to the goals of the PCC, resulting in the loss of its independence and leading to the distortion of its original purpose. It is a situation beyond the capabilities of Salvador Valdés Mesa, Carmen Rosa Lópeza, Ulises Guilarte de Nacimiento or any other individual appointed to the leadership of  Cuban labor unionism.

The only way out, which depends on a political will so far nonexistent, is not in changing political figures or in modifying documents pending for discussion, it is in the freedom of association. This way the PCC could keep the CTC as an auxiliary organization and allow those workers who do not want to be CTC members to form other labor unions and freely join them. This would also be a response to the remarks and recommendations that were given to Cuba in a recent evaluation by the Human Rights Council of the United Nations.

Published in Diario de Cuba

Translated by Chabeli

3 June 2013

Political Marginalization and the Citizen / Dimas Castellano

Published in Curazao, issue 24

May 3, 2013

The marginality, an effect of exclusion, is a phenomenon that prevents or limits the enjoyment of certain rights. It manifests itself in all social relations, including politics. In these lines I circumscribe the case of Cuba, where the revolutionary process swept civic participation mechanisms and replaced by others, created and subservient to the state.

Citizens participate independently in matters of interest through civil society organizations of which it is part. Also involved electing representatives to positions in government; in this case there is the risk that the elected turn their back to their commitments to the voters, as repeatedly occurred during the Republic. Precisely this fact served as an argument to the insurrectional process that took power in 1959 with a commitment to restore the 1940 constitution and call elections immediately.

The elections are important for the people as long as they express the public opinion. But public opinion and electoral democracy are the foundation of the building. Then comes the building, meaning, the system of government as a hierarchical structure where power goes from the majority to a minority. So depending on decisions made by that minority whether or not they represent the best interests of their constituents, we face a democratic or undemocratic government, demonstrating that elections are necessary but not sufficient.

The seizure of power by the revolutionaries in 1959 provoked a violent break with the established system. It replaced the Constitution of 1940 and with it the institutional base. Then the revolution, which has become a source of law, swept away civil society and all the spaces that were instruments of civic participation. The country headed towards the totalitarianism that penetrated the entire social fabric, liquidated political pluralism and thus eradicated the concept of citizen. Seventeen years later, in 1976, a constitution was adopted that legalized the marginalization of the people in politics.

Since then, Cubans were limited to electing district delegates. Thereafter, where  the destiny of the nation is decided, the Candidacy Commissions created by the same power, decide the candidates for all positions in government, from the municipality to the National Assembly of People’s Power; meanwhile the people are reduced to confirming the propositions of said Committees. As an end result there exists a government that has been predetermined. This explains the excessively prolonged time leaders remain in positions of power, indicating the nonexistence of democracy and evidence that the elections, as a manifestation of popular sovereignty, are something that remains pending.

The Cuban case demonstrates that democracy — the best instrument of the people to exercise their freedoms — is fragile. Its strength depends on civic education, the rebuilding of civil society independent of the state and the reconversion of Cubans into citizens; it is the only way out of political marginalization.

Translated by Roots of Hope 

27 May 2013

Are There Unions in Cuba? / Dimas Castellanos

ctc logo index“Without a strong union there will be no economy,” said Salvador Valdes Mesa, vice president of the Council of State and member of the Politburo of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) in the recently concluded plenary session of the National Union of Sugar Workers. An approach which clearly expresses the vision of unions as instruments of the State and not as an association to defend the interests of workers.

Valdes Mesa, replaced the previous week as general secretary of the Workers Central Union (CTC), in the last two decades was first secretary of the PCC of the municipality and of the province of Camagüey, secretary-general of the Agriculture and Forestry Labor Union, Minister of Labor and Social Security. continue reading

Upon his departure from office of the head of the labor organization, Machado Ventura, second secretary of the PCC, explained that Salvador Valdes’s responsibility as vice president of the country did not allow him to also head the CTC, “but given the importance and significance of having a strong and consolidated labor movement,” he would continue performing this work from his new role. In his place, Carmen Rosa López Rodríguez, second secretary, will head the CTC until the XX Congress to be held in November.

The departure of Valdes Mesa from the CTC seems to be a part of the change in leadership of political and mass organizations. A few months ago, Carlos Rafael Miranda Martínez, Félix González Vigo, Yuniasky Crespo Vaquero and Teresa María Amarelle Boué, all replaced those who held those responsibilities in the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP), the Young Communist Union (UJC) and the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). The four joined the Council of State on the 24th of February, when Valdes Mesa was appointed vice president of that body. This shows the lack of autonomy of the labor movement in Cuba, without which it might not economy is strong, but it is certain that there will be no strong unions.

Rise and Fall of Cuban Unions

A brief look at the history of this movement reveals the process leading to its demise. Emerging in the second half of the nineteenth century during the process of replacing the slave labor with wage labor, the Cuban labor union movement first showed itself with strikes in the tobacco industry and the founding of the first workers’ newspapers; it was extended in during the colonial period with the Law of Associations in 1888; and it was supported in the rights and freedoms recognized in the Constitution of 1901, receiving its first fruits in the first decade of the twentieth century with the approval of holidays and time off for bereavement, the eight-hour day for government workers, the prohibition of payment in tokens and vouchers, and the closure of shops and workshops at six in the afternoon, among other steps.

Its growing strength was manifested in the formation of the National Confederation of Workers of Cuba in 1925, in the strike that toppled the regime of Gerardo Machado in 1933, in the labor legislation of 1938, which guaranteed workers’ rights such as minimum wage and death pensions which were guaranteed in the constitution; and in the birth of the CTC in 1939. All these prior events made the labor union movement an important factor of Cuban civil society.

However, the subordination of trade unions to political parties that began in 1925, worsened in the 40’s with the struggle between Authentic Party and the Communists for control of the labor movement; and again in 1952, when Eusebio Mujal, then general secretary of labor movement after ordering a general strike against the coup that year, ended up accepting an offer from Fulgencio Batista in exchange for preserving the rights acquired by the CTC.

Finally, in 1959 it received the biggest blow: the CTC was dissolved and replaced by the CTC-R, the Revolutionary Cuban Workers Union. In November of that year, at the Tenth Congress general secretary David Salvador Manso said that the workers had not gone to Congress to raise economic demands but to support the revolution. The XI Congress in November 1961 confirmed the loss of autonomy when delegates gave up almost all historical achievements of the labor movement: the nine days of sick leave, the additional Christmas bonus, the work week of 44 x 48 hours, the right to strike and the 9.09% wage increase, among others. From that moment, the CTC became an auxiliary to the government.

The State Interests

The independence of labor unions with respect to any non-union institution is a prerequisite vital to the defense of their own interests. With their functions under state control, they ceased to emanate from the needs and interests of workers, leading to their demise. This dependence was endorsed in the  1976 Constitution, which did not recognize the results achieved by the union movement since its inception.

A vivid expression of the loss of autonomy was the pronouncement of the CTC with regards to the measures taken by the Government to reduce the State workforce and substitute self-employment. In the document entitled “Pronouncement of the Cuban Workers Union” issued in September 2010, it is stated that “Our state could not and should not continue maintaining companies, productive entities, and services with inflated payrolls, and losses that weigh on the economy, are counterproductive, generate bad habits and distort workers’ conduct. It is necessary to increase the production and quality of services, reduce social spending and eliminate undeserved bonuses, excessive subsidies, study as a source of employment and early retirement. The success of the process that starts now will depend on the political assurance from the union movement and under the leadership of the Party we union leaders give our support for the actions to be undertaken … “

The above text confirms the loss of independence of the CTC, without which the existence of real unionism is impossible. State interests are embedded in the document quoted, while nothing is said of the enormous problems of workers, firstly, of the inadequacy of current wages to provide a living.

23 April 2013

The 2013 Cuban Elections and the Multi-Party System / Dimas Castellanos

According to the official results of the “elections” held on Sunday, February 3 of this year, 1,249,832 Cubans, “14.22% of all voters,” did not go to the polls or cast invalid ballots in a clear display of their rejection of the Cuban electoral system.

The number of people behaving in this way has been growing over the last few elections. In 2003 the total of these two categories (non-voters and those who cast invalid ballots) was 506,453, or 6.09% of the electorate. In 2008 it was 657,119, or 7.73%. In the most recent elections, however, it rose to 1,249,832 Cubans, or 14.22% of the electorate, almost double the number from the previous balloting.

The most notable thing about this jump was the number of people who decided not to vote. In 2003 193,306 people abstained, 2.35% of the voters. In 2008 the figures were 264,212, or 3.11%. In 2013 the number rose to 790,551, 9.21%, nearly three times as many as in 2008.

To not vote “in a society without civil or political rights, under almost total state control and with only one constitutionally recognized party” is the most daring option.

In Cuba, where the only option is to approve the candidates chosen by the Candidacy Commissions — committees made up of leaders of mass organizations, whose own statutes declare them to be subordinate to the Communist Party — not voting is proof that the Government has lost the popular consensus. The results, therefore carry a clear lesson and are a message that the Cuban authorities should take to heart. To ignore this would lead to an inability to govern.

The reason behind the results is that it is really the Candidacy Commissions which choose the deputies who make up the National Assembly of the People’s Power. These deputies then choose the Council of State and its president as well as the president of the Council of Ministers. The latter then chooses the members of the Council of Ministers itself. As a result the National Assembly and the government are really determined by the powerful Candidacy Commissions. This explains why many Cubans decide not to vote to such a degree that abstentions now account now nearly 15% of the Cuban electorate. This is three times the number of members in the Communist Party. It also shows that the so-called elections in Cuba have little bearing on the difficult living conditions of the thousands and thousands of Cubans who live outside the law or who choose to leave the country.

Faced with a profound structural crisis like the one threatening Cuba, the election results are confirmation that is impossible to limit change to certain aspects of society. Therefore, in spite of the government’s persistence in ignoring the subject of a multi-party system, reality has succeeded in bringing it to the forefront. The election figures confirm the existence of a non-conformist segment of society that is demanding a political role. It is made up of Cubans who lack the right of free association and the right to participate in deciding the fate of the nation. How is it possible to justify the existence of a single party when almost 15% of voters do not respond to its call?

Social development does not exclude but rather implies a multi-party system as the natural expression of a diversity of ideas and interests. It is the mechanism by which citizens express themselves politically. The nation is a community of people who are diverse but equal in dignity. They are looking for a common good for which full economic, civil, political and cultural rights and responsibilities are essential. Therefore, the restitution of the right of association and the depenalization of political differences are necessary for Cubans to be able to play their corresponding active and decisive role in the changes to come.

In The Social Contract Jean Jacques Rousseau wrote that the union of persons to defend and protect their well-being emanates from a general will that transforms the parties to the contract into a collective political body. The exercise of this will confers power, which is referred to as sovereignty, and the party exercising it is sovereign. Based on this sovereign status, the people choose officials to carry out the general will and temporarily invest them with a mandate to propose and effect laws, and to preserve citizens’ liberties. In other words elections are a manifestation of popular sovereignty.

The violation of the constitutional order in Cuba, which occurred in 1952, gave rise to an insurrectional movement which overthrew the dictatorship in 1959. On January 8 of that month the leader of the revolutionary movement swore that he would hold elections in the shortest period of time possible and restore the constitution of 1940. However, several days later and without popular consultation, the nation’s Magna Carta was replaced with the Basic Law of the Republic of Cuba. By virtue of this Law, which was in force until the adoption of the constitution of 1976, the Council of Ministers assumed all legislative power and constitutionally affirmed one-party rule. From then until today “elections” have been carried out under this policy of exclusion in which the people cannot directly elect the president of the republic. This amounts to a clear rejection of our historic legacy.

The current system, which limits direct vote by the people to delegates for municipal assemblies, is one of the main causes for the indifference of those who do not take part or who cast invalid ballots. It is an efficient system for holding on to power, but useless for advancing the changes that society demands. All these issues emphasize the need to introduce a multi-party system and to carry out the corresponding changes to the constitution.

Published in DiariodeCuba.com

8 March 2013