Playing Dirty / Fernando Damaso

Archive photo

With those incomprehensible absurdities of politics, the United Nations Decolonization Committee adopted the resolution presented by Cuba, with support from Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela, on behalf of the inalienable right of the people of Puerto Rico to self-determination and independence.

By any chance does this Committee know that on 6 November 2012 a plebiscite was held in Puerto Rico, where the majority of the population voted to join the United States as the 51st state, somewhat smaller numbers to maintain the current status of the Commonwealth, and only a tiny minority to be independent? Is it, perhaps, not the will of Puerto Ricans, for years now, to remain joined to the United States in a way or another, as demonstrated in the four plebiscites?

That Cuba and its populists friends propose every year, in an act of manifest interference in the internal affairs of another country, is nothing unusual, but that the United Nations accepts it is shameful. In addition, the information offered by the official Cuban press is manipulated, stating that the text now adopted stressed the majority pronouncement made last November 6 by the population of this country in rejecting the current condition of political subordination. In reality, the majority pronouncement was to cease being a Commonwealth and to become a State of the United States.

How long will they continue politicking in favor of a small group of separatists who, convinced of the rejection of its citizens of independence (the minimum percentages obtained in four plebiscites prove it), have chosen to live it, his backed by the will of most Puerto Ricans, who have not lost their language, nor their flag, nor their music or dances, their customs or their identity, but have enriched it with new contributions? How long the UN will be continue to lend itself to this dirty game?

25 June 2013

Consciousness Asleep / Fernando Damaso

Photo Rebeca

One of the main sources of my posts is the newspaper Granma, not only for what it says, but also how it says it and for what it doesn’t say. Although sometimes it publishes this or that interesting letter, the Letters to the Editor section from last Friday was priceless: either everyone who wrote supports the “Cuban model,” or they only publish this type of letter.

A reader, after pondering the existence of this section, and linking it with objectives 70 and 71 of the guidelines (which couldn’t be ignored), and also with 16, without adding anything new, finished in slogan-style, with the official sentiment: Our worst enemy is our own mistakes.

A fancier defends the breeding of carrier pigeons and ornamental pouter pigeons by the members of the respective federation and association, and denounces the so-called pigeon-raisers who profit off them, making it clear that the Pigeon Fanciers Federation gives its unconditional support to the Revolution. I think this assertion does not include the opinion of the pigeons themselves.

Another reader complains that in a town he visited, there has been no water for three months because the engine that supplies it is broken, and explains that all the measures taken by the authorities to solve the problem have been unsuccessful. He complains about the charge of 50 Cuban pesos for every water delivery and adds that he understands that the blockade, the hard work of the leaders, etc. has prevented a solution to the problem, and ends with the same slogan as the previous writer, that this Revolution can only be destroyed by ourselves.

A hothead, shield raised high, states that each patient should be informed about how much their treatment costs the State, forgetting that the State, with what it doesn’t pay citizens in their penurious wages, has many more financial resources at its disposal to distribute to the services of health and education.

Despite its small size, this sample demonstrates how low the level of public awareness still is, and how much we have to advance to be able to have a true civil society.

19 June 2013

An Archaic Concept / Fernando Damaso

Archived image

It’s worth noting that, in most of the programmatic documents of the Old and the New Left, the concept that “the workers and peasants constitute the principal movers of society, together with the participation of other of its leaders” remains unalterable. This concept that, perhaps, in the epoch of utopian socialism might be valid, owing to its being a simple, theoretical proposal without any basis in experience, today and for much time, has been totally absurd.

The nascent French bourgeoisie used the malaise of the masses to unleash and guide the French Revolution, using them as a shock force for violent confrontations, but reserving for itself the role of leading. The Russian political agitators, nominating themselves as “professional revolutionaries,” did the same thing with the workers, peasants and soldiers, unleashing the October Revolution, but reserving for themselves the exercise of power. Neither Robespierre, Danton, Marat, Desmoulins and others in the first case, nor Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin in the second, were workers or peasants. In the Cuban Revolution something else happened: None of the principal leaders was a worker or peasant; rather they belonged to the middle class and the petit bourgeoisie, being principally professionals and students. The workers and peasants simply constituted masses to be used.

If we are realists, we must accept that, in the end, Leonardo da Vinci, Pasteur, Ford, Edison, the Wright Brothers, Bill Gates and many others, to mention only a few in the field of science, have brought more to human development and society than all the workers and peasants put together in their respective countries as well as in the world. From the appropriation of fire up to the invention of the wheel, printing, the steam engine, the internal combustion motor, electricity, the use of the atom, computers, the Internet and everything that amazes us today, it’s been the talent of brilliant people who with their work and tenacity have played the role of being the true moving forces of society. The principal merit of bringing development to society belongs to them and not to generic workers and peasants. This has been repeated in medicine, the arts, architecture, transport, communications and in many other spheres of human activity.

To pretend to eternally bestow this honor on workers and peasants, without taking into account the process of continual change, in addition to being dogmatic is unreal, and forms part of the archaic concepts that still prevail in part of the thinking of the current Left. It’s about time that the hammer and sickle were replaced with the combine and programmable robotic lathes.

Translated by Regina Anavy

15 June 2013

National Values / Fernando Damaso

Photo: Peter Deel

When the state-run media writes or talks about education in Cuba, they always start with the obligatory preamble, discussing how bad things are in the rest of the world, including in so-called first-world countries. They then go on to discuss the encouraging situation in Cuba, where students are guaranteed free education as well as health care, nutrition and other basic services. Those of us who suffer under Cuban socialism, however, know that things are not quite so simple.

If, in the early days — and I’m referring only to education — taking advantage of the  facilities, the physical foundations and the existing licensed teachers, it was of high quality, the fact is that very soon, with the advent of failed educational experiments and other changes, the quality began to decline. Schools for teachers were closed, replaced by training in inhospitable environments in an effort to strengthen revolutionary commitment. Quick courses were taught in short time spans. Poorly trained personnel were allowed into the system. Televised courses replaced teachers in classrooms. The schools in the countryside program was introduced. As a result of these and other changes, a large percentage of good teachers are now at retirement age. Competent newcomers do not exist and replacements are not foreseen given the lack of interest among young people, who are attracted by the greater incentives and better working conditions offered by other professions.

In addition to its well-known and difficult material and pedagogical problems, the Cuban educational system has not been able to train the citizens the country needs and will need over the short and medium term. An attempt to emphasize politics and ideology at the expense of education has distorted Cuban teaching, which had always enjoyed respect since the era of Félix Varela, José de la Luz y Caballero, Martí, Varona and many others. This has led to a critical loss of values, which is palpable on a daily basis in the streets of our cities and towns, and which is shared equally by different generations. The teacher-student-parent relationship has been broken for many years, abrogated by the state monopoly on education. Trying to restore it now is no easy task, especially when, instead of emphasizing the formation of citizens, there is an ongoing emphasis on the formation of “patriots,” which is understood to mean those who are loyal to “the model.” They are trying to rescue the “system of revolutionary values” when in reality what they should be trying to rescue is the system of national values, which are much more important and significant than the former.

In a social scenario of absurd and archaic constraints imposed by those in power, there is little that teachers can do (if they act as such and not as mere transmitters of a failed ideology in which even they themselves do not believe). The same is true for parents and the rest of the family, who are also obligated to engage in a double standard, known as the “dual morality,” which is really a lack thereof. Faced with this reality and trapped in the middle of a tense situation, the only path left for a student is escape, either through alcohol, drugs, exodus, or through individual or group rebellion as part of one of the many current urban tribes (such as emos, rockers, rappers, reparteros* or skaters).

I feel that, rather than organizing and staging large events to show the world the “achievements of Cuban education,” efforts and resources should be spent on addressing the real situation, which endangers the national identity and directly threatens the country and its very existence.

*Translator’s note: Followers and fans of reggaeton music.

11 June 2013

A New Failure / Fernando Damaso

Photo: Peter Deel

The announced rescue of sugar production, after the ravages of the Alvaro Reynoso Task that finished dozens of plants, and the adjustments and readjustments of the “upgrade” and the application of the “guidelines”, seems not to have achieved the objectives, with production having, in some cases, declined.

Despite nearly six months of harvesting, it appears that we not exceed the one million four hundred thousand tons of sugar expected (an extended time when historically, with less technological equipment and development, the harvest reached four to five million tons in less than ninety days).

At least, that is what emerges from the literature on the harvest in the province of Villa Clara. Figures are figures: despite organizational measures taken, resources allocated, etc., the harvest produced 11,000 fewer tons than planned (5,400 tons more than the previous harvest, which was 5,600). In addition, it missed the 44% of the time (26.66% is attributed to the rains), the sugar mill capacity reached  56%, a very low indicator, and industrial performance was 10.60.

The listed causes are many: lack of control, lack of coordination and forecasting, rainfall, human activity, especially among those cadres led the process, administrative and technological indiscipline, excessive foreign matter, grinding cane backward and burnt, low combined productivity, lack of on time completion with the necessary means to guarantee the results, indiscipline among the brigades at the beginning and end of the day, poor quality of delivered equipment and parts, late delivery to the centers (up to 37 days overdue), and so on. The list of misfortunes could go on and become endless. A similar picture is repeated in other provinces.

I ask two simple questions: Is this not enough, repeated year after year, to finally understand that the “model” does not work? Why do we have to wait before deciding to discard and replace it with one that has shown itself, despite its imperfections, to be better, more productive and better?

7 June 2013

Weekend News / Fernando Damaso

Without any hint of shame the state-run press reports that an American citizen attending a public presentation by her president at the National Defense University interrupted him and even questioned some of his policies in a rude manner according to several journalists present. The importance of this news for Cubans lies in the fact that this woman, as well as many other people in the United States and other democratic countries, have the right to do this. In our country on the other hand, not only would it be considered a serious action, you could also spend years in jail for it.

In another article it is reported that, in a session at the Ninth Congress of the Union of Cuban Journalists, someone posed the question, “What sort of journalism does Cuban socialism require to make it stronger as it goes through a period of change?” The replies all have a common denominator: to petition the state to act less as a guardian and to request authorization to be more critical, though always “being aware of the challenges that the country faces in the midst of the incessant and worsening harassment by the American government, which has not abandoned its goal of destroying the country’s socialist project…,” blah, blah, blah. Without the least embarrassment these journalists accept state control over what they write and report, and their appeal amounts only to “being allowed to write and report a little more.” It was always my understanding that rights are not something to be begged for, but rather to be demanded.

Another article mentions a “big tweet for Cuba” (a reference to the Five*, who by now, if my math is correct, are four), accompanied by a photo of a “stand in” at the front of the White House. As I indicated at the beginning of my post, how wonderful to be able to do all this freely, without anyone interfering! It is as safe and secure as a picnic. In democratic countries, that is, because if these things happened in ours, they would all be considered “destabilizing actions orchestrated by local mercenaries fulfilling orders from the empire.” That simple.

It is striking that presumably intelligent people would lend themselves to this sordid political game by participating in it as though they were performing a commendable action for which they deserve respect and even applause. I believe the solution to the problems between the governments of Cuba and the United States (and I say governments) must be through dialogue. I do not believe it can be achieved through tortuous paths, but through truth, honesty and frankness, assuming each lives up to its responsibilities.

*Translator’s note: Five Cubans serving prison sentences in the United States for espionage, for whose release the Cuban government has been actively and publicly campaigning. One of the four has been paroled and recently returned to live in Cuba with the permission of the American courts, in exchange for giving up his U.S. citizenship.

3 June 2013

A Real Blockade / Fernando Damaso

To update, in one of its many meanings, means to put in tune with the times. It updates the valued, that which, having demonstrated its effectiveness, should be retained, although infused with new spirit or, what is similar, provided with renewed energy. It wouldn’t occur to anybody to update the obsolete, whose properties have been superseded by development, because updating cost far more than replacement with something new, which is much more efficient.

In the case of the so-called “Cuban upgrade” some inconsistencies occur: first, it’s trying to update the archaic, the failed, which throughout its existence has demonstrated its practical infeasibility, and also this updating is carried out “at the speed of the burial of the rich” — slowly — and plagued with absurd restrictions that reduce its effectiveness for oxygenating the dying national economy, “straitjacketing” it even more, making it hard for it to breathe. This is the stark reality.

None of the measures taken so far — most simple legalizations of what has been being done illegally for years — have represented improvements for the ordinary citizen, much less an economic boom. Moreover, they haven’t even offered stable solutions for many of the main problems, such as food, which is becoming more precarious and more expensive every day. Actually “there has been a lot more heat than light,” notwithstanding the usual triumphalist declarations, which we are so accustomed to.

The fact is that what we need is not an “upgrade” but a “change.” What doesn’t work should be replaced by something that does work, or at least that has proven to be better. If we don’t abandon the “ideological hoax” and the eternal empty slogans, we will never get out of the impasse to which we’ve been brought. We are simply continuing to enmesh ourselves in the unbearable tangle of these fifty-four years, with no present and no future, living in the past, clinging now to some “generic guidelines,” that try to say a lot without actually saying anything.

Change is an urgent need, both economically as well as politically and socially. Without it the way continues to be blocked, and this is a real blockade.

30 May 2013

Sunday Digression / Fernando Damaso

The anniversary of the Cuban Republic passed on May 20, and if something was written or said in the official media it was, once again, to criticize and make a big deal out of it, charging it with every possible evil and a few impossible ones.

In addition to calling it a pseudo-republic, media-created and neocolonial, the highlight was classifying it as not independent because of the existence of the Platt Amendment for more than three decades, until it was abolished in the ’30s through an agreement between the governments of Cuba and the United States.

This ideologically manipulated history is well-known. According to it, Cuba was only truly independent starting in January 1959.

However, the assertion is not completely true: it ignores the “Brezhnev Amendment,” which for more than thirty years as well (until the disappearance of the USSR), held Cuba under the aegis of the Soviet Union, followed by the “Chavez Amendment” which extends to this day.

During the first, Cuba was not independent, as its actions and policy responded, first, to Soviet interests, including an article of submission in the 1976 Constitution [from 1959-1976 the Castro regime governed without any constitution at all]; nor was it independent during the “Chavez Amendment,” as it responded to the interests of “Chavism,” a mixture of populism and anti-Americanism.

In other words, if earlier, according to government propaganda, Cuba was not independent, then after, it has not been either. It’s as simple as that.

26 May 2013

Stride for Stride / Fernando Damaso

Since its installation in power, the Cuban government has always moved stride for stride with the corresponding thick ideological cover. Each year was given a name, which was supposed to serve as an incentive for work during its twelve months. Thus, 1959 was the Year of the Liberation, but it really meant, by the measures taken, rather than the liberation, the violation of all existing rights and freedoms. Then came many others which, above all, were more than just names without concrete results, until they lost interest in the practice and it become routine, and then they started to put the focus on slogans for extensive periods of time.

One of the most interesting was the so-called Battle of Ideas, where everything that is done or undone formed a part of it, from fixing a pothole, repairing a bodega, replacing a bulb in the street, tilling the land, holding a rally, reaping the harvest, etc.

It was so important that he even had his ministry and minister, who seemed drawn from the pages of George Orwell’s novel 1984. I came to constitute a little parallel private government within the existing, complicating everything even more that is already was. continue reading

When he stepped down from the presidency for health reasons, the ministry, the minister and the Battle didn’t last very long, although the formula was not abandoned and reappeared in the Guidelines of the Party and the Revolution.

Since then, everything that is planned, done or undone forms a part of them, now with the addition of its corresponding little number: everyone works in compliance with some guideline, be it number 10, number 83, number 104, or any other up to 313 and, necessarily, it has to be put on the record.

I dream of the time when in my country things are done because they must be done, and the government implements them because it’s their obligation and reason for being, without any ideological cover, let alone strides that usually have always fallen on deaf ears.

22 May 2013

Dualities / Fernando Damaso

Photo Peter Deel

In the Republican Cuba each province had a governor and each municipality a mayor, who governed, in the case of the province with a Council of municipal mayors, and in the municipalities with a city council with councilors. The municipality was the local society organized politically to an extent determined by the necessary relations of vicinity, on a basis of financial capacity to meet the expenses of the government. It had autonomy, with powers to meet the peculiar collective needs of local society. The province was composed of the municipalities within its territory. So it was established in the Constitution of 1940.

From the year 1959, instead of perfecting what already existed, these structures were modified and, in the case of the municipality, which is what interests me, the mayor was replaced by a triumvirate of three commissioners, something also provided in the aforementioned Constitution, but with the number of commissioners in correspondence with the number of inhabitants in each municipality, rather than a fixed number for all.

As the experiment failed, due to the multiplicity of leaders, it was changed to just one, though with limited executive and financial power, and with the measures to be applied having to be approved or ordered by the central government.

In practice, the old town hall of municipal government became a mere administration. Then they experimented with the same dismal results, with the so-called JUCEI (Coordination, Operations and Inspection Boards, which were the municipal and provincial governing bodies). With the emergence of the People’s Power they thought that the problem would be resolved, looking to the experiences gained within the Republic and later, but these lessons were discarded, maintaining the inefficiency, now increased with the increase in bureaucracy.

The truly great problem is that, sitting on top of the existing bodies of government, both national as well as provincial and municipal, is the Party. It is no coincidence that every time there is a meeting of any of them, either the National Assembly or the provincial or municipal ones, the Party Plenary is held first and it establishes the scope and limits of what will be discussed and approve by the assemblies.

In this scheme, in reality the Party has the power, and of course it the Party that governs and the government (the People’s Power), are simply administrators. Herein lies its inability to solve problems, national as well as provincial and municipal. It is a duality similar to the two existing currencies where one, though it do not do so consciously, conspires against each other, because they occupy and act in the same small space.

In the capital this is the big problem, aggravated by the presence of the central government and its agencies and institutions, who influence and pressure the administration, which becomes an executor of the tasks of others, leaving its own tasks uncompleted.

The result is on view for all: broken streets and sidewalks without maintenance,  abandoned landscaping, chaotic garbage collection, terrible services of all kinds, buildings deteriorating and collapsing daily, poor health and other evils that affect citizens.

As long as our provincial and municipal governments do not have real, strong and resourceful leaders, who perform their duties as such, all this will be insoluble.

18 May 2013

Is There a Cuban Model of Wellbeing / Fernando Damaso

Photo: Peter Deel

A careful read of the extensive article, “A look at the Cuban model of wellbeing,” published in the daily Granma on 13 May 2013, raised, for me, some doubts and disagreements.

The cases with which the article begins are people of different ages who, for one personal reason or others, have decided to return to live in Cuba, representing an insignificant percent of the hundreds of thousands who have not, and who prefer to continue developing their life projects in line with other wellbeing models overseas, despite the economic crisis, the violence, unemployment, social isolation, rootlessness, the distance from their lived ones, the exclusion, discrimination, lack of solidarity, etc.

On the basis of these atypical cases, the entire posterior argument is structured, emphasizing the lack of a feeling of exclusion, the social spaces, social solidarity and the collective creativity and intelligence.

To suggest that there is no feeling of exclusion because everyone in the neighborhood knows everyone else, is an incredibly trivial argument, as is defending the bad custom of sticking your nose in other people’s lives, which is the result of the widespread surveillance among neighbors, leading to envy, gossip and the existence of mandatory collective activities which, far from avoiding exclusion, directly threaten the individuality of citizens, which should be respected. continue reading

In reality, seeing the same faces every day if pretty boring. The number of Cubans who gather in a park or sit around a table playing dominoes in a yard or even on a sidewalk is not an achievement, quite the contrary: it shows the lack of social spaces where one can visit in a pleasant and civilized way, the lack of recreation societies, clubs, fraternities, schools, etc. Perhaps these Cubans, if they had the financial resources, would prefer national or international tourism, or to go fishing in their boats, to meet with their friends in a cafe or restaurant, etc.

To argue that raising the standard of living causes isolation is to ignore the development of precisely the new information technologies that allow one to connect to the entire world (which is not the case of Cuba where Internet is banned) and to expand relationships beyond the family, neighbors, the neighborhood, municipality, the province and even the country. More than knowing one’s next door neighbor and knowing all about him, which constitutes an invasion of his privacy and has the stink of too much politics, how one can know many different people with distinct models of wellbeing and exchange opinions and experiences and even compare them.

It is a mistake to confuse socializing with overcrowding. In our neighborhoods, because of the housing shortage and the poor state of most existing housing, several generations of the same family, and sometimes several families, occupy the same space previously occupied by a single family, undermining the personal life of their different members, a situation that is repeated with the next door neighbors and so on continuously.

The well-known “hot beds” — which is the same bed shared in turn by different people — of Central Havana, are not examples of socialization, but of extreme poverty.

The same thing happens with the crowds at bus stops, waiting for the bus that never comes, and the lines for bread and other products. Contributing their grains of sand to this “socialization” are the low wages, the meager pensions and the widespread inefficiency.

To look for this “socialization” in organized societies where citizens have economic independence is somewhat difficult, because they do not depend on each other, much less on their neighbors. They each live their life and make these individual lives form the life of the community.

Even more difficult is trying to find it in airports, subways and concrete blocks. I’m almost convinced that many of the people forced the shelters and hostels in Havana, would like not having to be face to face with their relatives and neighbors every second of the day and night, and would appreciate a few moments of solitude and tranquility.

The “us” that they are proposing to recover is not a sound proposal and has already been used too much in this country as an excuse to have our compatriots faced with the mistakes and deficiencies to set aside the brave “I” both for good and bad.

Whether in the sharing of the bottle, or transport, or the collective use of a private telephone, or in handing down school uniforms, or in shared snacks or shared medicine, it is not solidarity that is demonstrated, but only insufficiencies and shortages, unresolved for over fifty years of failed social experiments.

To suggest, generically, that in Cuba we can talk and have multiple social exchanges and we can afford a the luxury of a nice chat with many people, because of our high culture and education, is more a joke than a serious argument. Here, when talking or chatting citizens are careful who their partners are and must measure their words, for fear that it may cause them personal problems. Wielding the double standard (I think one thing and I say another: the official line) makes  conversations and honest chats difficult.

To strengthen the Cuban model of wellbeing, they propose not to have more but to be more, not to create more wealth, but more humanity, and to live well rather than better. In addition to rejecting the just natural desire of every human being to prosper, they suggest something a little ethereal and confusing for the ordinary Cuban, because they say absolutely nothing, seems more like the slogans of those who also say absolutely nothing.

In addition, they propose to promote social solidarity and strengthen community spaces. Again, more slogans.

If they actually want to achieve the wellbeing we do not have, do not waste any more time trying to present our difficulties, weaknesses, misfortunes and shortcomings as the original components of wellbeing. They are actually the “anti-well-being” components of the Cuban model. Wellbeing is only achieved by working and creating wealth, for which, in our case, profound economic, political and social changes are essential. There is no Cuban model of wellbeing, simply because the other model, the political, economic and social, the so-called socialist model, is a failure and has been incapable of achieving it.

14 May 2013

A Chameleon Word / Fernando Damaso

Archive photo

There is a word in the Spanish language, which is used in different ways by the Cuban authorities, according to their interests: this is diversity.

In international relations it is widely used by the top leaders and their representatives, who demand respect for it. It’s logical. When the majority of countries have democratic governments, diversity is represented by those who do now. In this situation, the presence of these, Cuba among them, is only possible if it is accepted and respected. This happens in the United Nations (UN), the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), and so on.

For individual countries, diversity works in two different ways. If in those countries that have democratic governments, which do not share the Cuban political-ideological spectrum, the defense of diversity support parties, movements and opposition groups. If governments are authoritarian and populist, and respond to the interests of the Cuban authorities, then diversity is attacked, accusing its representatives of being bourgeois, stateless, fascists, mercenaries, lackeys, allies of the empire, and so on. continue reading

However, extreme deformation is produced in the national situation, where the word diversity becomes a true chameleon, constantly changing color according to conveniences. In political matters it is totally excluded, supporting this exclusion with the concept of a single ideology for more than fifty years, accusing those who do not share it of all the known expletives and even some created for this purpose (worms, annexationists, traitors, etc.), meanwhile using questions of gender, race and sex, with the objective of attracting these social clusters into the government fold, through pro-government organizations and institutions created and funded for this purpose.

This is not the only chameleon word used by the Cuban authorities. There are many others. Insult serves as a simple example.

Until so many of these words fail to shed the thick ideological veneer, with which they have been covered for their circumstantial use, and resume their unique and real significance, the speeches and official statements that use them continue to enjoy little credibility.

11 May 2013

Questionable Congratulations / Fernando Damaso

Photo: Peter Deel

Although the United Nations stopped being a credible institution many years ago, at times it still issues announcements which can leave us astonished. This is what happened when a letter from the United Nations Director General for Food and Agriculture (FAO) was published yesterday in the state-run press. In it the Director General congratulates the former president of Cuba and all the Cuban people for having fulfilled the goal of reducing the number of malnourished people by half before the year 2015.

First of all, diplomatic protocol dictates that such a letter be addressed to the current president and not the former president — no matter what personal sympathies this important official might like to express — given that this is, supposedly, an official UN communiqué. Secondly and most importantly, where is the FAO getting its figures for such reports? Are they perhaps supplied by each government to the representative in that particular country?

It is hard to understand how someone can responsibly claim that a country with an inefficient agricultural sector — one incapable of producing the most basic staples for its population, or at retail prices affordable to most of its citizens — has reduced the number of malnourished people by half. Does this half perhaps refer to all the various types of civil servants and those who belong to the huge government bureaucracy? Is it average citizens who make up the other half?

We Cubans know all too well how serious malnutrition is. We must struggle day to day to find food; it is a juggling act just to survive. Has the FAO’s representative in Cuba ever looked into what the situation really is? Judging by appearances, it would seem that he moves in the highest circles of power — sometimes mistaking himself for one of its officials — if we take into account his public statements, which often appear in the  state-run press. Perhaps they stem from absent-mindedness on the part of the Director General, who resides in Rome.

We trust that statistics from the other participating countries have been gathered in a more serious way and are, therefore, more reliable. At least this would not lead to the macabre irony of telling someone who is malnourished that this is not the case because the FAO has officially declared it to be so. One final question: Of all the countries in the world, is it only the sixteen mentioned in the letter (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Chile, Cuba, Fiji, Georgia, Ghana, Guyana, Nicaragua, Peru, Samoa, São Tomé and Príncipe, Thailand, Uruguay, Venezuela and Vietnam) which have reduced malnutrition by half?

7 May 2013

Reform That Cannot Be Postponed / Fernando Damaso

Photo: Rebeca

In the 1950s one of the principal objectives of the fight against the dictatorship was the full restoration of the constitution of 1940, some of whose articles had never been fulfilled. Once the new regime was in power, however, it ignored this constitution and the country began to ruled according to the so-called Fundamental Law, which legalized a priori any action carried out by authorities based on the principle that “the revolution was the source of power.”

It was not until 1976 that a new constitution was drafted, one with a new socialist character, modeled largely on the USSR’s Stalinist-era constitution, which by then had already itself been revised. It was drafted by a commission created expressly for this purpose rather than by a constituent assembly, which would have included representatives from the country’s entire political spectrum. Upon completion it was submitted to a national referendum (whose participation was more formal than real) and was approved by referendum with few significant changes, the way things always get approved in Cuba.

This constitution — amended and ratified in 1992 and 2002 — is the one now in force, although it remains unfamiliar to the majority of the population and even to the authorities, who take it out only to highlight a few of its articles when they find it politically convenient, ignoring some and violating others. For most citizens the constitution is really just one more document without any practical application for solving their day-to-day problems and, therefore, useless.

In addition to other absurdities, archaic articles and inconsistencies, this constitution decrees one-party rule, the exclusivity of state organizations as the only legal avenues for expression, and the irrevocability of socialism. It also enshrines the idea that none of the freedoms for citizens recognized in its text can be exercised to oppose anything stipulated in the document or in its laws, or in opposition to the existence or aims of the socialist state, or against the decision of the Cuban people to build socialism and communism. Once again everything is ideologically generalized, ignoring the fact that the so-called “Cuban people” are not made up only of sympathizers of the regime, but also of many thousands who are not, and who have and hold, as Cubans with equal rights, other political, economic and social viewpoints.

If we hope to have dialogue and peaceful means of resolving our problems, it is necessary to have constitutional and political reform which permits the decriminalization of the opposition and expansion of civil liberties. This must not be seen as something contrary to economic reform or as an objective to be achieved after such reform. It is rather something that cannot be postponed, a necessity brought about by the appearance of new constituencies that are not being legitimately represented by current state institutions.

4 May 2013

Illicit Appropriation / Fernando Damaso

“Civil Society Forum on Human Rights in Cuba.” From Cuba’s Communist Party daily, Granma.

A few days ago the government organized a Online Discussion Forum for a generic Cuban civil society, about human rights in the country, with an eye on the upcoming report from the United Nations Human Rights Council: the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

As expected, there was representation only of women, intellectuals, religious and Cuban artists who support the regime, and from pro-government organizations and government institutions such as the National Union of Jurists of Cuba, the Federation of Cuban Women, the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba, the Council of Churches, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, the Cuban Movement for Peace, the José Martí Cultural Society, the Council of Scientific Societies Health Solidarity Organization the Peoples of Asia, Africa and Latin America, among others.

It was all one voice (the choir syndrome), as if they had rehearsed repeatedly the same arguments already worn out on the marvelous Cuban political system, the democracy of our socialism, the focus on gender, racial equality, and the respect for sexual diversity, the blockade, terrorism, etc. It wasn’t worth spending a single dime on the carefully planned event, with totally known figures, lacking any originality and not bringing anything new.

I’ll touch on another aspect that stands out: the appropriation of certain terms which were previously considered taboo by the authorities and which had been dismissed from the official vocabulary, such as democracy, human rights, diversity, civil society, etc.; instead they used socialist democracy or our democracy, socialist rights, unity, dictatorship of the proletariat, and so on.

It seems that, with the passage of time and the accumulation of failures, both domestic and international, the latter lost credibility and validity, and have had to dip into what was once considered taboo, albeit properly recycled ideologically. Thus we see that by using the term democracy, the authorities say ours is the most perfect and best there is on the planet; the only human rights defensible are those officially accepted; diversity refers only to gender, race and sex, excluding the political; and civil society consists only of those who share the system’s ideology.

The attachment to the politically archaic, outdated and outmoded is so entrenched, that to leave it behind seems an impossible task for the authorities, despite the updates, experiments and other adjustments, designed for their survival.

Meanwhile Cubans, whatever they think, are not part of the terms in use, and this trying to monopolize them by the government, without understanding, accepting and respecting diversity as an indispensable component of the unit, will continue to block the paths for the solution our national crisis.

30 April 2013