A sole proprietor sells peanuts and sweets in Havana streets, but he is far from opening a store and growing his small business. (Luz Escobar)
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 3 October 2015 — Halfway between analysis and opinion, and not having responded clearly to his own initial question, journalist Carlos M. Álvarez recently addressed a controversial issue: the transition in Cuba, or to put it more accurately, as posed by the title of his work: Can a transition in Cuba be discussed?
In principle, we must give credit to Álvarez for his courage: to declare that we are experiencing a transition in Cuba may be total heresy for many, beyond their political positions, or likes or dislikes of the government or of the opposition. In particular, it is taboo for those who have communed with the official power; but also, as he points out, it is something denied by many Cubans who are not at all into politics, by a sector of the domestic opposition and by the most intransigent groups in exile. Continue reading
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 September 2015 — The recent visit to Cuba of the Bishop of Rome, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, brought a flood of masses and homilies in several different settings, where, among others, two words were often heard in the context of the Cuban landscape: forgiveness and reconciliation. They were all the more curious since they were not evoked at the same time as those other words to which they are unavoidably related: offense, confession and repentance.
In this fashion, Francis urged all Cubans, believers or not, to reconciliation in the abstract and forgiveness of no particular offense, an exhortation so cryptic and watered-down that it well could have been uttered anywhere in the world. Who are the offenders and the offended, what do offenses consist of, whose turn is it to forgive and who will be the forgiven were matters that were left to each individual to ponder. The Pope also spoke of “suffering of the poor,” of “respect to differences” and many other similar phrases that can assume conflicting interpretations according to one’s point of view. Continue reading
Carlos III and Árbol Seco (author’s photograph)
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana 18 September 2015 – There is just one day left before the arrival of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Bishop of Rome, and work at the Cuban capital has intensified on the faded facades of buildings flanking the route that the head of the Vatican and his accompanying delegation will travel. A motley profusion of stridently contrasting colors has invaded the city, in an apotheosis of bad taste.
These days, the deployment of supports and scaffolding has been intense around the streets that the sense of humor of people has dubbed “Via Sacra.” As often happens in murky waters, the occasion is also conducive to the illicit sale of paint. Thus, a gallon of water is added to every gallon of paint that is sidetracked for sale, in the watercolor canvas destined to cover the usual filth on the facades. It is an economic law that no opportunity for smuggling should be wasted in a country where the black market is not only the best stocked, but also the most organized and efficient. In addition, the visit will be brief, so Bergoglio will not witness how the layers of bright colors poured out in his honor will fade away under the scorching Cuban sun. Continue reading
A bricklayer works on a wall in Havana, Cuba.Reuters
What Happens the Day After Pope Francis Leaves Cuba?
The paradise many Cubans dream of is not in the infinity of the heavens, but a mere 90 miles across the sea.
The pope is arriving in Cuba, and with him runaway speculation in the media about the impact his visit will have on Cuban society and politics—and particularly the push for greater democracy in the country.
Read the rest of the article in The Atlantic, here.
19 September 2015
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 August 2015 — The digital version of Cuba’s most official newspaper, Granma, has once again published an article harping on the issue of nationalization of businesses and other US properties in Cuba which took place in 1960.
A few weeks before, the same lampoon had made reference to the matter, which, curiously, is one of the items on the agenda currently being negotiated by the governments of both countries.
The insistence on the subject should not be random, though it is inconsistent if we take into consideration that the public event that transpired 55 years ago, in front of a delirious crowd that filled the Estadio del Cerro, when Castro I – along with his younger brother, current negotiator General-President – proclaimed, microphone in hand, possessed by his own soul and by force of populism, the Law that in one swift stroke expropriated some thirty properties belonging to “the Yankee imperialism.” The very same “imperialism” (or could it be another?) that the very same old Cuban government (and no other) is crying out for, without mediating explanation for such a radical reversal. Continue reading
Inauguration of the Washington embassy with officials from Cuba and the US (picture from the Internet)
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 22 July 2015 — The reopening of the Cuban embassy in Washington finally took place amid extravagant fanfare, and, judging by the profuse media coverage, with catchy headlines and photos on the front pages of almost all the newspapers, it seemed that there was nothing more relevant taking place in the world.
The (re)opening of the Cuban embassy was the recipient of movie star treatment in some of the news media: photo galleries with pictures of before and after, instant ones — not as offensive — of the first opening of the building during the Cuban Republican era, a construction worker, proudly posing outside the newly renovated headquarters, showing off his Che Guevara arm tattoo, an indoor plaque to be unveiled at the time of the opening, and the flag hoisted on the mast; just like all flags at embassies around the world … Undoubtedly, the Island’s proverbial vanity was on a high.
A large official delegation traveled from Cuba, at public expense, to attend the merriment that joyfully celebrated the Castros’ capitulation and which – with that skill for euphemisms — the government discourse coined as a “victory of the Revolution.” These included several representatives of the government “civil society” who offered the embarrassing spectacle of rallies of repudiation orchestrated during the last Summit of the Americas in Panama, who now were awarded a trip of encouragement to the Empire of Evil which provides so many goods. Continue reading
John Paul II and Francis (internet photo)
Cubans will continue to leave for places where they believe God has placed his hand beyond the intervention of his Holiness
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 July 2015 — It’s been 17 years since a head of Vatican State visited the Island for the first time. John Paul II arrived in Cuba in 1998, preceded by his well-deserved reputation. He had played an important role in the Polish transition – his native country — where democracy was finally achieved after decades of subordination to Soviet communism.
Such credentials of the Pilgrim Pope aroused expectations among many Cubans still being hit by the deepest economic crisis in its history, and also hopeful about the possibility of an eventual transition derived from some “easing” of the rigid centralism of the economy and politics in the Island. They reasonably assumed that after so many shortages and scraping out a living, all that was left was for things to improve. In addition, it was unusual for a pope to honor us with his presence. National vanity reached unprecedented levels, and optimists of the day hoped that Jozef Wojtyla’s appeal would positively influence the goodwill of the Cuban government towards openness.
For even more reverie, the discourse of John Paul II before a square filled with a mixture of the faithful and the dilettante, and facing Che Guevara’s gigantic image, made an overt reference to the need to break the isolation endured by Cubans as a consequence of our political system: “Open Cuba to the world”, he said in his inspired homily to the delirious crowd listening, captivated and hopeful, as if, just by the Pope’s suggestion, the miracle of freedom and democracy for Cuba were to happen by osmosis. Continue reading
(Photo from Internet)
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 June 2015 – There is no doubt that we are witnessing a new “Revolutionary Offensive*” in Cuba. This time, it is not that cumbersome operation that wiped out the small private property and, in 1968, gave the coup de grace to whatever mom and pop businesses, stands or cafes barely making ends meet at the beginning of the early socialist plateau and destroyed the services that the State was never able to meet. The methodology has changed, we can all agree on this, but the purpose is about the same.
Now, when the government takes a conciliatory stance and desperately seeks the arrival of capital that it has so demonized, it tries to retract to a minimum, but without fuss, the glimpses of private initiative. All this, given the danger posed to the olive green autocracy by the coexistence of relatively autonomous sectors within the island with the avalanche of businessmen and foreign tourists that are expected to flood the country as soon as the restrictions imposed by the embargo and the Helms Burton Act begin to disappear.
However, it cannot be said that, with Raul’s offensive against the small private sector, we are either facing a circumstantial situation or that it is about the regime’s improvisation. In fact, the circumstance was the initiation of the “self-employed” initiative that constituted an escape valve for the government, needing to move the domestic economy, and the creation of new jobs that would lighten the load for the State. Continue reading
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 8 June 2015 — In the beginning, there were the cassettes, first the ones we viewed on ancient Betamax equipment, and a bit later on VHS. In those dark years in the 90’s, the illegal dealers, better known as “messengers” would arrive with their backpacks, pedaling their inseparable bikes, from customer to customer. They charged of 5 or 10 Cuban pesos rent per cassette, depending how many movies were on each tape and the quality of the recording.
Video equipment was not readily available among Cubans, so the happy owner of one of these was not only privileged, but he would become the host of friends and nearby neighbors who eluded the harsh reality of the so-called “Special Period,” taking refuge in some colorful Hollywood product or another, usually recorded by the even more restricted group –favored among the favored- who owned a DIRECTV antenna.
Sharing a show or a movie was also a matter of affinity and solidarity at a time when almost all Cubans suffered the brunt of an economic crisis which, in the same way as the system that generated it, seemed to have no end. So some fellow invitees would agree to rotate the expense for renting the cassettes or contribute some snack to improve the get together, such as tea or coffee or another beverage, duly accompanied by roasted chickpeas. Continue reading
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 May 2015 — Yesterday, Tuesday May 11, 2015, the front page of Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), showed a photograph of the Cuban President General amicably shaking the hand of Pope Francis in Vatican City. Quirks of politics, to convince us of the survivability of the Castro regime, represented by another member of the same caste that in the decade of the 70’s and 80’s harassed members of religious orders, reviled priests and marginalized the faithful. Now, just like that, the Castro regime perfumes its stubborn Marxist conviction with myrrh and frankincense, and it is almost hard to believe that this seemingly respectable octogenarian who visits with the Pope is one of those guerrilla leaders of that Revolution that was anticlerical, antireligious and church-phobic even before declaring itself Marxist.
In retrospect, the war against religious faith in Cuba was not just a momentary attack, but a policy of systematic and ongoing state-sanctioned persecution or discrimination against individuals for reasons of their religious beliefs, while, at the same time, Marxism-Leninism, that other fake religion, kept spreading with the aid of the Kremlin’s petro-rubles. Continue reading
President Obama speaking at the Civil Society Forum at the Summit of the Americas in Panama
The Summit of the Americas legitimized our right to exist as civil society and as an alternative to dictatorial power. It was a victory of democracy over the empire of totalitarianism.
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Panama, 13 April 2015 – With smiles, handshakes and the usual “family photo” of all the presidents, the Summit of the Americas ended in Panama. This time the hemispheric event had the distinction of hosting, after a half century of absence, the visit of the prodigal son: the representative of the longest dictatorship of the continent, as well as a varied delegation from the Island’s civil society.
Apart from the numerous irregularities, related to the organization of the event, and the almost obvious complicity of local authorities with the obstacles that tried to sabotage the participation of alternative civil society representatives in the various forums of the summit — including power cuts, credential problems, and the well-known repudiation rallies orchestrated by the delegates of the Castro regime’s “civil society” and its continental acolytes — one could conclude that the balance of the conclave was positive for Cuban democrats. Continue reading
While the government exports thousands of doctors, old diseases are coming back, such as dengue fever, tuberculosis, whooping cough, chikungunya, and cholera, and new exotic diseases are appearing that had never before been seen on the Island.
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 February 2015 – For a few days, Maritza thought that her four-year-old son’s persistent cough was due to a combination of a cold and his chronic allergies. The crisis had started with a fever and a few episodes of hacking cough, and had escalated over the next couple of days, even though he was no longer running a fever. The pediatrician’s diagnosis confirmed Maritza’s suspicions: Alain was suffering from a viral infection, so they would follow the normal treatment in cases like his: they would watch him, give him plenty of liquids, expectorants and antihistamines
But after two weeks, his coughing got so much stronger and frequent that Maritza ended up having to go to Pediatric Hospital at Centro Habana so that her son – already cyanotic and having respiratory spasms Continue reading
Though I’m several days behind, I get to access my blog to publicly thank all friends and the media who remained attentive and concerned for us during the repressive raid of the final days of 2014.
My son, Victor Ariel González, freelance journalist and 14ymedio.com reporter, was arrested around noon on the 30th, as he left his building to come to our home for lunch, just when his father and I came by to pick him up. Thanks to that strange coincidence, he was the only one of dozens of detainees whose whereabouts was known, since we got in the police car with him, which took all three of us to the Guanabacoa police station, where he remained under arrest until December 31st, when he was freed in the afternoon hours while we stayed outside the station.
During the 25 and one-half hours that he was held there, we received dozens of calls from friends inside and outside Cuba: Yoani Sánchez, who was kept informed of the entire situation through social networks; my friends and colleagues at Cubanet, who also reported every detail and the names of the detainees; Elizardo Sánchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights; Laritza Diversent of Cubalex, who kept in touch with us, advising us of the law and whose directions were very significant to put pressure, according to the rights validated by law, for the release of Victor Ariel. Luzbely Escobar and countless colleagues and fellow travelers were in constant contact with us. Continue reading
- To think that the “common Cuban on the street” –not the dissidents or the usual disobedient individuals- would spontaneously make use of the open microphones at “that” Square, to demand rights from the government is naive, a utopia. The idea is beautiful and romantic, but far, far away from reality.
HAVANA, Cuba. – During the final days of 2014 and the first three of 2015, the bells have been ringing for artist Tania Bruguera and the wave of arrests sparked by her announcement of the performance Tatlin’s Whisper # 6, after which she intended to provide a minute of freedom of expression for the common Cuban at the Plaza “de la Revolución” itself.
Authorities responded with their usual violence, detaining several dozen dissidents, opposition activists, journalists, and other members of the independent civil society and tossing them into dungeons. Some of the detainees had not even intended to participate in the event, and were arrested only for the crime of leaving their homes on the “wrong” day.
Comments on the subject have swarmed the digital media, as befits the case of such a recognized and award-winning artist as Bruguera, with a prolific career, though she was almost totally unknown to the potential recipients of her performance. Continue reading
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 December 2014 — After the brief speech by General-President, Raúl Castro, about the release of Alan Gross and of “a Cuban-born citizen” at the service of the CIA, and of other prisoners who received “prison benefits, including the release of individuals the US government was interested in,” a speech which also included the announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, everyday life in the capital continued its course, just as if we were not witnessing a moment of historical significance that puts an end to 50 years of uninterrupted disagreement between our two countries.
With agreements reached after months of negotiations, the regional political landscape changes dramatically, while such a controversial decision should, in principle have a greater effect inside Cuba, since Cuba’s excuses have run out about “the enemy” that besieges us, blockades us, and hampers our social and economic advancement. Continue reading