Driving in Reverse / Miriam Celaya

Image from the Internet

(Originally published in Cubanet the April 11, 2014 , titled ” Raul Castro Goes in Reverse”)

Clearly, the new Foreign Investment Law “approved” by the usual parliamentary unanimity last March 29, 2014, has been the talk of the town on the topic of “Cuba”, for the Island’s official as well as for the independent and foreign press.

With the relaxation of the existing law–enacted in 1995–the new regulation is aiming to throw the ball to the opposite field: if Cuban residents of the US cannot invest in Cuba currently, it would no longer be because the regime bans it, but because of the shackles imposed by the embargo, a trick of the elderly olive green crocodile that continues with its wiles and snares despite the collapse of the system.

Amid the expectations of the government’s and of aspiring investors, there stretches a wide tuning fork of the ever-excluded: the common Cubans, or the “walking Cubans” as we say, whose opinions are not reflected in the media, magnifying their exclusion.

This time, however, the cancellation of the innate rights of Cubans is causing social unrest to multiply, in a scenario in which there are accelerated shortages in the commercial networks and persistent and increasing higher prices and a higher cost of living.

Rejection of the Investment Law

Shortages, as well as inflation, indexation and bans for certain items of the private trade, have caused many family businesses to close since January 2014 due to the uncertainty surrounding the heralded–and never properly explained–monetary unification.

In addition to the lack of positive expectations, these are the factors that thin out the social environment and lead to generally unfavorable reviews of the new law and its impact within Cuba.

An informal survey I conducted in recent days in Central Havana after the March 29th extraordinary session of parliament shows rejection of the new Law on Foreign Investment, almost as unanimous as the “approval” that occurred in the plenary: of a total of 50 individuals polled, 49 were critical of the law and only one was indifferent.

In fact, the issue has been present with relative frequency in many cliques not directly surveyed–uncommon in a population usually apathetic about laws–in which the dominant tendency was to criticize various aspects of the law.

The main reasons for the people’s discontent are summarized in several main points: the new law excludes, arbitrarily and despotically, Cuban nationals, which implies that the lack of opportunities for the Island’s Cubans is being maintained.

Foreign investors will not only have great advantages and tax considerations which have never been granted to the self-employed, tariff concessions with respect to imports (which is just what traders in imported items asked for and was not granted); the State will remain the employer of those who will labor in foreign-funded enterprises, implying consequent hiring based on Party loyalty–be it real or fake, and taxed wages; widening social gaps between sectors with higher levels of access to consumption and the more disadvantaged sectors (the latter constantly growing).

At the same time, many Cubans question the vagaries of government policy which, without any embarrassment, favors the capital of the expats-–the former “siquitrillados*, the bourgeoisie, gypsies, worms, traitors, scum, etc.”–over those who stayed behind in Cuba.

The logical conclusion, even for those who stayed relatively associated with the revolutionary process, or at least those who have not openly opposed the regime, is that leaving the country would have been a more sensible and timely option to have any chance of investing in the current situation. There are those who perceive this law as the regime’s betrayal to the “loyalty” of those who chose to stay, usually Cubans of lesser means.

Another topic that challenges the already diminished credibility of the government is the very fact of appealing to foreign capital as the saving grace of the system, when, the process of nationalization of 1959, it was deemed as one of the “fairer measures” and of greater significance undertaken, to “place in the hands of the people” what the filthy bourgeois capital had swiped from them.

Cubans wonder what sense it made to expel foreign capital and 55 years later to plead for its return. It’s like going backwards, but over a more unstable and damaged road. Wouldn’t we have saved ourselves over a half a century of material shortages and spiritual deprivation if we had kept companies that were already established in our country? How many benefits did we give up since the State, that unproductive, inefficient and lousy administrator, appropriated them?

What revolution are you taking about?

At any rate, the majority has a clear conscience that the revolution and its displays of social justice and equality are behind us, in some corner of the twisted road. “Do you think this new law will save the revolution?”

I provocatively ask an old man who sells newspapers in my neighborhood. “Girl! Which revolution are you referring to, the one that made Batista flee or the one that is making all Cubans escape? The 1959 revolution was over the moment ’this one’ handed over the country to the Russians, now the only thing the brother wants is to give it back to the Americans and to keep himself a nice slice.”

I probably never before heard such an accurate synthesis of what the history of the Revolution means today to many a Cuban.

*Translator’s note: Those who lost investment and personal property when companies were nationalized in 1959 and early 1960’s. From one of Fidel’s speeches, “we broke their wish bone and we will continue to break their wish bone”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

11 April 2014

The Voices of Cubans? / Miriam Celaya

Arrogance is a personality trait impossible to hide for those who suffer from it. In fact, it becomes more obvious when an arrogant individual tries to cover his proverbial petulance under a cloak of feigned humility. The worst of such a subject, however, is his histrionic ability that allows him to deceive considerable groups of people, particularly those who desperately need someone to speak “for them” or those who, quite the opposite, enjoy the blessing of authority.

In the case of Cuba, where freedom of speech, of the press, of information and of association are among the major shortages of this society, it is not difficult that, from time to time, some savior may appear self-proclaiming to be “the spokesperson for Cubans” which–it’s obvious–betrays immeasurable insolence, not only because it lacks the allocation of powers, but because it previously assumes an often repeated lie that, for some chumps, has become the truth: Cubans have no voice. Allow me, Mr. Arrogant and his troupe, to correct your mistake: Cuba’s Cubans do have a voice, what they lack is the means to be heard, not to mention the great number of deaf people in the world.

But, of course, a shining hero will always appear–usually with credentials and even with a pedigree–who, from his infinite wisdom, will quickly delve into the deeper intricacies of the Cuban reality and will be the only one capable to interpret it objectively because he, balanced and fair, “is not at the end of the spectrum”. Interestingly, these specimens proliferate virulently among accredited foreign journalists on the Island.

Since I don’t wish to be absolute, I suppose that there are those who are humble and even respectful of Cubans and of our reality, only I have never had the privilege of meeting them. It may be my bad luck, but, that said, to practice journalism in Cuba armed with credentials of a major media outlet and with the relative safety that your work will be published and–very important–duly financially rewarded, seems to have a hallucinogenic effect on some of them.

Such is the case of quasi-Cubanologist Fernando Ravsberg, to whom I will refer as “R” as an abbreviation, a journalist recently fallen from grace with his (ex) employer, the BBC, who has written a plaintive post following his clash with the powerful medium and, oh, surprise! after many years of working as a correspondent in Cuba and having collected his earnings has found that “he does not share their editorial judgment” as stated in his personal blog, Cartas Desde Cuba. R, inexplicably, took longer to find out the editorial standards of the BBC than to get acquainted with the intimacies of such a controversial society as that of Cuba. Continue reading

Potatoes, Food and Condoms: The Shortages Diversify

Image taken from the Internet

Chronic shortages in Cuba are extending their tentacles with renewed vigor. The cycles of absence of numerous products are ever more frequent, even in the markets that trade “in hard currency.” Lately toilet paper has disappeared (for the umpteenth time in recent months), and similarly there have been short “gap” periods in which there have been no toothbrushes, toothpaste, wheat flour, powdered milk, soaps and detergents, sanitary napkins, etc. Nothing seems to be safe from the black hole that is Castro’s socialism, in which life is reduced to “not-dying,” while running a perennial pilgrimage after those articles which, anywhere in the civilized world, are a part of the most common reality.

With regards to food, it’s better not to talk about it. It’s enough to see the Dantesque scenes offered to us by the lines that form at dawn whenever someone announces that this or that farmers market “is going to have potatoes.” The police in Central Havana are practically on a war footing attending to the brawls that occur in the crowds who aspire to buy the longed-for tuber.

Now it turns out that the shortages have reached condoms, those attachments needed for the safe practice of what some call “the national sport.” Things have reached such an extreme that it has come to the point where drugstores and pharmacies have mobilized staff to change the expiration dates that appear on this product–already expired–to “update” it and be able to sell it. There is testimony that in some of Cuba’s interior provinces this task has been assigned to recruits doing their military service: a strategy of total combat in the face of the alarms set off by this small and humble latex object. According to the authorities, this is being done “because the dates on the containers were wrong.”

Consumers, however, are wary. In a country where corruption and deceit are part of the reality, no one feels safe. Some paranoiacs go to the extreme of suspecting it’s part of an official conspiracy to promote births in Cuba… What it really does is lead to an increase in abortions.

At the moment, a friend tells me, half-amused half-worried, that if in the 90s she had buy condoms to use as balloons at her son’s birthday party–today a young man of twenty-something– now she will have to buy balloons to practice safe sex.

31 March 2014

I Don’t Feel Alluded To / Miriam Celaya

Photos taken from the Internet

The Cuban media, experts at manipulating jingoistic sentiments and fabricating nationalist trash, is using the anti-Cuba signs wielded by demonstrators against Nicolas Maduras’ government to manage at will national public opinion in the interior of the island. The task is simple, given the great disinformation of the natives here and the impossibility of accessing sources other than those offered by the Castro press monopoly. As a consequence, the most ignorant or naive, not to mention the ever-present useful idiots, walk around talking about how “ungrateful” the Venezuelans are, with the number of doctors and aid that “Cuba” has given them… As if it weren’t about a simple transaction of renting out slaves between masters, already generously paid for with petrodollars which are, in short, a treasure that belongs to the Venezuelans and not to the governing regime.

However, the most surprising thing is that these signs, along with the public burnings of Cuban flags, have been another touch that triggers outrage, not among the poor disinformed within Cuba, but among the Cubans of the diaspora, some of whom are speaking on behalf of “all” those born on this island, to attack the protesters who are every day risking their lives and liberty publicly and bravely protesting in the streets of several cities in their country.

I certainly understand the reasoning of susceptible Cubans: they feel alluded to when “Cuba” is insulted, and it’s no less true that directing the outrage against “Cubans” and not against the government would be, at least, erratic. Personally, however, I understand that it is not the intention of the opponents to Maduro and his cronies to insult Cuba, but to direct their rejection to the Castro’s regime, the outrageous interference of Cuban agents in Venezuelan intelligence and the army, the parasitism on the Venezuelan economy, the Castro control over national policy.

That’s why I do not feel alluded to in these acts. In fact, Cuba is for me something beyond the textile symbol of a flag. Venezuelan protesters are doing much more for their country than many Cubans, who today are offended by them, are willing to do for theirs. Believe me, my compatriots, with all due respect for their ideas, which as far as I’m concerned they can burn all Cuban flags they want, if this is the price to lift their own spirits and gain freedom. The day on which they fully regain their rights, and Cubans and Venezuelans sit down to talk together, I am sure that we will understand each other on the best terms. Until then, I offer them my deep admiration and respect.

24 March 2014

Jurassic Cuba / Miriam Celaya

Mass demonstrations in Venezuela. Image taken from Internet

The news agencies don’t have a moment’s rest these days: a satrap in Ukraine has been overthrown through demonstrations and street protests amid the harsh winter, people stand on long lines to see with their own eyes the pomp and pageantry in which the ex-ruler, an ally of Russia, lived.

In Venezuela, student demonstrations continue, supported by opposition leaders finally came together to confront the Maduro government. In Ecuador, the opposition has just delivered a commendable blow to the government authorities by winning an unquestionable majority vote during local elections this Sunday February 23rd in important places like Quito and Guayaquil, putting the brakes on the rampant President of the “citizens’ revolution.”

The world is moving at breakneck speed, changing scenarios and uncovering new players, while we in Cuba remain in the political Jurassic era, with a government of dinosaurs perpetuated in power. Continue reading

My Friend, La Peregrina / Miriam Celaya

Tula

The recent declaration of the birthplace of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Camaguey, 1814-1873) as a National Monument on the 500th anniversary of the city’s founding, originally named Villa de Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe, (today, Camagüey) awakens in me the evocation of a special woman who has always resonated in my spirit.

Tula is that great poet who once chose the pseudonym La Peregrina to publish her poems, never imagining that over 150 years later, this obscure writer would borrow her familiar name to use as the distinctive signature of my own work. Because Tula Avellaneda was my first pseudonym as citizen journalist, a personal way to hide my identity behind the name of a Cuban for whom I have great affection, admiration and respect, as if she were a close friend. The strength of her dynamism was a kind of symbolic shield in the process of exorcism against the demons of fear. Tula is, in short, the only woman for whom I secretly keep a friendly complicity not devoid of a trace of envy.

Because, you know what? I’ve always preferred the Tulas over the Marianas. The nineteenth century was rich in extraordinary Cuban women. Most of them, however, went down in history for their relationship with the wars of independence, and in particular for their link — either maternal or marital- – to men who were the protagonists of these military contests. A few were warriors themselves, so they transcended as patriots for a nation that, unfortunately, has always rendered greater worship to violence than to poetry, love, and literature. Continue reading

Happy 2014. And Sin EVAsion Turns Six / Miriam Celaya

Although several days late, I take advantage of a brief opportunity to connect to wish all readers a happy New Year and to wish them every success in 2014. As a special note, this blog is turning six years old around these days, so I intend to renew it in the coming weeks. I have been a bit away from this website due to other work commitments.

I was very busy during 2013 but greatly satisfied, including seeing the book Cuba in Focus published, which was co-edited by my colleagues Ted Henken and Dimas Castellanos and has come out in its English version. We aim to have it published also in Spanish, for better circulation in Cuba.

At any rate, we will continue move forward with our work, hopes and optimism.  I wouldn’t know how to face life in any other way. I will return soon, eager with new passing pursuits. Thanks and a big hug.

Translated by Norma Whiting

3 January 2014

The Continuity of Raul Castro / Miriam Celaya

fidel_raul_castro_JUNTOS-300x195HAVANA, Cuba , December, www.cubanet.org – After more than seven years since Castro I’s famous “Proclamation”, which marked his departure from the management of the government, Castro II’s performance has failed to find a path capable of leading to a happy port to end the cruise of a shipwrecked revolution.

A look at the socio-economic and political Cuban landscape lets us discern a confusing scenario in which no significant economic progress is taking place that allows for overcoming the permanent crisis, while the social sphere continues its decline, reducing the performance and quality of services, particularly in the areas of health and education, while, politically, the totalitarianism of the military elite continues. New regulations are being established that will attempt a “more flexible” system in order to wash the regime’s face and offer a gentler image outward, at the same time as repressive methods are increasing and extending inward, against dissident sectors and the general population.

The failure of the system has been sufficiently demonstrated after 55 years of dictatorship. However, the situation does not seem to point to its finale — in the face of the erratic government policies, the absence of independent institutions capable of influencing the most relevant changes and the lack of freedom of the press and information, among other factors — the reality provides an inaccurate picture in which the urgent need for radical change and the uncertainty about the future coexist simultaneously.

generales-1It is known that social transformations take place independent of the will of governments. However, these can slow or accelerate said processes. In Cuba, the tower of power has convincingly demonstrated its willingness to defer, as much as possible, a transition that would end up snatching its political power, so it is betting on a different type of strategy that will allow for its continuity beyond the changes that the system may undergo. A difficult challenge, but perhaps not so unlikely if -given the weakness of domestic civil society to prevent it- the international scenario feels complacent towards the regime or deems it propitious.

Post Totalitarianism

Many analysts agree in pointing out the unequivocal symptoms of the breakdown of the Cuban socioeconomic system as it existed under Fidelismo. Others, more optimistic, even claim that we are in a stage of post-totalitarianism. Right or not, the fact is that the Cuban reality is not the same as it was five years ago, and there is the impression that we are witnessing the end of a long period that will give way to a new era. For better or worse, Cuba is changing, but the relationship between the regime and society remain despotic and power at the top remains intact. What’s more, the historical gerontocracy seems to have found a way to perpetuate itself as a class by having mutated on itself, while avoiding a social mutation. Thus, two simultaneous and parallel systems are currently presiding in Cuba, wherein the rules of market economies, which benefits only the elite, coexists with a “socialist” distribution, which endangers the rest of Cubans. Such is the “transition” conceived by the government.

generales-2-300x237Now then, in its linguistic meaning, transition is the change from one mode or state to another one which is qualitatively different. In politics, it is the equivalent to the process of transformation from one system into another, and it has been widely used in the definition of a transition towards democracy after dictatorial governments or systems, independent of its duration and its varying repressive signs. Therefore, in the case of Cuba, it would mean a transition towards democracy, whose fruit would be the rule of law, with an inclusive constitution, not governed by political parties of ideologies of any kind, with separate powers and respect for social and individual rights, inasmuch as public power would be subordinate to a set of laws.

Autocracy in Perpetuity

Assuming this definition, it is obvious that the changes implemented based on the roadmap (“The Guidelines) born of the VI Congress of the PCC, don’t point towards a transition, but seek to legitimize the perpetuity of the autocracy. This is really an official strategy for sui generis continuity, where changes regulated by the government do not seek to preserve the system (so-called “socialist”) itself, but the political power and privileges of an elite class.

The success of this strategy would depend on the behavior of several factors, among which stand out, on the one hand, the growth and strengthening of the opposition and of independent civil society groups to the point of representing an alternative to power, and, on the other hand, the policies of democratic nations in their relation with the dictatorship or with the opposition. At present, the wear and tear of the regime and its lack of credibility are undermining its profile, both inside and outside Cuba, while the slow consolidation of the opposition and its related sectors does not indicate that foreign or domestic support will become more effective. This is equivalent to a relative stagnation in the overall situation, reflecting a precarious internal balance consisting in increases in social discontent, the growth of the opposition and its activities, and an increase of repression in varying degrees, from coercion to beatings, arrests and imprisonments.

In a general sense, and with Raul-style power nearing the end of its fifth year, the advances promised by the government have not taken place. Instead, Cubans feel that the grip of the general crisis of the system has worsened, while the government continues to score new failures in its main objectives: stopping and eradicating corruption, creating a strong inflow of hard currency and pushing forward the domestic economy, which not only makes an negotiated transition impossible to attain, but it also seriously undermines the aspirations for the continuity of the dictatorship.

Translated by Norma Whiting

From Cubanet, 17 December 2013

North Americans Eye Opener in Havana / Miriam Celaya

norteamericanos-dusfrutan-bandera-cubana-al-fondoHAVANA, Cuba, December, www.cubanet.org – During the days when the cruise ship Semester at Sea was anchored on Cuban territory, over 600 visitors, including students and teachers -mostly Americans– carried out a tight schedule of “meetings” with Cuban university students and toured “sites of historical and cultural interest”.

The December 11th edition of Granma published some of the opinions of the young northerners during “a brief meeting with reporters”: “I had never been so well received by the population as we were here,” commented a student from the University of Nebraska, while another one from the University of Virginia said that “Cubans are very welcoming”.
CUBA- UNIVERSITARIOS NORTEAMERICANOS DEL CRUCERO  SEMESTRE AT SEA VISITAN LA UNIVERSIDAD DE LA HABANABut according to some in Havana who tried to contact the visitors, there was a strong undercover operation, with agents dressed as fruit vendors, pedicab drivers and even “pompously attired mulatto women” -those who dress in costumes around Old Havana to entertain tourists- monitored the area the whole time the cruise ship was anchored at port.

Other undercover individuals were posing simply as regular Cubans. However, Cubans’ sense of smell was not fooled when it came to identifying members of the pack of hounds.

Cubans who were interviewed by the visitors in each of the official program activities were selected among the most loyal communist militants, while Castro journalists covered the visit with their usual triumphalism, as if this were about another one of Castro’s achievement.
Norteamericanos-escalerilla-cruceroBut despite the careful planning of the visit’s programming by the Cuban authorities in the interests of the government’s political promotional agenda, and despite the students’ lack of contact with the population or with the diverse independent civil society, a group of them, despite controls of the political police, attended songwriter Boris Larramendi’s concert offered at the home of Antonio Rodiles (Estado de Sats), where they held a live dialogue with those in attendance, according to testimony of blogger Walfrido López, who was later detained at a police station after being violently arrested along with Rodiles and other activists and dissidents.

These students heard first-hand testimonials from those who are vying for a new Cuba, and they learned of repression and terror. They were also witnesses of the repudiation rally organized outside the home of Rodiles, in which the authorities had no qualms about using elementary school children, high school teens, and musicians who are eager to keep their perks and travel privileges, as in the case of Arnaldo y su Talisman. Arnaldo may need a huge talisman someday to explain his criminal complicity with those who repress other Cubans.
norteamericanos-morro-al-fondoThere may probably be other trips and exchanges with these and other American students. Many of them reported the lack of information they have about the Cuban reality and about the true nature of the dictatorship. Hopefully these visits, laden with messages to the free world will recur. Totalitarian regimes don’t have antidotes against openness, and the satrapy will definitely not be able to keep hidden any longer the slavery and repression it has imposed upon Cubans for 55 years.

Miriam Celaya.

Translated by Norma Whiting

From Cubanet, 15 December 2013

Mandela: My Belated Personal Tribute / Miriam Celaya

Photograph from the Internet: No Comment.

Time goes on and the funeral of the famous first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, still occupies the pages of the press. Almost everyone feels indebted to praise the infinitely glorious Madiba, re-editing, in countless paragraphs, the deceased leader’s life and seeking to enhance his virtues persistently, to the point that we no longer know for sure if Mandela was a human being or a saint on earth. It is praiseworthy to remember with admiration and respect people who have realized valuable deeds, but I don’t personally react well to icons, paradigms or however they are defined.

Well, then, for all good things Mandela did for his people, for his example of relinquishing power when he could have retained it, due to his charm and charisma, his ability to forgive, so necessary and lacking among us, and all the good things he did throughout his long life, but I prefer to remember him as the man he was, an imperfect individual, as all of us human beings are, which puts him in a closer and more credible position in my eyes.

So, in the presence of so many stereotyped speeches and so much politicking brouhaha deployed at the funeral of a deceased who may have wished less fanfare, I decided to honor him in my own way: celebrating his existence because he lived to fulfill such lofty mission as freedom and justice for his people, during the pursuit of which he suffered repression and imprisonment, just as Cubans aspiring to the same ideals for their people are still suffering, as those who have lived in the confinement and injustices of a dictatorship not just for 27 years, but for over half a century.

But I will allow myself a special tribute to Madiba by modestly imitating him in forgiveness and reconciliation: I forgive you, Nelson Mandela, for the friendship with which you paid tribute to the vilest dictator my people has ever had, and for the many instances on which you exalted him and gave him your support. I forgive you for having been wrong in granting privilege to the oppressor instead of the oppressed, for placing your hand –redemptive for your people- on the bloodied shoulders of the one who excludes and reviles mine. I forgive your accolade to the myth that was built on violence, although you were a symbol of peace for humanity. I forgive you for having condemned us though you hardly knew us, forgetting the tribute in blood that my people made in Africa for which you, like a fickle mistress, thanked the satrap, who has never had the dignity to sacrifice himself for us, for you, or for your kind.

I forgive you, then, and I am reconciled with your memory to keep remembering and respecting the best in you. I know many, with vulgar hypocrisy, will demonize me for questioning you, but they won’t hurt me, because my soul is hardened by virtue of having been attacked and criticized before. It is my hope that this time my detractors will be so consistent with your preaching of kindness they seem to admire so much that they will eventually forgive me. May you also forgive this Cuban’s audacity and irreverence, who believes in the virtue of the good works of men, because she has no gods, but I was not able to resist the temptation to also utter what’s mine in the hour of your death.

And if either you or the mourners of the day won’t forgive me, I don’t care. At any rate, it will be further proof that, deep down, you’re not perfect; at least we’ll have that in common. Don’t take offense, in either case, you were a great person, and I will never match any of your many merits. Rest in peace, sincerely.

13 December 2013

The “Forbidden” and the “Mandatory” / Miriam Celaya

Rafters - Picture from the Internet

Rafters – Picture from the Internet

In numerous conversations with Cubans, émigrés as well as those “on the inside” (I share the experience of living every day under this Island’s sui generis [unique] conditions with the latter) surfaces a phrase, coined through several decades, whose credibility rests more on repetition by its own use and abuse in popular speech than on reality itself. “In Cuba, whatever is not forbidden is mandatory”.

I must admit that the former is true enough. If anything abounds in Cuba it’s prohibitions in all its forms: those that truly are contained in laws, decrees, regulations and other provisions of different levels, all aimed at inhibiting individuals and controlling every social or personal activity, what the coercive nature of the system imposes on us, even if not legally sanctioned, (for example, male students can not wear long hair, music of any kind may not be broadcast through radio or TV, people may not gather in certain places, etc.) and those we invent, that is, the self-imposed prohibitions of people who since birth have been subjected to fear, indoctrination, permanent surveillance and to the questionable morality of everyday survival that forces one to live thanks to the illegalities, that is, violating injunctions established by the government beyond common sense. It is natural that transgressions abound most wherever greater number of taboos exist.

Now, the “mandatory” is another matter. It is rather about a total legend that, be it through ignorance or for another number of reasons (irrational at that) it’s a legend that serves many Cubans to unconsciously justify their behavior and to embed themselves in the civic mess that is choking us. The list of “obligations” would be endless, but some of the handiest can be summarized as follows: belonging to organizations that are pure pipe dream, such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Women, Territorial Militia Troops, Cuban Workers Central, Pioneers Organization, High School Student Federation, University Student Federation, etc., all of them with payment of dues and attending different rituals according to the agendas, also supposedly of a “mandatory” nature.

But many Cubans seem to consider it mandatory to vote for the Delegate, attend meetings and accountability meetings, to shout slogans, sing the National Anthem, salute the flag, honor the martyrs of the revolutionary calendar, to sign political commitments, other documents and a very long list.

Actually, there is the assumption that failure to comply with these “obligations” would result in some reprisals, such as the loss of one’s job, our children not being accepted in some study centers, not being eligible for certain child-care or semi-boarding services for children of working mothers, etc.. However, many of us have found from experience that none of the above mentioned is in truth mandatory, but it constitutes the general answer to the fundamental prohibition that weighs over this nation: it is forbidden to be free.

Oh, Cubans! If ever the courage that drives so many to brave the dangers of the sea in an almost suicidal escape, to create a new life away from here, to survive in such precarious conditions inside, and to succeed against all obstacles outside of Cuba, could be turned into overcoming the fear of the regime, how different everything would be! If so much energy could be directed towards changing our own reality, we would make the world of prohibitions disappear in no time, that world that has kept us in chains for half a century, and we would stop feeling compelled to be slaves forever.  It is not mandatory, but it is also not prohibited.

Translated by Norma Whiting

25 November 2013

Cuba in the HRC: Punishment and Penance for Democracy / Miriam Celeya

UN Human Rights Council

The recent election that resulted in Cuba joining the membership of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) for a period of three years has aroused contradictory positions in various opinion sectors, both within and outside the Island. No wonder, since it means the recognition of a totalitarian government that has curtailed all individual and collective freedoms for Cubans for decades, and even today continues to deny rights as essential as those of association, freedom of press, speech and information, just to mention some of the most hard to conceal.

Some optimists, with exaggerated candor, consider that the presence of representatives of the Cuban government – not “of Cuba” — in the HRC could be positive as leverage over the government, since the authorities would be subject to greater scrutiny from the organization, and to fulfill the obligations characteristic of democratic systems, which would lead to an eventual easing or transformation of the human rights situation in Cuba.

Pragmatists, however, are of the opinion that, up to now, belonging to international organizations and commissions that, at least de jure, and with varying degrees of success in advocating the defense of economic, political and social progress for Humanity, has not been an important or sufficient element to promote democratic change in Cuba.

In fact, as the official press release boasts, “Cuba was a founding member of the Council, where it remained until 2012, (…), so we are returning to the forum after a year as a State observer” (Granma, November 13th, 2013, p. 5) without an incidence of any sensible improvement on human rights in Cuba. Additionally, the Cuban government has received recognition in such sensitive areas as health, education and nutrition on more than one occasion, despite the deterioration suffered by the first two items and the chronic failure of the third. Many Cubans interpret so much recognition as a mockery of the plight in which they live and as an affront to decades of resistance, sacrifices and efforts by the essentially peaceful internal dissent.

Of course, the official press is ecstatic. A Granma editorial (Wednesday November 13th, 2013, front page) proclaims Cuba’s election to the HRC as an “earned right” and “a resounding recognition of the work undertaken by our country in this matter”. And, so there be no doubt that the government will persist in applying human rights their own way, using the same excuses as always, that edition’s page 5 editorial reprinted a statement by Anayansi Rodriguez, the regime’s ambassador to the Geneva-based international organizations.

She said that this “is a victory of the Cuban peoples that have learned how to withstand more than five decades the U.S. embargo”, and later warned that “there are no unique democratic systems. Each nation has the right to determine, in a sovereign way, what is the most convenient system for its full realization of human rights”, an ambiguous phrase that Cubans know how to clearly interpret as “the Castrocracy will continue using access to international agencies as another resource to legitimize the oldest dictatorship that the civilized world knows and adulates”.

This is nothing new under the sun, which sometimes seems to show more spots than light, as demonstrated by other obscure members also elected to the HRC on this occasion: Russia, China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Morocco, South Africa, Namibia and Mexico, countries in which, independent of nuances and gradations, violation of human rights is part of everyday reality.

Obviously, for the United Nations and its various forums, the precarious global balance requires certain concessions, even those that hurt democratic values. Thus, for better or for worse, the Cuban dictatorship will have another three years grace to try to destroy this international organization.

It is known that, beyond Cuba’s negligible human or financial support to the UN, the primary mission of Castro diplomacy is to jeopardize the functioning of all the forums created for the promotion of democracy, to thin out discussions, to distort agendas, to create antagonism, to polarize the minds and to make use of the venues as platforms to attack the governments of free nations, particularly the US, though that country – of its own choosing — does not belong to the HRC.

The democracy dreams of Cubans, orphans of rights, will gain little or nothing with this pat on the backs of the Castros. The consolation prize (for chumps) is that they will not win over the HRC or democratic countries with such dubious membership either. To some extent, except for the gaps, we will both suffer punishment and penance.

Translated by Norma Whiting

15 November 2013