For an Uncomfortable Journalism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

(Photo: laopcion.com.mx)
(Photo: laopcion.com.mx)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 26 August 2016, Havana — It’s been said that radically opposite ends end up looking alike. That truism has become irrefutable for those of us who are dedicated to independent journalism in Cuba, especially those who practice the basic right of free expression through opinion columns and end up subjected to relentless crossfire, both from the dictatorial power with its powerful monopoly of the press, and from the anti-Castro opposition, and even from “colleagues” of the profession, who are supposedly champions of freedom of expression.

Specifically the press, whose Cuban origins date back to 1790 with the emergence of the newspaper Papel Periódico de la Habana, founded by La Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País*, was one of the most solid pillars of the 1902 Republic, where dozens of newspapers and magazines circulated. In 1922 the first radio station emerged, and by 1930 the number of stations had grown to 61. Television, meanwhile, arrived in Cuba in 1950, and included new informational and news programs.

Somehow, over half a century a twisted and pernicious political system has ended up undermining the social foundations so deeply that perhaps the same amount of time will be needed — if not more — to recover, at least partially, the weak republican civic fabric that was taken from us since the “Revolutionary victory.”

If we add to this the newsreels that existed previously, it can be concluded that Cuba had a strong media tradition that promoted the development of public opinion and political formation of a good part of the population through a range of views of the most diverse trends in different subjects of interest to national life.

With its lights and shadows, journalism during the republic enjoyed a healthy development until Castro I took it over and “nationalized” it to found his private press monopoly and place it at the service of the government’s power, its role today. Nevertheless, its counterpart — independent journalism — emerged in the 90’s, and in recent years, driven by the use of new information technologies and communications, has managed to gain space and even grow under truly precarious and hostile conditions, against repression, harassment, and other adversities.

The history and ups and downs of Cuban independent journalism are too extensive to address in this text, since we would stray from the essential issue, which could be summed up in one cardinal question: are parties and opposition leaders prepared to assimilate the democratic paradigms which the Castro dictatorship is presumably facing? Or, more directly, do they have a clear awareness that freedom of expression is a basic, inescapable element of any society that aspires to be considered as democratic?

Judging from my personal experience and the reactions I’ve received from some leaders and their staunchest followers when I questioned their proposals, attitudes and methods, I fear that not all “democratic fighters” in Cuba and in exile are ready to take on the challenge of a free press. In addition, I would argue that the dangerous virus of “intransigence” has undermined the proto-democratic corpus of Cuba’s independent civil society and — together with the miasma of autocratic government, authoritarianism, and its evil companions — is replicating patterns of the system it iss trying to topple.

For certain “illuminati,” criticism of the opposition it is not only harmful, but practically an act of “treason” – a term very much in vogue in the media — as it “panders to the dictatorship” or “discredits” leaders “who are really doing something.” As the General-President Raul Castro always points out, some opponents consider that there is “a right place and a right time” for criticism. That moment, in his view, has not come, and since they feel personally attacked, they react with insults and reproaches, not with arguments, in an unadulterated Castro style.

A frequent accusation launched against any question or opinion that differs from one of these illustrious champions of democracy is that criticism tends to “divide” the opposition, and unaware individuals might think that it was once united. It is also the position of another obstacle: the opportunists; who, in the absence of their own limelight take the opportunity to pose as practical and as conciliators, paternally scolding the transgressor journalist and brandishing one of the most inaccurate phrases often repeated in the corridors: “at the end of the day, we are all on the same page.”

As if instead of politicians and journalists, positions commonly in tune in fairly healthy Western societies, we were school children who bicker for a treat at summer camp.

However, what is most alarming in this senseless contrapuntal — since a truly democratic leader infused by a truly democratic sense should be more interested in the well-argued criticisms he gets than in the servile adulations always at hand — is that reality is being reflected in the self-censorship on the part of some independent journalists, who often, with greatest dishonesty and hypocrisy, silently approve the criticisms that their boldest colleagues publish, so they utter low and furtive congratulations and keep quiet their own disapproval, for fear of being branded “politically incorrect” or “agents,” this time from the antipodes of the Castro regime.

There is also no shortage of neo-chiefs who get offended when some irreverent journalist, like this writer, refuses to be of service or to become a chronicler of his personal scrapbooks. They can’t imagine how anyone could be so “lacking in solidarity” that she decides to prioritize other topics rather than their heroic campaigns and unparalleled demonstrations of patriotism and bravery.

If, to be exact, the journalist of yore prefers to avoid in his writings such bombastic phrases as “the hyena of Birán,” “the blood-spattered tyranny” or other similar theater affectation to qualify the autocrats of the Palace of the Revolution, he becomes de facto a suspicious subject.

Is any similarity to the anointed of the olive-green dome pure coincidence?

It feels like something trivial, however, it is really worrisome for the health of journalism that tomorrow’s censorship is taking shape in certain niches of the opposition today. If it continues, the end of the Castro dictatorship would only mean a change in the color of the political power’s muzzle over the free expression of citizens, and the beginning of an authoritarianism with a different emblem, but equally restrictive.

Barring our having chosen the exercise of opinion in the press as a profession, let’s have enough sense of ethics and respect for ourselves and for our readers to continue doing that uncomfortable journalism that keeps politicians today and tomorrow under the rigor of public scrutiny, just as they should be in a democratic society.

Personally, I reject sappy and complacent journalism, journalism’s subordination to any leadership, and, particularly I reject impunity. That may not be what is expected of independent journalism by the very controversial “servants of the people”; but it certainly is what good Cubans expect.

*Translator’s note: Sociedades Económicas were established in the Spanish colonies (Havana’s is the only one that still survives to date, since 1793) whose mission was that of promoting local economic development, Members were generally drawn from the local aristocracy, scholars, professionals and skilled artisans. Some of the groups strayed into activities that bordered on the political, and were punished by having their legal licenses revoked.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Best Way to “Become a Man”? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban soldiers carry rocket propelled grenade launchers during a military parade in Havana's Revolution Square April 16, 2011.
Cuban soldiers carry rocket propelled grenade launchers during a military parade in Havana’s Revolution Square April 16, 2011. Reuters

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 August 2016 — Recently, during my brief stay in Miami to participate in an academic meeting on legal issues, I was surprised to hear from a Cuban emigrant – fairly old in age – about his wish that, in a future democratic Cuba, a law of compulsory military service would be maintained. His proposal was based on the assumption that military life imposes discipline and maturity in young people. Virtues – his opinion – which are practically extinct on the island.

Very frequently and with minimal variations, I’ve heard this phrase in different scenarios for Cubans of the most dissimilar political ideas or with no political ideas at all. The common denominator is the age of those who think this way: usually adults over 55 or 60. Continue reading “The Best Way to “Become a Man”? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

A Deplorable Spectacle / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Fidel Castro at the Colmenita Gala event on the occasion of his 90th birthday (photo: Juvenal Balán/Granma)
Fidel Castro at the Colmenita Gala event on the occasion of his 90th birthday (photo: Juvenal Balán/Granma)

It is a crime to manipulate a child’s conscience for the adulation of a dictator.

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 15 August 2016, Havana – This Saturday, August 13, 2016, was the culmination of true torture after months of putting up with the fanfare in the official media on the occasion of the ninetieth birthday of the Specter-in-Chief.

Against any reasonable forecast, the responsibility for the birthday celebration was delegated to the members of the children’s art troupe “La Colmenita,” (The Little Beehive) and was presented to an audience that was beyond unusual: a theater crowded with adults dressed in military accoutrements or in pressed white guayaberas, Cuban dress shirts.

In the front row, flanked by the president of Venezuela on his left and his brother Raúl Castro on his right, the Orate Magnus in the flesh writhed in his seat and turned to whisper something to the Venezuelan catafalque, without paying much attention to the apotheosis of bad taste that was taking place on stage. Undaunted and haughty, as he has always been, he remained indifferent to the adulation, as if the whole deployment of major sucking-up were not exclusively devoted to him and his irreparable 90 years. Continue reading “A Deplorable Spectacle / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

Neither “Humble” Nor “Young” Nor “Majorities”: Simply “Citizens” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Source: diarioexpresso.com.ve
Source: diarioelexpresso.com.ve

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 August 2016 – We are nearing 60 years since that ominous January 1959, and after decades of ideological fraud and demagogic discourse, we might expect that at least the political pillars on which the current aspirations of Cuban society rest would have radically changed. However, this is not the case. Some populist myths have become so deeply rooted in the social imagination that they have become commonplace and even been assumed to be incontrovertible truths.

Some of these principles useful for political messianism, especially in Latin America and Cuba, have been the perceptions of “the humble,” “the youth,” and “the majority.” These, not to mention other subdivisions that also carry political weight – such as those wielded by racial claims (for non-whites or whites), gender (women only), or sexual preference (for LGBT) – in a county where absolutely all of us have been dispossessed, far beyond our individual categorizations. Continue reading “Neither “Humble” Nor “Young” Nor “Majorities”: Simply “Citizens” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

About False Taínos and Alleged “New Trends” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

In the "Taíno" village “Guamá” blowing into a conch shell (photo Martí News)
In the “Taíno” village “Guamá” blowing into a conch shell (photo Martí News)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 June 2016 — I recently read an internet article published by Martí News (Bogus Taíno1 Dance in Cuba Shocks an Intellectual Canadian Native), which — as the title indicates — is about a Canadian tourist’s experience during his stay in Cuba. He witnessed an imaginary Taíno show, choreographed in the Matanzas province by a group of dancers “with bare-breasted women, painted skin and wearing wigs,” who “talked about a dubious native Cuban rite on the force of a river.”

The scene that the tourist describes was a mixture of contemporary dance movements and alleged ritual representations, performed by… artists(??) supposedly dressed in Taíno costumes, including white bullseye circles painted on the women’s bare breasts. Continue reading “About False Taínos and Alleged “New Trends” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

Legal Framework for the Enemy / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Source: eltiempo.com
Source: eltiempo.com

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 June 2016 — The phrase uttered by Castro I a few years ago, when he confessed that no one knew how to build socialism, remains in the minds of many Cubans. Most of us, stunned and unbelieving, wondered back then what they had been doing for all previous decades, when the official discourse specifically maintained that we were immersed in the construction of this idyllic “society, qualitatively superior to capitalism”.

However, the successor to the throne, Castro II, apparently does believe to know how socialism is built, not socialism as the soviet manuals indicated, but something similar to it: a gestational namesake that, in reality, would only be the consumption of the State capitalist monopoly, the absolute eldest son of the Galician-Birán caste, his close followers and their offspring. Continue reading “Legal Framework for the Enemy / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The New Gospel, According to the General / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raúl Castro has slipped the designs of the PCC into a tabloid with documents analyzed and approved during the VII Congress of the Cuban Communist Party
Raúl Castro has slipped the designs of the PCC into a tabloid with documents analyzed and approved during the VII Congress of the Cuban Communist Party

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 26 May 2016 — The Cuban Party-State-Government has just published a tabloid containing two of the root documents analyzed and approved during the VII Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) last April, 2016. These are the Project for the Conceptualization for the Economic and Social Model of Socialist Development Project and for the National Project Plan for Economic and Social Development Until 2030: Proposal Of Country’s Vision, Core And Strategic Sectors.

No doubt this is a case of “partial declassification”, considering that the four documents adopted in April’s occult ritual were of a strictly secret character. The discussion and approval, produced in covert conditions, involved about a thousand of the anointed (so-called “delegates”) and, according to official figures 3,500 “guests.” Continue reading “The New Gospel, According to the General / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

Danse Macabre / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 7.56.35 AM
cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, Florida, 13 April 2016 — The video has gone viral in the internet in just over 24 hours — between Monday afternoon, April 11th 2016, and the early hours of Tuesday night — it had been shared 42,000 times, it had been viewed almost 4 million times, and the count continued to rise exponentially. The images speak louder than words: children as young as 7 or 8 years old, in school uniform, contort in the frenzy of a lewd dance in what is obviously a Cuban elementary school. Around them, voices can be heard (their teachers or some other adult in charge of their care and their education?) encouraging them cheerfully, obviously enjoying the spectacle.

The kindest adjectives that could describe those responsible for this act are aberration, atrocity, perversity and depravity. Continue reading “Danse Macabre / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The New York Times, a Branch of Granma / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Headquarters of The New York Times (Photo: wikipedia.org)
Headquarters of The New York Times (Photo: wikipedia.org)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 9 March 2016 – The New York Times (NYT) has just dedicated a new editorial to Cuba. Or, to be more accurate, the article, signed by Colombian Ernesto Londoño, makes a whole accolade about what he — and perhaps the executives of that influential newspaper — depict as the beginning of a process of freedom of expression on the island.

And the unusual miracle of opening up which was announced triumphantly has been taking place just “since the United States began to normalize relations with Havana in late 2014.” So, magically, by the grace of Barack Obama’s new policy, “Cubans have begun to debate subjects that were once taboo, and to criticize their government more boldly.” (Oh, thank you, Barack. Cubans, always so incompetent, will be forever grateful to you!). Continue reading “The New York Times, a Branch of Granma / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

21st Century Socialism: Rest in Peace? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro, Nicolas Maduro, evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Daniel Ortega (clockwise from upper left)
Raul Castro, Nicolas Maduro, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Daniel Ortega (clockwise from upper left)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 25 February 2106 — The crisis of the ghostly 21st Century Latin American socialism has been demonstrated once again with the negative outcome of the referendum on the reform of Bolivia’s constitution that sought to legitimize the candidature of Evo Morales in the 2019 elections. The controversial petty king aspired to remain screwed to the presidential armchair at least until 2025… but most of his countrymen, including native ethnic groups, have given him the brush-off.

So far, and despite the maneuvers that — according to what opposition sectors of the Andean country claim — the Morales government is taking advantage of to reverse its resounding defeat, everything indicates that the NO vote is irreversible.

Within a few months, the decline of the leftist leadership — which started in Argentina with the fall of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in the presidential elections, followed by the loss of Chavismo in last December’s parliamentary elections in Venezuela and now with the refusal to allow Evo to hijack power in Bolivia Continue reading “21st Century Socialism: Rest in Peace? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The Fable of Miguelito and His "Haier" Chinese Refrigerator / Miriam Celaya

Old fridges being taken away (Claudia Cadelo)
Old fridges being taken away (Claudia Cadelo)

Miriam Celaya, Sin Evasion (Without Evasion), 15 February 2016 – This Sunday in February, Saint Valentine’s Day, my neighbor Miguelita was overjoyed, although it was not exactly because of it being day of love. He had just finished paying for his Haier refrigerator, made in China, that he had acquired almost a decade earlier by the work and grace of the last sub-revolution orchestrated by the Revolutionary-in-Chief, Castro I shortly before he abandoned the podiums and microphones for good; this particular sub-revolution was known as the “Energy Revolution.”

Admittedly Miguelito, an exceedingly honest type, has not skipped even one of the payments for this “drizzle” refrigerator, as these appliances were popularly baptized due to the continuous streams of water that flood their interiors. It is said that no one, of those who “benefited” from one of these cold artifacts, finished paying the modest bill for the equipment, barely 6,000 Cuban pesos (equivalent to 250 Cuban convertible pesos – CUCs), paid through direct withholding from the monthly salary of those who work for the State. It is also said that there were exceptional cases of those who paid cash for the new equipment, in order to further reduce the cost of the appliance. Continue reading “The Fable of Miguelito and His "Haier" Chinese Refrigerator / Miriam Celaya”

The Cuban Adjustment Act is not the Problem / Miriam Celaya

A foreign law is being held responsible for the solution of problems that are clearly national in their nature.
A foreign law is being held responsible for the solution of problems that are clearly national in their nature.

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, Havana, 22 January 2016 – The imminent arrival in the US of thousands of Cubans stranded in Costa Rica has, once again, unleashed the debate whether the Cuban Adjustment Act its right or not, its original foundations, and opinions on whether Cubans who are exiting today should be considered political immigrants and, because of it, deserve to benefit from that law.

The subject stimulates strong feelings, as is always the case among Cubans, clouding objectivity and making it difficult to demarcate between legal matters, political interests, personal resentments and the purely human issue, which is ultimately what motivates all exodus, beyond particular circumstances marked by politics and economics. Continue reading “The Cuban Adjustment Act is not the Problem / Miriam Celaya”

Venezuela, a Lesson for Cubans / Miriam Celaya

A “Venezuelan Che Guevara” after finding out the election results (Internet photo)
A “Venezuelan Che Guevara” after finding out the election results (Internet photo)

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, Havana, 8 December 2015 — Despite all adversities and cheating to attempt to sabotage the opposition’s victory in Venezuela’s parliamentary elections, the forecasts were on target: the Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) didn’t just come ahead in surveys, which Maduro was hoping for, but it swept the polls.

The puppets at Telesur, “Latin America’s television channel”, could barely hide their apprehension. The long wait that followed the closure of the polling stations was a clear indicator that the ballots cast were so in favor of MUD that no Castro-Chavista trickery could reverse the outcome. However, announcing the results would turn out to be a bitter and difficult pill for Maduro and Cabello’s patsies to swallow. Continue reading “Venezuela, a Lesson for Cubans / Miriam Celaya”

17 December: First Anniversary of a Sterile Marriage / Miriam Celaya

On 17 December 2014, Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced the start of restoration of relations (file photo)
On 17 December 2014, Raul Castro and Barack Obama announced the start of restoration of relations (file photo)

Miriam Celaya, Havana, 17 December 2015 – At the end of the first year of the restoration of relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba, the expectations that the historical event awakened in Cuba remain unfulfilled. With much pain and no glory, Cubans have continued their struggle with a precarious and hopeless existence, that, far from improving, has witnessed the permanent economic crisis deteriorate further, with increases in the cost of living and consolidation of chronic shortages.

At the same time, the general deterioration of the healthcare and education systems continues – the last stronghold of the official rhetoric – and a new and unstoppable process of emigration has been spawned and become a stampede, amid fears that negotiations between the two governments will eventually lead to the demise of the Cuban Adjustment Act. Continue reading “17 December: First Anniversary of a Sterile Marriage / Miriam Celaya”

Choosing between Chaos and a New Order / Miriam Celaya

Why are Sunday’s Venezuelan elections so important? (picture from La Nación)
Why are Sunday’s Venezuelan elections so important? (picture from La Nación)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 December 2015 — Next Sunday, December 6, 2015, when the legislative elections in Venezuela finally take place, not only will they be deciding the short-term political fate of that South American nation but also, to some extent, they will be deciding future policies of various nations of this region, whose regimes — especially the Cuban government — have depended for decades on the dilapidation of the huge Venezuelan natural wealth in the hands of the “Bolivarian” claque.

These past few days, there have been several comments about the Venezuelan suffrage in the media, and various predictions have been made about the possible scenarios that might emerge from the results. The picture is complex. For the first time, since the late Hugo Chávez took office in February, 1999 and began to destroy the country’s civic structures, the Unified Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) will go to the polls with a significant disadvantage compared to the opposition’s Democratic Unity Roundtable (MUD) and even below the level of independent candidates, according to data released by surveys conducted by Verobarómetro. This is a reality that the country’s president refuses to accept, threatening not to consent to any result that is adverse, and to lead the country into chaos if the “Bolivarian Revolution” loses at the polls. Continue reading “Choosing between Chaos and a New Order / Miriam Celaya”