In Mid-Millenium: The Other Havana / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Restoration will benefit Teatro Campoamor (Author’s photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 November 2019 — The Cuban capital is preparing to celebrate its half millennium, and although it is obvious that this November 16th many of the construction plans will be unfinished, numerous building facades on the main avenues will not be painted (as had been planned) nor will all the details for the restoration of the National Capitol — the undisputed star of the party — be 100% completed, the grandstand at the foot of the majestic staircase is being prepared for the solemn act and for the speeches of the occasion.

“Havana is real and it’s wonderful,” has been the kind of mantra throughout the year behind which authorities have struggled to exalt and recover only the relevant and original beauties of the most iconic buildings in the old city.

For foreign and national visitors who don’t know Havana, the vision of one of the most scenic spaces of the city will seem like a marvel: the profusely lit Paseo del Prado and the beautiful buildings from the republican era adjacent to the majestic Capitol, Parque Central and Parque de la Fraternidad flanking the ends of the future seat of Parliament. From that spacious and majestic setting, the belt of poverty that runs nearby is invisible: the dirt of misery will have been swept under the rug. continue reading

However, one would only need to walk around in daylight through the adjoining neighborhoods to discover the real Havana, abandoned to its own fate, that which, in official documents and institutions, is standardized under the label of “housing stock” or “domestic sector” and that  ̶  judging by the neglect and ruin — seems to suggest a perverse government policy: to ensure that in the short and medium term the dilapidated buildings end up collapsing or having to evict their residents by force, leaving  those spaces available for tourism and investment opportunities, which the old part of the capital and its popular neighborhoods are becoming, in a kind of theme park for the enjoyment of foreign visitors.

It is really notorious that none of the many multifamily buildings in Old Havana and Centro Habana have been favored by the restorations. In fact, the run-down houses of the early twentieth century turned slums, which are the most abundant and typical buildings in the area, have not even had the benefit of a measly paint job.

Corner of Industrias and Barcelona. The building is being held up miraculously by wooden braces. Author’s photo.

In the midst of the general deterioration, there are only rescue and reconstruction plans for buildings of State interest. The Campoamor Theater is among them, located behind the Capitol at the corner of Industrias and San José streets, with only its curved facade preserved, for whose restoration an important investment project exists. Currently, it is surrounded by a fence that displays photographs of celebrities who once performed on its stage: an unequivocal sign that it will be rescued.

However, a few steps away from it, on Industrias Street itself, corner of Barcelona, there is an old multi-family building, peculiar because it’s the site of the installation of the first Otis elevator. Several families are crammed in the space, under threat of a possible collapse, since the property’s construction has suffered major deterioration.

In this building, behind the Capitol, the first Otis elevator for residential buildings was installed in Havana. (Author’s photo)

Some old hotels in the capital also became residential buildings years ago and are now in a dire state, precariously supported by wooden struts and in imminent danger of collapse. It is, to cite an example, the case of the nearby hotel Perla de Cuba (Amistad and Dragones streets), where families still live in the lower floors, as can be seen in the photographs.

For greater uncertainty of those who inhabit these dilapidated spaces, a significant part of them are in legal limbo due to their status as “illegal,” since they have come from the interior provinces and have not been able to change the status of their residence in the capital. Decree 217 functions as a kind of “green card,” legitimizing a humiliating segregation among the nationals of this Island.

In these cases, not only is their helplessness reinforced  ̶  since they can be deported at any time to their places of origin using police force against them ̶    but their inability to repair their homes legally, since on one hand they do not have access to building licenses or financial credit, while on the other, these buildings are mostly declared as “uninhabitable, non-repairable” by the Housing Institute, which eliminates any legalization process.

For their part, the “privileged” who are native to the capital or have obtained the grace of legal residence, although they might risk repairs of a cosmetic nature often lack sufficient capital to undertake structural improvements, which are extremely expensive and require state intervention.

A circle that closes and seems to be sealing the fate of thousands of families that, 500 years after Havana was founded, do not have much to celebrate. The gap between the beautiful and the ruins, the political power and the “governed,” the poor and the rich, the ordinary Cubans and the privileged elite continues to widen. The benefits of the imaginary “socialist model” have turned out to be increasingly bogus and unrealizable.

Translated by Norma Whiting

At Havana’s Mid-Millennium: The State of the Central Railway Station / Miriam Celaya

Central Railway Station. Restoration works have stopped (Photo by the author)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 November 2019 — Seventy-five years after the opening of the first railway station in Cuba (Bejucal, 1837), Havana’s Central Railway Station was built and inaugurated, and its construction – finished in just two years – was carried out under the government of José Miguel Gómez by The Frederick Snare Corporation, an American company.

The brand-new station – completed on November 30, 1912 – was an imperative for the capital, since the old Villanueva station (1859) did not meet the requirements of a growing population. Equipped with a colorful four-story building, a mezzanine, a large 151,000 square feet train yard and a colorful eclectic façade with two elegant towers, central clock and craft decorations of shells and shields on the wall, the “Train Station” – as it is known by Havana’s residents – stands on the corner of Egido and Arsenal Streets, in the historic area of the capital.

In 1983 it was recognized as a National Monument for “its architectural and historical values,” but even this jewel of Havana’s architecture could not escape official neglect or the system’s own decline, especially when accelerated by the fall of the USSR, which marked the beginning of the economic crisis of the 1990’s. continue reading

The deterioration of the rail passenger transportation service and the Central Station itself occurred simultaneously, and after some cosmetic refurbishment, works that did not solve the constructive or functional problems that already demanded major investments, it finally stopped providing services in 2015. It was then closed for restoration and rehabilitation, to confront the major repairs that are now being carried out, which should have been completed in 2018, as is indicated by a large sign placed on the fence that surrounds its façade.

Restoration was supposed to be completed in 2018 (author’s photo)

However, it’s enough to walk near the vicinity of the building and its related facilities to realize that not only have the completion deadlines have been breached, but that we will not be able to attend its re-inauguration at any time in the remainder of 2019, though in February of this year an optimistic report of the official site Cubadebate assured us that workers were laboring intensely in double shifts in order to deliver the finished work in time for the celebration of the 500th anniversary of Havana.

Back then, there was talk of “a 100-day delay” with respect to the original program, due to “the importation of steel for the stabilization of the north tower, as well as other materials for the façade,” to which should be added such complexities as the works required to strengthen the towers; the remodeling of the façade, retaining all its decorative and traditional values; the renovation of the blacksmith and carpentry shops; the creation of new rooms; the installation of escalators; the installation of new air conditioning services; lighting; and comfortable furniture sufficient to meet the demands of “more than 16 thousand daily travelers.”

Among the “renewal pride” which will be added to the services, the referenced report mentioned Wi-fi service and retail shops, which — it stated – would place the Central Station at the same level as its world peers.

On the other hand, it is said that the platforms are also undergoing restoration, but though the report ensures that “all their steel was restored” and that “the pluvial system was rebuilt from scratch,” in fact, today the train yard offers an image of chaos and debris scattered throughout almost all of its spaces. Nothing evidences the existence of platforms, much less rain lines or systems.

Partial view of the train yards (author’s photo)

Obviously, if it were the restoration of one of the “mixed capital” hotels or some other work of greater interest to the authorities, the delivery program could have been fulfilled. But in the case of an installation designed to serve primarily nationals – and therefore not constituting a promising source of hard currency income, at least as long as there are no more efficient and comfortable locomotives and cars that meet the standards for foreign visitors. Thus, to date, there are no foreign investors who will inject enough capital to complete the work.

If the published data is assumed to be true, in this case the construction work of the Central Station – whose project was formulated by Cuban architects and engineers in coordination with the Office of the Historian – is the responsibility of the Transportation Ministry, the Union of Railways of Cuba, the Ferrocarriles de Occidente Company and the Havana Base Business Unit, so there is no need for much optimism.

This November 19th will be the 187th anniversary of the inauguration of the first railway station in Cuba and the beginning of this means of transportation on the Island; the second one in this Hemisphere – just behind the US railroad – and the first railroad system in Latin America.

The anniversary, however, should be a cause of shame and not pride. The collapse of the Cuban railways, evident in the rail infrastructure, as well as in locomotives, freight and passenger wagons and stations, is an incontestable sample of the destructive capacity of a socio-political and economic system that only needed 60 years to destroy what was built over the previous 127 years.

Moreover, the Castro regime not only spoiled the previously efficient railway capability of the Island, but it also interrupted the existence of a sector with a long working tradition in Cuba.

The building has been partially rehabilitated (author’s photo)

Today the workers of the depressed railway sector ignore that it is next Tuesday, November 19th – and not January 29th, the date imposed in 1975 by Fidel Castro’s egomania – when they should be honored. Recovering the rail efficiency achieved during the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, almost 200 years after the first train circulated in Cuba, remains an aspiration.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Lessons Bolivia Left Us / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

The lessons Bolivia left us. Photo: Juan Karita/AP

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 November 2019 — The usual weekend informative spasm was broken this Sunday, November 10th, with bombshell news: after accepting the results of the audit of the Organization of American States (OAS) – requested by the president himself for the review of the elections of October 20th – and announcing that new elections would be called, Evo Morales has just resigned from Bolivia’s Presidency.

Just a few hours passed between the call for new elections and the resignation of the president. Such a decision, however, was not the result of a sudden epiphany or a mandate from Pachamama (an Incan deity), but rather the epilogue of a process that began after Mr. Morales’s unfortunate decision to present himself as a candidate for a fourth term, in rampant contempt of the popular will that had withdrawn authorization for him to do so in the referendum of February 21, 2016.

Unhappy with the setback suffered then, Evo Morales got approval from the Constitutional Court – openly his supporter – that gave him the possibility of running for elections for the fourth time. He also ensured that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) was made up of officials who were loyal to him. continue reading

Despite this, the results of the elections were altered by the TSE itself to grant a narrow and controversial “victory” to Morales, thus opening the door to the political crisis that has been shaking Bolivia for three weeks, with violent clashes between supporters of the opposition and those of the President, a crisis that would have continued indefinitely with unpredictable consequences.

The days to come will show if the action of the commander of the Armed Forces, General Williams Kaliman – who kindly and without pointing a gun at him suggested to the president he should resign – managed to cut these weeks’ spiral of violence and avoid greater ills to the country.

Together with Morales, his vice president, Álvaro García Linera, resigned. Both denounced the consummation of “a civic, political and police coup,” but the truth is that neither the army nor the national police used force against the President. If we were really witnessing a coup d’etat, it should be recognized that – despite the fact that at least three deaths and thousands of injuries have been reported in the confrontations between the protesters in favor of one side or the other – it has been the least violent coup that has ever taken place in this Hemisphere.

Looking at the facts from an ethical and political logic, it would have been a contradiction that the same candidate who was favored through fraud could present himself for a new election. Fraud in itself is a serious crime that disqualified Morales in the race for the Presidency, so that the president  himself summarizes the cause of the crisis and the consequence of his excessive ambition for political power at the same time, although now the most rabid continental left – with Havana at the helm – cry out against “the coup d’état of the anti-Bolivian right, orchestrated from Washington.”

And this leads us directly to the outright ridiculousness of the insular ruling dome. Just two days before the television news of the official press monopoly overflowed with jubilation and proclaimed two “resounding victories”: that of the “Resolution Against the Embargo,” presented (again) before the UN General Assembly, and “Evo’s overwhelming victory in the Bolivian elections.” The sagacious political analysts could barely contain their jumping for joy amid the most absolute triumphalism.

For greater scorn, Morales’s resignation comes just a day after the Cuban Foreign Ministry, in open interference in the affairs of the Andean country, made an Official Declaration, publicly “vigorously denouncing the coup in progress against the legitimate president of Bolivia” orchestrated by the Bolivian right “,with the support and leadership of the US and regional oligarchies,” and called for all involved sectors to stop this dangerous maneuver which constitutes a threat to the stability of Bolivia and the whole region.

“Evo’s historic victory, against the maneuvers of the internal and regional right, the Imperialism and an intense media war, is also a triumph of the entire Great Motherland,” proclaimed the pamphlet. And it commended the Bolivian president that “in a further demonstration of equanimity and political stature, he summoned the political forces to the dialogue table for Bolivia’s peace, and called the organizers of the violent protests to deep reflection and urged the people to mobilize to defend democracy.”

What idiocy for the revolution’s “common cause” that after so much fuss, the once-hardened indigenous should crack like a reed.

Undoubtedly, the Palace of the Revolution would have preferred a thousand times for Evo to immolate heroically, Salvador Allende style. At least then it would have been possible to count on a new martyr – indigenous and of humble origin, to boot – whose ghost could be opportunistically shaken against the imperialist enemy.

How mean, Evo, not sacrificing yourself for the continental glory of the Castro regime and its measles epidemic of radical lefts and not letting you burn at the stake of the progressive ideals, so passionately defended by the high ruling Cuban bourgeoisie from their comfortable mansions at El Laguito. What a disappointment, Evo… we expected more from you!

However, the most immediate balance of the latest events in Bolivia is the moral of the story that politicians in this region should capture. The defeat of Evo Morales comes against the progress made in the country during his tenure. Bolivia certainly has remarkable economic growth and can exhibit amazing social achievements in health and education, especially for the humblest sectors.

But just as the leader of the coca growers is responsible for these advances, he is also responsible for the political crisis that he caused when he presented himself for the elections of last October, and to a certain extent, for the direction the country takes in the immediate future.

It is the cost of those who impose a personal government and set out to appropriate political power ad infinitum. Because the masses can be faithful and enthusiastic, but they are also often fickle. In this sense, Bolivia’s experience can be a very useful lesson for both rulers and the governed.

Let’s take note.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Havana’s Capitol: The Other Face of the Restoration

Two weeks before the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana, the Facade and Rear Gardens of the south side of the Capitol (photo: Amelia)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 November 2019 — There are those who would swear that everything in Cuba, from the most solemn to the most mundane act, has an air of a one-act farce. The dramatic and the jocular intermingle in a scenario full of contrasts and absurdities, in a reality that far exceeds any fiction plot.

These days, the metal fences that covered the gardens of the southern area of the National Capitol were finally removed, and the neighbors who reside in the popular (and populous) neighborhood that runs behind the monumental building, glance curiously at the feverish restoration activity. There is an intense agitation, since there are only two weeks left for the 500th Anniversary of the Cuban capital, to be celebrated on November 16th, and the delivery of this iconic building is one of the highlights of the event.

“I think they will not finish it on time”, says a septuagenarian of humble appearance who says he is a retired construction frame worker, who returns daily to contemplate the work. “I, who worked all my life in construction, tell you that a lot of work is still missing. Now they are in earthworks because they removed all the old tiles in the garden in order to restore them. Then they have to tamp, press them firmly and fuse them so that these tile slabs remain fixed. Add to that all the landscaping, and not counting the windows that have yet to be installed and the facade that is still covered and must be finished.” continue reading

And he points to a huge mesh cloth that covers a portion of the rear facade and numerous empty openings where all the blinds should already be in place. “They are going to have to work in 24-hour shifts and still doing it that way they might be able to complete just what shows. Just cosmetic work, the same as always happens.”

Nearby, there is a standing policeman on duty facing the work.  Police surveillance is permanent, as well as the presence of guards at a nearby checkpoint, to prevent the usual shoplifting of construction materials: the illegal sale of cement, stone dust, joists, etc., is a constant in every construction job in Cuba.

“This has been difficult here from the beginning,” says a lady who also watches the work. “I live here back on Amistad Street, and several neighbors of mine tried to get some cement and other things… but nothing. There is great vigilance with that, and there are people in this neighborhood whose houses need repairs, because they are falling down… There are no materials for the unfortunate.”

Occasionally, some official media have made reference to the intervention of foreign capital and the support of private institutions to achieve the restoration of this building, paradoxically the most important symbol of Republican Cuba, crushed after the 1959 revolution.

The Castro regime, unable to create their own symbols that can compete in quality and beauty with those of the past, is trying now to appropriate allegories that are completely alien to them. Since they failed to completely destroy the city that they despise – and those who despise them – they prefer to make use of its meaning and its unyielding architectural wealth.

According to government sources, the German company MD Projektmanagement, owned by Michel Diegmann, is responsible for the restoration work. However, nobody fully knows the total amount of the investment, although everyone infers that the sum must be in the millions. “With half the money that this cost, a lot of buildings in Centro Habana could have been repaired,” the same woman muses next to me.

The restoration of the dome alone, exquisitely coated with pieces of gold leaf on copper sheets, is the result of a large donation from the Russian Federation. The work undertaken to return it to its former splendor was carried out by specialists from that country, assisted by Cuban personnel.

The southern facade of the building is still missing windows and the gardens need to be completed (photo: Amelia)

Re-inaugurated August 30th by the City Historian, the golden dome contrasts sharply since then with the poverty of its “backyard”, that is, the collapsed roofs and facades of the adjoining buildings, hidden behind the architectural magnificence not only of the Capitol, but also of the Havana Prado, the Havana Lyceum, the Grand Theater, the Saratoga Hotel, the Fountain of the Indian Woman, and the Central and Fraternity parks. A majestic urban complex that flanks and conceals the ugly face of gloom, the crust of decay, accentuated after 60 years of neglect that the authorities do not want the world to see.

And it is not that it is wrong to rescue those symbols, buildings, squares and spaces that made this city beautiful; quite the opposite. We just need to not forget that Havana, like any city, is much more than the sum of its architectural symbols and historical spaces.

The beauty of cities, what makes them peculiar or “marvelous”, lies in the soul of their people, in the spirit of those who inhabit them. To artificially brighten the old trappings of our city for one occasion, as if it were a showcase to display it to the world, while prosperity and freedoms are still forbidden to Cubans who live it, love it and suffer it, it’s not worth a thing.

New “Economic Measures”: Another Trap to Catch the Gullible / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, WEST PALM BEACH, United States. – The highly announced Roundtable TV show on Tuesday, 15 October 2019, where the “new economic measures” of the Cuban government were revealed, has just deflated any expectations that those who were waiting for some opening in the internal economy of Cuba might have had.

This time the cast was headed by Salvador Valdés Mesa, the brand new Vice President of the Republic, accompanied by the ministers of Economy and Planning, Alejandro Gil Fernández; Finance and Prices, Meisi Bolaños Weiss; Internal Commerce, Betsy Díaz Velázquez; Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment Rodrigo Malmierca Díaz; along with Irma Margarita Martínez Castrillón president and minister of the Central Bank of Cuba, and Iset Maritza Vázquez Brizuela, the first vice president of the CIMEX Corporation.

Taking into account the profound structural crisis of the system and the uncertainty of the lives of Cubans in pursuit of a promised future of prosperity, which remains increasingly distant and elusive, one would expect that such a choir would have deployed a whole package of reforms aimed at liberating and stimulating, to some extent, the initiative of the repressed private sector, in order to alleviate the state of the permanent asphyxiation in which the majority of Cubans live. continue reading

Far from it, and validating once again its proverbial folly, its lack of sense of reality and its total indifference to the hardships suffered by the governed, the news released this Thursday are far from “favoring the people,, and much less are they directed at improving the standard of living of the population, as stated by the conga line of the Palace of the Revolution.

In reality what it is about, is to turn on a twisted financial machinery, fundamentally guided to collect foreign currency from abroad, thus avoiding the tight fence imposed by the iron Helms-Burton Law against the Castro cupola.

The excuse wielded by Castro’s birds of prey could not be more childish: the increase in domestic demand for consumer goods has led to an informal trade where products are offered at high prices, which leave copious profits to natural persons, even after paying the corresponding customs tariffs on the goods they import. Regarding this, Mr. Valdés Mesa has said: “Although the goods enter the country in a framework of legality, after receiving them they are marketed irregularly.”

In addition, he stressed that “the current US administration has also intensified the financial fence to prevent Cuba’s transactions in its collections and payments abroad,” factors that “have caused the country to lack sufficient financing to import raw materials destined for the industry and for our market supply chains.”

Thus, the informal market — the official vultures confess — has compensated for the usual shortages in the retail network, supplying those goods that the official market does not offer or that it does offer but at higher prices. Therefore, with the sagacity that characterizes it, the government has been “working with a strategic vision” to develop a plan that allows expanding the available goods, establishing “competitive prices” and “developing our industry,” while facilitating Cubans’ purchasing ability.

It is worth stopping at certain interesting details: for the first time the almighty State recognizes informal merchants as competitors, and pretends that we believe that a mechanism as precarious as that of the underground commerce – merchandise stands, street vendors, traffickers, the on-line site Revolico, etc. — and its primitive import system through the so-called mules, has exceeded the commercial capacity of all the economic-financial machinery of the Castro regime, that murky monopoly known as GAESA (Grupo de Administración Empresarial, SA*), forcing the government to create a trading system parallel to its own network of retail trade, collector of foreign exchange.

On the other hand, the subterfuge that the State seeks to diversify the goods on offer and lower prices for the benefit of the people does not hold, because if it were the real objective it could reach it through the existing retail network, supplying shops and lowering the inflated prices of the products.

What is involved, then, is not to snatch customers from the informal market, but to create a system of direct currency inflow to the government, thus circumventing the pressures of the US embargo and especially the effect of the measures dictated by the Trump administration. To achieve this, the State’s profits must not be in the Cuban convertible peso, CUC — that bastardized internal token that only works in the home front — and even less in the Cuban peso, CUP, 25 times less valuable, but rather in cold hard cash (read ‘dollars’).

Based on this, it was decided to authorize ‘natural persons’ to conduct sales in convertible currencies and to import products through state-owned companies, for which the “thinking tanks” of the government conceived a new mode of payment in currencies through the Central Bank’s financial system of Cuba (Banco Metropolitano (BM), which operates only in Havana; the International Financial Bank and the Popular Savings Bank).

The customer – the natural person – will also be able to make purchases at “favorable prices” in the new network of retail stores that will operate throughout the country and will be “opening” in time, until a total of 77 are completed. In this first stage and starting next Monday October 21st the first 13 stores (12 in Havana and 1 in Santiago de Cuba) will open, the rest will be implemented “gradually.”

Likewise, the measures will allow natural persons to import goods through import companies designated by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, provided that the payment for such imports is backed by freely convertible currency, for which existing “customs warehousing areas ” will be used, in addition to others that may be created, for the sale of merchandise through importing companies designated by the Ministry itself.

For their part, the state entity Automotive Services, S.A. (SASA), the CIMEX companies (“and others that may be necessary”) will provide marketing services for parts, accessories and other multi-brand automotive products to natural persons. As an additional benefit, bonuses or tariff exemptions will be granted for the importation of raw materials and supplies as well as for dire need items and products in greater demand.

None of these measures will affect existing customs regulations, which will maintain the limitations and tariffs on already established imports.

All purchases and transactions will be made under the electronic commerce mode — with virtual stores, online sales and the use of national and international payment gateways — so it is absolutely essential that the buyer create an account, in foreign currency only, in any of the banking varieties that function in the country to obtain his magnetic card, which will be used for each transaction upon presentation of the buyer’s identity card.

Permanent residents in the country may open accounts only with the presentation of their identity card. These accounts must be associated with magnetic cards in the offices of the Metropolitano SA, Credit and Commerce and Popular Savings banks, and among the attractions offered to them are the waiver of a minimum balance, plus that interest will not be calculated or applied, while limits to the amount and number of transactions per day may be defined, which constitutes “a security mechanism for the customer in case of loss or misplacement of the card, which can be changed at any time.”

And since all this machinery is designed in the interest of attracting the maximum possible currency, these bank accounts can receive funds through transfers from abroad, including remittances that until now were processed against bank accounts, as well as cash deposits in American and Canadian dollars, Euros, Pounds Sterling, Swiss francs, Mexican pesos, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Krone, and Japanese yen.

Deposits in Cuba’s national currencies, the CUC and CUP, will not be accepted. The exchange rate that is applied will have the US dollar as a reference value, and in case of US dollar cash deposits, a 10% tax will be applied, as established in Resolution 80 of October 23, 2004.

The government hopes that retail sales in freely convertible currency will allow the revenue collected to be translated into the development of the national industry — without specifying what these industries will be — to guarantee the sustainability of the supplies, boost the economy, satisfy domestic demand and generate jobs.

In addition, Valdés Mesa said that the new measures will improve both the after-sales servicing (warranty) of household appliances sold in the national market, as well as repair and maintenance servicing, a benefit not offered by the equipment imported by the buyer. “The prices that will be offered will be competitive with those existing in the retail market of the countries of our geographical area. They will not be fixed prices, but they will not be collectible either,” he added.

However, a brief glimpse of the “favorable” prices of “high-end products” through several examples offered by the Roundtable allow us to anticipate that they still do not conform to the reality of common Cuban’s purse, and that the welfare of many families will continue to depend on remittances. Thus, a 43-inch Samsung LED TV is priced at $549; a 13.6 cubic foot Daytron refrigerator at $519; a 1-ton Royal brand ductless air conditioner at $361, among other examples presented.

Clearly, these numbers do not relate to the income of the poor majority of the Island, so it is the government itself that widens the gap between Cubans with access to consumer goods and the vast majority that remains in a permanent state of survival.

The officials, in general, were profuse in details and in financial terminology that failed to show an understanding of the common of mortals in Cuba, and also extended in tariff matters, transactions, types of cards, benefits of bank accounts, etc. They could well have explained it in Mandarin Chinese, since knowledge of financial management, which they generally lack, is not precisely the strength of most of the natives of the Island.

What was clear to everyone who had the patience and discipline to watch this Roundtable from the beginning to the end is that there are still no effective measures for the millions of disadvantaged, low-income Cubans without access to remittances.

Gone and buried is that slogan that years ago made a revolution famous.  It went like this: “of the humble, with the humble and for the humble.” Now the greedy Castro regime will only have to sit down and wait for the unsuspecting people who will bite the hook and commit the supine stupidity of placing their capital and their confidence in the dark banking system of Cuba. Those naive people had better think twice.

*Group of Entrepreneurial Association, Public Limited Company

Translated by Norma Whiting

With Dengue Fever and, In Addition, Beaten

Containers overflowing with garbage on Jovellar Street in Centro Habana, a few meters from the emblematic Vedado. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach | 4 October 2019 — Although health authorities have never declared it a national epidemic, it is no secret to anyone that dengue fever has not only become endemic throughout the Island — with recurrent outbreaks that tend to get worse every summer — but that statistical data on those infected and fatalities who have been infected over the years constitute, to date,  one of the Government’s best kept secrets..

As is often the case in a country where information is the property of the political power, the state of the national health landscape is not in the public domain and the population can only avail itself of its perception to estimate the severity of the infestation.

The state of the national health landscape is not in the public domain and the population can only avail itself of its perception to estimate the severity of the infestation

A few months ago, frequent fumigations in homes and workplaces, added to door to door medical research in each health area were indicators of a greater or lesser expansion of the epidemic outbreak. This went on mostly in Havana, where the highest rates of infestation accumulate due to population concentration and poor sanitary conditions, especially in the poorest and more densely populated neighborhoods. continue reading

However, in recent weeks fuel shortages have affected fumigation cycles, distorting citizens’ perception of the real extent of the epidemic while leaving an expedited gap for the proliferation of the virus transmitting agent, the Aedes Aegypti mosquito.

Officially reluctant to recognize the existence of the epidemic, the government has abandoned its usual practice of applying punitive actions that brand the population directly responsible for the spread of the disease. On Wednesday, several measures were made public, aimed at punishing those who “contribute, through their actions and negligence to the spread of diseases” with penalties ranging from fines to jail time.

The list of potential offenders is extensive. It covers both those who refuse to allow inspection and fumigation of their homes by agents of the “anti-vector campaign” as well as family doctors who do not carry out health measures on Cuban residents returning from travel abroad, officials who profit from resources intended to eradicate the vector, and a long list that includes patients who refuse to be hospitalized for medical attention.

At first glance, the new measures seem to respond to a government concern for public health in line with the seriousness of the health situation that the capital is going through, but such a perception is misleading. In fact, it only serves to mask, by omission, the responsibility of the State in the proliferation of vectors that seriously affect health, confusing public opinion. Another one among the thousand hidden faces of a silenced epidemic.

Thus, following the practice established six decades ago, the government once more attacks the effects and not the causes. The authorities could assume the responsibilities that relate to them and provide for appropriate collection of solid wastes that accumulate throughout the capital, clean and maintain the sewage system, repair the drains of hydraulic networks and cesspools that proliferate everywhere, prune green areas systematically, create adequate and sufficient hospital conditions and maintain an ambulance fleet capable of meeting the demand for the transfer of patients to hospitals, among other essential provisions.

Instead, the government chooses to prepare, as soon as possible, a long list of potential scapegoats who will, when the time comes, atone exclusively for their own sins and those of the Government.

While diseases, guilt and punishment fall primarily on the population, it must, in addition, weather the storm without even having the conditions to avoid contagion

Another long-standing absurdity established by the authorities is the alleged sanitary control at airports under which only travelers residing in Cuba are required to undergo blood tests, while foreign visitors, national or not, enter the country without submitting to any control. Paradoxically, diseases such as AIDS, Zika, Chikungunya and tuberculosis also entered the country through these airports — as has even the African giant snail, which has now become another unbeatable pest —  without, so far, responsibilities having been purged.

While illnesses, guilt and punishment fall primarily on the population, the Cuban people must, in addition, weather the storm without even having access to minimum conditions necessary to try to stay safe from contagion.

While it is public knowledge that it is almost impossible for a large portion of Cubans to get a simple mosquito net for each family member, it is as difficult or more so to create physical window barriers using screens that prevent the insects from entering rooms, or to acquire insecticides to spray homes or repellents to apply on the skin due to the usual shortages in the markets and to the high prices of some of those products, an issue that also depends absolutely on the Government, in those rare instances when they are available.

Cuckolded and beaten, as always happens, Cubans now contemplate helplessly how the maculae of power are again swept under the carpet. Epidemics, deficiencies, sacrifices, repression and punishments remain the guarantees offered by the system. All the same, but worse, in this terribly long Cuban Middle Ages.

Translated by Norma Whiting
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Structural Crisis and “Elections”: It Won’t be Easy for The Designated One / Miriam Celaya

Díaz-Canel at the 1st National Conference of the Culture Union. 2018 (granma.cu)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 9 October 2019 – There is just one day left before the 600 deputies that make up the National Assembly of People’s Power (ANPP) “elect” who will be the country’s president and vice president for the next five years, re-eligible for a second term, as the new Electoral Law (Law No. 37) reads, approved last July in ordinary session of Parliament.

However, the millions of Cubans who are part of the so called sovereign people as well as the deputies themselves, who will obediently tick the boxes corresponding to each position and to “applicant”, previously selected by the true power, still ignore who the candidates to lead are, at least in name, the always precarious directions of the nation.

It is fair to say that the subject doesn’t interest hardly anyone either. The most widespread opinion among Cubans in Cuba is that it matters little who holds the title of president when it is known that those who truly rule in the country are the surviving members of the historical (de)generation and their closest heirs and collaborators, directly responsible of the whole disaster generated over 60 years. continue reading

Whoever those designated for such responsibilities are, they will be puppets without real power and without sufficient courage to undertake the essential changes, beginning with the general transformation of a system that is clearly obsolete. 

The only certainty derived from the experience of four generations who have barely survived the six decades of crises and hardships labeled under the deceptive heading of the Cuban Revolution, is that if the promises of the future were not fulfilled by now, not one of the ones they put in place will solve anything. Such conviction weighs like a tombstone on the popular spirit, as if, at the unconscious level, people have finally begun to internalize an unquestionable truth: Cuba’s evil is not cyclical but systemic.

In fact, the civic orphanage of an entire peoples blames itself in the daily language of the so-called ordinary Cuban. In any moderately democratic society and in the middle of the electoral stage, nobody would think of referring to “the one they are going to place,” rather they would say “the one I am going to vote for.” This, of course, after public knowledge of the respective government programs of each candidate and which party they represent.

In Cuba, on the contrary, the single party and the dictatorship have been legally consecrated — not “legitimately” — in the new Constitution; and so also, after 43 years of training in social compliance under an electoral system barely modified since 1976, the recently passed Law 37, in open contempt of the popular will that reclaimed direct participation in the election of the president of the country, constitutes a true armor to avoid fissures in the official filters that could eventually allow the rise to power of candidates unwanted by the privileged elite.

Thus, the Electoral Law Draft formally presented on July 2019 to the parliamentary commission designated “for discussion and approval,” made rampant omission of direct elections, one of the most important demands of Cubans during the so-called popular consultation process that preceded the unanimous approval of the Constitution now in force.

Nevertheless, it was unanimously approved by Parliament, in the same way that the “election” of the president and vice president will be approved on the morning of this October 10, 2019, under the protection of a paradoxical legislation that was renewed with the sole purpose of perpetuating a system anchored in the past.

Perhaps the few “innovative” brushstrokes of these supposed elections are summarized in factors that right now do not seem very relevant, but of which it would be wise to take note.

Namely, they are the first votes in which none of the members of the historical generation will be part of the candidacy — although they will continue to hold the Royal Power until nature takes its course.

Secondly, it is to be assumed that, in the course of five years, their survivors  will disappear or completely lose their already scarce capacities and, consequently, end their pernicious symbolic or real influence on the decision-making of the direction of the country.

And thirdly, with marked importance, to maintain the current deepening of the crisis of the system, the “new” government will have no more than two alternatives: to implement economic changes that would eventually result in the transformation of the “model” itself or to face chaos which would derive from social discontent over the accumulation of problems in all areas of national life, thus assuming the consequences of the mistakes made by the “historicals.”

Nor should we discard the importance of new leaderships that may emerge in the independent civil society and that would join the already known groups with long experience in resistance. Recent times are showing a rebound in sectors pushing for spaces of freedom and participation within the Island. Presumably, such growth will be sustained and they will diversify their proposals and demands to the extent that political power in Cuba is not even capable of generating a plan to alleviate the structural crisis of the system.

Meanwhile, expectations must be moderate. The Cuban landscape offers no reason for optimism but rather the opposite. The increase in repression, the sharpening of the crisis, the retreat, in terms of openings of the private sector and the ideological entrenchment, are some clear signs of the cupola’s lack of willingness to change; a situation from which there is no glimpse of an exit and whose solution does not depend at all on the X’s that will mark the ballots of the deputies in the electoral farce that will take place next Thursday.

It is clear that the president will not inherit the power, but will inherit the responsibility for what happens in the future: he will need to dare to move things or accept the role of accomplice and scapegoat of the dictatorship. It won’t be easy for him.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Special Period or “Situation”?

Díaz-Canel appearing on the Roundtable TV show on Cuban State television (Twitter)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 September 2019 — As announced by the official press in the morning hours of September 11th, a special appearance of the Cuban President (not elected), Miguel Díaz-Canel, took place in the usual space of State televison’s Roundtable program, in order to report on the “current energy situation” that the country is experiencing this September. This time, the program was broadcast from the Palace of the Revolution, and the Ministers of Economy, Energy and Mines, and Transportation accompanied Díaz-Canel

Looking tired – due to a day that began early, at a meeting of the Political Bureau with Raúl Castro leading, where “the measures to alleviate the situation” were approved – the “president” made his speech without departing a milligram from the script that, in broad strokes, began with the causes of all evils: the new “onslaught” of evil of the American Empire (and here, a direct mention of the funds allocated by the government of that country for “subversion in Cuba”), in addition to the capricious commitment of the current administration of the nation to the north to inflict suffering on the Cuban population, with the risky intention of blaming the inadequacies and deprivations on government inefficiency.

According to Díaz-Canel, the newly announced limitation of remittances and the efforts of the Trump administration to prevent the arrival of oil in Cuba were, among other factors, the most important ones that conditioned the “low availability of diesel,” which is directly impacting on public transportation and on freight. continue reading

Because it turns out that “there are no longer supply problems, such as those we faced at the end of last year and in the first months of this year.” It is said that there are food boats in port – loaded with meat, flour to make bread, etc. – whose cargoes have not been able to be unloaded due to the “current energy situation.” “Situation,” a word mentioned on numerous occasions during the speech by Díaz-Canel, which seems to be the new euphemism to refer to the economic crisis in the 90’s which the fertile imagination of Castro I termed The Special Period, and whose return the regime refuses to recognize.

Meanwhile, the Minister of Energy and Mines announced the “possibility of blackouts” which would be scheduled and announced in a timely manner to the population, while the Minister of Transportation referred to the inevitable “reprogramming” of inter provincial travel – that “will not be suspended, but extended” in time, which implies that “there will be people who bought their tickets but cannot travel on the planned dates” – a situation that will affect both national bus services and train travel, a service with an ephemeral life since it was reopened with much fanfare in recent weeks.

The Minister of Economy, in turn, made a triumphant mention of the financial contribution of tourism and other income derived from foreign investments, etc., all of which, in addition to the development plans undertaken throughout the country, means that we can be assured that this year’s growth in GDP will be guaranteed

There will also be effects “on the distribution of some products”, but at least they gave us the good news that “blackouts should not occur until next Sunday, September 15th, unless there are interruptions due to breakage or other factors.”

However, this time the government fortunately has a Plan. It is not without purpose that the president reminds us that we have now what we lacked in the 90’s, namely, the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) Guidelines, the Conceptualization of the Model and – as if that were not enough – a brand new Constitution, very useful tools that now allow us to successfully face imperial tricks and plots. Now, a smiling Díaz-Canel tells us that the Cuba Plan faces the USA Plan. “Plan against Plan, as Martí used to say” he stated, very pleased with himself.

And what is the wonderful Master Plan secretly created by the Druids and their “continuity”? Well, literally: “dust off some of the experiences learned during the Special Period”, such as “work at home” (if possible work is done from the home base, taking advantage of “the advances in connectivity we now have”, to alleviate the use of public and labor transportation).

State vehicles (not normally used for passenger service) must pick up passengers at bus stops, provided they have available capacities (which seems like a repeat of the famous “yellow ones”, a name that the popular wit during those hard, turn of the century years, gave to State inspectors due to the color of their uniforms. The State inspectors’ function was to force the State drivers to carry passengers, and to apply the “popular control” (a euphemism for “snitching”) for any violation of measures and laws, “to move work schedules” even to the dawn hours, if necessary, and to reintroduce animal traction – as in horse-drawn carts, ‘buses’ and trucks – in places where this variant was possible, among other pearls.

And if that were not enough to convince us that this “tense energy situation” is not a Special Period but “a training opportunity, since it can be repeated in the future” — which contradicts the very concept of what is understood as situational — Now we have a “socio-economic development strategy” based on tourism and on “the exportation of medical and drug services,” in addition to other items such as the production of eggs, pork and chicken.

But the best news is that the above “situation” is only a matter of days away. The oil contracts for the month of October have already “been negotiated,” which implies that the coming month will not be energetically tense, and on the 14th of this month of September an oil ship will arrive — from a mysterious place that our president, so shrewd and naughty, did not want to reveal so that the Empire does not find out — which will be the solution for this small energy slump.

So, in the end, it was all about “a ship’s” arrival! Could it mean, perhaps, that with that solitary oil vessel that will arrive secretly, as if it were a seventeenth century filibuster, all the problems of this Island of 110 thousand square kilometers and 11 million low-life souls can be situational? And then, wasn’t it sufficient to do a press report explaining the fact instead of inventing implausible and medieval plans at the highest governmental level? Does the main plan of the cupola really take Cubans for fools?

But I will tell my readers a secret suspicion that’s eating me alive: I know that we are not in the Special Period because neither the person who became president because he knew somebody nor his team of babbling ministers has yet to mention that artifact that was the hallmark of the dark crisis: the bicycle. Or is it that it has not yet been possible to unload the ship “loaded with cycles” due to the lack of diesel?

In the end, all this absurdity of a “sovereign and independent” Island that makes such painful boast of its blarney economy reminds me of a phrase a poor madman repeats like a parrot to enliven his meaningless speeches and slogans at the Emergency Hospital bus stop, where his involuntary public crowds together. At the end, even if irrelevant, the poor man ends his rant by invoking that not so innocent other lunatic: “This did not happen with Fidel.” In Cuba, from the highest of Power to the lowest of the outcasts you can hear any nonsense.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Repressive Escalation in Cuba: Pulse or Attack? / Miriam Celaya

Police in Cuba (File photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, Florida, 29 July 2019 — The repressive escalation against civil society activists and independent journalists continues to increase in Cuba. Everything confirms, without room for doubt, that the dictatorial will is to completely suffocate any manifestation contrary or even moderately critical of the political power.

Unreasonable arbitrary short time detentions; the absurd migratory “regulations” that prohibit dozens of activists and journalists from leaving the country to prevent them from participating in forums, training courses and events of any nature; the raids and confiscation of means of work, among other strategies, are everyday occurrences, generating an atmosphere of tension similar to that preceded by the raids of the Black Spring (2003), when 75 dissidents, among them journalists and political opponents, were prosecuted and convicted  to long sentences in Castro prisons.

What stands out now is that the harassment remains constant, especially — although not exclusively — against the youngest and most active members of the emerging civil society. continue reading

This time the police offensive goes beyond the one usually employed against the “traditional” dissent — formed by political parties, journalists and activists of various initiatives, already fused for years in these leadership roles — and extends to more recent citizen, proposals, whether they are promoted by contestant artists, journalistic websites tolerated until yesterday, or by a whole plethora of new actors that are adding voices and wills in a definitively plural society, which has ceased to be unanimous and uniform and has found in Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) an effective tool to exist, get informed and proliferate in the social networks, extending their communication and influence beyond government control.

Simultaneously, and against the deepening economic crisis, far from stimulating the growth of what they call “non-State forms of the economy,” the authorities continue their strategy of pressure and persecution against the private sector under the pretext of an alleged fight against corruption, infractions, or abusive prices and hoarding. It could be said that, in the midst of growing hardships, there is a government effort to win enemies in the population.

Price ceilings in market and private sector services, mandatory routes for passenger carriers, excess bureaucratic controls and regulations, extortion by an army of corrupt parasites called “state inspectors,” demonization of wealth and, more recently, a new decree-law to arbitrarily regulate the use of the internet, are some forms of the war without quarter that the State-Party-Government is waging on an increasingly impoverished and exhausted citizenship, but also a citizenship that is more dissatisfied and frustrated.

The Palace of the Revolution can barely disguise that what lies beneath such a show of strength is an undeniable weakness. The political mafia knows that the “continuity” proclaimed by the current hand-picked president is not possible in a Cuba driven by increasingly urgent changes. The paradox is that these changes would bring a scenario incompatible with the much-vaunted continuity. And since power is chained in its own absurdity, it has opted for the worst route: to crush any hint of citizen independence, without exceptions, be it political or economic in nature.

At the same time, the government’s much-fondled discourse of a “plaza under siege” becomes less effective, if not harmless. Not only because the Venezuelan crisis, combined with the pressures of the current US administration are severely affecting the Cuban economy and creating a social climate unfavorable to the populist-nationalist superficiality and the old battle trench slogans, but because in the new generations, immune to the communist infection and the “revolutionary” obsession, there is an abundance of “deserters,” more than the numbers of those faithful to the myth of the Moncada, the Granma and the Sierra Maestra.

A good part of Cubans born since the dark 90’s are currently grouped into two sides: the side of the opportunists, who pretend loyalty to the system to defend niches or privileges, and the side of the nonbelievers. The latter is the breeding ground where the irreverent abound, those who, as if the fact that they ignore the legacy of the “the historical generation” were not enough, mock it, flooding the networks of memes with images that were considered, until recently, sacred icons of the revolutionary pantheon, and placing the nomenclature at all levels, more earnestly since — finally! — the murky Cuban hierarchy decided to “govern with transparency” using the internet. And it is well known that under conditions of dictatorship all questioning is dissent.

Consequently, to the two ever-useful villains – Imperialism and its “mercenaries of the internal opposition” — a growing number of young people have been added who, with citizen positioning from virtual space, and devoid of ideological extremisms and idolatries to false heroes, exercise the right to make demands on the leaders and to encourage changes within the Island.

More than a decade after a dark character of the “historical” nomenclature threatened to “tame the runaway colt of the internet,” not only has independent digital journalism multiplied and diversified, but new social actors are emerging, grouping together, getting organized and convening activities according to their interests, beyond the will of the caste in power. It is the worst nightmare of any autocracy.

In the meantime, the signals extending from the Power predict more difficult times and greater risks. There are reasons to suspect that what today seems to be the simple heartbeat of the Castro Regime’s strength, might well be the prelude to a new attack. And this time the repressive machinery will not only come for opponents, dissidents, activists and independent journalists, but against all manifestations of citizen freedom. If we really aspire to a plural Cuba, it is time to stop thinking in the singular: We are all Cuba.

(Miriam Celaya, a resident of Cuba, is visiting the United States)

Translated by Norma Whiting

To Live Without a Future: Cuban Migrants’ “Legitimate Fear” / Miriam Celaya

Cuban migrants in Ciudad Juárez. File photo.

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 16 July 2019 — Just five years ago, when the governments of the United States and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations after 18 months of secret talks, there were ominous voices that predicted the end of the privileges for Cuban immigrants to the northern country.

According to this gloomy forecast, an accelerated increase in the number of nationals leaving the Island, both by sea and by land, began to take place. The continental exodus has not stopped even with the end of the policy of “wet foot/dry foot”, when – rumors turning into reality – the then outgoing president, Barack Obama, announced its immediate repeal on 12 January 2017.

Meanwhile, the incoming president not only did not restore that migratory privilege, but rather reinforced the obstacles. In fact, during the current administration, there was a cessation of consular functions in the US embassy in Havana, which makes it difficult to carry out the corresponding procedures. Added to this is the significant decrease in the number of visas granted in the last three years, the recent elimination of the multi-entry visa, valid for five years, and the marked slowing down of family reunification processes. continue reading

But the problems do not stop there. In recent times the avalanche of asylum seekers in the US southern border, mostly from Central America, exceeds the response capacities of the US authorities and prevents both the processing of the requests and the assimilation and adequate attention at the border posts destined to the temporary reception of migrants.

Thus, in an attempt to overcome the crisis, this Monday, July 15th, the official US Department of Homeland Security website has published a new regulation for asylum seekers, which will go into effect on Tuesday, the 16th of this month. The new regulation does not make a distinction among national origins in its text and, consequently, it could potentially also apply to Cuban immigrants.

“A foreigner who enters or intends to enter the US through the southern border without having sought protection in a third country outside of their countries of citizenship, national origin or of his last customary legal residence, who has been en route to the United States, is not suitable for asylum,” reads the rule that casts another shadow of uncertainty on the future of island migrants, especially those who cannot justify a “legitimate fear of being persecuted” or who generally avoid seeking protection in transit countries , either for fear of being deported to Cuba or to avoid the usual extortion from a large number of corrupt officials.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration continues to weave containment strategies against illegal migration and seek agreements with the countries of origin or transit in order to contain the disorderly exodus to the US border. Nor is it known to what extent the Cuban-American exile community can influence (or be willing to do so) in favor of the current Cuban migration. There are sectors that – understandably – distance themselves from the new waves of migrants. At the border, these sectors declare themselves to be “politically persecuted”, and once they get the coveted green card, they return to visit the Island as economic emigrants.

It is early for the lapidary assertions, but all signs tend to spread alarm among the most suspicious hopefuls to reach the American dream, awakening fears about the eventual disappearance of the Cuban Adjustment Act, in force since 1966, the last remaining prerogative for Cubans that allows them to legalize their immigration status and apply for the permanent resident card one year after their entry into the United States.

For the time being, far from slowing down the migratory flow from the Island, each new obstacle seems rather an incentive to escape as soon as possible to any point in the hemisphere, preferably in the northern direction. Because, what is unquestionable is that the only true and legitimate fear of the tens of thousands of Cubans who emigrate each year, is to have to live and die in a country where they feel condemned not to have present or future.

(Miriam Celaya, resident in Cuba, is visiting the United States)

Translated by Norma Whiting

Maduro-Guaido Dialogues: Between Murkiness and Hope / Miriam Celaya

Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó (venezuelaaldia.com)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 July 2019 — I confess that I am an unrepentant “dialoguer”. This is what the most radical sectors disparagingly call those who favor peaceful, agreeable and gradual changes – political dialogue by means of – over the violence of coups d’état and the revolutions of any ideological label.

In fact, in any moderately healthy democracy politics is essentially “dialogue”, where parliaments are the natural scenario of debates where the direction of nations are resolved. It is well known that even in conditions of dictatorship it has also been possible to find peaceful solutions to achieve democracy through dialogue as a political tool, as happened in late-Franco Spain – against the violence of fundamentalist sectors – and in the Chile of Augusto Pinochet, two of the most notorious examples of the effectiveness of dialogue.

A successful dialogue is one that manages to establish mechanisms to overcome political and social tensions, especially when these affect governance in countries where democratic institutions have been broken or – even worse – repression, terror, torture and murder have been systematized as resources of a dictatorship clinging to Power, as is the case of Venezuela. continue reading

The exhaustion and failure of the system, the irrevocable economic and constitutional crisis, the majority rejection of the usurpation of power by a mafioso group – with Maduro at the helm – the majority support of that population to a peaceful solution before military intervention, the national and international recognition of the opposition leadership, and the mediation of international actors in the process are basic conditions for the potential viability of dialogue leading to a negotiated solution in Venezuela.

These premises, however, are not enough. The failure of the attempts of dialogue between the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro and the opposition in the last three years, mainly due to the failure of Executive’s willingness to abandon power and submit to the popular will at the polls, overshadows somewhat the expectations on the results of the current process of talks, which this time is being developed with the mediation of Norway and representatives of the European Union, and which has the participation of the interim president, Juan Guaidó.

Also contributing to reasonable doubts is the little transparency of this process, not only on the part of the representatives of Maduro, whose statements on the results of the negotiations contradict those of the opposition, but also for the never-explained change of position before the operating dialogue of the president in charge of Venezuela and, in general, by the absence of guarantees that, this time, the agreed agreements are fulfilled.

Let’s review: On January 25th, 2019, the newspaper El Espectador published a statement by Guaidó in response to Nicolás Maduro – who had said he “would be willing to dialogue with the opposition leader” – to which Guaidó had responded that it would not happen “given false dialogues.” A few weeks later, in a review published by CNN, Juan Guaidó once again maintained that “With Nicolás Maduro there is no possibility of dialogue, (…) because he has already demonstrated in previous situations, such as in 2017 in the Dominican Republic, that he used it to mock the citizens.”

However, on May 6th, after rumors broke out about the presence of the opposition at the dialogue table in Oslo, and after the ruling party’s boasting in attempt to show the event as its own achievement, Juan Guaidó confirmed that, in effect, the opposition had “sent several people to Norway to lay the foundations for a possible negotiation with the government of Nicolás Maduro”, although he stressed that any agreement would include the exit of the usurper, the establishment of a transitional government and the call for free elections with the presence of international observers.

The acceptance of the dialogue by Guaidó provoked both critical and supportive reactions within the opposition, as well as on the part of its allies in this region. However, as long as the unity of most of the opposition is maintained around the three points of consensus raised by the interim President, dialogue must be maintained as an option, although without renouncing the street demonstrations and all forms of pressure against the dictatorship.

The truth is that, for the moment, Nicolás Maduro has not shown any signs of goodwill or a negotiating spirit. Political prisoners remain imprisoned; repression in the hands of the paramilitary bodies, torturers in police barracks and other thugs who continue to sow terror among Venezuelans remain intact; and several of the closest collaborators and officials claim that there will be no elections in Venezuela and that Maduro will continue in power, statements which the Executive has not been bothered to refute, so far.

Meanwhile, the opposition has closed ranks around Juan Guaidó’s proposal as the sole candidate for the possible presidential elections that – at the closing of the third round of talks, held in Barbados – would have to be held between February and April of next year with a completely renewed National Electoral Council. For its part, the ruling Socialist Party of Venezuelan Unity (PSUV) would try to wash its face by proposing as candidate the current governor of the state of Miranda, Chavez supporter Héctor Rodríguez.

Apparently, there is finally something cooking on the table. The days and weeks to come will tell us if in reality progress is made based on the still secret agreements and steps taken by the parties, or if the current dialogue ends up being another magic trick of the Venezuelan dictatorship to, once again, evade the expectations, demands, and the hopes of its people.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The New Castro Constitution and the Economic Crisis: Born Twins

Hunger in Cuba: A people living on croquettes. Photo file

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 April 2019 — Only a few days have passed since the proclamation of the new Castro Constitution, but nobody is talking about it on the streets of the Cuban capital. Of the entire boring speech by the Army General, the central character of the announcement and of his shiny new work, only one sentence –as lapidary and ominous as the last nail that seals a coffin — stuck in the minds of Cubans, and that was when the head of the geriatric power elite made public what was already an open secret: we must “prepare for the worst variant” of the economy. Officially, the feared ghosts of the “Special Period” of the 90’s, which have been circling for the last year, and which the most deluded considered over and done with, have become reality.

Leaving aside the very questionable exceptionality that makes Cuba the only country in the Western world where a new Constitution and a new economic crisis are announced at the same time and on the same stage, the most contradictory fact is that the aforementioned ‘Magna Carta’, Far from adapting to current times and promoting changes that help oxygenate the economy, is designed to consecrate precisely all the elements that guarantee a state of permanent and irremovable crisis, with the sole objective of perpetuating a class in Power.

By keeping the economy strongly centralized, with state ownership and the inefficient management of the State as its main economic pillars, by refusing to open up to a market economy, and by limiting the minimum expression of citizens’ private initiative and economic freedoms and civil rights — not to mention their political rights — it is more of an epitaph than a Constitution. continue reading

Before the total lack of will to make changes, and given that no miracle or saving source is seen on the horizon to subsidize the unquestionable failure of the system, Cubans have been plunged into the critical phase of the battle for survival in the midst of shortages, extreme rationing and hordes of people in the few markets where some foods in high demand are still marketed, especially oils and meat.

The shopping center Plaza de Carlos III, in the Havana municipality of Centro Habana, is one of a few favored markets enjoying what we could call “the assortment grace” and, consequently, a habitual scenario of that silent battle. Despite the small and limited variety of the supply of increasingly scarce products, in the meat department of this shopping center — as in the other regular city markets, including the one at 3rd and 70th, in the privileged neighborhood of Miramar — the supply of some of the most popular products has sustained relative regularity, so far.

As a result, there are daily swarming crowds at the Plaza de Carlos III, jam-packed for hours before the gates open that give access from the parking lot, which has been exclusively assigned for individuals who want to do their shopping at the butcher shop. The long line crosses a good part of the parking area, particularly on weekends, when many people also come from the provinces near the capital, or even from more distant places, where the shortages are atrocious.

It is generally unknown which products will go on sale each day, but the feeling of urgency and the need to bring food home does not allow most people viable options. Day after day, the same scene is repeated throughout the opening hours of the market: a constant human tide, forced to dedicate hours of their daily lives carting around food at prices that do not correspond to Cuban wages.

And while hardships are becoming the norm, the exclusions are growing at the same time. At the end of March, the directors of the Gastronomy and Services Company of Centro Habana, in a meeting with the directors of each establishment, reported that it is strictly forbidden for them and their subordinates to even mention the phrase “Special Period.

At the same time, the employees of the shopping centers that operate in foreign currencies received the same orientation. “Special period,” “crisis,” “shortages,” are some of the terms that have swelled the extensive list of subversive words, as if the terminology — and not the bad performance of the country’s administration — was the cause of the economic setback that dooms Cubans to a state of poverty.

Meanwhile, the regime has been oiling the mechanisms of repression and controls. The National Bus Company has recently begun to apply strong restrictive rules to control the contents of passengers’ baggage. Each traveler can transport up to two liters of edible oil to the interior provinces. There have also been drastic limitations on the allowed weight, with significant added fees for excess baggage.

Other food and hygiene products — such as bath soap, toothpaste and detergent — are also being restricted in baggage. According to the officials in charge of these controls, these measures seek to avoid speculation and smuggling on the black market, but this regulation also affects families who are forced to get their supplies in the capital city, all those necessities that have practically disappeared from the villages in the interior of Cuba.

“And that’s nothing, the worst is yet to come!” predict the most famous who lived through the unspeakable hardships of the 90s as adults, and know that, this time, the situation in the interior, as well as at the regional and international level, is a lot more complex than it was then, and doesn’t leave any room for extemporaneous optimism.

At any case it is a sentence much more realistic than all the unfulfilled promises of the Castro regime through more than 60 years, and more realistic than the Constitution, whose birth, on April 10th, was announced with all the solemnity and fanfare along that of its twin sister: the new Castro economic crisis, maybe the worst of all.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban Constitution: A False Legacy / Miriam Celaya

Constitution Project (Cubadebate Photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 April 2019 — As implausible as it may seem, 60 years after its arrival in power, the Castro regime has not yet been able to legitimize itself. The self-awareness of the nature of its bastard lineage is reflected with particular force in the persistent insistence of inventing associations of historical continuity with the wars of Independence and their heroes, and also with the civic and intellectual legacy of the Republic.

The matter is not trivial. For the regime, the search for historical legitimacy became an essential strategic issue at the beginning of its storyline. Not coincidentally, Fidel Castro placed the blame for his audacious armed assault on a military barracks on José Martí’s constitutional army, an alarming sign of recklessness and almost suicidal violence completely alien to Martí’s legacy.  However, this pronouncement was ignored by a people too attached to the worship of leaders.

But the epics of the Moncada, the Granma and the Sierra Maestra  ̶ whose essential purpose was the restoration of the model 1940 Constitution – which was tainted in 1952 by Fulgencio Batista’s military coup – disappeared as soon as the Castro’s yearned-for democratic revolution turned into a dictatorship, although many Cubans of that time didn’t notice it. continue reading

Now, in another forced round of acrobatics, today’s Castro regime is, once again, desecrating the historical memory when proclaiming the new Constitution on exactly the same date it was approved 150 years ago, by consensus and by means of a Constituent Assembly of the Republic in Arms, consisting of delegates representing the three insurgent regions of the Island of Cuba  ̶ Oriente, Las Villas y Centro (Camagüey) ̶  the first authentically Cuban Law of laws: La Constitución de Guáimaro.

For further derision, it was Army General Raul Castro, First Secretary of the Communist Party and heir dictator by dynastic line, who proclaimed the spurious ‘Magna Carta’ (today’s constitution) instead of the “civil power” representative, supposedly sanctioned at the National Assembly.

According to the General, the recently imposed new Constitution, “is a continuity” of the one at Guáimaro’s (1869) and of the Constitutions of Jimaguayú (1895) and La Yaya (1897), “because it safeguards the unity of all Cubans and the Homeland’s independence and sovereignty.” The truth, however, is that there are not only abysmal differences between the old Constitutions and the shady Castro regime’s edict recently established, but that the latter means a true regression with respect to those in terms of recognition of civic rights and freedoms.

The first difference is in its origin. The the genesis of the current legal embryo was the dictatorial Power’s creation of a dark Commission charged with writing, in greatest secrecy, what would be the “Project” of a Constitution. This “Project” would later be submitted to what they called “popular consultation”  ̶  whose debates, “contributions” and proposals were never published ̶   a process that continued with the formal amendments carried out by the same mysterious “Commission,” always under the autocratic power’s baton, giving us the above-mentioned Project, which today was officially consecrated as the “Constitution.”

Regarding the differences in essence and text, it is enough to mention, for example, the perception among the delegates to the Constituent of 1869 of the need to divide powers, a democratic-liberal spirit that begins to be reflected in the Constitution of Guáimaro, in spite of it being a political proposal under war conditions and being destined to exist only while the armed conflict with Spain lasted. In its Article 22 (of a total of 29 Articles) it endorses: “The Judicial Power is independent; its organization will be the object of a special law”.

Later on, Article 28 establishes rights that, 150 years later, are only remote aspirations to essential rights, whose exercise may result in repression, imprisonment, or exile of Cubans: “The Chamber will not be able to attack the freedoms of worship, printing, peaceful assembly, education and petition, nor any inalienable right of the People.”

So significant was this democratic principle for the founding fathers that they kept it in force in the Constitution of La Yaya, through its Thirteenth Article: “All Cubans have the right to freely express their ideas and to meet and associate for the lawful purposes of the living.” A basic right of every free and democratic society because of which thousands of the best Cubans of that time lost their lives, and which found a place in the magnificent Republican Constitution of 1940, only to be violated by corrupt leaders of different political groups but with identical ambitions and thirst for power in the past 67 years.

Therefore, such continuity does not exist. If invoking Guáimaro is what this is about, we are facing a false legacy. The Castro Constitution is not only the negation of the rebellious and libertarian spirit of Guáimaro, but, on the contrary, it condemns us, from 10 April 2019 onwards, to live under a permanent dictatorship. The General’s constitution is neither legacy nor continuity: it is an epitaph.

Translated by Norma Whiting

High Prices and Greater Control: An Old Formula for A Renewed Crisis

Officer watches as Cubans line up to shop (Reuters)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 April 2019 — It’s Saturday morning and The Carlos III Shopping Plaza in Centro Habana recently opened, but already the butcher shop, in the interior of the establishment, is packed with people while, beyond the windows of the front door, another crowd swarms, expectantly waiting their turn to come in.

The customary shortages, made worse during the final months of 2018, have become chronic in hard currency stores, so that in the few markets where there is some assortment, large crowds gather. People in Cuba devote a large part of their time to the search for and acquisition of food.

“This is the only place I’ve found chicken and ground beef after looking in lots of other stores”, says a mature woman while placing the desired products in her shopping cart. Like her, dozens of people lean over the refrigerators gathering food to buy and take home. continue reading

In comparison with the empty shelves of previous days, this weekend the market has released products of dubious nutritional quality but of popular acceptance, due to their more modest prices: beef burgers, meatballs, sausages, various types of chopped meats, mixed with soy and starches — all of them imported — and artificially flavored and sweetened yogurt produced domestically. Chicken, which has become an obligatory character at the Cuban table and enjoys great popular demand, has reappeared after being absent for several days in this market. Nobody knows when the food supplies will be restocked, so everyone tries to hoard food as far as their limited finances will allow.

The endemic food shortage in Cuba has been joined by a subtle but steady increase in the prices of some foods. At the back of the butcher shop, next to the glass case, a blackboard displays what looks like science fiction for the Cuban pockets. The notice board is insulting: Marbled, bone in Beef Loin 20.25 CUC* / Kg (equivalent to 506.25 CUP). The same boneless product is also offered at 19.30 CUC / Kg (equivalent to 482.50 CUP), in addition to “super” ham at 10.25 CUC / Kg (256.25 CUP), bacon at 3.00 CUC / 250gr (75.00 CUP), Siboney brand processed cheese 4.95 CUC / Kg (123.75 CUP) and several types of sausages produced nationally with mixed capital of State companies and Spanish partners, in tubes of 500 grams whose prices range between 4.65 CUC (116.25 CUP) and 7.10 CUC (177.50 CUP). Most customers are buying only processed cheese, while a large stale piece of beef worth 88 CUC (2,200 CUP) continues to age, dark and forgotten, behind the vitreous refrigerated showcase.

Concerning the agricultural markets, they have joined the upward prices spiral that, usually high, continue to shoot even higher without mercy in the agricultural demand and supply (i.e. unrationed) markets, whose products are of greater variety and of superior quality to the ones offered in the small kiosks of other private sellers. As for the agricultural markets of state cooperatives, they usually have a poor supply, and their products, with some exceptions, are usually of the worst quality, and even their more modest prices do not have a realistic relationship with the purchasing power of the common Cuban.

Although not everyone is aware of the complexity and depth of the economic crisis that grips them and threatens to worsen in times to come, the perception of the deterioration begins to be felt on the minds of the people. The uncertainty about the near future continues to grow, along with the certainty that the government does not have a viable alternative to address the growing problems of the economy and society.

The most recent meetings of the Councils of Ministers have uncovered some of the huge cracks through which finances disappear, as well as other serious ills ailing the national economy that have forced the government to make public certain deficiencies that years ago would have remained hushed. However, far from implementing reforms to end with damaging centralism and to free up the productive forces leading to the development of private initiative, the authorities have opted for the formula, largely unsuccessful, of “control increases,” savings “as source of income” and the eternal calls for the productive efficiency of workers.

However, in crisis situations nothing is as useful to the official script as a villain. And, since the “blockade” (the embargo) is still useful but no longer enough to justify internal failures, in recent issues the television news program has been focusing precisely on the “hoarders-speculators”  — that fauna, the natural daughter of scarcity and unproductiveness — as if it were about a new phenomenon and had not been a permanent character of our existence for at least the last half century.

Thus, in order to remedy the shortages, the hot potato has been launched at the population by the Castro media: “the people” have been invited to go onto the National Television News (NTV) website and other lampoons to present their proposals as to what measures the authorities should take to curb this scourge of parasites that make the lives of the most humble Cubans so expensive by appropriating large quantities of basic goods and then reselling them at multiplied prices in the informal market.

With that amusing touch of modernity — a sign of the new style of media-focused governance with which they have been refreshing the image of the failed Castro experiment in the hands of the “young” commander without command — the power cupola not only evades its direct responsibility in the economic catastrophe into which it has plunged Cuba, and its obligation to present a proposal to mend it, but suggests to the servants of the ruinous medieval village to disburse a part of their already meager pockets to connect to the Internet (also with the onerous prices of its connections) and declare on the official page of the NTV what to do with these lesser delinquents, that is, the hoarders.

What the plan is really about is to set an example by punishing, not the true and biggest hoarders-speculators who have been squeezing all of us for 60 years, but to chastise those petty rascals who engage in small-scale mercantile fiddling and who, in the last instance, also survive, protected by the general corruption of the system.

Because, in a good fight, the State-Government-Party is the first link of the chain of speculators dragging Cubans to poverty. They are officials of the Castro regime — many of them proven corrupt over the years — who are responsible for the ever increasingly insufficient purchases of food at the lowest price abroad later sold for prices that are multiplied several times in the state retail trade networks, in which Cubans must necessarily buy to survive, and it is the economic paralysis of state centralism that fosters the proliferation of those markets and these speculators, in a system that reproduces its own basic vices time and again.

The inefficient and unproductive State-Party-Government is the parasite that sets low prices for food production by peasants, imposes what kind of crops they must develop, monopolizes harvests, which often deteriorate or are lost in the fields or in storage warehouses, and thus pushes producers to sell to intermediary speculators, who offer better prices for the farmers’ harvests, but raise consumer costs.

Thus, by diverting attention to the effect to mask the causes of evil and, at the same time, manipulate national public opinion, the leadership creates a false impression that popular participation is part of the decision-making of the economy and in the solution of the problems that afflict the population, at the same time that it increases the time to implement the essential apertures that, sooner or later, would mark the route towards the inevitable end of the socialist experiment in Cuba.

*Translator’s note: The CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) is roughly equivalent to one U.S. dollar. Monthly wages in Cuba average roughly 17-30 CUC a month, thus this price for 2.2 pounds of beef is more than many Cubans’ monthly wage.

Translated by Norma Whiting

What Did Their Royal Highnesses Come For? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Source: radioreloj.cu

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 26 March2019 — Despite the publication by the Castro press of each of two decaffeinated official biographies of their Royal Highnesses, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall — who arrived on the afternoon of the same day at the Cuban capital, fulfilling a visit announced months ago, in response to an official invitation from the Cuban government — and the brief mention on TV news of the activities and tours of the distinguished couple during their short stay in Havana, the modest profile granted by the government media to guests of such vintage ancestry makes one stop and think.

Being such an unprecedented historic event, which some foreign media tried to view as a visit which will draw closer or improve the relations between Havana and London, the cold discretion of the Cuban authorities and the scant media coverage offered to the event are striking. If, in truth, the objective of this visit was so favorable to the leaders of the Government, they would not have missed the enthusiastic receptions and the mobilizations of the faithful, perhaps carrying posters in the style of: “Welcome Your Royal Highnesses” or some other similar tacky ploy.

Needless to also mention that the visit of the representatives of the British monarchy — or of any other of old Europe’s crown heads — is as unusual as it is foreign and distant to ordinary Cubans. Irreverent and plebeian by nature, anti-monarchists — earlier by inherited tradition from the independence wars; later, due to communist ideological indoctrination — and culturally refractory to any royal pedigree or palatial label, the idiosyncrasy of the inhabitants of this other archipelago has nothing in common with representatives of any royalty. continue reading

And so alien is the British royalty to Cubans that most do not even know of the scandals carried out in their day by the infidelities of the Prince of Wales who now visits us, his controversial divorce from Princess Diana, and the role the current wife of the heir to the throne, the former lover of the once restless Charles, played in those entanglements. Absorbed in the urgencies of daily survival, Cubans are not interested in this pair of aristocrats. To be sure, the heroes of the tearful regional telenovelas and their avatars are much closer and more familiar to the natives of this island than the intrigues of Buckingham Palace.

So, in perspective, it can be said that the presence of their British Royal Highnesses among us is a rather folkloric event which, at most, will awaken some curiosity among the plebes, but that will barely pass with neither sorrows nor glories and will be forgotten as soon as the visitors go back to where they came from.

Stranger still than this extemporaneous visit is that it is taking place in the midst of another turn of the screw in Cuba’s eternal economic crisis, when the deficiencies worsen, migrations abroad continue to show a growing trend and we can glimpse (literally) a grim horizon at the possibility of the loss of Venezuela’s oil subsidies in the near term.

If we look at them from the point of State relations, the links between a European monarchy with a long tradition and a rich lineage and a communist-cast dictatorship do not seem to be very consistent either. It is hard to believe that a politically influential personality such as the heir to the British throne can lend himself to offering friendly support to the Palace of the Revolution, especially when it is not usual for European royal houses to mark very clear political positions with the governments or mis-governments of the world.

Less credible still is that their Royal Highnesses should have taken the trouble to land in Cuba just to place a wreath to honor José Martí, visit the Palace of the Captains General, attend a function of the children of La Colmenita and another of the Alicia Alonso Ballet at the Gran Teatro de La Habana. They are princes, not dumb-asses.

On the other hand, despite the fact that Prince Charles ignored US Senator Rick Scott’s request, when in February he asked him to change his travel plans to Havana and visit Florida instead, where, as Scott wrote, he could ” to learn firsthand the six decades of atrocities, oppression and misery that the regime inflicted on Cubans”; and although the Prince’s agenda in Havana did not include any meetings with the dissident sectors or statements about the situation in Venezuela and the important role of Cuba in the military and intelligence support in that South American country, there are no indications of any kind so far of compromise or alliance between the unelected President of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel and his geriatric conga line with the representative of the British monarchy.

Rather, everything indicates that the presence of Charles and Camilla in Havana responds more to an agenda related to aspects of financial interest and exploration of possible investments than to issues of a political nature, although protocol and appearances may suggest otherwise. Maybe, behind the scenes, the prince has also come to air the debts to the United Kingdom on the Cuban side. In any case, historically, English policy has maintained its independence with respect to Washington and has drawn its own agenda — as was demonstrated when it carried out the Falklands War — but when it comes time to cut the cake, London knows where its allies are.

For now, the details of the meeting of the Prince of Wales with Díaz-Canel and the real purposes of this visit of the British Royal House to Cuba are wrapped in a halo of mystery about which we can only speculate. In any case, on Wednesday, March 27th, the royal couple will leave Cuba to visit their former Caribbean island colonies. They will leave behind the same poverty and despair that have become the sign that marks the reality for Cubans.

Translated by Norma Whiting