Irma and the “Hollocastro,” Two Hurricanes Over Cuba / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro (Cubanet)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 16 September 2017, Havana – In these post-hurricane days, rumors are circulating through the streets of the Cuban capital: where is Raúl Castro? Why has he not made an appearance in the areas most affected by the ravages of Hurricane Irma or before the television cameras to deliver some message of hope and support to the victims? Isn’t it true that the person that holds by force the highest leadership of the Government and the single Party should go directly to the people and be more at hand, the greater the calamity that’s devastating the country?

A week after of the hurricane’s destructive passage deployment of leaders has been taking place throughout the devastated countryside and towns. The entire olive-green aging caste seems to have mobilized. Except for the general-president, whose invisibility is, at least, scandalous. He was barely seen in the official media this Friday, September 15th, presiding over a meeting of the National Defense Council that took place last Wednesday the 13th, where, according to the same media, “damages caused by Hurricane Irma and the actions to be developed during the recovery phase were evaluated, as were actions to be taken during the recuperation phase.” On that occasion, the head of government also maintained a very low profile. continue reading

As usual, speculations and rumors have been rampant in trying to explain the head of state’s unlikely behavior: “He must be very ill”, say some people; “They did not have a contingency plan for this disaster,” conjecture the more malicious. However, the most widespread impression is that the country’s situation is so complex and its solutions so difficult that it is too big a task for the old ruler. In fact, Raúl Castro doesn’t time to live, or good health, or political will, or courage, or sufficient talent not just to solve the deep national crisis, but to lead the destinies of Cuba to a good port.

To make matters worse, the Cuban president’s only message was the “appeal to our dynamic people,” published in the media on Tuesday, September 12th, where – in the absence of a more realistic proposal – he appealed to “the legacy” of the Specter in Chief “with his “permanent faith in the victory” to face the country’s recovery. Nothing seems as absurd and desperate as to invoke the ghostly guidance of the main maker of the national ruin in this horrible hour.

But the icing on the cake was the unfortunate clumsiness of stating in the same text that “we have the human and material resources required” to repair and put into operation before the high season (beginning in November) the main tourist destinations that suffered severe damages in the hurricane. In a country where a large number of families have lost their homes and their meager assets, such an impudent statement, which transcends the greed of the top for monopolizing hard currency is not only untimely and cynical in the present circumstances, but it constitutes an irrefutable demonstration of the Government’s insensitivity to the human drama that tens of thousands of Cubans on the Island are experiencing.

For many, the distance that the general-president of his troubled people has taken is multiplied by contrast, compared to the extreme populism of his predecessor. Everyone remembers that Castro I – whether out of his proverbial thirst for the limelight, his egocentrism, or his colossal narcissism – took advantage of the opportunities offered by hurricanes to descend from his high green Olympus to take a dip in town and appear as protector and generous patron, especially in those places where the poorest sectors lived and where the worst damage had occurred.

There, in the midst of the rubble, the rubbish and the mud, the egregious autocrat pressed some hands, clumsily patted some children’s heads, dictated the patterns of an imaginary recovery, provided for the free distribution of some odds and ends, flung impossible promises that ended up in oblivion, and pronounced inspired speeches. He looked as if he were sincerely concerned about his endowment of slaves. Because Castro I knew that it was not enough to be the maximum leader: he also – and perhaps this was the most important thing – had to look like one.

And the trick always worked because, at the end of the day, warped politicians (forgive the redundancy) know that people simply just need to believe that, in reality, despite losses, calamities and wreckages “they will not be left helpless” by their leaders. And they certainly believe it, if only for a while.

But it happens that “time” is what neither the general-president nor the millions of Cubans who await improvements that never arrive have. So, even admitting that his age, his declining health or his justified fears of the unpredictable reactions that the impatient multitudes may exhibit, could have prevented Raúl Castro from mixing with the people, what is true is that, as sitting “president,” he may not evade his responsibility at the head of the nation.

So, Hurricane Irma could turn out to be one of two options for Castro II: the opportunity to correct the course and remove the restrictions and obstacles that impede the development of the nation’s private sector, recognizing its important role in moving the internal economy; or – otherwise – the nail that seals the coffin of the so-called “updating of the model” with all its failed plans. The General’s insoluble dilemma is to try to improve the national economy without liberating its productive forces; but his personal tragedy is that he can only save the country if he betrays the so-called “socialist” legacy, inherited from his brother and mentor.

The signals of government weariness and the popular discontent are already clear, as has been shown in recent outbreaks of protest, in the looting of state businesses, in the obvious fear of the government that seeks to exacerbate popular discontent with “exemplary” measures and repress the heated minds with an unprecedented deployment of power of the Special Forces that only spur a climate of tension and of a plaza besieged, especially in the country’s capital. And to aggravate the scene, there is no longer a “wet foot/dry foot” policy in the United States, offering an outlet for Cubans’ expectations of prosperity. Now only frustration and powerlessness are left.

Meanwhile, Irma has been a fatal unforeseen event for the Government, which, at first glance, creates serious disturbances in different levels of national life.

At the economic level, it shatters the official plans of increasing the gross domestic product by 2% by the end of 2017 from an announced tourism growth that would see the arrivals of foreign vacationers surge to a number of 4 million visitors or more.

At the political level, it also alters the plans for the electoral farce that had just begun with the nomination process of base candidates, which now must be hastily reprogrammed, with all the flaws and unforeseen implications that this might entail.

At the social level, Irma’s saga has increased the tension between the fragile social power balance and the governed; which is the same as saying between the beneficiaries and the eternally sacrificed.

The reasons the General does not offer his face to the storm is understandable from all this. He does not give answers because he does not have them. He is old, tired and fearful. Perhaps the months, weeks and days that remain before giving the presidential chair are counted, and with it, all the problems and tensions that it arouses. Except that Hurricane Irma has also stamped an unthought-of turn in those plans. It is already known that in an uncontrolled Cuba everything that is harmful is possible.

Translated by Norma Whiting

 

“The Hurricane Has Delivered Punta Alegre the Coup de Grace”

The damages in Punta Alegre, Ciego de Ávila, could be around 80%, but there are no official figures. (Lisbet Cuéllar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 September 2017 — Residents of Punta Alegre, a small fishing village located on the northern coast of Cuba’s municipality of Chambas, in Ciego de Ávila, have not yet recovered from the horror they experienced on September 8th, when their community was leveled while hurricane Irma struck for endless hours.

Ironically, it was the feast day of the Cuban patron saint, our Lady of El Cobre, who, according to legend, hundreds of years ago saved three fishermen from the raging sea in the bay of Nipe. The children of Punta Alegre, however, did not count on her divine protection. In fact, they did not have anyone’s.

After the catastrophe, when the inhabitants of Punta Alegre began to come out of the few remaining homes or shelters in which they had taken refuge temporarily, they encountered a panorama of utter devastation. A pile of debris, sea corals, chunks of roofs, scraps of furniture, tree branches, and mud stretched over what once was a quiet coastal town. Some fishing boats had been swept by the sea into the village and floated between houses. Only the more solid masonry constructions, barely a minimum percentage of the precarious housing found in the town resisted the hurricane’s fury. continue reading

Witnesses confirm that nothing resembles the picturesque little town that Punta Alegre once was, with its smells of sea and fish, settled in a privileged geographical landscape

 Irma’s attack, with sustained winds of 240 kph (149 mph) and the incursion of the sea, totally or partially destroyed both the humble houses and almost all of the scarce State facilities, including the fishing cooperative – whose already weak fleet suffered the total loss of or damage to several boats – the two shopping areas, the camping base, the two restaurants, the nursing home, whose dining room served food to retirees of lower income with no subsidiary help, and other facilities. Not even the village church escaped the catastrophe: half of the belfry collapsed, including everything besides the bell.

The amount and total magnitude of the damage is still unknown, but according to the testimonies of some neighbors who have managed to leave the town for other places where communications and electricity service have already been restored, the current image of Punta Alegre is of utter desolation. Some say that more than 80% of the town was destroyed, but, so far, there are only unconfirmed estimates. In any case, the witnesses say that nothing resembles the picturesque little town that Punta Alegre once was, with its sea and fish smell, set in a privileged geographical landscape between the bay to the north, and green hills that descend into the horizon to the south.

Ronald is a 30-year-old from Punta Alegre who was visiting his parents when Irma raged over the place where he was born. Five days later, back in Havana, where he lives with his wife and children, he tells us that “the hurricane has delivered the coup de grace to Punta Alegre”.

“The truth is that the decadence had begun there many years ago, since the Máximo Gómez Sugar Mill (formerly Punta Alegre Sugar Mill) was closed for good during the crisis of the 1990’s and many people lost their jobs”, he says, explaining why he left and moved to the capital.

“In my parents’ and grandparents’ days, Punta Alegre had a lot of drive for a country town. The bay was deep enough to allow ship traffic of respectable size, carrying the sugar produced in the mills,” he recalls. 

Tourist infrastructure, far from being a new source of employment, was a severe blow to fishing, because the maritime road did not meet the technical requirements

But the closing of its plant would be just the beginning of the town’s collapse. Tourism fever started around the same time, driven by a government desperate to raise hard currency. The construction of hotels in Cuba’s northern keys (Jardines del Rey), as well as that of the embankments to connect these keys to the mainland, far from being a new source of jobs for the inhabitants of Punta Alegre, were a severe blow, since the maritime road did not comply with the technical requirements that call for the presence of sufficient number of bridges to allow the proper circulation of the marine currents. This increased the salinity of the waters in Buenavista Bay, and with it, many marine species that were the economic sustenance of a traditionally fishing community disappeared from the area.

“Suffice it to say that, from that point on, the cooperative, built after the Revolution, which up to the ‘80’s maintained a fairly large flotilla, began to decline and its catch levels fell, eventually deteriorating and losing many boats for lack of maintenance or official disinterest. And, along with the decay of the cooperative, also came the decline in the fish-processing plant, which was the source of employment for many of the town’s women, including my mother and my grandmother”, remarks Ronald.

In fact, Irma is not the first hurricane to hit Punta Alegre. In 1985, Kate arrived in the region as a category 2 hurricane and demolished a good number of houses and other infrastructures, among which was the old nautical club built on stilts, over the sea waves. On that occasion, the late Cuban President Fidel Castro, who used to visit regions hit by the hurricanes and personally guide the recovery efforts, built a small community of houses further away from the sea for Hurricane Kate’s victims. In spite of this, the town’s original characteristics were never recovered.

“Somehow, people have always managed to survive, and also to try to have a little fun”. We still had the Los Cocos Beach, which was in the Máximo Gómez Mill, where people went to enjoy themselves at the camping base until a few days ago. Now all that was lost and who knows if anything will be recovered, or when. It is as if Punta Alegre has been doomed”, he mourns.

But, to date, what Ronald and the majority of the inhabitants of Punta Alegre can’t understand is the scandalous abandonment of the local and municipal authorities when Irma’s scourge was imminent, although it was known well ahead that the hurricane’s trajectory would have a catastrophic effect on the town and its people.

 “There was no assurance of food for the people. Only 150 packets of salt crackers arrived for a population of about five thousand, and some coal sacks were distributed free of charge”

“Before Irma arrived, transportation and communications were cut off, and there was no assurance of food for the people. Only 150 packets of salt crackers arrived for a population of about five thousand, and some sacks of coal were distributed free of charge”. That was it. Baby food did not arrive either, nor was there a distribution of powdered milk or canned food for the people to get by during the storm. One can just imagine the fights over a few of those crackers. The only thing that stayed open and active around the clock was the bakery, thanks to the only operational generator in the area. The medical post was also active”.

“Despite widespread propaganda in the official press, this town did not even benefit from an adequate contingency plan. There was no efficient evacuation procedure of the inhabitants near the coastline, where the sea breached with a force never seen before, so that entire families, including small children, who thought they were safe in homes, were forced to evacuate in the middle of the night, under rain and gusts of wind in a nightmarish situation. “We believed that this was it, that we were going to drown because the water was up to our chests. The children were terrified, screaming and crying non-stop. Some people did not scream, but panic was reflected in their eyes”, recalls Ronald.

Even under the pummeling of the winds, the two village stores were sacked, as well as the “El Toletazo Restaurant”. The scarce food collected there, and in other small warehouses of a few State establishments were shared spontaneously and jointly by the town’s people. “It must be noted that people helped each other. Not one person in a protected shelter shut anyone out. Everyone supported and consoled each other. It was very emotional, despite the misfortune”.

No Government representative visited the village until September 12th. However, in previous days, several senior officials had made an appearance in the Keys.

Until the 12th of September, when the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party finally arrived in Punta Alegre, no government representative had visited the town, which to this day still lacks the basics, such as electricity, drinking water and telephone service. However, in previous days several senior officials, including the Minister of Tourism, had been present in the Keys to evaluate the damage suffered by hotel facilities and to guide reconstruction work which, according to President Raúl Castro, must be completed before next November, the start of the high season.

“When the worst moments had passed, a lot of people went out to forage… Some people found a considerable number of whiskey bottles and other alcoholic drinks, which had been swept away by the waves from the storerooms and facilities in the Keys. There were also some things to eat that landed on shore by the force of the waves and the wind, but they were spoiled. They say that the hurricane caused the loss of tons of food from the hotels in the Key resorts. It is a crime that food was lost instead of being delivered to the nearby towns before the storm hit”, admonishes Ronald.

When the young man was able to leave the village, he saw long lines of townspeople crowded in wait for food that, according to government leaders who just materialized on the scene, should start arriving by truck at any moment”. There were long lines of people anxious to get food for their families”, he says, “and it hurts to think that most of them have lost their homes and all their possessions”. After a pause, he repeats his initial idea: “Yes, Hurricane Irma was the coup de grace, but the destruction of Punta Alegre had already begun a very long time ago”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Señor General “Going-Backwards” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raúl Castro next to Vice-President Miguel Díaz-Canel (Reuters)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 August 2017 – In line with the last meeting of the Council of Ministers, held at the end of June, where – according to what the General-President said in his closing speech of the Ninth Ordinary Session of the National Assembly – many deficiencies and problems were analyzed in the self-employment sector (TCP). The Official Gazette, in an extraordinary edition (No. 31) dated Tuesday, August 1, 2017, has decreed the suspension, supposedly temporary, of the delivery of licenses for at least 27 activities of the private sector (“self-employed”), “until the perfection of this sector is concluded.”

In addition, the decree states that in the future – and permanently – no new licenses will be granted to work in the areas of: wholesale of agricultural products; retailers of agricultural products; cart vendors or sellers of agricultural products on an ambulatory basis; buyer and seller of music records; and and operator of recreational equipment.

Despite this, according to what the First Vice Minister of Labor and Social Security told the official press, the provisions of the decree “do not constitute a setback in the development of (self-employed) activity,” but will “consolidate the organization and control of self-employment work so that it continues to advance in an orderly and efficient manner.” But this official did not explain how a process that has been stopped by a government decree could “advance.”
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And while such a strategy of advancing by going backwards may be paradoxical, more impudent still are the pretexts that were used to justify the retraction of what was announced years ago as a process of reforms that would oxygenate the internal economy and allow the potential for employment for a portion of the labor force let go from government jobs.

It turns out that the fickle old ruler has discovered “deviations in the implementation of the approved policy” for the TCP, ranging from the use of raw materials and equipment “illicit in their origins” to the “breach of tax obligations,” including under-reporting of sales/income, by members in the sector.

The truth is that, although the authorities have frequently expressed that the TCP has reported benefits in “lightening the burden of the State,” in the reordering of labor, as well as in the supply of goods and services – which, by the way, is not, nor should it be the natural aspiration of private labor anywhere in the world – in practice, this sector has become the most propitious villain (after the “criminal imperialist blockade”) to justify the causes of the failures inherent in the Cuban sociopolitical system.

The aforementioned “deviations” include “lack of answerability and timely solution to problems,” “imprecisions and inadequacies in control” and “deficiencies in economic contracting for the provision of services or supply of production between legal entities and lay persons,” among others.

These latter deficiencies, however, are not attributable to those who engaged in the TCP, but to the representatives and government officials responsible for correct compliance, who did not adequately fulfill their obligations, so that – if tabula rasa is used in the application of the law – the posts of state inspectors, officials of the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT), police officers, and a whole host of bureaucrats related to the implementation and control of TPC should also be suspended and constitute a dense layer of parasites that only tax the increased corruption, which is spread throughout the country in epidemic proportions.

But the new decree of “General Rupert Going-Backwards” also suffers from numerous intrinsic contradictions, such as, that among the activities in this species of temporary “hibernation” are included, first, those who rent housing, rooms and spaces, as well as coffee shops and restaurants (paladares), which is a real folly in a country that – it is said – expects that the number of visitors will reach 4 million this year, and does not have the hotel and food service infrastructure capable of satisfying such demand.

Seen from a more objective perspective, it is obvious that the Cuban government prefers that the foreign tour operators installed throughout Cuba benefit from the influx of foreign visitors, and not the native entrepreneurs themselves. This is not explained as a simple perversion of the system – which it also is – but is making Power panic, in the face of the demonstrated ability, in just a few years, of the private sector to achieve prosperity and autonomy. These entrepreneurs are much more successful and competitive than the State sector, and thus are a potential social force relatively independent from strong government subjection. And it is well-known that the power of autocracies is based on the most absolute social control.

There’s nothing so threatening for the autocratic regime as the possibility of consolidating an autonomous – and therefore potentially free – segment within Cuban society. Hence, the demonization of what they call “accumulation of wealth” and the questioning of the ability of some entrepreneurs to travel abroad and import raw materials and supplies, openly expressed in the aforementioned speech by the General before Parliament.

Equally paradoxical is that during the most recent session of Parliament the existence of a deficit of 883,000 thousand homes in Cuba was officially acknowledged – a figure that should actually be much higher – but at the same time a Decree published today in the Gazette has prohibited the granting of new licenses for private contractors, in direct contradiction to the fact that it has been precisely private construction activity that has marked a slight growth in the manufacture and repair of houses. In contrast, State dependent construction has been accumulating colossal defaults for decades, in a country whose housing is in a calamitous state an whered the majority of the population lacks the resources to attain housing.

Analyzing all the weaknesses and inconsistencies of the new Decree would require dozens of pages, but it is not worth the effort. We are simply facing the latest development of the unrealistic project of “updating the model,” which has been the chimera of Castro II since his arrival to the olive-green throne. There’s nothing so grotesque as trying to implement from the proven imperfection of Power the “perfection of self-employment,” the only segment of the national economy that works with some efficiency.

The General and his claque know it, so this new limitation on the private sector is actually the legal expression of the government’s terror of losing social control in a country where discontent, dissatisfaction and shortages continue to grow. At the moment, everything indicates that the general-president’s reformist disguise will continue to unravel at the seams.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“American-Philia” Conquers Cuba / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

The regime is unable to counteract the growing “Uncle Sam” effect on Cuban society

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 June 2017 — Ten days have passed since Donald Trump announced his “new” political strategy toward Cuba, and while the official Cuban press monopoly has wasted gallons of ink on newspapers and on dozens of reports, interviews and TV programs to show the world the indignation and rejection of the Cuban people at the gross interference of US imperialism, which attempts to undermine the portentous social and economic achievements reached in almost 60 years of Castro rule, national life continues its boring course at ground level, far from the rhetorical battles.

If the US president’s speech has had any palpable effect in Cuba, it is in the possibility of clearly confirming, on a daily basis, the enormous gap that exists between the olive-green power elite, as an eternalized political class, and common Cubans. Oblivious to the political and mass organizations at the service of the gerontocracy, which these days have shown discipline through the obligatory task of drafting their declarations of repudiation of the Empire of Evil, the people remain as alienated from the old “revolutionary” epic, and from its ideological disputes as is possible. Particularly when the enemy they are fighting is none other than the endearing monster in whose entrails so many thousands and thousands of Cubans yearn to live. continue reading

A breach that has become all the more visible because the majority of Cubans today increasingly identify less with the official discourse and is more irreverent in relation to the State-Party-Government and with everything it represents.

If anyone were to doubt this, all he would need to do is to walk the streets of the Cuban capital and check the number of American flags that proliferate every day, either as articles of clothing worn by numerous passers-by, such as caps, sandals, head scarves, etc. or decorating the interior of private transportation. It is like a contest in social irreverence towards everything that stems from the government and its colossal propagandistic and repressive apparatus, a phenomenon that was unthinkable only a few years ago.

Thus, the more the official voice shouts itself hoarse calling for the union of national sovereignty and the reaffirmation of socialism, not only does American-philia expand among the population of the island – with even greater strength, although not exclusively, among the younger generation – but it also adopts multiple variants of expression. It is not limited to the open display of the US flag, but also has well-known trademarks originating in that country, signs of official US institutions on textiles (including t-shirts labeled: USA, DEA, or FBI, for example), as well as images and names of famous US cities.

It is like an effect of funny magic, by virtue of which everything having to do with that country draws me near. Or, to put it another way, to think intensely about a thing is a superstitious way (like “I hope it becomes true” while crossing one’s fingers) of preparing the ground for the pleasure of enjoying it.

But if, in the daily routine of the city, the American symbols continue to mark the pace, as if mocking that dreaded label of “ideological diversion,” presumably fallen into disuse, on the beaches the phenomenon constitutes a quasi-apotheosis. This can easily be seen at the beaches east of Havana, where coastline areas from El Megano to Guanabo in the extensive sandy stretches where – despite Trump’s bitter declarations and the strong patriotic protests of the Cuban government – the stars and stripes constantly parade in the shape of towels, men’s shorts and lightweight children’s swimwear, caps, umbrellas and even inflatable rafts or infant’s lifejackets.

It must be torture for the Castro clan and its claque that no regulations are in effect, (especially not now, when diplomatic relations exist between the two countries), that prohibit the use of the US flag in clothing or in any object created by the human imagination. Would it be justifiable to quell those who wear a symbol that represents a friendly people entirely, and not just their political powers?

But this is not about a new phenomenon either. It turns out that this epidemic of a taste for everything American and its symbols had been manifesting itself in a more or less contained but constant way for several years, and was unleashed with marked emphasis at the time of the reestablishment of relations between the governments of Cuba and the US, especially during and after President Barack Obama’s visit to a Havana, until turning into an unstoppable cult to the chagrin of the hierarchy of the geriatric elite and its ideologic commissaries, who try in vain to tackle a hare that is like the mythological hydra, spouting seven heads for each one they cut off.

And while all this intense American mania continues to be sharpened in Cuba – the historical bastion of the continent’s radical left – the nationalist affectation of the regime recently chose to prohibit the use of the Cuban national symbol in a similar way. In fact, Cuban laws expressly prohibit it.

Consequently, not even the fiercest prospects of their pack of repudiators or other similarly-minded halberdiers can counteract the growing “Uncle Sam” effect on Cuban society, since they are barred from wearing the Cuban national flag as a way to counteract those involuntary “traitorous” ones, who, without hiding it, continue to publicly display their admiration for the crème de la crème of evil capitalism, which, it was taken for granted, had been banished definitively from Cuba since 1959.

Personally, and begging the pardon of the more ardent and sincere patriots of fetishistic spirit, I am not tempted to worship symbols, whether from my own country or from others. Even less would I think to wear a flag, although those who do sowith the vocation of flagpolesdoes not affect me. It is their right. But, strictly speaking, the flag is nothing more than a rag that many years ago someone designed and chose to represent us all and that, ultimately, has been used with the same zeal and passion for the best as for the worst causes, also supposedly “of everyone.” Ergo, I’m not excited about the flags, but nor do I feel myself to be any less Cuban than anybody else.

Nevertheless, a flag, as a symbol of something, evidences the feelings of the individuals who carry it towards that “something.” That, in the case of the American flag in Cuba, symbolizes exactly the paradigm of life of the Cubans who exhibit it. An aspiration on a national scale. So, for those who want to know what Cubans really think about the US, do not look for the statements published in the official press or the boring speeches at events: go to the beach. There, relaxing by the sea, sheltered by a good umbrella and perhaps savoring a cold beer that protects them from the strong tropical heat, they will see, parading before their eyes, the mute response of the Cuban people to the Empire that attacks them.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Thanks for Nothing, Trump

Donald Trump (Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 21 June 2017 — After much media frenzy, Trump’s “new policy” toward Cuba has not gone beyond the rhetoric expected by most political analysts. His act was more a symbolic gesture towards his faithful than any practical novelty. In short, those who expected an announcement of truly transcendental changes in the policy toward Cuba by the US president during his speech in Miami on Friday June 16, were left wanting. As we say in Cuba, the show turned out to be more rigmarole than movie reel.

The long-awaited changes, far from being novel, are actually quite limited. In fact, the highlight of his announced “punishment” for the Castro dictatorship is enveloped in an inconsistent magic trick where the essential cards seem to be a ban on US businessmen to negotiate with Cuban military companies, the suppression of non-group tours visits by US citizens to Cuba and the auditing of group visits. The rest is garbage. continue reading

The whole of the Palace of the Revolution must be shaking in terror. The dictatorship can already be considered as having failed: judging by the enthusiasm of its fans gathered in the Manuel Artime Theatre in Little Havana, with Trump in power, the Castro regime’s hours are numbered. Those who know about such things say that the Castros and Miami’s “Dialogue Mafia” “have run out of bread,” that “the political actors (?) are now where they should be” And that Trump’s speech was “friendly towards the Cuban people.” If the matter were not so serious, it would probably be laughable.

The sad thing is that there are those who believed the sham, or at least they pretend to believe what he said. At the end of the day, everyone should stick to the role of the character he represents in the script of this eternal Cuban tragicomedy.

It would be another thing if all this elaborate anti-Castro theory (!) could be successfully implemented, which is at least as dubious as the construction of socialism that the extremists continue to proclaim from opposite points on the globe.

And it is doubtful, not only for the intricacy of the long process that each proposal of the US Executive branch must follow before being put into practice — as detailed in a White House fact sheet — but because its sole conception demonstrates absolute ignorance of the Cuban reality in trying to “channel economic activities outside the Cuban military monopoly, GAESA.”

It would seem that there is a division of powers and an autonomy of institutions in Cuba that clearly distinguishes “military” from “civil,” defines its functions and establishes to what extent the economic structure of companies, cooperatives and other sectors are or are not related to the military entrepreneurship, or with the State-Party-Government monopoly itself, which is one and the same, with which, nevertheless, relations will be maintained. Just that would be a challenge for Cubans here, let alone for those who emigrated 50 years ago or for the very Anglo-Saxon Trump administration.

On the other hand, Mr. Trump’s proposals carry another capricious paradox, since limiting individual visits would directly damage the fragile private sector — especially lodging and catering, not to mention independent transportation providers, and artisans who make their living from selling souvenirs and other trinkets, a market that is sustained precisely by individual tourism.

Tour group visits, which remain in effect, are those that favor the State-owned and run hotels, where these groups of visitors usually stay because they have a larger number of rooms and more amenities than privately-owned facilities.

This would be the practical aspect of the matter. Another point is the one relating to the merely political. It’s shocking to see the rejoicing of some sectors of the Cuban-American exile and the so-called “hardline opposition” inside Cuba, after the (supposedly) “successful” speech by the US president, and his pronouncements about benefits that the new-old politics of confrontation will bring “to the Cuban people” in the field of human rights.

In fact, such joy is hard to explain, because it is obvious that Trump’s speech fell far short of the expectations these groups had previously manifested. One of the most supported claims of this segment has been the break in relations between both countries, and, more recently, the reinstatement of the policy of “wet foot/dry foot,” repealed in the final days of the previous administration. Far from that, the unpredictable Trump not only reaffirmed the continuation of diplomatic relations, but omitted the subject of the Cuban migratory crisis and even the suppression of aid funds for democracy, which he had proposed a few weeks before.

Curiously, no member of the media present at the press conference held after the very conspicuous speech asked uncomfortable questions about any of these three points, which do constitute true pivots of change in US policy towards Cuba which affect both the fate of the Cubans stranded in different parts of Latin America on their interrupted trip to the US, and the financing (and consequently, the survival) of various opposition projects both inside and outside Cuba.

The truth is that, so far, the great winner of Trump’s proposals is none other than the Castro regime, since the rhetoric of confrontation is the natural field of its ideological discourse inside and outside Cuba. Thus, has rushed to evidence the official declaration blaringly published in all its press monopoly media last Saturday, June 17th, with plenty of slogans and so-called nationalists for the defense of sovereignty and against “the rude American interference”, which that gray scribe, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuban chancellor by the grace of the divine green finger, repeated two days later in his apathetic press conference from Vienna.

Meanwhile, the “Cuban people” – with no voice or vote in this whole saga — remains the losing party, barely a hostage of very alien policies and interests, whose representation is disputed by both the dictatorship and the US government, plus a good part of the opposition.

We must thank Mr. Trump for nothing. Once again, the true cause of the Cuban crisis — that is, the dictatorial and repressive nature of its government — is hidden behind a mask, and the “solution” of Cuba’s ills is again placed in the decisions of the US government. At this rate, we can expect at least 50 additional years of burlesque theater, for the benefit of the same actors who, apparently and against the odds, have the

Translated by Norma Whiting

Between the Official Utopia and Generational Realism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban youth at the Major Lazer concert in Havana, 2016 (Photo file)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 June 2017. – A characteristic feature of ineffective and outdated political regimes is the constant appeal to the historical past as a mechanism for legitimizing the present, and as a resource for survival. In the case of Cuba, this principle has been the rector of official discourse and its means of diffusion, and it has been applied with particular force in the teaching of History.

As a consequence, several generations of Cubans born shortly before or after 1959 have grown up indoctrinated in the assumption that all events from the “discovery” of the Island by Christopher Columbus through Spanish colonization, the Taking of Havana by the British, the Wars of Independence, and the brief Republic were nothing more than the flagstones that paved the long road that would lead to this (even longer) path -with airs of eternity- known as the “Cuban Revolution”, our nation’s only and final destination. continue reading

The preaching took almost religious tones. Just as Noah saved all of Earth’s living species, the boat “Granma”, with its young crew, was the Cuban people’s “salvation”. Thus, judging from history textbooks at all levels of “revolutionary” teaching, the founding fathers, the illustrious pro-independence, the brightest Cuban-born intellectuals, and all decent Cubans for the last 525 years had their hopes set, though they didn’t know it, in today’s “socialist” Cuba and, above all, in the pre-eminent guidance of an undisputed leader of world stature who would continue to lead the ship even beyond material life: Fidel Castro.

War Vocation in the “Peace Zone”

Raúl Castro during a CELAC summit (AFP)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 31 May 2017 — A brief note published by the official Cuban press reports the meeting held by “General of the Army Raúl Castro Ruz” with “the Chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army, Timoleón Jiménez” (FARC-EP), where the former “ratified the willingness of the Cuban government to continue supporting the Colombian peace process.”

For an untrained reader, the aforementioned comment was just a note as insubstantial as so many others that are so abundant in the Castro media monopoly. However, the maculae are evident, even though their deeper meaning remains hidden. continue reading

In fact, some aspects are provocative and some are incongruous. Let’s say, if the FARC is the “People’s Army,” who does the Colombian constitutional army belong to? Isn’t it the true and legitimate army of all the citizens of that country?

Another interesting matter would be to understand why the Cuban leader, who in this case presents himself with all his warlike attributes of “Army General,” despite having diplomatic relations with the democratically elected government of Colombia, hosts, in the company of his brand-new chancellor, Bruno Rodríguez, the individual who still qualifies as “Head of the FARC,” that is to say, the “Chief” of an illegal “armed force” that supposedly is currently in the process of disarmament under the Peace Accords signed in Havana specifically with the legitimate government of Colombia.

As is often the case when scoundrels meet, something is afoot… and it smells bad. Especially when Latin America is experiencing a period marked by the loss of political power of the radical left in various countries, allies of the Castro regime, and when the most irrational (and important) pupil of the Castro regime, Nicolás Maduro, tries to stay afloat on a piece of wood in a violent sea in the middle of the biggest socioeconomic and political crisis that Venezuela has ever suffered.

All this leads us directly to question the usefulness of this regional fiction called CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), one of whose most proclaimed “achievements” during its Second Summit, held in Havana in January 2014, was declaring this a Peace Zone, in order to promote cooperation and maintain peace and security at all levels among its member countries.

Beyond the political intentions and the (always sterile) desire to consolidate a regional alliance that confronts economic crises and promotes development, CELAC has been characterized, since its creation in February 2010, by a large package of intentions and declarations in the face of a scant list of results.

In that sense, the declaration of “Peace Zone” is one of the most illustrative examples of this organism’s alienation, first because it was a peace invoked in a conclave whose host country not only envelops longest dictatorship in the hemisphere, which systematically violates the human rights of its own people and applies violence against any sign of political dissent or social discontent, but for decades has been dedicated to sustaining and spurring numerous armed conflicts in the region, through the training of guerrillas, and through logistical support and the mobilization of armed troops in conflict zones.

The intrusion of the Palace of the Revolution into the internal problems of several countries in the hemisphere is so common that it could be said that the hand of the Castro regime has intervened to some extent in each and every one of them, whether as a puppet of the Soviet Union and as the spreader of the germs of that disease called “Marxism-Leninism” that it futilely attempted to impose in Latin America and the Caribbean, or more recently, as a survival strategy in the face of the failure of the experiments of left-wing governments, allies of the Castro and Chávez regimes.

A brief and incomplete account of the Cuban presence (interference) in internal crises of this region’s other nations shows that it covers an immensely greater geographical extension of the territory in the archipelago under the dominion of Castro, and includes ideologies of the most diverse hues.

Suffice it to recall the Castro regime’s imprint on the guerrillas in Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, or Nicaragua; its participation in the Chilean crisis that ended with the fall of President Salvador Allende; the unusual support for the military junta headed by Leopoldo Galtieri during the Las Malvinas Crisis (1982), settled with an overwhelming defeat for Argentina and a high human and moral cost to that nation; Grenada’s brief and unsuccessful adventure under the Government of Maurice Bishop; the close and suspicious relations with the former Panamanian President Manuel Antonio Noriega, confessed drug trafficker and great “friend of Cuba,” whose name was not mentioned again in the official Cuban media after his fall from grace, except to announce his death this Tuesday, May 30. And, more recently, from the beginning of the 21st century, the icing on the cake: Venezuela, where the Castros’ penetration has truly metastasized and today monitors and protects the bloody repression of the regime of Nicolás Maduro against his people.

But, ignoring historical examples, the convulsive Latin American reality is far from the much vaunted regional “peace.” The ongoing conflict between Bolivia and Chile, the endless Brazilian corruption scandal that has sprinkled dozens of politicians in the region, the violence of drug and human trafficking that sows uncertainty and crime at the borders and among the population, tensions Between Venezuela and Colombia, the persistence of the paramilitary in Colombia against the controversial Peace Agreements between the government and the FARC, and the tensions in Venezuela, where government repression against street demonstrations provokes a decisive scenario where the survival of democracy or the final consolidation of a dictatorship supported from Havana is resolved.

And, while this vertiginous whirlwind continues to spin in the “Peace Zone,” the Cuban General-President moves gently in his tropical oasis while he manages the diplomatic lobbies that allow him to recognize the civilized world and the secret warrior intrigues. The strategy of Raul’s regime now consists in wearing the chic suit of a democrat. Under it, however, the green stitches of his old suit as heir-dictator of war continue to tenaciously peek out.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Marta’s List

Marta Cortizas compiles daily news, opinion and reports to email them to Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 May 2017 — Her grey hair and blue eyes suggest a picture of a grandmother out of a children’s story, but Marta Cortizas is actually a native of Havana who, after emigrating to the United States, found a way to be useful to her countrymen. From her apartment in Kendall (Florida), she compiles daily news, editorial columns and reports to e-mail them to Cuba, a service known as Marta’s List.

Mailings began almost seven years ago, and today they are received by more than 50 subscribers. Its targeted recipients are independent journalists, opposition activists, members of the civil society, or simply friends.

Since childhood, Marta was in the habit of reading, and when she began working as a typist at the Casa de las Américas Library in July 1967, she was amazed at the institution’s catalogues and archives. The latter is considered the “trigger” for her passion for information. continue reading

Inside the walls of La Casa, as those who frequent the library refer to it, she met Virgilio Piñera, Anton Arrufat, José Triana and Luis Agüero, who often visited the reading room. There, she met Mario Benedetti, Roque Dalton, Antonio Benitez-Rojo, Inverna Codina, Fayad Jamis and Manuel Galich, and she has fond memories of the “beloved poet Raúl Hernández Novás.”

Mailings of news and other information began nearly seven years ago and there are currently over 50 subscribers

This soft spoken woman, with proven tenacity against discouragement, came to work as secretary for poet and essayist Roberto Fernández Retamar. “I loved my job with a passion and was respected by my peers without belonging to political organizations. In fact, I never belonged to any,” she clarifies.

Marta devoted the years after stopping her work at the library to caring for her mother, but neither retirement nor domestic life turned off the vigor of her freethinking. In her seclusion at home, she read tirelessly. These readings often included books censored by the authorities, some writings that deepened her critical stance against the official doctrine of the Castro regime.

Earlier this century, her husband, Eugenio Leal, joined other opposition members, journalists, activists and organizations and he shared his involvement with Marta. Both participated in the 2004 founding of the magazine Consenso, the first independent digital publication in Cuba.

“I started to serve as secretary and member of the editorial board”, recalls Marta. “It was a wonderful experience that offered me another reality, opening a door to freedom of expression in Cuba.”

In October 2005, Eugene and Martha suffered a spectacular act of repudiation in front of their own home. “It angered the authorities that we had created Consenso which was headquartered in our home.”

First they were threatened by State Security, and days after “they launched a massive repudiation rally which led to a 24-hour guard in the lower floors of our building, by repressive agents, members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and Communist Party militants.”

The siege lasted for nine days. Its goal was to prevent visitors and terrorize neighbors. Marta laments “from that moment on, we were plunged into total and absolute ostracism in our neighborhood.”

“Some prisoners of the Black Spring who were supported in opening their personal blogs have a special place in my memory”

This event marked a turning point in Marta’s life. “I realized that anyone or anything can lose their personal dignity and their basic rights as a human being.”

If the rally intimidated the neighbors, it had the opposite effect on Marta. In fact, she continued to work for Consenso and later for the magazine Contodos, until February 2007, when the last issue was published. By then, the first independent blogs were about to make their appearance.

“The alternative blogosphere had the virtue of establishing close links between a large number of civic activists, independent journalists and members of the opposition, previously unconnected,” she explains. “In the most intense months of 2008 and 2009 several campaigns were promoted denouncing rights violations against opposition activists and ordinary citizens, and demanding freedom for political prisoners.”

“Some prisoners of the Black Spring who were supported in opening their personal blogs have a special place in my memory.” They dictated their writings by phone from prison, and Marta transcribed many of those articles that were later published on the internet.

When her mother died, her daughter – who had emigrated years before – invited her to visit Miami, but the Immigration and Naturalization Department denied her permission to leave for three years. “Although I had a Spanish passport, they would not allow me to travel. I denounced what they were doing and they finally allowed me to leave the country in October 2010. “Deciding to emigrate has been the most difficult decision in my life,” she confesses.

In the United States she found “the freedom I so much longed for, the power to vote democratically, the possibility of setting goals and being able to achieve them, the satisfaction of seeing my daughter and granddaughters evolve.” She is happy and grateful to the country that welcomed her, but insists that Cuba is forever in her heart.

Marta stops at this point in the story and quotes Guillermo Cabrera Infante: “Nostalgia is the memory of the soul.” As a result of this yearning and with the desire to contribute through technological possibilities, Cortizas saw new horizons. “I started copying articles, especially Cuban topics and some world events, which I sent, along with notes to my friends.”

Every day she tries to find the most important articles to e-mail. She also gets specific requests from Cuba.

Almost without realizing it, she learned how to edit the articles, deleting pictures and reducing fonts to minimize memory when sending them. The information and the number of subscribers thus begun to grow.

Every day she tries to find the most important articles to e-mail. She also gets specific requests from Cuba. “I try to accommodate everyone.  That makes me feel refreshed and useful,” she states.

“Some days I even spend over four hours compiling information, and I try to do this seven days a week.  The greatest satisfaction is to get messages of concern for me at times when, for different reasons, I am unable to send the information. She does not get any kind of material compensation for this work, and pays for repairs to the frequent malfunctions of her laptop out of “her own pocket.”

She does not think that the opening of Wi-Fi zones with internet access in various locations in the country has reduced the demand for news. “As long as the government keeps a gag on free information controlling, through its machinations, access to different webs, this work will be useful,” she affirms.

“I will rejoice the when it will not be necessary for me to continue this work. Then, I will find another way to be useful.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

When Your Ally’s Beards are on Fire*… / Miriam Celaya

From left to right, Raúl Castro, Bruno Rodríguez and Nicolás Maduro, at an ALBA meeting (EFE/Archive)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 April 2017 — According to an old adage, when you see you neighbor’s beard on fire, go soak your own*. The maxim should be applied to the elderly Cuban dictator, especially if we take into account that the erratic performance of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is largely attributed to the bad advice he received from the founders of the Castro dynasty, in addition to the deficient or lacking mental capacity of the absurd southern leader.

It is disastrous that, while Venezuela is experiencing the worst political crisis of the last 20 years, most Cubans on the Island are not only lacking in information but – even worse — are being subjected to a real bombardment of misinformation by the government’s press monopoly. continue reading

As a result of decades of lies and “secrecy” — which journalist Reinaldo Escobar has defined as “the euphemism that disguises what is in reality a policy of censorship of the press” — and the requirements of the struggle for daily survival in a country marked by shortages and poverty in perpetuity, common Cubans live alienated from reality and are apathetic to any political scenario, whether inside or outside Cuba.

In fact, the shortage of information in the official Cuban media about what is happening in Venezuela is truly extraordinary, even though its government is the closest ally to the Palace of the Revolution. The presence of tens of thousands of Cuban professionals delivering their services to Venezuela should be sufficient reason for relatives and the population as a whole to be duly warned about the growing political tensions and clashes that are taking place between the government of Nicolás Maduro and his Chávez phalanges, on the one hand, and the opposition sectors supported by thousands of Venezuelans who are fed up with the regime on the other.

But if most Cubans may care very little about the fate of Venezuelans, for which the lengthy meddling of the Cuban dictatorship has so much responsibility, they should, at least, worry about the fate of their countrymen, volunteer slaves in Venezuela, where violence, growing poverty and political polarization make them potential victims of circumstances that, after all, are alien to them.

Who doubts that a possible situation of social unrest and chaos would constitute a colossal danger for the Cuban “missionaries” of health and other fronts of the Castro-Chávez alliance who remain in Venezuela? Does the Cuban General-President have any contingency plans to protect them? Or will he launch them as cannon fodder to defend the autocratic system with totalitarian aspirations that the Castro regime has sown in Venezuela? Will we be witness to a second Grenada, like that of the late Maurice Bishop, where in 1983 Castro the First ordered unassuming Cuban construction workers to offer themselves up against US marines in a sacrifice as irrational as it was absolutely useless?

Venezuela is now a time bomb where the population is satiated with more gloom and the outrages of government than even opposition parties and leaders, a place where the citizens are playing all their cards in street demonstrations. And, while tensions and violence of the “collectives” and police forces are increasing, and the government’s repression against the demonstrators, torture against detainees and arrests against journalists attempting to cover the truth of events are also on the increase, the Castro regime, accessory to Venezuelan suffering and perverse to the marrow, remains silent.

Word is that the immediate future of Venezuela will be defined next Wednesday, April 19th. No one can predict if that day, when the streets will be taken over by supporters and opponents of the Chávez-Maduro government will end in a bloodbath, only to perpetuate another dictatorship in Latin America or to end the most ambitious extraterritorial plan of the Castro Clan. For now, Mr. Nicolás Maduro has already made clear that his path is one of repression, while thousands of Venezuelans remain determined to regain freedom and democracy.

In such a scenario, the Venezuelan Armed Forces could be the key factor to support its own people or to sell its soul to the merchants of the Miraflores Palace or to the infiltrated Cuban officials in the high command of the army of that country, but in any case, XXI Century socialism, which in its heyday proclaimed itself to be “the peoples’ alternative,” has lost the match prematurely, for no decent government or respected international organization will support a government that is imposed by blood and fire.

It is precisely for this reason that the old fraudsters at Havana’s Palace of the Revolution continue to keep discrete silence. They are waiting to see how this hand ends. They count on the proverbial meekness of Cubans, lacking in Venezuelans’ will and courage, but knowing that with Maduro deposed they would lose their last strong political ally in the region and one of their main sources of oil and capital that still sustains them in power, in return for which they lease out their slaves in the form of doctors, teachers, sports coaches, etc.

It is impossible to imagine what new tricks the General-President and his clique may be plotting in order to find a non-“Bolivarian” alternative to the crisis ahead. They have their work cut out for them. It’s not always possible to find allies with the features of the Venezuelan government — brutality, corruption and compromise – all in a neat package, that has enabled the Castro regime for almost 20 years to fully manipulate, for Cuba’s benefit, the riches of Venezuela, and thus extend its own power. They will no doubt think of something, but it is likely that, in order to stay in the game, they will have to satisfy certain conditions to even minimally fulfill their role as “a democratic dictatorship” for the world. For now, in the midst of all the storms, presumably they are soaking their beards*.

*Translator’s note: Akin to the expression in English that begins: “When your neighbor’s house is on fire…”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Oil in Cuba: Dream or Nightmare?

Cuban-Venenzuelan refinery in Cienfuegos (Photo: barometropolitico.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 April 2017 — HAVANA, Cuba. – “Thank goodness oil is something we don’t have in Cuba.” So said the lyrics of a popular song by Cuban musical group Habana Abierta. However, now Cuba’s official media insist the opposite is true: “The enterprise Cuba-Petroleum Union (CUPET), which promotes prospecting projects with the participation of foreign capital, reveals that, “In four wells located in the Economic Zone Exclusive to Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico (ZEEC-GOM) there have been indications of crude.”

Lately, when the disappearance of “high test” and the shortage of “regular” gas in Havana have caused real congestion in the few service stations where some fuel could be found, the news of the alleged presence of large Cuban oil reserves sounds like a bad joke: who cares that there are several billion of barrels of oil of dubious quality, deeply buried in the depths of the Gulf, if there is not a drop of gas at service stations? And, if it were true, how would Cubans benefit from it? Our idiosyncrasy has a special mocking phrase to illustrate the case: “It’s here but not for you.” continue reading

In fact, such fanfare by the press about the dubious and inaccessible discovery that lies submerged in ultra-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico is highly notorious, while the official press has been evasive in informing us about the fuel crisis taking place in the nation, before our very eyes, which is fueling popular uncertainty with the alarming signs of the return to the days when the Soviet subsidy program ended with a stroke of the pen. Many Cubans point out that the unburied ghost of the so-called “Special Period,” with its aftermath of blackouts and famine, is, once again, stalking the nation.

Therefore, the topic of “crude” with which the masters of the hacienda are trying to shake the hopes of the masses, smells like a sting, as long as the cataclysms in the house of the allies cause the Mafiosi of the Palace of the Revolution to play any card palmed in their sleeve to emerge and to continue, unharmed, to place their bet: to conserve power at all costs and at any price.

That is why some suspicious individuals consider that the news is only a beam of light to attract unsuspecting investors, and that it collaterally pursues the immediate effect of reassuring the mood of a population sufficiently shaken by the gradual — although apparently inexorable — return to another cycle of great material hardships, this time with the aggravating issue that has been the end of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy, which has been, for the longest time, the most expeditious solution to escape the condemnation of perpetual misery.

Filling up at a gas station in Cuba

Thus, while the economic and political crisis in Venezuela — whose true causes and magnitude are carefully silenced in the official media — keeps deepening, common sense and the experience of nearly six decades of cons suggest to Cubans the existence of a direct relationship between the current gas shortage and the spasms of agony of the Chávez-Maduro regime, incapable of continuing to maintain any longer the already depleted subsidies that have artificially prolonged the life of the Cuban dictatorship.

So now, if we hypothetically assume the possibility that the olive green kleptocracy would soon dispose of another source of hydrocarbons — this time, alas, its absolute property — what would that mean for Cuba’s destiny? Well, nothing less than a sentence to live under conditions of dictatorship in perpetuity, with the acquiescent tolerance of the powers that rule the planet. In fact, many of the staunchest critics of Castro’s “socialism” would become its partners. This would not be a novelty, because it is axiomatic that wealth often grants immunity to dictators.

So if, for once, Cubans decided to climb down the ridge and assume the true position we occupy in the world, which equals that of plankton in the biological chain, we would find that similar plots have already taken place.

A classic example is Equatorial Guinea, that diminutive West African island, formerly known as Fernando Poo, with less than 100 thousand inhabitants, that has been a Portuguese, French, English and finally a Spanish colony until in October of 1968, when it obtained its independence, only to pass onto the hands of dictator Francisco Macías, who imposed a single compulsory party and a repressive regime (1968-1979), until he was deposed by a coup led by Teodoro Obiang. The latter, after having executed the defeated tyrant, promised to end the island’s political repression.

However, far from improving the lives of the Equatoguineans, under Obiang’s control, repression and poverty increased, as did the country’s underdevelopment. Meanwhile, Amnesty International, the UN and numerous world figures have repeatedly accused Mr. Obiang of arresting political opponents, as well as of torture and human rights violations. These accusations have not influenced a process of democratization or, at the very least, improvement in conditions and in the standard of living of three quarters of the population, which continues to be plunged in the most absolute misery.

It can be said that the misfortune of the Equatorial Guineans is due to the utter indifference of the inhabitants of this planet, the majority of whom do not even know of its existence. Additionally, the kleptocrat Obiang is often amicably received by leaders, politicians of high rank, and personalities of renowned prestige from the Western world, who, however, otherwise tear their garments and throw spears for democracy in all international forums.

It turns out that, years ago, in that small spot in the African geography, enormous oil reserves were discovered, whose rights of exploitation belong to foreign companies, mainly Americans, who don’t seem to have any scruples in negotiating with the flaming President who was described at one time as “the most murderous thieving ruler in the world” by a former US ambassador to that nation. Beneficiaries of such massive dividends might be saying among themselves, “To Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”

Obiang, meanwhile, not only retains absolute power in Equatorial Guinea, but is the founder of a dynasty that has amassed, with impunity, colossal wealth by appropriating the revenues from oil exploitation and safeguarding them in European bank accounts, and perhaps in banks in other continents too. To ensure the continuation of the plunder of the national wealth for the benefit of his caste, his son occupies a relevant political position in the country and has numerous properties inside and outside the little island.

Aren’t there certain suspicious similarities? We Cubans should be warned. It isn’t prudent to be so arrogant as to think that kind of thing happens in Equatorial Guinea “because they are Africans” and that the same thing will never take place in Cuba because we are “westerners.” Sixty years ago nobody would have believed that prosperous Cuba would become a nation almost as poor as Haiti … and we continue our descent.

Personally, far from feeling encouraged by them, the Cuban oil reserves announcements set off every possible alarm in me. Sufficient time has elapsed and dissimilar circumstances have taken place to verify that the precariousness of the rights and freedoms of Cubans do not concern any of the great centers of world power and politics.

In fact, the destiny of the inhabitants of this island is so uncertain and our dreams for democracy still so chimerical that it would suffice for a gambling foreigner to appear, reckless enough to invest huge amounts of venture capital into the oil adventure and that – in fact — such precious hydrocarbons might appear, for the Castro kleptocracy to sprout anew “with that added force,” crushing any hint of hope for Cuban freedom. I don’t have religious beliefs, but, just in case, I will keep my fingers crossed.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Thousand Faces of “Journalism” / Miriam Celaya

A tourist walks along Calle Monserrate, in Old Havana (File)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 March 2017 – An opinion piece published in recent days by El Nuevo Herald gives me a disturbing feeling of déjà vu. It is not the subject – overflowing with a number of articles by different authors – but its focal point, which presents as adequate a number of superficial and highly subjective assessments to validate conclusions that in no way reflect the reality it alleges to illustrate.

With other hues and nuances, it has the same effect in me as the experience of participating as a guest at a meeting of journalists, politicians and academics – primarily Americans – held October, 2014 at Columbia University, just two months before the announcement of the restoration of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, where the wish to support rapprochement and to substantiate the need to eliminate the embargo was essentially based on colossal lies.

For example, I heard how the “Raúl changes” that were taking place in Cuba favored the Cuban people and a process of openness, and I learned of the incredible hardships that Cubans had to endure as a result of the direct (and exclusive) responsibility of the embargo, of the fabulous access to education and health services (which were, in addition to being easily accessible, wonderful) enjoyed by Cubans, and even the zeal of the authorities to protect the environment. continue reading

To illustrate this last point, an American academic presented the extraordinary conservation state of the Jardines de la Reina archipelago and its adjacent waters, including the coralline formations, as an achievement of the Revolutionary Government. She just forgot to point out that this natural paradise has never been within reach of the common Cuban, but is a private preserve of the ruling caste and wealthy tourists, a fact that explains its favorable degree of conservation.

The Cuba that many American speakers described on that occasion was so foreign to a Cuban resident on the Island, as I was, that I wondered at times if we were all really speaking about the same country.

In my view, the question was as contradictory as it was dangerous. Contradictory, because there is certainly sufficient foundation, based on realities, to consider the (conditional) suspension of the embargo or to show partiality for dialogue between governments after half a century of sterile confrontations, without the need to resort to such gross falsehoods, especially – and I say this without xenophobic animosity or without a smack of nationalism – when they are brandished by foreigners who don’t even have a ludicrous idea of the reality the Cuban common population lives under or what its aspirations are. Dangerous, because the enormous power of the press to move public opinion for or against a proposal is well known, and to misrepresent or distort a reality unknown to that public, can have dire consequences.

But it seems that such an irresponsible attitude threatens to become a common practice, at least in the case of Cuba. This is what happens when overly enthusiastic professionals confuse two concepts as different as “information” and “opinion” in the same theoretical body.

It is also the case of the article referred to above, that its essence is the answer to a question that is asked and answered by the author, using the faint topic of the first anniversary of Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba and some conjectures about the continuity of the relations between both governments with the new occupant of the White House.

“What repercussions have the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba had on the Cuban people?” the writer of the article asks, and she immediately answers herself by assuming several suppositions, not totally exempt from logic, but regrettably inaccurate.

“Greater openness to Cuba has undoubtedly meant greater interaction with the Cuban people through the exchange of information from the thousands of Americans who now visit the island”, she says. And this is partially true, but this “exchange of information” about a society as complex and mimetic, and as long closed off as Cuba’s, is full of mirages and subjectivities, so it ends up being a biased and exotic vision of a reality that no casual foreign visitor can manage to grasp.

A diffuse assertion of the article is one that reassures: “Tourism represents the main economic source for the country, and at the same time it leverages other sectors related to textiles, construction and transportation.” Let’s see: It may be that tourism has gained an economic preponderance for Cuba, but that it has boosted the textile, construction and transportation sectors is, at the most, a mere objective, fundamentally dependent on foreign capital investment, which has just not materialized.

In fact, the notable increase in tourist accommodations and restaurants, bars and cafes in the private sector is the result not of the tourist boom itself but of the inadequacy of the hotel and gastronomic infrastructure of the State. If the author of the article has had privileged access to sources and information that support such statements, she does not make it clear.

But if the colleague at El Nuevo Herald came away with a relevant discovery during her trip to Havana –job related? for pleasure? – it is that many young people “believe in the socialist model.” Which leads us directly to the question, where did these young people learn what a “socialist model” is? Because, in fact, the only thing that Cubans born during the last decade of the last century have experienced in Cuba is the consolidation of a State capitalism, led by the same regime with kleptomaniacal tendencies that hijacked the power and the Nation almost 60 years ago.

About the young people she says that “many are self-employed and generate enough resources to live well.” There are currently more than 500 thousand people In Cuba with their own businesses, about 5% of the population, according to ECLAC” [U.N.’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean]. This is another slip, almost childish. The source that originally reports the figure of half a million self-employed workers belongs to the very official National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), a Cuban Government institution, and not to ECLAC. This number has remained unchanged for at least the last two years, as if the enormous migration abroad and the numerous returns of licenses on the part of the entrepreneurs who fail in their efforts or who are stifled by the system’s own circumstances, among other factors, did not make a dent.

But even assuming as true the immutable number of “self-employed” that the authorities refer to, on what does the writer base her assumptions that the self-employed generate sufficient recourses to live well? Could it be that she ignores that that half a million Cubans includes individuals who fill cigarette lighters, sharpen scissors, recycle trash (“the garbage divers”), are owners of shit-hole kiosks, repair household appliances, are roving shaved-ice, peanut, trinket and other knickknack vendors, and work at dozens of low-income occupations that barely produce enough to support themselves and their families? Doesn’t the journalist know about the additional losses most of them suffer from harassment by inspectors and the police, the arbitrary tax burdens and the legal defenselessness? What, in the end, are the standards of prosperity and well-being that allow her to assert that these Cubans “live well”?

I would not doubt the good intentions of the author of this unfortunate article, except that empathy should not be confused with journalism. The veracity of the sampling and the seriousness of the data used is an essential feature of journalistic ethics, even for an opinion column, as in this case. We were never told what data or samples were used as a basis for the article, the number of interviewees, their occupations, ages, social backgrounds and other details that would have lent at least some value to her work.

And to top it off, the trite issue of Cuba’s supposedly high educational levels could not be left out. She says: “While it is true that education in Cuba is one of the best in the continent, the level of education is not proportional to income, much less a good quality of life.” Obviously, she couldn’t be bothered going into the subject of education in Cuba in depth, and she is not aware of our strong pedagogical tradition of the past, destroyed by decades of demagoguery and indoctrination. She also does not seem to know the poor quality of teaching, the corruption that prevails in the teaching centers and the deterioration of pedagogy. We are not aware of what comparative patterns allow her to repeat the mantra of the official discourse with its myth about the superior education of Cubans, but her references might presumably have been Haiti, the Amazonian forest communities or villages in the Patagonian solitudes. If so, I’ll accept that Cubans have some advantage, at least in terms of education levels.

There are still other controversial points in the text, but the most relevant ones are sufficient to calculate the confusion the narration of a reality that is clearly unknown can cause to an unaware reader. It is obvious that the writer was not up to the task, or is simply not aware of the responsibility that comes from a simplistic observation. And she still pretends to have discovered not one, but two different Cubas. Perhaps there are even many more Cubas, but, my dear colleague: you were definitely never in any of them.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Obama’s Unquestionable Imprint / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Obama gave a historic speech at the Gran Teatro in Havana during his visit to Cuba (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 March 2017 — Putting aside the passions of supporters and detractors of the policies drawn up by President Barack Obama for Cuba, there is no doubt that, for better or worse, it set indelible before and after benchmarks in the lives of the Cuban people.

The first benchmark was the reestablishment of relations after half a century of confrontation, which – although it did not even come close to the high expectations of Cubans – did manage to expose the Cuban dictatorship to the scrutiny of international public opinion, thus demonstrating that the regime is the true obstacle to the wellbeing and happiness of Cubans. continue reading

Consequently, although Cubans are no freer, after two years of rapprochement with the former “imperialist enemy,” the Castro regime has run out of arguments to justify the absence of economic, political and social rights, and thus has lost credibility in the International forums and in political circles, where it is being openly questioned.

Just a few days before leaving the White House, Obama took another decisive step by repealing the “wet foot/dry foot” policy, giving up immigration privileges for Cubans in the US, and thereby crushing the hopes of an large number of Cubans who aspired to enjoy the rights and prosperity in that destination, that they can only dream about now, and are unable to demand in their own country.

Thus, in two years, these two Cuban exceptions which seemed eternal, suddenly disappeared: an old dictatorship, long tolerated by the international community when it was considered the “small, heroic and defenseless victim resisting the onslaught of the strongest of world powers,” and the people – equally victimized, persecuted, helpless and subjugated by the dictatorship enthroned in power – who were forced to emigrate, deserving the consubstantial privilege, above that of any other immigrants, to live quietly in the territory of the United States, no longer setting foot in Cuba.

Thus, in the future, the Castro regime can be considered as what it really is: a prosaic dictatorship without heroic attire, while those Cubans who flee it without making the slightest effort to face it, will not be described as “politically persecuted,” but as any other run of the mill immigrants, such as those throughout the world who aspire to enjoy the wellbeing and opportunities that residing in the most developed country on the planet offers. No more, no less.

That is to say, though Barack Obama did not improve or worsen the Cuban crisis, we, nevertheless, must thank him for putting things in their right perspective, whether we like it or not. But it may be that some, or perhaps too many, find it much more comfortable to steer the direct burden of the current state of affairs in Cuba – including increases in repression – while others (more astute) here and there toss their hair and tear their patriotic garments against the “betrayal” of the former leader, generally with the untenable intention of making a political career or of continuing to thrive in the Cuban calamity.

These are the “hard hand” theorists who will attempt to use it as a trump card to overthrow the Castro dictatorship, this time with the hypothetical support of the new US President, as if that strategy had not proved ineffective during the previous 50 years.

The sad paradox is that, judging from the present reality, the Castro way of government – like other known dictatorships – will not “fall,” defeated by the indignant people, fed up with poverty and oppression. Neither will it be crushed by the tenacious struggle of the opposition or the pressures of some foreign government. Most likely, instead of falling, the Castro regime will gently slide down of its own accord into another advantageous form of existence in a different socioeconomic setting.

For, while not a few Cuban groups from both shores wear themselves out and gloat over mutual reproaches and useless lamentations, the olive green mafia continues behind the scenes, distributing the pie, quietly accommodating itself in the best positions and palming its cards under our clueless noses, to continue to enjoy the benefits and the privileges of power when the last remnants of the shabby backdrop of “socialism, Castro style,” which is all that barely remains of the glorious revolutionary project, will finally fall.

To the surprise of the army of disinherited survivors of the communist experiment, the progeny of the historical generation and their accompanying generals could emerge, transmuted into tycoons and entrepreneurs, thus consummating the cycle of the swindle that begun in 1959. This is, so far, the most likely scenario.

Perhaps by then 60 years of totalitarianism would have elapsed, and eleven presidents will have passed through the White House, but until today, only one of them, Barack Obama, will have influenced, in such a defining way, in the political future of Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Ten Years of Raulism: From “Reformism” to the Abyss / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro (caraotadigital.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 February 2017 — As the second month of 2017 comes to a close, the Cuban panorama continues to be bleak. Material difficulties and the absence of a realistic economic recovery program – the ineffectiveness of the chimerical Party Guidelines has been demonstrated in overcoming the general crisis of the “model” – in addition to the new regional scenario, the socio-political and economic crisis in Venezuela, the leftist “allies” defeated at the polls, the repealing of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy of the United States and, with it, the closing of Cubans’ most important escape route, Donald J. Trump’s assumption of the US presidency, and his having already announced a revision and conditioning of the easing of measures of the Embargo dictated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, are increasing the fears for an eventual return to the conditions of the 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR and the end of the so-called “real socialism.”

At the social level, one of the clearest indicators of the deterioration and inability to respond on the part of the government is, on the one hand, the increased repression towards the opposition, and, on the other hand, the increase of controls on the private sector (the self-employed) while the economy and services in the state sector continue to collapse. The most recent example is in the area of passenger transportation, one of the most active and efficient in the non-state sector; the State’s response to this efficiency has been to impose a cap on fares, which now cannot exceed 5 Cuban pesos for each leg of the trip. continue reading

Weeks after this measure was implemented, transportation in the Cuban capital has plunged into a lamentable crisis, demonstrating the great importance of the private sector for this service. The measure has resulted in not only a noticeable decrease in the numbers of cabs for hire the “almendrones” as they are called, in reference to the ‘almond’ shape of the classic American cars most often used in this servicein the usual or fixed routes formerly covering the city; but also in their refusal to pick up passengers in mid-points along their routes, which could be interpreted as a silent strike of this active sector in response to the arbitrariness of the government’s measure.

As a corollary, there has been increasing overcrowding in the limited and inefficient state-operated buses, and the resulting discomfort for the population, which now must add another difficulty of doubtful solution to the long list of their pressing daily problems.

Far from presenting any program to improve its monopoly on passenger bus service, the official response has been the threatening announcement that it will launch its hordes of inspectors to punish with fines and appropriations those private sector drivers who intend to conspire to evade the dispositions of the Power Lords.

For the olive-green lords of the hacienda, the “cabbies” are not even independent workers who are part of a sector to which the State does not provide any resources nor assign preferential prices for the purchase of fuel or spare parts, but simply driving slaves: they and their two-wheel open carriages are at the service of the master’s orders.

The infinite capacity of the Cuban authorities to try to overcome a problem by making existing ones worse and more numerous is the paroxysm of the absurd. For, assuming that in the days to come a true avalanche of inspectors is unleashed on the hunt for private carriers who don’t comply with the established prices, the outcome of such a crusade cannot be less than counterproductive, since, as is well-known, the inspectors constitute a formidable army of corrupt people who, far from guarding the funds of the public coffers, the fulfillment of the service of each activity and the health of the tax system, find the possibility of lining their own pockets in every punitive action of the State against every “violation,” through the extortion of the violators.

For its part, the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) which serves as “support” to the inspectors, is another leech also dedicated to bleeding the private workers dry, who are, in fact, the only useful and productive elements in this chain. So, every governmental offensive against “the private ones” means a juicy harvest for the pairing of inspectors-PNR, who usually feed like parasites on the most prosperous entrepreneurs and, invariably, the final harvest results in the deterioration of services and an increase in their prices – because whatever the private workers lose in compensation paid as bribes must be made up for by an increase in prices – and the “normalization” of the corruption in the whole society, generally accepted as a mechanism of survival in all spheres of life.

The cycle is closed when, in turn, the passenger, that is, any common Cuban, is forced to perfect his mechanisms of resistance that will allow him to equate the increase in the cost of living, and seek additional income sources, probably illegal, related to contraband, thievery, or “diversion of resources” (a fancy term for stealing) from state-owned enterprises and other related offenses. Anything goes when it comes to surviving.

And, while the economy shrinks and the shortages increase, the General-President remains alien and distant, as if he had no responsibility for what happens under his feet. Cuba drifts in the storm, with no one in command and no one at the helm, approaching, ever so close, to the much talked about “precipice,” which Raúl’s reforms were going to save us from.

Paradoxically, given the weakness of civil society and the lack of support for it by most of the democratic governments of the world, busy with their own internal problems, the salvaging of Cubans depends fundamentally on the political will of the dictatorship in power.

But Castro II is silent. Apparently, he has virtually retired from his position as head of government well before his announced retirement date of 2018, and after the final death (as opposed to the many announced but not real deaths) of his brother and mentor, has only loomed from his lofty niche from time to time, not to offer his infamous directions to the misguided “ruled” of the plantation in ruins, but to serve as host at the welcoming ceremonies for distinguished foreign visitors. At the end of the day, he is another native of these lands, where almost nobody cares about the fate of one another… Isn’t it true that, for many Cubans, the world begins beyond the coral reefs?

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Subtle Dissent of Revolutionaries / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Image of Fidel Castro at the Union of Cuban Journalists UPEC (cmkc.icrt.cu)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 February 2017 — An editorial piece published February 14th on the Havana Times website under the title “Official Journalism in Cuba: Empty Nutshells,” revisits a recurring issue that has been going around in the Castro media and is threatening to become fashionable: to be or not to be a dissident.

In fact, several young journalists of these media have shown themselves to be discreet critics, not only of the current Cuban reality, but also of the dullness of the press, the censorship that is often applied to their work, the lack of access to certain spheres of public administration that should be held responsible for the mismanagement of services and of the economy and of the sanctions imposed on colleagues who openly question public media editorial policies or other issues that officials consider “sensitive” to the security of the socio-political system. continue reading

That is to say, in recent times there has been a kind of juvenile anti-gag reaction on the part of the new generations of professionals of the press, to whom the narrow limits of “what is allowed” are too narrow.

Perhaps because they clash against the challenge of narrating a triumphalist and intangible reality in the media that in no way resembles the harsh conditions they experience on a daily basis. Or because of the contrast between their meager income as journalists of the official press and the much more advantageous income that can be derived from collaborating with alternative digital means. Or because they belong to a generation that has distanced itself from the old revolutionary epic of “the historical ones” whose original project failed.

Or because of the sum of all these and other factors, the truth is that young journalism graduates integrated into the official media are showing their dissatisfaction with the ways of antiquated journalism a la Castro of (not) doing and (not) saying.

The response of the champions of the ideological purity of Cuban journalism has not dawdled; thus, the more fervent ones have chosen to accuse the bold young people of being “dissidents.” And it is understood what that demonized word means, the worst offense to a Cuban revolutionary, as well as certain punishment: marginalization and ostracism.

For its part, the counter-answer of the reformist sectors – let’s call them that, the ones who defend a new type of official press, let’s say kindly, more truthful and transparent – is the defense of their right to “dissent”… or, better yet, to diverge, because when it comes to nominalism, they prefer to move away from the dangerous definitions that have been applied to “others.”

And there’s no need to transgress because of excesses in expectations. They are barely subtle dissenters. For if there is any positive initiative that tends to refresh the arid informative world of the Cuban official media or to push the limits of what’s allowed by the ironclad censorship – understanding that, given the long-lived government press monopoly, any break in the immobility could eventually have a favorable result in an aperture process, currently unthinkable – this does not mean that the official journalists who are claiming more rights for their self-expression are defending the true right to freedom of expression endorsed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not only because they conceive the free expression exercise just from positions of “socialists” or “revolutionaries from the left,” but because – as a remedy to the very monopoly of the press that silences them – they insist on disqualifying (for being “stateless, mercenary and anti-Cuban”) any proposal or opinion that differs from the socio-political system by which eleven million souls are supposed to be ruled ad infinitum, and which was chosen, without consultation, by a privileged caste almost six decades ago.

The article referred to at the beginning of this text – which is authored by Vicente Morín Aguado – quotes two very eloquent phrases from a young journalist from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth). According to her, “the issue is not in being a dissident, but what an individual is dissident against.” And later: “We have allowed those who understand little about principles and patriotism to snatch our words.”

This way, she misses twice. One is a dissident or not, beyond the program, proposal or belief we disagree with. Being a dissident is an attitude in the face of life, it’s questioning everything, including what we have ever believed in, which presupposes the most revolutionary of all human conditions. Therefore, one cannot dissent “from immobility, demagoguery, from those who are complacent and from the hypercritical, from inertia, from limited commitment, from hollow discourses” and from the whole long list that the young woman quotes, and at the same time, remain faithful to the system and to the government that generated those evils. One cannot be a half-way dissident.

On the other hand, it is not explicitly stated who those who “understand very little of principles and patriotism” are, but we know that such is the stigma usually pinned on all the dissidents that make up the Cuban civil society, including Independent journalists, such as this writer. I cannot share, as a matter of principle, such a narrow concept of Motherland conceived as the exclusive fiefdom of an ideology. It is a sectarian, exclusive, false and Manichean concept.

Unfortunately, Morín Aguado falls into similar temptation when he says that “every day the real dissidents increase within the universe of Cuban information.” Not only does he suggest the existence of a “non-authentic” dissidence, which he never quite mentions- perhaps for reasons of space, or for mere lack of information – but that also leaves us with the bitter aftertaste of feeling that what is at issue in this libertarian juvenile saga is substituting an absolute truth for another… just as absolute.

Official journalistic dissidence, then, is chemically pure. It is not mixed with any other. It is subtly dissident, which determines that, until now, it results in just an attempt at a struggle for partial freedom of expression. They seek to replace the “freedom of expression” of the official press monopoly for their own freedom, to improve the so-called Cuban socialism “within the revolution.” That is to say, a subjection of the whole press to an ideology as the only source of legitimation of “the truth” is maintained, which – it must be said – limits the whole matter to a simple generational little war.

However, this is good news. Of wolf, a hair, my grandmother used to say when things brought at least a minimal gain. We can never tell what any slight movement can generate in a mechanism that has been immobile for so long.

Personally, I will continue to exercise dissidently my most irreverent right to express what I think, not obeying ideology or any political fashion. My homeland is much more than 110,000 square kilometers of earth, more than a flag, an anthem and a coat of arms, and far more than the defense of the interests of a cohort of authoritarian elders who not only kidnapped the nation, but also – painfully – the willpower of several generations of Cubans. Let it be known that I will also defend the right of expression, under any circumstance, of those who think very different than me, communists and socialists included.

Set Fire To Havana In Order To Hide The Body? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Fire at the store “La Mezclilla” (Photo archive)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 21 February 2017 – People say that when an event happens repeatedly it stops being an accident. The fire that took place on Monday, February 20th, 2017, in “La Mezclilla” store, in the neighborhood of San Leopoldo (Municipality of Centro Habana) is the third one in less than a month in a State-owned business in that municipality.

The first incidents occurred in an establishment dedicated to the assembly and sale of paintings and mirrors (Subirana Street, Pueblo Nuevo neighborhood); while the second, which took place a few days ago, started in the appliances department of the commercial complex known as La Feria de Rayo (Calle Rayo, in Chinatown). continue reading

So today’s fire adds to the mysterious tendency of “spontaneous combustion” that is becoming viral in State stores, which most suspicious Habaneros tendentiously attribute to the offensive the Comptroller General has been carrying out In different companies and that are exposing numerous pilfering, shortages and corruption, especially in centers dealing in Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) or the Cuban pesos (CUP) equivalents.

Fans of Mathematics cannot avoid the temptation to relate fires directly to the offices of the comptroller, as summarized in the following axiom: “An increase in in controllers is directly proportional to an increase in state-owned businesses fires”

True or not, the causes of these strange fires have not been clarified by the authorities thus far. In fact, these fires have not even been reported in the national media, perhaps because they are attributed to an accidental and “local” character, or because – in the midst of all the material deprivation and social discontent- it is wiser not to stoke the flames.

Some residents of the buildings adjacent to the fires point out that firefighters and other specialized forces that have acted in these cases have offered them the questionable explanation that it’s possible that the buildings’ aging electrical systems have not withstood the overload caused by the “high consumption” of these establishments, which sparked the initial fire in the wires. This explanation does not convince anyone, especially taking into account that the wiring of foreign exchange stores is independent and much newer than the systems for the municipality’s residential sector and, in theory, was previously calculated on the basis of electricity usage for this type of premises.

Additionally, the plan of rigorous savings in electricity that has been applied to the foreign exchange stores for a little more than a year suggests the opposite: a decrease in consumption. For example, it is well known that all stores are required to comply with a plan of “energy indicators” which the stores cannot surpass, under penalty of losing certain bonuses. This forces store employees to turn off the air conditioning equipment according to a schedule previously established by management, and as a result employees and customers alike have to withstand the suffocating heat in the stores, which are not well ventilated, since they were designed for the constant use of air conditioning.

The chronic shortages in these businesses of late has also lightened the burden on consumption, since many freezer/refrigerators, where frozen products were once stored have been turned off and are out of service, which also tends to weaken the version of the “electrical overload “as the cause of fires.

But it happens that, in addition, there are notorious antecedents that reinforce the malicious comments at the popular level, and are feeding the rumors. No one has forgotten that a few years ago there was a big fire in the “La Puntilla” store, and it was well known in the street that the incident was initiated by a few employees who were involved in an enormous embezzlement. Setting fire to the store was the swiftest recourse they found to have the evidence for the crime disappear.

A similar case, equally silenced by the authorities, was the fire which some sources considered intentional that took place about a year ago in the basement of the popular Yumurí store (formerly known as “La Casa de los Tres Quilos [The House of the Three Pennies] located at the corner of Reina and Belascoaín Roads, also in Centro Habana, right in the marketplace department.

One does not have to be overly surprised. Cuba’s own history shows more than one example of how the displeasure of criollos has been expressed by flames. Thus, we have episodes like the Bayamo fire by the Independence Forces, the one in the city of Cárdenas, by Narciso López, and the incendiary torch that ruined the economy of not a few property and land owners in the 19th Century, among other notorious events, fruit of the pyromaniac national tradition.

In summary, whether or not the rumors are true, the fact is that several state businesses from different parts of the capital are suffering in these days a kind of fiery epidemic. If there really were a relationship between fires, embezzlement and bad management, the whole island of Cuba would be close to burning from one end to another.

Just in case, it would be advisable that, going forward, controllers begin to consider the possibility of carrying out their rigorous controls while supported by teams of firemen, cisterns and fire trucks… to see if at least they are able to do it before the flames.