Latin America: Peace in the Abstract/ Miriam Celaya

Source: Reuters

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 May 2018 — Few words carry such an unmistakable meaning – and contradictorily – such dissimilar interpretations, as that brief 5-letter-word: Peace. Contrary to the destruction caused by wars and the crises arising from the numerous conflicts that affect Humanity, the lack of a universal concept of Peace has continually hindered attempts to measure the degree of pacifism of each country or region.

Finally, in May 2007, the British weekly The Economist published for the first time the Global Peace Index list, an instrument that established the numerical ordering of more than 140 countries according to the absence or presence of violence, as measured by indicators such as crime rate, the existence of internal or external wars, military spending, political stability, the number individuals serving time in jail, and respect for human rights, among others. continue reading

Despite certain inaccuracies arising from the exclusion of important parameters, such as gender and child violence, or the dubious reliability of data and sources in the case of some countries – for example, Cuba – the GPI has great referential value, not only for being the first to identify the elements that intervene in peace, but for constituting a permanent record that allows us to observe the mobility in the levels of peace of the different countries and regions that make up the list, where the lowest scores correspond to the most peaceful countries, and vice versa.

Collaterally, the GPI research establishes a clear correlation between levels of peace and levels of income, education, transparency, corruption and democracy in the countries analyzed.

Due to its methodological contribution and its systemic nature, which facilitates the evaluation of advances or setbacks in terms of peace over a period of time and in specific territories, the GPI established an inescapable precedent for any subsequent proposal and for the ability to trace political strategies in pursuit of the conquest and sustainment of peace.

Peace… in Latin America?

Seven years after the first report of the GPI, 33 member-countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), meeting at its Second Summit held in Havana (January 2014), unanimously declared this Region as a Peace Zone, allegedly “with the objective of promoting cooperation and maintaining peace and security in all orders among its member countries.”

The aforementioned Declaration was not accompanied by a strategic design that would explain the criteria or parameters followed by those 33 leaders in order to consider as a “Peace Zone” a region permanently crossed by the conflicts and violence imposed by guerrilla wars, drug and human trafficking, gang violence, disappearances and kidnappings, human displacement due to poverty and crime, constant migration, border crises, paramilitaries, assassinations, corruption reaching even the highest political strata, human rights violations, offenses against freedom of press and expression, repression against demonstrators, and an countless crimes that depict in somber tones a geographic and political scene diametrically opposed to what might be called Peace.

Neither did the CELAC establish in its Second Summit a program of proposals to overcome regional problems that threaten peace, methodology to measure improvements or retractions in each country, nor a special commission charged with supervising a joint project of the member countries to guarantee results that might turn Latin America into a true “Peace Zone.”

In fact, today’s stubborn reality indicates that violence and conflicts in our region, far from diminishing, have the propensity to increase. The political and social instability that already existed in Venezuela before 2014 has been joined by the political crisis in Brazil, and more recently in Nicaragua. Mexico continues to exhibit staggering crime rates linked to drug, arms, and human trafficking, gender crimes and targeted killings, amid a climate of insecurity augmented by swift impunity; criminal gangs continue to spread terror in Central America, while the Peace Accords – also signed in Havana – between the narco-guerrillas of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government of that country are very likely to end up in a complete failure.

And as if it were not sufficiently spurious that such a Peace in the abstract should be declared in a happy conspiracy of all the democratic governments of “our America” with this hemisphere’s longest dictatorship – responsible, directly or indirectly, for several regional conflicts and incapable of propitiating spaces of dialogue and harmony with its own people – these days Havana is, once again, the base and guarantor of another “sham peace process.” which this time will take place between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army, the Communist guerrilla organization that persists in armed violence.

Now that we have heard the evidence, it is obvious that the dreams for regional peace are just another kind of Latin American myth, something like the legend of El Dorado or the Fountain of Eternal Youth: a promise full of frustrations that transcended into just a fantasy.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Transition, Cuban Style / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuba’s new president Miguel Díaz-Canel (center), with Bruno Rodríguez, Mercedes López Acea and Raul Castro (and his grandson/bodyguard in shadow) at the Plaza of the Revolution this May Day (cubadebate.cu)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, 7 March 2018, Havana – Since the transfer of the government from the hands of General Raúl Castro to Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez last April 19th, much has been speculated in the foreign media about the possible beginning of a political transition in Cuba. For some inexplicable reason certain colleagues – perhaps well-intentioned, though somewhat clueless – identify the new Cuban president as a sort of helmsman who will lead the sinking island of Cuba towards the fortunate port of democracy.

The defenders of this thesis base their arguments as much on objective questions as on more subjective reasons.  Among the objective questions is the pressing need to create openings within the Island that serve to oxygenate the agonizing national economy and improve the difficult living conditions of Cubans.

Among the more subjective reasons we can especially find the generational change of the political leadership of the country – which would eventually replace the positions still occupied by the rest of the diminished historical generation, with the additional benefit that the new leaders at the head of the Government, who, although they did not take part in the epics of the attack on the Moncada Barracks, the sailing of the yacht Granma from Mexico to Cuba with the Castro brothers, Che Guevara and other revolutionaries, and the guerrilla war in the Sierra Maestra on which the supposed legitimacy of the autocratic power of the Castro regime was based, neither do they carry the weight of the firing squads, the dispossession of property, the forced labor camps and all the atrocities committed by the Cuban dictatorship in the last six decades. continue reading

In defense of this purported transitional agenda – to date more desired than possible – to which some seduced foreign media refer, it could be mentioned that there are in today’s Cuba, in effect, socio-political similarities with countries that carried out processes of democratic transition after long dictatorships in the last third of the XX century, among them, Portugal and Spain, the longest-lived dictatorships in Europe, although not as long-lasting as the Cuban one.

In fact, the Castro regime’s almost sexagenarian autocracy is but a failed attempt at a transition that ended up being betrayed: the drift of the pro-democratic revolution came to power in January 1959 under the pretext of overthrowing the previous dictatorship, which was imposed by Fulgencio Batista’s coup d’état in March, 1952. This awards Cubans the dishonorable privilege of having lived uninterruptedly under conditions of two consecutive dictatorships for the past 66 years.

However, and except for the reasonable variations of nuances, among similarities of the current Cuban reality and the conditions of the aforementioned countries at the moment when their respective transitions took place, there is the presence of an autocratic power based on a unique and egocentric ideology, the intense and permanent propaganda of governmental thought, coupled with the most inflexible censorship on any alternative political opinion or current alternative politics, the official worship of the leader, which is intended to extend beyond his death in the Cuban case, the exaltation of a heroic historical past that supposedly justifies the ideology and leadership of the dictatorial Power and that, moreover, defines the national standard up to the present and towards the future, social control through the repressive political police and the pro-government organizations (selective repression to sow fear and silence in society), and the State’s economic corporate doctrine, which in Cuba is, all at the same time, Government and Single Party.

However, the differences, though fewer in their quantity, are more profound and decisive in explaining the delay, or rather, the non-existence, of the long-awaited process of democratic transition in Cuba.

In the case of Portugal, the overthrow of the Salazar dictatorship was the result of a military uprising that would become known as the Carnation Revolution (April 1974), led by the Movement of the Armed Forces (MFA), a rebel faction of the army led by a group of officers dissatisfied with the government, fundamentally due to the stalemates in the wars in the Portuguese colonies of Africa and East Timor.

Precisely because of the importance of the military elite in perpetuating ownership of the colonies, the army was an important political pillar for the Portuguese government, hence the possibility of a military conspiracy of great proportions in Portugal not only seemed contradictory or almost impossible for the regime, and thus was able to take by surprise the powerful political police, the most effective guardian of the Salazar regime. The capacity for organization, military discipline and the extension of the MFA, made it possible for the dictatorship to be overthrown in just a matter of hours, and after two years of political turbulence, democracy was established in the country.

The Spanish transition, meanwhile, started in 1975 after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, and was a complex civil process. In addition to the changes ordered by King Juan Carlos I as successor, previously appointed by the old head of the State as its leader, the broad support for the King played an essential role, both among a major sector of capitalists within Spain and among many Western countries, and led to the consensus reached by the political parties of the most dissimilar ideological tendencies – including elements of the old Franco regime – which eventually contributed to the creation of the new constitution, the referendum that approved it, and its enactment as the official precept of the government on December 1978, the rule of law being enshrined.

It is true that pitfalls were not lacking throughout the process, but the success of the Spanish transition also played a fundamental role in the support of sectors and personalities of the old Franco regime, who bet on the peaceful and gradual evolution towards democracy and worked towards its consolidation.

A glance is sufficient to discover that, while the similarities between the current Cuban reality and the scenarios that favored the democratic transitions of Portugal and Spain have been determined by their respective dictatorships, the departure of the autocrats from power and the processes of evolution to democracy in both European countries were made possible by social and political actors that do not exist in Cuba, or at least that have not been revealed to date. Namely: elite sectors of duly organized disgruntled military willing to change the political order, reformist elements within the political power itself that favor an orderly transition, national economic power groups capable of influencing pro-democracy changes, an opposition duly articulated and willing to generate political consensus in the interest of a common democratic destiny and, not least, an international community positively interested in supporting the emergence and consolidation of a true democracy in Cuba.

Faced with the lack of rights and the civic squalor of Cuban society, and given the lack of consensus among the opposition sectors, the Castro regime of late, now represented by a new generation of servants, holds all the trumps for a prolonged stretch in Power. To do this, it is ready to legitimize the new era of the dictatorship through a new constitution that must be submitted to a referendum in the future, and that – as expected – has already begun to notch another schism among the opposition: on the one hand, those who take on the challenge as an opportunity to say “NO” to the regime, to one party and to compulsory socialism; on the other, those who not only deny that possibility, but choose to wear themselves out in the disqualification of the former, accusing them of trying to “legitimize” the dictatorship.

It does not seem reasonable, in the midst of such a regrettable scenario, to speak of a Cuban transition. As far as many Cubans are concerned, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez is nothing more than the heir and follower of the dictatorial regime until he demonstrates otherwise. In any case, what is currently offered is a “transition, Cuban style,” a process equivalent to transition from a dictatorship of a life-long government to a government with handovers of power, but a dictatorship nonetheless.

Except that (who knows!) along the way, new actors and circumstances may appear, the miracle of a consensus among the Cuban democrats may take place and, surprisingly, the dreamed about transition to democracy might yet begin in Cuba

But those enthusiastic colleagues of the foreign press, as divorced from the aspirations of Cubans as they are ignorant of our reality, should note that until such a wonderful moment arrives – if it does – it is neither legal nor realistic to talk about a political transition in Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Millionaire Guerrillas and Angelic Drug Traffickers / Miriam Celaya

(Front, l to r) Juan Manuel Santos, Raúl Castro and Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño (prensa.com)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 April 2018 — Long before what the most skeptical anticipated, the failure of the new “Peace Accords” between the Colombian government and the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – today metamorphosed into a political party today – is a real possibility on the horizon of that South American nation.

The pacts were negotiated in Havana for four years before being signed in Colombia, with much fanfare, on September 26, 2016. A plebiscite held on October 2 of the same year received a resounding NO, but after making several modifications to the initial version, the pact was finally signed at the Colón theater in Bogotá. From the moment of its first steps, the pact has been on shaky ground, and it is now on the verge of tumbling. continue reading

The recent imprisonment of former FARC guerrilla leader Jesús Santrich, accused of having links to drug trafficking, and his possible extradition to the United States – a situation that, as the high commissioner for the Peace of Colombia has declared, should be clarified judicially and not through debates between the government and political actors – deepens the doubts about the seriousness and veracity of the commitment of the leaders of the now called Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC) to leave behind a past of violence and war that marked half a century of national Colombian life.

However, this episode is just another nail in the coffin of a handful of Agreements that evidently lacked the broad popular support that was attributed to them from the beginning, as demonstrated by the results of the October 2016 plebiscite, and more recently, with the popular rejection that the FARC leader received in his political campaign tour related to the presidential elections, from which he chose to withdraw.

On the other hand, public opinion is not greatly surprised by the arrest and incarceration of Mr. Santrich. It was an open secret that, after losing the financial and logistical support of the former Soviet Union, the Marxist fighters of the Colombian jungles, once champions of the cause of the poor, had rapidly evolved into narco-guerrillas.

The trafficking of cocaine and the extraction of gold which, it is claimed, were always part of the fighters’ “self-financing”, thus became essential sources for the economic and material support of the war and, at its core, for the enrichment of the members of its power elite.

It is not surprising, then, that after the signing of the Havana Peace Accords, the FARC leaders – far from looking like the leaders of an army made up of peasants, workers and other poor and “oppressed” sectors of society – in truth were transformed into administrators of goods and assets of about $345 million, according to an estimate from a list delivered to the Government of Juan Manuel Santos by the UN Mission in Colombia in August of 2017.

However, it is baffling (at the very least) that instead of the gang of the needy one would expect from those who, in theory, have suffered the privations of war and jungle, the harshness of fighting and the persecution of the army, the cream of the crop of the former guerrilla force are in a position to fulfill the obligation to have gold, money, land, livestock, means of transportation and other assets to pay to the fund for reparations to the victims of the armed conflict, as settled in the Agreements.

In this way, due to these difficult paradoxes of reality, the fruits of systematic crime, kidnapping, extortion and terror which was planted in Colombian society for decades, is today part of the safe-conduct for impunity that, though not necessarily forced or required, leaves a bitter taste on the mouths of the victims.

That is why it is even the more brazen that the cynicism with which the FARC – and here I refer to the “political party” – pretends to pose as a victim of political persecution, when one of the members of its clique has been caught in flagrante delicto of drug trafficking, according to the Colombian authorities, breaking with what was agreed in the Peace negotiations.

These days, his colleagues in arms and misdeeds affirm that poor Santrich is in his 15th day of a hunger strike, which “has begun to wreak havoc on his health” and one we hope he is determined to continue to its ultimate consequences.

Since the accused does not have the one act-farce style, so often used by the regional left when defeat circles its wagons, this angelic image that’s being offered of a poor, unjustly incarcerated blind man (and two other companions (cronies?) locked up in the same prison), who is willing to sacrifice his life to prove his innocence, denied the assistance of his own doctors by the authorities, is almost tender. It would seem that those kidnapped and murdered until recently by FARC guerrillas had received a lot better treatment and considerations.

But perhaps such a plaintive stance only tries to mask, as far as possible, the ramifications that drug trafficking reaches among that dark amalgam of Marxist-drug-traffickers-guerrillas-politicians, for whom perhaps the failed Peace Accords – not coincidentally negotiated in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution by their historical allies, the Castros – are too much like a capitulation of their olive-green glory days, when they camped at will, kidnapping, extorting, trafficking and murdering in the jungles and towns of Colombia.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Preliminary Assessment of an Announced Succession / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro salutes Diaz-Canel (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2018 — The first question regarding the succession of power in Cuba, that is the one about who would be elected, was finally clarified on April 19th with the confirmation of the selection of Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez as the new president of the State Council of the Castro regime. He will assume the dubious privilege of inheriting the address of the hacienda in ruins.

Contrary to the announcements of the darkest of soothsayers proclaiming the eventuality of a dreaded dynastic succession by Raul’s son, Alejandro Castro Espín, who would have been designated by purely consanguineous motives, the election of Díaz-Canel, far from surprising anyone, coincides with signals from the cupola that marked him as a favorite for the position. Castro Espín, for his part, isn’t even among the members of the Council of State (CE). continue reading

If the fissures and struggles between two tendencies of the Power cupola – one “Raulista” and the other “Fidelista”— are true (and certain signs suggest that they are), it is certain that such discrepancies were not reflected in the results of the ballots voted by the 604 deputies who participated in the “election” of the CE. But by themselves, these results do not deny the existence of such a crack, rather they suggest the possibility of agreements between both tendencies in order to safeguard economic, political, and even personal interests and privileges which are common to them, since they are a class that has held power for six decades and that has direct responsibility in everything that happened during that time and in the deep socio-economic crisis that suffocates the nation.

The election process initiated in the month of October 2017 culminates in these two days of sessions of the Ninth Legislature of the National Assembly. However, they were not exempt from surprises, among which stands out – with differences – the strange and unexplained exclusion of Marino Murillo, a member of the Political Bureau and Head of the Implementation and Development Committee of the new CE.

His absence seems all the more confusing because in his inaugural speech the new Cuban president expressed the will and commitment to continue with the implementation of the Guidelines and the Economic and Social Development Plan until 2030, drawn up by his mentor and predecessor, Raúl Castro, to whom – by the way – he dedicated an exaggeratedly laudatory segment.

Murillo should be, at least in theory, an important player with regards to the “continuist” economic policy announced by the incoming president, so his elimination from the CE – without any announcement of his transfer to “other important functions,” as explained in the case of Mercedes López Acea, following the official jargon’s cryptic style – opens the door to speculation about this high official’s possible fall from grace.

Another curious fact in the composition of the new CE is the almost nonexistent presence of any active military. Beyond the symbolic olive-green uniforms of the historical old commanders Guillermo García and Ramiro Valdés – ratified among the five vice-presidents of the CE – General Leopoldo Cintra Frías has been the only minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces who was ratified as a member.

No less notable was the postponement of the election of the Council of Ministers until the next ordinary session of the National Assembly, scheduled for July 2018 as proposed by the president himself, Díaz-Canel, taking into account the country’s complex current circumstances. The proposal was approved unanimously, in accordance with the tradition of the Assembly.

In general, and contrary to what one would expect from these momentous days, when after almost sixty years the departure of the Castro clan from the presidential armchair has finally happened, there are more unknowns left to unravel in times to come than there are certitudes that the new Cuban president had to offer.

His speech held no promises, certainties or proposals for a more promising course for the millions of the governed, who – for their part – lack hopes or expectations for the “new” government. Perhaps the only miniscule novelty of the presidential discourse was the mention, on two occasions, of the word “prosperity,” towards which, according to the “young” ruler, socialism must lead us.

Nevertheless, in spite the heir’s manifest orthodoxy, his language of the barricades and his frequent attacks against anything that differs from the path marked by the leaders of the “Revolution,” we will have to carefully watch his next steps. Rehashing old speeches is not the same as facing the reality of a country in urgent need of deep changes or refusing to take the necessary steps to reverse the calamitous legacy he has just been handed. Because changes in Cuba are not just an option, but a requirement, beyond the interests of the Power claque, its tendencies, its interests or the desires of the brand-new, freshly unveiled, president.

Going forward, what Raúl’s dauphin “says” will not be as important as what the Cuban president “does.” Without a doubt, the shadows of the two Castros – one a ghost, the other a phony reformer – will continue to perniciously influence his mandate for a time. Unfortunately, “time” is not what this new honcho has a lot of, and betting on continuity and pauses, he could end up as the scapegoat of the Castro regime. His only options are to leap forward or bear the entire responsibility for the bad works and ineptitude of his predecessors, while maintaining the balance between the factions of the old power. He won’t have it easy, but this is what he wished for. Meanwhile, for ordinary Cubans, the horizon continues to be as gloomy today as previously, but, at the end of the day, April 19th was the first day of a government without Castros. And only that minutest circumstance is, in itself, good news.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Corruption, the End of Impunity and the Latin American Political Street Gangs

Lula and ex-president Dilma Rousseff (AFP)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 April 2018 — With the recent imprisonment of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the regional left has just received another hard setback. In fact, it could almost be said that Lula’s fall from grace has been the most serious blow suffered by Latin American progressives in the midst of the relentless bashing that its leaders have been weathering in recent times.

Lula is, without a doubt, one of the few heads of state of the left under whose government (2003-2011) extraordinary economic and social improvement was seen, reflected in a high rate of GDP growth, increases in exports, anticipated liquidation of external debts, strengthening of the national markets, significant decreases in unemployment, increases in salaries and the creation and diversification of microcredits, among other important reforms. continue reading

If Brazil reached a relevant position in the world economy in just eight years, and if ever the developing countries looked with hope at what was known at the time as “the Brazilian miracle,” it is largely due to the political talent and the economic reforms promoted by Lula, which explains his enormous popularity in his country and the considerable political capital which he still has, even in the midst of the judicial process – a corruption plot not yet concluded – that has landed him in jail.

But, along with all of Lula’s merits listed above is that other essential component of the best exponents of political populism: a mixture of charisma and histrionics that the former President, now a defendant, has deployed astutely, in the purest style of the television soap operas produced by his country, to manipulate the exalted spirits of his followers in his favor. Staying in the political game, despite everything, is one of the most common tricks of populist leaders, regardless of their ideological alignment.

The hoax reached its climax precisely at the end of the 48 hours of the weekend in which he remained resistant – self imprisoned, it could be said – in the face of the order to surrender to the authorities to begin to serve a 12-year prison sentence, when, surrounded by militants of his own party (Partido de los Trabajadores, PT) and other allied parties – among which the everlasting scarlet shadow of the Communists could not be absent – Lula used popular sentimentality to invoke the memory of his late wife on the first anniversary of her death, with a Catholic mass that served to close a chapter in what promises to be an extensive and complicated saga.

Afterwards, before surrendering to the authorities, the beginning of messianism and megalomania surfaced in one who, now purified by his punishment, assumes himself as metamorphosed into the Illuminati of the poor, to harangue his enlightened discourse, with a mystical touch: “I will not stop because I am no longer a human being, I am an idea (…) mixed with your ideas.” And “in this town there are many Lulas.” Apotheosis of the peoples. The crowd cheered deliriously, tears flowed and hugs for the martyr abounded. Curtain down.

It is not personal. It is known that the defense of those who are condemned must be allowed, even from the guillotine, and that those who are hanged also kick about. However, as far as it has transpired, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was prosecuted with the corresponding guarantees under the Brazilian judicial system rules, and he is being convicted of corruption, not because of his political ideas.

Ergo, even though Lula’s downfall benefits his political adversaries, it was Lula himself who, in committing the crime, deeply harmed the PT and dirtied the “cause” of his followers. It is not, then, a “political trial,” as his regional leftist allies want others to believe, and some of them are beginning to fear they could also be splashed by this great mess of putrefaction.

Beyond all that Lula did well, no one is above the Law. After all, whoever is corrupt should be prosecuted and imprisoned, especially those who hold political office. It is true that, in good faith – and judging by the corruption scandals that are being uncovered in recent years among the political classes of any alignment – it would be said that, in order to imprison the dishonest public servants, prison capacities would have to be expanded rapidly, especially in Latin America.

In fact, the history of our region is so lavish in examples of political and administrative decay at all levels that this last uncorking, which continues to expose long chains of corruption and to implicate numerous high level politicians, should not surprise anyone. The novelty – and this, only to a certain extent – is that they are being judged, condemned and imprisoned.

We must not forget the case of the former Brazilian president Fernando Collor de Mello (who governed between March 1990 and October 1992) as the young politician who assumed the first presidency of a democratic Brazil. He won the elections in the second round – precisely against Lula da Silva – for the right-wing National Reconstruction Party, with the promise of ending the illicit enrichment of public officials.

Paradoxically, just over two years later, Collor de Mello was forced to resign because of investigations of corruption – acceptance of bribes in exchange for political favors – and influence peddling, followed by a Congress that officially requested his dismissal. A technicality in the court process prevented his being found guilty of political corruption, and that saved him from prison. However, Congress did consider him guilty and condemned him to eight years of suppression of his political rights. So far, Collor de Mello has not succeeded in his political career, although he has again attempted to venture into it.

Now, Collor de Mello’s asking his supporters back then to publicly demonstrate against what he called a “coup d’état”, seems to be part of a desperate recourse followed by presidents fallen into disgrace, beyond their political color. Years later, Dilma Rousseff took that same stance when facing her own destitution.

And these are only Brazilian references. We can also mention recent cases of fallen angels in other countries of the region, such as the left-wing Argentine president, Cristina Fernández – also said to be “persecuted politically,” the poor thing – or the right-wing Peruvian president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. It has been said that corruption is not an ideological disease, but a moral one.

And while the spiral of corruption continues to expand, dragging more and more prominent figures of regional politics in its dizzying cone, Latin Americans who are followers of one leader or another – or one party or trend or another – continue to show civic immaturity and the proverbial political infantilism.

So, instead of taking on the challenge of the moment and embracing the end of impunity as an essential principle that, without distinction or privileges, will reign over all public servants, they prefer to project themselves as if this were all a brawl between street gangs, where what really matters is not to prove one’s innocence but to accentuate the guilt of the adversary. It isn’t so much that “mine” is corrupt, but that “yours” is more so. And so it seems that we will continue to the end of time.

To paraphrase a well-known Cuban poet: It’s Latin America, don’t be surprised at anything.

Translated by Norma Whiting

When You Invite the “Obnoxious One” to the Party / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 March 2018 — There is no doubt that with the Castro presence in international forums, the same thing happens as when they invite “an obnoxious one” to a party: he will always end up sabotaging everyone’s good time.

The examples of Castro’s “diplomatic” outbursts abound throughout the decades of the olive-green rule. Suffice it to recall the well-known diatribes and public tantrums of Castro I in dissimilar world conclaves against any government, official or just a journalist who was not to his liking, or who suggested the smallest slight toward his government. His anger was such that he seemed close to suffering a sudden stroke. continue reading

Such behavior, far from disappearing from the official practice, has become the style of the school of Cuban diplomacy. It consists essentially of exchanging the absence of arguments with verbal and at times even physical aggression, as was demonstrated during the VII Summit of the Americas, held in April 2015 in Panama, where the well-trained hosts of the “civil society “of the dictatorship violently attacked the representatives of Cuba’s independent civil society, who were invitees to the same forum.

The show was deplorable and will be engraved in the memory of those who had the questionable privilege of witnessing it. The worst thing, however, is that despite all this previous experience, the organizers of these forums continue to invite the “obnoxious one”.

Behold, the obvious inability of the Cuban Government to behave correctly in the democratic programs of the world was once again demonstrated by the rude behavior of the Cuban Ambassador to Peru, Juan Antonio Fernández, within the framework of the Hemispheric Dialogue held on March 21st in Lima, in preparation to the forthcoming Summit of the Americas.

This time the outburst of the Cuban amanuensis took place in the midst of a comment from José Luis Vallejo, the Peruvian representative of the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy (RLJD). Vallejo’s “sin” was to make reference in his speech to the ceremony to grant the Oswaldo Payá Awards in Havana, remarking that the prize winners have not been able to attend two of the ceremonies in a row by the express prohibition of the Cuban authorities. Vallejo also expressed his enthusiasm to attend the third award granting ceremony in Havana.

“Don’t even dare mention that name in my presence” the “diplomat” shouted to Castro Vallejo, in an intimidating manner. “I’ll ask you not to stick your nose in Cuban matters. Stop hassling us and stick to whatever you need to discuss.”

And representatives of the regional left claque, fulfilling its traditional mission, immediately applauded enthusiastically from their seats.

Because of his language and his attitude, it seems as if the faunal pawn of the insular dictatorship, instead of participating in respectful dialogue on foreign soil like the rest of the delegates, and in the presence of numerous representatives of various civil organizations in the region, was behaving as if he were on– any Centro Habana street corner, facing some troublemaker trying to sneak in the line to get his coveted quota of rationed potatoes.

The picture is more Kafkaesque because minutes before, during an intervention by the uncompromising official — as had previously been done by his compatriot and associate, Yamila González Ferrer, vice president of the ruling Union of Jurists of Cuba — he had launched a fierce attack against the RLJD, without having been interrupted by the representative of said organization.

However, this unfortunate event is just the prelude to what will be the presence of Castro’s groups at the VIII Summit of the Americas. Only, unlike the previous Summit, where after half a century of isolation, the “new” president of Cuba was given the opportunity to demonstrate that he was at the height of this important regional democratic forum — to which the General responded by blasting the alternative spaces of the Summit to encourage his pack of faithful servants to lash out against other Cubans — this time the Peruvian hosts do know, or at least they should know, what to expect.

In light of today, for many commonsensical people, the presence of the longest dictatorship in this Hemisphere is incomprehensible in a conclave that the Venezuelan government was excluded from, precisely because it did not respect the rights of its people. Without a doubt, the proselytizing work developed by the Castros through their doctor/slaves and other vassals has penetrated the political interests sufficiently strong – though not in democratic feelings – of more than one government in this region.

So, when this coming April we witness once again the shameful Panama experience and the loud troops of the Castro regime’s mob sabotage the VIII Summit of the Americas, let the hosts not complain, and let the rest of the representatives of the democratic governments and civil society organizations not be surprised, because an old Arab proverb will be fulfilled.  It goes like this: “The first time they deceive you, it will be their fault. The second time, the fault will be yours”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Transportation In Cuba: Multiple Problems For One Solution / Miriam Celaya

Archive

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 March 2018 — One of the most pressing and old problems never solved in the Cuban capital has been that of public transportation. There are countless causes, beginning with the extreme centralization that placed in the hands of the State the transportation administration and “control” for decades – with the disastrous consequences that this policy has brought in all spheres of the economy and services – to which could be added a long list of adversities inherent to the system, such as the aging of the vehicle fleet, the lack of spare parts to repair the buses’ constant breakdowns, the incongruence between the price of the (subsidized) fares and the cost of keeping the service running, and the chronic lack of cash that hinders the purchase of new and more modern effective buses, among other limitations.

As if such difficulties were not enough, in recent times, Havana residents have habitually used the most economical mode of transportation, the articulated “P” buses (40 cents CUP per passenger), which cover routes in high-demand and have the greatest passenger capacity. They have recently noticed longer waiting times between buses, which causes the corresponding crowding at the bus stops, the chaos at boarding time and all the inconveniences associated with it. continue reading

This time, however, it is not a problem of shortage of equipment, but of drivers. The truth about a growing popular rumor about this new fatality has just been confirmed by the director of the Provincial Transportation Company of Havana (EPTH), according to the official press. The aforementioned director said that, currently, the EPTH deficit is 86 drivers, which means – always in their own words – that, on a daily basis, 700,000 passengers cannot be transported in Havana, which represents about 60,000 pesos less in revenues and an average of 500 fewer trips.

The matter is not trivial. Among the four terminals most affected by the exodus of drivers are two with the highest demand: the ones at Alamar and San Agustín.

So, following “the vision of the directors of this company,” the (new) problem in the capital’s public transportation service, that is, the shortage of drivers, is due to “more tempting offers of salaries and hours at other work centers, as well as the increase in inspectors’ demands and actions so what is established in the sector is fulfilled.” (The underlined section contains the author’s views).

There wasn’t the slightest reference to fundamental issues that affect the transportation sector, and in particular, public transportation drivers, such as the salary incompatibile with the always ungrateful task of driving a heavy vehicle, loaded with irritated passengers, circulating through obsolete, insecure roads, full of potholes; the constant harassment of state inspectors, and the obligation to follow to the letter the sacrosanct commandments written by bureaucrats far removed from the actual work from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices.

However, the brainy directors of the EPTH have conceived a solution to “alleviate” the crisis: “in the coming weeks, a contingent of drivers from several provinces will arrive from the provinces, and the call for all those who wish to join the workforce will continue.”

All of which demonstrates the infinite capacity of the leading cadres of the socialist state enterprise to create several problems for each solution instead of one solution for each problem. Because one doesn’t need to be a genius to see that – except for the possible existence of inflated records – if drivers from the interior provinces are the solution to the transportation crisis in the capital, wouldn’t that be creating conditions for a transportation crisis in those provinces?

Another vital point of the matter: in Havana, aren’t there enough housing problems and insufficient shelters for thousands of victims who have lost their homes due to building collapses or evictions? How is the State going to guarantee accommodation and living conditions for those provincial drivers who will come to “save” the passengers of the capital for an undetermined period of time?

The experience of decades of massive “contingents” mobilized towards the capital – for example, policemen and builders from the eastern provinces, mainly during the 1970’s, though the practice has not completely disappeared – shows that this is a boomerang strategy: it not only increases the problem that is being solved but also generates new ones, mainly in the area of housing.

Although we must recognize that the topic of contingents in Cuba is all a State policy: in any crisis situation – which is the norm, not the exception – the creation of a contingent is always proposed. A contingent can serve the government (and only it) in all cases. Thus, there have also been contingents of teachers, doctors, sports coaches, cultural instructors, etc., whose common denominator is not having solved any problem, but the complete opposite.

And it could not be otherwise because, as is known, the word contingent defines something eventual, not definitive; which is why you cannot face a crisis – be it public order, housing, transport or any other – with a “contingent.” It is necessary to deeply reform the roots of the system that generates the evil, otherwise the contingent will end up being the one that takes root.

But, returning to the issue at hand, it would be interesting to know how the EPTH managers suppose that keeping an open call to increase the workforce of the company will resolve the deficit of drivers. Isn’t that the same type of negotiation that called for drivers to work at other locations that provided better wages and more manageable hours? So, what makes them suppose that the next influx of drivers will remain faithful before the helm, and facing the ferocious harassment (supposedly “demands”) of the inspectors, for the same salary and with the same schedule that determined the stampede of the previous drivers?

Paradoxically, in this case, as in many of the complex problems that overwhelm Cubans today, the solution is very simple and not at all new: allow the creation of autonomous cooperatives of transportation workers, give the fleet to these cooperatives, allow for those cooperative members to purchase fuel at reasonable prices and import cars and spare parts and apply a fair tax burden that encourages work for the sector. In summary, allow the freedoms and rights of workers in the sector. Only then will the eternal transportation crisis disappear, not in the capital, but in all of Cuba.

Because we Cubans have only one problem: an obtuse and failed sixty-year-old political system, which threatens to become eternal.

And in Cuba everything, even a humble bus driver’s employment post, is a reflection of the general crisis of the political system, and as such, constitutes a potential threat that must be “solved” deep down from the structures at the service of the regime. And while we’re waiting around, we can only exclaim what our grandparents used to say: “what a mess!”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Censorship, El Estornudo and Fung’s “Liberation T-Shirts” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

(Image: definicion.mx)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 March 2018 – Recently, several media have reported the consummation of another attack by Cuban authorities on the freedom of expression. This time the jealous guardians of political correctness blocked access to the digital magazine El Estornudo (The Sneeze) – an entertaining and well-written journalism project – in what constitutes another demonstration of the totalitarian vocation of the island’s government.

Thus, El Estornudo, is added to the censored list by the commissars of the Palace of the Revolution. A list, by the way, that is extensive, old and of varied tones, qualities and styles, but with one common denominator: narrating a reality that does not reflect the apologists – that is the “journalists” – of the Castro press. continue reading

For their part, the promoters of the magazine have responded with an editorial that does them honor: not only do they openly refuse to bow to the pressure of the Censor, but they declare that such arbitrariness “is not going to modify one iota the editorial line of our magazine nor is it going to make El Estornudo dialogue with the political power on the terms that the political power expects.”

This has been another chapter in the sad repressive repertoire that has been marking the general-president’s departure from the scene, a man who a decade ago was emerging as a possible reformer who would open a path towards relatively favorable changes for Cuba and Cubans.

However, far from making the promises of his initial speeches a reality, Raúl Castro’s last days at the head of the Government have been a clear step backwards that has been reflected particularly on two fronts: the unjustifiable crusade against the small and active private sector – where some minimal advances were being made in terms of the internal economy – and the new onslaught against the sectors of dissent or critics of the political system.

Faced with this reality and after almost 60 years of totalitarianism, it could be assumed that even the most optimistic Cuban would seriously question the health of human rights in Cuba. Especially of economic rights and the freedom of expression and information, so systematically and openly violated. But this is not the case, as evidenced by the interview recently granted by a young Cuban businessman, an emigrant named Juan Pablo Fung, to the news agency EFE.

Fung, great-grandson of a Cantonese Chinese who arrived in Cuba a century ago and settled permanently on the island, emigrated to China seven years ago thanks to a student scholarship. After finishing his studies he decided to stay in that country working for a better future which, obviously, he could not aspire to in Cuba.

Now Fung is about to realize a project dreamed up by him and for which he has been saving and working for the last three years: the production of “smart and free t-shirts” under the Dirstuff brand – carriers of “infinite and interchangeable messages” – soon to be on the market.

What is provocative about the case, however, are not the T-shirts themselves or the fact that they incorporate a personalized QR as a novelty – a technological resource that has already been used on the Island by independent activists – but the (very legitimate) aspiration of Fung to produce these “liberty T-shirts” in his native homeland in a future that, judging by his words, would seem close.

Fung also believes that this would be “the first private company in Cuba,” because “Cuba is changing” starting from an opening that began a few years ago and that will eventually lead to “the legalization of private companies” on the island.

What Fung evidently ignores, is that several years ago there were private capital companies on the island, not only those of foreign and “mixed” capital legalized by the State’s interests since the 1990s, but also those managed by Cubans “from inside.” It is just that the government does not define them as private companies but as “non-state forms” of economic management.

As for the promising “opening” that was announced precisely at the time that Fung left Cuba, currently it is in clear decline.

Nor is it clear whether Fung would invest as a Cuban “from within” or as a resident or Chinese citizen, that is, as a “Cuban émigré,” which for the purposes of the current socio-political and economic model “is neither the same nor is it equal.” In the second case – that is, as an exiled Cuban – the young man would find it impossible to invest on the Island, at least under current laws. Unfortunately, Cuba has not changed as much as Fung supposes.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the theme of the shirts is the conflict they would spark in a political context as confrontational as that of Cuba. Fung declares that, although his product “advocates freedom of expression,” he does not want it to be politicized, because many people have been meditating on the Cuba issue “using the problems of politics as an argument and justification.” He does not want his T-shirts to become a political platform for these ends so that some profiteers can make money at his expense, which is also his legitimate right as creator and producer.

Being an expert in T-shirts is one thing, but in matters of politics, rights and freedoms the picture is different. Especially if we are talking about Cuba. It is enough to understand that if the Cuban authorities unleash such rage against independent and alternative digital spaces, to the point of censoring them and persecuting their animators – despite the insignificant Internet connectivity suffered by Cubans on the Island and the limited social reach of these media within the country – to know that the suspicions that the production and on-site commercialization of T-shirts carrying “free” messages which the explicitly apolitical Fung dreams of, are incalculable.

We can almost imagine the Central Committee’s Department of Political Guidance assuming the reins of production of “the first private company in Cuba” – Fung’s, of course – to flood the foreign tourism market with clothes, which would carry slogans such as “Commander in Chief, At Your Service!” or ” Fatherland or Death, We Will Conquer!” Or that other pearl that has been incorporated more recently into the official propaganda repertoire: “I am Fidel.” Dantesque. Even for such an optimist as Fung.

Because it turns out that Juan Pablo Fung does not believe that in Cuba “there is no freedom of expression.” For him it is only a problem of definitions around “a complicated issue.” A point on which the young man seems to agree with the censors in the service of Power, and another confusion for which we will have to forgive Fung.

In the end, settling in China can mean a discreet advance for a common Cuban in matters of financial prosperity, but it does not mean an advantageous change in terms of freedoms and rights. Perhaps that is why for Fung in Cuba “there is freedom of expression.” Yes, of course Fung, and “neither” in China.

Snubbed / Miriam Celaya

Cuban spy René González in an archive picture (AFP)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 31 January 2018 — These days, one of the famous “five heroes” of Cuba, René González (61 years old), has once again achieved prominence in the social networks. This time, however, his renewed notoriety is not related to the honors of his past glories when – like his four companions – he became the epitome of revolutionary patriotism as a “prisoner of the Empire” by the work and grace of the last (and longest) of the onerous ideological battles contrived by Castro I.

On the contrary, René’s return to the public arena is the result of the unbearable humiliation of not having been included in the list of 605 selected as candidates for deputies, a privilege enjoyed by only two of the five spies: Gerardo Hernández and Fernando González, although all of them had previously received the corresponding “document” as chosen from their respective syndicates for said objective. continue reading

Protests were immediate. The objections were initiated through the Facebook page of an official journalist who received a long reply from the wife of the victim, Mrs. Olga Salanueva, expanding the matter in detail. Numerous fans of the former spies posted their comments on the same social network and on some websites that have joined the debate on the case, collaterally revealing other demons that lie beneath the national opinion and are far more significant than the exclusion – another supposed “injustice” – suffered by a simple, utilitarian and disposable element of the Castro regime, or as they are often called, “useful idiots” like René González or the other two who were omitted.

The OnCuba website published an extensive article that starts in an apologetic journey about the five infiltrated agents of the State Security who were imprisoned in the US, and ends with their return to Cuba, meandering through the cyclopean campaign and the mobilizations deployed in Cuba and abroad in favor of their release. The legal defense costs, the artificial insemination of the wife of Gerardo Hernández at a private clinic, the frequent trips of the family members of the prisoners and the large support group put together by Cuban government officials around the world, remains an absolute secret to this day.

The truth is that, after Mrs. Salanueva resentment, it is perfectly established that her husband was in a position to assume the candidacy and eventually the position as deputy, something that the five “deserve” since all “are more tried than chocolate” and “it is in very bad taste to try to establish differences” among them. In fact, the style in which Salanueva expresses her displeasure seems to suggest a peculiar way of interpreting the deputy position: more as a recognition award for her husband’s merits (and those of his heroic “brothers”) than as a mandate to the service of the people and the nation.

Obviously, Salanueva longs for the times when, as prisoners in US jails, all of them had the same rank and their families received similar attentions and benefits, and she now objects that some are now considered bigger heroes than others and that the perks are not shared uniformly.

An unequal treatment that – although she does not express it directly – is also evident in the position that each of them was assigned upon their return to Cuba. In René’s case, he was assigned a post as irrelevant and obscure as the vice-presidency of the José Martí Cultural Society, but one which he has fully complied with “despite his task having nothing to do with his vocation, and his not being able to even exercise the profession he loves,” affirms his angry wife.

However, all the gossip and disagreements are unprecedented inasmuch as they break with the usual acquiescence of the “revolutionary” ranks and indicate that an indeterminate number of subjects of the pro-government sector is willing to question the status quo strongly and to demand explanations.

Furthermore, those who support what we might call the new cause of the Five – or perhaps we should say of the Three – are demanding rights of political participation, at least in relation to the representation they aspire to have in Parliament, beyond the “political measures” of a National Candidacy Commission – which, as the Electoral Law stipulates, has the prerogative to nominate 50% of the deputy candidates – whose legitimacy is left unquestioned, since it only pursues “the satisfaction and safeguard of the current real power”.

And who is the subject of that “current real power”? It is not mentioned, but inferred. In any case, it is the “formal leaders who absorb political activity in Cuba today,” specified in the OnCuba text as those who lack the “tremendous accumulation of popular sympathy” – OnCuba states – that the five former spies, in their role as “potential leaders” do have.

It would seem that by repeating the lie “the people are sovereign” some of the faithful in the Castro regime have come to believe it and really want to wear the crown, something like an unthinkable advance in the era of Castro I, but an unequivocal indicator of the state of dissatisfaction of broad social sectors, even though there are still those who naively believe that Cuban deputies – that strange amalgam made up of bureaucrats, artists, intellectuals, “sports glories” and machete yielding millionaires in a country where there isn’t even sugarcane left, and now even recycled spies – really have the capacity to make political decisions.

Those who consider all this cyber-bullying a trivial matter should take into account that in conditions in Cuba, after almost 60 years of totalitarianism in which the governing dome and its institutions have kept everything under control concerning the electoral system and “elected” parliamentarians, it seems like a real surprise to have such an avalanche of criticism and demands from a social base that defines itself as revolutionary, that manifests itself impatient for the hope of a “never materializing” electoral reform and that should grant them greater participation in the political decisions of the country.

Anyway, and taking into consideration that there are a mere 80 days remaining until the general-president Raul Castro leaves his position at the head of the Cuban government, such an uproar among his hardened revolutionary troops must be worrisome. Just in case, on the night of Thursday, January 25th, a few hours after the beginning of the cyber protest, the nobody’s hero was unveiled: René González appeared on a TV special news broadcast about the upcoming celebration of Martí’s birthday celebration, as if to demonstrate implicitly that his fidelity to the regime is above all proven. Including degradation and oblivion. Certainly not!

Translated by Norma Whiting

Another Pandora’s Box Opens in Cuba / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Distribution of medicines in Cuba (file photo)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 January 2018 — On 28 December 2017, the newspaper Granma published an extensive article that uncovers a serious criminal act: the adulteration of drugs detected in the Reinaldo Gutiérrez pharmaceutical laboratory, located in the municipality of Boyeros, in the Cuban capital, with the substitution of methylphenidate bya placebo, the latter an innocuous product “used for the cleaning of the machines once each production of medicines is conculded.”

The information is based on a report delivered to Granma by the Information and Analysis Department of the Attorney General’s Office, and includes a brief reference to a list of criminal acts detected during 2017, related to the theft and illicit trade in drugs in different entities subordinated to the Superior Organization of Business Management (OSDE) BioCubaFarma, with their corresponding criminal proceedings, without going into much detail.

However, in the case of the aforementioned laboratory, the scapegoats that usually accompany this type of news in the government media are mentioned, namely, a team leader in charge of the blister-packing machine, an operator, a shift manager and “stevedores of the provincial pharmaceutical retail company in the East” – that is, only the basic personnel directly related to the production process or to the handling and transportation of drugs – whom, it is affirmed, “received sums of cash totaling over 1,500 CUC.” continue reading

An insignificant figure, especially if you take into account a simple fact not mentioned by Fariñas Rodríguez in his article, but which is of major importance because of its implications: methylphenidate is a synthetic psychostimulant substance – that is, a drug – that raises the levels of dopamine and norepinephrine in the central nervous system. Because of its molecular structure, methylphenidate is similar to amphetamines, but its effects – which start approximately 30 minutes after the pill is ingested and last for several hours – are analogous to those of cocaine, although less powerful.

Thus, these criminals would extract, not the raw material of, say, the dypirones, the hypotensives or the diuretics – medicines that are scarce and in great demand among the population – but “coincidentally” a psychotropic substance… But the journalists, (piously?) overlook that detail. Could it be that on this Day of the Holy Innocents the official Cuban press tries to pull the wool over our eyes? Is it a question of deceiving the national public opinion by concealing what is clearly an illegal drug trade, that is, a drug trafficking network within the Island?

Undoubtedly, the official Cuban press is like fine lingerie: what it insinuates is much more interesting and attractive than what it really shows. The rest of the article leads into other administrative considerations, the kind absolutely not commented on in Granma, which should imply criminal consequences for others, much higher than those thugs trapped in the case and pointed out in the same old article.

So that the reader is immersed in an ocean of questions and many concerns.

Let us put forward some questions that emanate from this published article – not by the enemy press or by the spokesmen of the Empire to distort reality and damage the Revolution – but precisely by the official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba:

  • It is obvious that (at least) at the aforementioned laboratory there is no adequate control over raw materials, including those that constitute a strong potential for the development of an underground drug market in Cuba, with all that this implies;
  • Adequate quality control is not carried out with systematic and thorough randomized examinations of the batches of medicines produced in the laboratory, since indeterminate quantities of placebo went to the retail network, instead of the tablets with the appropriate components;
  • The technological records of pharmaceutical laboratories can easily be violated by unscrupulous people working in this industry;
  • The machinery of the laboratory is capable of being used at will by operators and other workers;
  • There is no effective surveillance system on the production process despite the fact that psychostimulants substances are handled which – as it is informally known – are beginning to flood many neighborhoods and very crowded areas of the Cuban capital.

At this point, it begs the question: what guarantees are there that these and other violations are not being committed in other laboratories, including the production of drugs that are exported to other countries?  Who can the parents of the children make claims to, since – according to the article –children were consuming adulterated tablets, ineffective for their illnesses? How serious and reliable can the certifications be that guarantee the production of medicines in Cuba?

How long will there be an inexcusable irresponsibility for all managers of the pharmaceutical industry and other officials related to it, from those closest to the production process up to the new president of BioCubaFarma, Mr. Eduardo Martínez Díaz and the Minister of Public Health, Dr. Roberto Morales Ojeda?

Is anyone really thinking that “the training of personnel, the sense of belonging, the ethical and moral values and political-ideological development” will be effective strategies to eradicate the crimes that in the article are euphemistically called “extraordinary events”?

Surely without meaning to, these correspondents of Granma have put their finger on a sore that, if they think about it, they might have preferred to leave hidden, because the truth is that the decay of today’s Cuban reality is so widespread and uncontrollable that it is impossible to be able to uncover a fraction of it without exposing a barrage of corruption that will splash even the most egregious feet when the crap hits the fan.

They have opened another Pandora’s box that, with all certainty, will have some sequels… perhaps some of which were not foreseen. They are the risks of the profession, even for those who exclude the commitment to the truth in order to prostrate themselves at the feet of ideologies.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Castro Suspects / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban President Raul Castro (Cubanet)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Havana, Miriam Celaya, 22 December 2017 — On the morning of 21 December 2017, it became known in the international media that “the Cuban Parliament” – whose most outstanding feature is not having decided anything at all in its more than 40 years of existence – has “just decided” to extend the presidential mandate of General Raúl Castro until 19 April 2018.

The real reasons for making a decision that implies another unfulfilled promise on the part of the elderly General – who had promised to leave the country’s Presidency on 24 February 2018 – is a mystery, given that the supposed difficulties introduced in the electoral process for Hurricane Irma, which hit the island in early September, is too precarious a pretext to be taken seriously.

But, in any case, we are not facing an exceptional situation either. It is known that any governmental disposition in Cuba, especially the best and the most transcendental ones, can be (and usually are) postponed as the power god wishes. Other previous promises of the General, with greater effect on the population, such as monetary unification, the decrease in food prices or the new Electoral Law, were also arbitrarily postponed with no explanation whatsoever. continue reading

However, some signs point out that in the background of this sudden date change for the departure of Castro II from the Presidency lies the urgent need to make certain readjustments in the power machinery, in order to ensure their own interests and those of their beneficiaries, which reinforces the hypothesis of some analysts who sustain the existence of significant cracks in the once monolithic structure of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and of the leadership, based on alleged struggles between the most conservative and orthodox sectors (supposedly “Stalinist” or “Fidelista”) and those most prone to the pseudo-changes introduced in the last decade (“reformists” or “Raulistas,” as they are called). Struggles that would have arisen after the forced retirement of Fidel Castro from the government, and made deeper through the 11 years that followed.

Perhaps the Raulistas are waging a strategic battle in order to guarantee their own continuity at the head of the country, and especially the safeguarding of their economic interests, so everything must be tied and re-tied before the presidency’s transfer to the hands of a loyalist who does not belong to the Historical Generation, avoiding unforeseen and unwanted events.

The truly surprising thing is the impression of urgency and instability that is being transmitted, trying to consolidate, in a matter of three months, something that should have been achieved in a decade, that is, to avoid any danger, which, at the same time, belies the discourse of “unity of all Revolutionaries” wielded by the totality of the leaders and high officials interviewed while standing by the ballot boxes during the municipal elections of this past November.

Of course, the cryptic style of (dis)information in Cuba forces us to decipher hidden codes, with the risk of erroneous interpretations and inaccuracies. However, it does not seem accidental that the most important information published on the front page of the official press this Thursday, 21 December,  was the previous day’s celebration of the 4th Plenary of the Central Committee (CC) of the PCC – parallel to the parliamentary debates – within the framework of which the First Secretary of the Party, Raúl Castro, announced the celebration of the next Plenary, which will take place in March 2018, a fact that cannot but be related to the coming election of the new Cuban President.

It is possible speculate that this next Plenary of the CC of the PCC could be, above all, the occasion introduced by the general-president and his most faithful acolytes, not only to “expand on the experiences obtained during the implementation process of the Guidelines and in the projection of the coming years, according to the official press statement, but to strengthen commitments and strategically prop up the one that will later be officially “elected” by the State Council to occupy the presidential chair, and perhaps to also secretly agree among the ideological elite who will be the next First Secretary to be elected in the framework of the VIII Congress.

But the current constraints of Raulism, in a December that has had more haste than pauses*, are not confined to the political plane, but began instead to affect the economic plane. Just a few days ago, on 13 December, untimely “new legal norms” appeared and went into effect over the Cuban business system.

In other words, the “improvement” experimentally initiated by the general-president during the 1990’s to (gradually) metamorphose the high command of his army into civilian entrepreneurs – who now direct all the strategic lines of the country’s economy – and later endorsed in the Guidelines, are now legitimized in the legal body through decrees and decree-laws, which gives the future President a legal tool that not only protects the changes implemented until now by the general-president against real or potential internal adversaries, but will allow an extension of their future scope in the interests of the elite and their favored ones.

But beyond all speculation we must recognize that the Cuban political landscape is at least confusing. In any other country where the predominant characteristics of the government are hesitation, setbacks, failure to comply with all its promises and, finally, the postponement of the presidential elections, the situation would be described as a “political crisis.” Not so in Cuba. At least not explicitly. Four generations of Cubans on the island have survived for six decades under conditions of dictatorship, suffering crises of all kinds without even internalizing them as such. How would they perceive the crises that are resolved within the bosom of the olive-green Olympus?

In any case, we will have to follow closely the political events that come our way in 2018. Meanwhile, in the midst of so much murkiness something is clear: the proclaimed unity of the power cupula is just another myth of a worn out and outdated gerontocracy that today seems to doubt even the survival of its bleak legacy.

*Translator’s note: “Without haste, but without pause” has been a catch phrase for Raul Castro, in speaking of economic reforms in Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Castro Regime’s Biggest “Electoral” Farce / Miriam Celaya

Counting the votes at the Cuban election

cubanet square logo

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 December 2017 — In recent days, “political analyst” Daisy Gómez – one of the faithful among the most faithful deans of the Castro press – offered a commentary on the primetime Cuban television news program, questioning the legitimacy of the results of the controversial Honduran elections, based on suspicions that “in that country there is no separation of powers,” and that this was the reason the current president, Luis Orlando Hernández, was able to manipulate the final figures of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE).

Such a cynical statement was made with the enviable composure of one who has trained for decades in this complicated exercise of (dis) informational prestidigitation, by virtue of which it is assumed that what is bad for other countries -in this case, the lack of separation of powers – constitutes a strength in the case of Cuba, since it demonstrates the solid unity between the government and the governed. continue reading

Therefore, and in spite of that fact that in Cuba the separation of powers between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches doesn’t exist either – because these are concentrated in the most holy trinity Government-State-Party, legal representative of that ambiguous and intangible body that has been called “the people” – Cubans should not have any reason to question the electoral results that the National Electoral Commission reports, however surprising the figures may seem.

It is worth remembering, in advance, that it is Law 72 (the electoral law) itself, which, when establishing the functions of the National Electoral Commission (CEN), certifies the subordination of the latter to the Council of State inasmuch as it determines that it is to “it” – and not to the “people” – that it must report the results of the national polls in the referendums and the corresponding computations, as well as rendering a “detailed report of the unfolding of each electoral process” (Chapter II, Article 22, paragraphs k and m) .

Thus, the possibility remains that the totalitarian power might be (as it is, in fact) the one that ultimately determines the electoral results and, eventually, manipulates the figures, according to its own interests.

A very peculiar feature of the Cuban electoral law that allows for tricks by the governing class is the number of registered voters, never known publicly in advance of the referendums, even though every Cuban citizen since birth is rigorously registered in the Management Registers of each municipality where he or she resides on the Island. Perhaps the only efficient ministry in Cuba, the Ministry of the Interior, controls the Registry, which in turn appears, duplicated, in each Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, so it should be relatively simple to monitor the voter’s location and update the electoral roll whenever it is required.

Thus, the updating of the register should result in an almost automatic task, since Article 5 of the Electoral Law establishes that the right to vote belong to all Cubans “who have reached the age of sixteen (16), who are in full enjoyment of their political rights “…; while Article 6 specifies the requirements that must be fulfilled in order to exercise the right to active suffrage, among which is “to be recorded in the Register of Voters of the Municipality and in the the electoral district corresponding to the voter’s established place of residence…”

For this reason, there is no logical explanation how it is possible that, after the voter registries have been updated in each constituency and after having had a “successful dynamic test” on Sunday, November 19th, prior to the elections, when it was supposedly demonstrated that “everything was ready and arranged for a triumphant electoral day,” the CEN has “updated” for the first time the national electoral register precisely on the day of the elections. And it is even more incomprehensible that in the five days following the elections, the final numbers of this registry have varied, not by a few tens of thousands, but by hundreds of thousands of voters.

Let’s review the facts: in the press conference behind closed doors, offered by the president of the CEN, Alina Balseiro, on the afternoon of Monday, November 27th, to provide information about the “preliminary results” of the elections, this official stated that the voter registration update had yielded a total of 8.8 million voters. This implies a colossal increase in relation to the 8.4 that, according to official data disclosed at that occasion – was the initial estimate.

As if by magic, in just the two and a half years that had elapsed since the last elections, 410,158 new voters appeared, almost half a million more, in the national register. This, in spite of the waves of emigration abroad realized by tens of thousands of Cubans, most of them of voting age, in the same period – and in frank challenge to the many desertions, deaths, dissidences and other adverse factors. Who would have imagined it!

Such an exaggerated number allowed the authorities, in just 24 hours, to increase to 85.9% the embarrassing 82% registered at the polls just one hour before the official closing of the polling stations, but also to declare that the attendance of the electorate had surpassed that of the elections held in April 2015.

The impressing avatars of the electoral numbers of the registry did not stop there, however. Because not even that surprising and already fat attendance at the polls satisfied the inflated official expectations. No matter what anybody says, public opinion tends to internalize percentage figures more easily than the numbers of voters, so the collective memory would have archived 85.9% of voters: a result lower than the 88.30% reached in 2015. The authorities were not going to allow such an unacceptable blunder, because the so-called “Fidel’s Elections” had to be, at least, superior to the previous ones. Those were the orders and they had to be carried out.

And this is how the CEN reapplied its twisted sense of mathematics and worked the new “miracle” of inflating to an impressive 89.02% the number of people attending the polls, with a total of 7,610,183 voters. Thus, the final “compatibilization” of the results with the Register of Voters was published last Friday, December 1st by the official press.

How did they achieve this new phenomenon? Easy, with the impudence of those who believed to be above punishment, the scribes of the geriatric palace returned to “update” the voter registry, and, as a result, it contracted again, this time by almost a quarter of a million voters. More nonsense, whose sole purpose was to allow the percentile result. If they couldn’t bring it up to the ideal number, at least they would bring it up to reach a higher number than on previous elections. And so, what appears to be the most unquestionable fraud in the 40 years of Castro’s electoral practices to date, was achieved.

Finally, the CEN certified that the final electoral roll for these newly held elections was 8,548,608 voters, which means a whopping 251,392 fewer than those reported in the preliminary results.

With so much inflating and deflating the registry and the polls over decades, the abundance of many flabby cheeks among the lords of Power are justified. However, all this overwhelming saga of numbers and implausible percentage figures undoubtedly point the finger at a gross manipulation of the election results, although we have no chance to prove it, which is another trick which the conspirators counted on.

Nothing new, of course, only that on this occasion the Cuban authorities have shown a rampant disregard for national and international public opinion. Not coincidentally, the journalistic note that reports the “official results” of the Cuban democratic party appears, not on the cover, but just on the third page of Granma, the most official of the official newspapers. They know that they need to lower the profile of even the biggest lies, otherwise, it is way too big a pill to swallow.

Interestingly, as an additional fact, these meticulous back-and-forth “compatibilizations” that favored the regime so much did nothing for the 4.12% of blank ballots or the 4.07% of canceled ones, so that we must accept – because this is what the CEN and its leaders, who (no sarcasm) are the only ones who know the truth – that in a few days the number of voters that swelled the ranks of those who went to the polls to exercise their right to vote, but additionally, their ballots became valid.

And since in Cuba the decisions “from above” cannot be appealed, the olive-green gerontocracy and its conga lines, with their proverbial triumphalism, will have scored this burlesque farce, not as the desperate play that it actually was, but as another “victory.” If so, it will be them and not us who are truly deceived.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Not So Revolutionary Nor So Fidelista / Miriam Celaya

Cubans go to vote as robots, out of sheer annoyance or fear of being labeled as the black sheep of the flock (photo EFE)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 29 November 2017, Cuba – This past Sunday, 27 November 2017, the “maximum exercise of Cuban democracy” took place, namely, voting to select, among the candidates proposed by the masses in each constituency of the country, the ones who would be picked to process the frustrations of their respective “electors” during the following two and a half years.

For the ordinary Cuban it was the probably the usual cyclical rite, by virtue of which millions of registered voters in the electoral system go to the polls as robots, a large part of them, out of sheer annoyance or fear of being identified as the black sheep of the flock.

However, in truth, this time the eternal pantomime was nuanced by two very specific signs: they are the first elections held after the death of Fidel Castro – exactly one day after the first year of his death – and constitute the beginning of a process that will continue with the election of the new Parliament, suffrage to be held between the months of December and January. continue reading

The members of the Parliament, in turn, will have the mission of electing the next president of the Cuban government (from a candidacy previously approved by the current government), as established in the current electoral law (Law 72 of the year 1992). A president who, probably, will not be a descendant of the Castro Ruz branch, was not present at the Moncada barracks, was not an expeditionary on the Granma yacht, did not “fire a shot” in the Sierra Maestra and has not ordered anyone to be shot. Admittedly, the events are interesting.

Another suggestive fact has been the curious handling of official data by the National Electoral Commission (CEN) after the closing of all polling stations. In the prolonged primetime broadcast of the national television news program (NTV), aired at 8:00 p.m., the president of the CEN, Alina Balseiro, explained that not all data had been compiled at the national level and that “preliminary results” would be announced at a press conference at 3:00 p.m. on Monday, 27 November.

She also reported that until 5 o’clock in the afternoon of the same day – barely an hour before the official closing of the polls – attendance at the polls was recorded as 82.5% of registered voters. A figure “very preliminary,, but alarmingly low by usual Cuban standards, which Balseiro justified by stating it was “due to the rains that have been affecting mainly the eastern and central regions of the country,” which had an effect on attendance at the polls, so the CEN had decided that a group of voting places would extend their closing hours to 7:00 pm.

The aforementioned press conference took place, in effect, but it developed behind closed doors, behind the backs of the people who had starred the night before in what the triumphalism of the government press had described as a “successful election day,” a “formidable tribute” to the historic leader on the first anniversary of his departure, and a “demonstration of the people’s unity” around their revolution.

It was not until the NTV’s main broadcast on Monday (27 November) that the president of the CEN, in an interview with journalist Thalía González, finally let us know that “the preliminary results” of Sunday’s election day. She said that 7,608,404 Cubans went to the polls, or 85.9% of the total electoral roll.

That means that 14.1% of the electorate did not vote “For Cuba and for Fidel,” despite the intense campaign that had spread through the media in the previous weeks, against the pressures exerted on the voters in numerous polling locations – at least in the capital – from early hours, to go out and vote.

We would have to add to that 14.1%, the 4.12% who left their ballots blank and the 4.07% who voided theirs, for total 22.29% of voters who did not align themselves with the call “for the revolution”; that is, a large number of non-revolutionaries. And it is known that, in Cuba, all abstention is equivalent to denial, ergo, just over 22% of Cuban voters have rejected, in some way, the alleged fidelity to the political system.

In spite of that, Alina Balseiro, whose face showed deep fatigue, stated before national public opinion that “these results are superior to those achieved in the 2015 elections.” She asserted that not only was there greater attendance at the polls, but also “a higher vote quality,” and the decisive participation of the people, which made this electoral success possible, had its best results in the provinces of Santiago de Cuba, Guantánamo, Las Tunas, Granma and Sancti Spiritus. Exactly the same few that she had singled out the day before as “the most affected by the rains” and the ones with most difficulties in poll attendance.

But the lie is short-lived.  Review of the very official numbers held in previous years is enough to verify the deceptiveness of such victorious claims, and the markedly decreasing trend of poll attendance: from 95.8% in 2010, it went down to 91.9% in 2012, and to a shocking 88.30% in 2015, when, for the first time, the decline took the number below 90%.

Such a trend, without doubt, has sown concern among the authorities. Especially when the attendance figure of the recently held elections, far from responding to the call for an meeting with the memory of the Deceased-in-Chief and his “legacy,” has decreased by almost three percentage points compared to the previous ones.

We will have to wait for the next few days, when the authorities get over their hot flashes and the president of the CEN has had enough rest and, therefore, has achieved the miracle of conveniently collating the data, to know the final figures of these controversial elections.

For now, everything seems to indicate that the hopelessness, the poverty, the lack of expectations and the constant stumbles and setbacks of the “Castro Administration” are portraying the immaculate image of Cuba that the General and his court want to sell to the world as “a socialist people, faithful to the revolution and Fidel.” The moral of the story: If the lords of Power aspire to better electoral results in the immediate future, they will have to offer Cubans something other than slogans, the deceased, or the politically correct biographies of “the representatives of the people.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba: Without Medicines and Without “Kindness”

Lines outside a pharmacy in Havana, October 2017 (archive photo)

The severe shortness of medications in Cuba, far from getting fixed, threatens to become an “irreversible” malignancy.

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 November 2017 — The pharmacy, in the middle of Avenida de Carlos III in the Cuban capital, was crowded with people. The line extended outside the premises and formed a human conglomerate in the front, obstructing the entrance to the adjoining apartment building. “I have not been able to sleep for a week for lack of my medicine!” screams a frustrated patient when she finds out that, after waiting for her turn for more than an hour, they have run out of the medication alprazolam (Xanax), prescribed by her psychiatrist to treat her anxiety and her sleep disorder.

“I have been going from pharmacy to pharmacy in the 15 municipalities for days and nothing! Nobody cares, nobody knows when there will be medicine, nobody solves the problem! Here, for the person who does not have lots of money, or a relative abroad who sends him the medicine, all is left for him to do is to die. And then turn on the news and hear how good the Cuban health system is. It’s a mockery and a lack of respect!” continue reading

The impassive clerks behind the counter continue to dispatch the few products there are, and the woman emerges from the pharmacy like a furious whirlwind. As she moves away, she continues to unload her impotence loudly on the sidewalk, carrying on against “this damn shitty country” and waving the useless prescription in the air. The people in line are mumbling their own particular misfortunes. A hypertensive man complains that two months ago he could not buy enalapril or chlorthalidone, a cardiologist attests they are missing antiarrhythmics such as atenolol and nitrosorbide. Everyone comments on the shortage of duralgin, aspirin and meprobamate.

This is an everyday scene. The severe shortage of medicines which has continued to intensify in Cuba in recent months, far from being solved, has become a trend that threatens to become as much of an “irreversible” disease as the sociopolitical system that generates it. Even the official press has acknowledged the lack of medicines, which includes at least 160 drugs, but it has not pointed to a solution to the problem or a probable date for the normalization of supplies to pharmacies.

This shortage, however, is neither an isolated nor a recent phenomenon. Since the anguishing 1990’s, after the collapse of Soviet communism, there was not only a dramatic fall in the national production of drugs, but the importation of medicines that were not generated within the Island also decreased significantly. In fact, most of the medicines that were sold freely through the pharmacy network, without the need for an optional prescription, became “controlled,” which meant that they started to be sold only against a properly generated doctor’s prescription.

Since then and until today, the list of rationed drugs also includes some of the most basic analgesics, healing supplies, ointments, thermometers and other items, all of which have significantly declined as a part of the family medical kit of the common Cuban.

It was precisely in the midst of the crisis of the 1990’s when the “super ration card” was implemented; a personal file containing names, identity number, and private addresses designed to guarantee in the corresponding pharmacies the necessary medications for patients with chronic diseases – those with diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, neuroses, etc. – upon presentation of the medical certificate that accredited their disease.

It is fair to acknowledge that the measure achieved its purpose, at least while the pharmacies’ regular supply of medicine remained stable. However, the current drug crisis affects even this growing sector of chronic patients, for many of whom it is vital to have access to the drugs indicated for the treatment of their diseases.

The issue becomes all the more serious because the Cuban population presents an unstoppable tendency to aging, and a significant increase continues in high-risk diseases for life, such as hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and hypercholesterolemia.

Meanwhile, and as invariably happens in every hardship situation, a robust and intricate network of illegal markets in medicines has developed over the years, in whose broad current flow both certain administrators and pharmacy clerks – given their direct access to product – as small occasional merchants, like those who thrive in neighborhoods by trafficking in anything reasonably marketable, even some unscrupulous doctors and “cadres,” bureaucrats of the national health system, who have access to blank prescription pads at their discretion. Because, as it is generally known, corruption and poverty are directly proportional: they grow at par.

Of course, the law of supply and demand works perfectly on the black market, so that, as the shortages have increased, the price of medicines has skyrocketed. Some products double, if not triple, their previous price in the illegal market itself. For example, a blister of 10 tablets of the highly demanded duralgin (dipyrone), an analgesic with a price tag of 40 cents in national currency in the pharmacy network and 5 (CUP) until recently on the black market, now is often quoted as 10 (CUP).

The same happens with psychotropic drugs, also in high demand in a country where stress and depression are part of everyday life. Chlorodiazepoxide, diazepam, and alprazolam, among others, have become so expensive as to be out of the reach of those of those who need them most: the poorest.

So far, the authorities have avoided going deeply into the subject, which they have barely mentioned tangentially. A few days ago, the announcement in the official media about dedicating a transmission of the TV program “Roundtable” to analyze this delicate issue created expectations in the population. However, for unexplained reasons, this program has been postponed.

For the time being, the crisis continues, and according to the testimonies of some doctors, who have opted to remain anonymous, in hospitals like the very renowned Hermanos Ameijeiras, located in the Centro Habana municipality, talks and lectures will soon be given to doctors about the benefits and advantages of homeopathic medicine, which indicates that the shortages of truly effective medicines are here to stay.

Several shelves remain empty in this pharmacy. The situation is repeated throughout the capital (archive photo)

But the crisis is as irritating as the “solution” that is provided in the Letters to the Editor column of the publication Juventud Rebelde. Under the title of “Medications, Anguish and Strategies,” the reporter Jesús Arencibia Lorenzo reproduces a letter in which a reader complains that he never gets to buy his hypertension medications – that is, drugs controlled by “the super ration card” and supposedly guaranteed by the network of pharmacies – because, while he’s working at his job, there are people who do not work and lineup and “hoard” the medications, so that “the same people” get the medicines every month.

The reader in question comments that “each minute, hour, day and month that goes by” without the medications he suffers “deterioration of the organism and propensity to suffer cerebrovascular or myocardial accident,” all of which is strictly true and reasonable, but not so his proposal for a solution. The aforementioned reader assumes that, given the insufficient distribution of the medicine, the right thing to do is “at least to divide it in half: one month for you, one for me.”

That is, his proposal does not consist in demanding that a way be found to solve the shortage of medicines, but to be able to access the drugs at least in alternate months: the month in which “it’s his turn to get the medicine” he would be safe from a heart attack, next month (when “it’s someone else’s turn”) he would be at risk of dying. That is, this subject does not even hope to have medicine every month, like “the hoarders,” but for him, the maximum expression of justice would be for them to get as screwed as him.

An assumption supported by the journalist Jesus Arencibia, when he harangues: “In the midst of deficiencies whose solution is often not immediately at hand, what should not be lost, at least in a social process like ours, is the meaning of justice and kindness, so that bonuses and penalties get distributed with the greatest fairness, in each case.”

And in closing, he adds: “Perhaps when we advance to the maximum transparency scenario,” in which the access to drugs at the pharmacies and the registries of patient records become accessible and public documents for the citizenship – as he calls it, the “popular control scenario” – “maybe we can prevent a few from benefiting while others continue to wait in the danger zone.”

All of which suggests that, at the end of the day, medications that keep us painfully alive in this absurd Island could continue to go missing, but what cannot be missing is “the kindness” that allows us to multiply the miseries. And there are still those who wonder how it is that the Castro regime has managed to survive for more than 60 years!

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