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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Special Period or “Situation”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Police in Cuba (File photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Cuban migrants in Ciudad Juárez. File photo.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó (venezuelaaldia.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

The New Castro Constitution and the Economic Crisis: Born Twins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban Constitution: A False Legacy / Miriam Celaya

Constitution Project (Cubadebate Photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Officer watches as Cubans line up to shop (Reuters)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Source: radioreloj.cu

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cancellation of the B2 Visa: Another Parting of the Waters Between Cubans

Photo taken from the Internet

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 21 March 2019 – The recent announcement by the US authorities of the cancellation of the five-year visas (B2) for Cubans, as of March 18, 2019, has fallen like a pitcher of ice water on those who have, so far, benefited from this type of visa that grants to those who wished to obtain it stays of up to six months in the US and the possibility of multiple entries.

It is not surprising, then, that almost everywhere these days this has been the unavoidable subject in Cuba: bus stops, shops, queues, work centers or the usual groups of friends and acquaintances. The impact of the news for the common Cubans far exceeds any other event that has taken place in recent times, including the very controversial constitutional referendum on February 24th, and it seems to have produced a desolation effect similar to that caused by the tornado that devastated a large swath of the Cuban capital just several weeks ago.

Once again it has become clear that the dispositions and the policies dictated by our Northern neighbor with respect to Cuba weigh more on the national mood and cause greater effects on the life of Cubans than any guideline that comes from the dome of power inside Cuba. continue reading

In spite of the so-called “independence and sovereignty”, after six decades of “communist” dictatorship, only the opposite results has been achieved: today  ̶ and increasingly ̶  the survival of a large part of the inhabitants of this island depends in some way on the US, either because of the family ties that intertwine both shores, because of the life-saving remittances, because of the flow of the kinds of articles that are scarce in Cuba and that reach Cuban families through the parcel agencies that proliferated as a result of the thaw of the Obama era, or because the US is an important source of supply for small businesses and the supporter of informal commerce, through the constant trips of an entire army of “mules”.

From now on, instead of the B2 visa, Cubans will be able to apply for a visa valid for only three months of stay in the US, which they can use for a single entry, which significantly increases the formality of the paperwork and visa payments for frequent travelers  ̶  that must necessarily be made through a third country since the closure of consular services at the American Embassy in Havana in response to the “acoustic attacks” on embassy personnel ̶   adding additional expenses for tickets, accommodations, food, etc.

This leads directly to the consideration of other possibilities that will begin to emerge in the new scenario going forward, such as greater number of Cubans who might decide to stay in US illegally, once their legal three month stays expire, until they reach the time needed to apply for status under the Cuban Adjustment Act and, eventually, obtain a permanent residence permit.

Another consequence will be the impact on ticket sales of the airlines that offer regular flights between Cuba and the US, of which a good part of the customers are Cuban residents on the Island. It is expected that, in the short term, by decreasing the number of travelers, the cost of these fares will become more expensive, directly affecting the Cubans who reside in the US who commonly pay for the trips of their relatives who live in Cuba. Logically, the shipment of parcels to the Island will become more expensive as well.

Despite this new thrust, and leaving aside the March 16th Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs hypocritical statement, where the authorities reject what they cynically consider “an additional obstacle to the exercise of the right of Cuban citizens to visit his relatives in that country” since, among other issues, “it also imposes high economic costs on family trips and exchange in multiple areas”, it is surprising the virulence and the merriment with which not a few Cuban emigrants living in the US have applauded a measure that so much affects their compatriots on both sides of the Straits of Florida.

“It’s good,” some say, because that’s how the dictatorship will stop the influx of dollars, the flow of snitches and State Security agents who have been entering the US, and the internal pressure on the Island will increase until a social explosion takes place that overthrows the puppet Díaz-Canel. They do not seem to care about the cost of family separation between parents whose children emigrated, between close relatives and close friends, a heartbreak that they themselves had to endure in the past.

“They get what they deserve”, others affirm, who feel chemically pure and politically enlightened, although there is no lack among them of those who participated in marches, were members of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the Young Communist Union (UJC) or the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), those who felt afraid to express themselves freely and even applauded at the Plaza de la Revolución.

Both do not seem to be disturbed by the material needs of their compatriots inside Cuba. The grudges accumulated by their own pain have degraded their souls, and in response to so much inexplicable sense of revenge, many Cubans on the Island respond with distrust. Are these “paladins of absolute truth” those who pretend to trace the common future? Do they feel so elevated that they will be an imitation of the Castro leadership, from the antipodes? No, thanks.

Obviously, the anthropological damage that the well-known Cuban intellectual Dagoberto Valdés defined so clearly does not limit itself to Cuba’s territorial boundaries, but rather – like a plague that corrodes the spirit of solidarity that should exist between nationals – extends beyond a large part of the exile community.

Because, while it is true that the US government and its institutions have the sovereign right to decide and dispose of what they consider best or more appropriate to their interests, although the laws of that country have no obligation to look after foreign interests  ̶ in this case those of Cubans ̶  and if, indeed, the (un-)government of Castro-Canel is the one responsible for the national crisis and the only one from which we must demand accountability and demand rights, it speaks much and very badly of us as a Nation and as fellow citizens that we should rejoice at the misfortune of one or the other.

Personally, although my condition as a “cubañola” (Cuban of Spanish citizenship) did not harm me in particular with regards to visa issues, I feel a real embarrassment before the witches coven unleashed on the networks, pitching Cubans against Cubans, with ridicule, hatred, contempt and resentment, as if we were not already sufficiently fractured and divided, as if we had not consumed enough tons of hatred inculcated from the dictatorial power. And there are still arrogant people who dare to call out Cubans living in Cuba because of our spiritual miseries and the loss of values that, according to them, we all suffer from!

We definitely a lot of growing to do as Cubans and as human beings before we can overcome the trauma of the Castro regime and find the good and the kind that should unite us beyond our differences … Or we will simply be condemned to disappear as a Nation.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Declaration of the “Revolutionary Government”: Late, Murky and Mendacious

Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel. Archival photo

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 March 2019 — Under the strident title of “Cuba condemns terrorist sabotage against the Venezuelan electric system”, the monopoly of the Castro press disclosed on Monday, March 11th, an official declaration of the “revolutionary government” where it directly accuses the US government of unleashing “an unconventional war” against the government of Nicolás Maduro.

Needless to say, in the 20 tedious paragraphs that make up this statement, although there are many accounts based on the official mythology of the last 60 years of Cuban history, as well as the disqualifying epithets against many current and bygone figures in American politics, the official declaration does not offer proof or a single piece of evidence that the colossal electrical failure that began in Venezuela last Thursday, March 7th, whose effects continue as I write these lines, is the result of “terrorist sabotage”.

And they could not provide any evidence, because as far as several highly experienced electrical engineers have assured – including some who are very familiar with the “sabotaged” installation and the system that produces electricity for 85% of the entire Venezuelan nation – there isn’t the least chance of hacking the Venezuelan electrical system because it is not digital but analog; and on the other hand, the damage that caused the service interruption took place within an area strongly protected by the army and the chavista special security forces. continue reading

This means that no external agent could have been the cause of the disaster and that the Cuban government has no basis to describe terrorist sabotage as an event that, according to Nicolás Maduro himself and other vociferous roosters in his corral, is still under investigation, though they already have some “guilty” detainees and, in the days to come, there will be no shortage of “confessions” and accusatory fingers for sure, pointing against the usual villains.

However, the aforementioned statement by the Cuban government wouldn’t have been so outrageous if it were not for its shocking clumsiness and the fear and concern that transpire throughout its lines. The text is confusing, hazy, and obviously mendacious. It is clear that no preacher or druid of the Palace of the Revolution inherited Castro I’s twisted talent; it is fair to acknowledge that in his glory years he was master among masters in the questionable art of lying convincingly about any event and manipulating the crowds at his whim.

To this should be added that different times and different popular moods are now circulating. Many Cubans today question the double standard of the official discourse that is made clear in the Declaration. How can the Cuban authorities justify accusing the US government of “lying” in the case of the sonic attacks on Cuban officials in Havana because “they do not present evidence of this”, but in turn allow themselves to denounce a “terrorist sabotage” led by the US government against Venezuela, without providing evidence to prove it?

How to explain the selective amnesia of the Castro leadership and its spokesmen, capable of enumerating a multitude of historical examples of Yankee interference in the world and accusing the United States of meddling in the internal affairs of Venezuela, while conveniently forgetting also the numerous military intromissions of Cuba in armed conflicts in Latin America and Africa, as well as the Cuban interference in Allende’s Chile or in the Venezuela of Chávez and Maduro, just to mention well-known and documented examples?

But, returning to the official text, it is obvious that the current scribes of the “continuity” of the Castro sign are emotionless, lack conviction, are dull and forget that more and more Cubans have some access to other sources of information and social networks and, as if all this were not enough, the officials can’t express themselves in writing, as evidenced by this indigestible bundle of useless paper – i.e. “declaration” – where events and characters from different periods and from the most diverse world geographical points are mixed chaotically, and where, in an angry jumble, one sentence attacks Juan Guaidó and in the next, Cuba’s “solidarity” with Venezuela is extolled, the American military bases in the region are enumerated, the participation of Cuba in the operations of the Venezuelan National Armed Forces and in its Security Services is denied (which, paradoxically, seems to reaffirm it) and – as is inevitable – unfeasible figures are mentioned about the achievements of Cuba’s medical services in Venezuela, while inflating those of the victims of the evil US interference in the entire planet.

Obviously, the lords of the cupola look down on Cuban intellect. It would seem that they are writing for that amorphous and hypnotized mass, isolated from the world, uninformed, grateful and credulous, that decades ago applauded the false Messiah, convinced and happy, and not for the people we are today: disenchanted, unbelieving, cynical, irreverent and deeply frustrated. The lords of the power caste do not understand that the corrosive effect of 60 years of deceit makes us distrustful and sarcastic—if not with calculated indifference—of everything that comes from the summit.

So, reading in reverse, now it has been confirmed from the huge Castro press monopoly that the days of Maduro at the Miraflores Palace could be numbered. If something we’ve been taught by these six decades of informative obscurantism is that when the whistles and cymbals of the Plaza de la Revolución replace triumphalist slogans and bravado with warnings and accusations it is because they are already giving up the battle. More than a denunciation, the declaration of the Cuban government tastes like an obituary. Soon or later, Maduro will fall, and, with him, the Cuban dictatorship will lose its main energy sustenance and who knows what and how many other revenues. Diaz Canel’s bad luck is past being a simple streak … and there is more to come.

Cuba and the Castro Constitution: To Vote ‘No’ or To Not Vote?

Ballot boxes in Cuba (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 10 January 2019 — We are less than two months away from the referendum that will be submitted to Cuban citizens to consider whether to “ratify” or not the constitutional reform already approved unanimously by the National Assembly. Social networks have been the scene of a bitter controversy among those who encourage the campaign for a massive vote against the “new” spurious constitution written by the scribes of the Castro regime and, at the opposite extreme, those who advocate a massive absence at the polls.

Each one of the proposals has its own arguments. Those who support not going to the polls (an option that in electoral terms equals abstention), consider the exercise of the vote as a “legitimation of the dictatorship,” assuming that both the newly drafted Constitution and the official electoral apparatus constitute a fraud in themselves — which does not cease tobe true — and that to vote in such conditions is to “play the game” of the government. At the same time, several of those who lead in the support for abstention state that the “legitimate” alternative would be to take to the streets and march against the Castro regime. continue reading

However, would the option of “street march abstention” be viable? It does not seem so. At least, past experience does not favor it. It is acknowledged that — beyond supposed political compromises with the “Revolution” — the overwhelming majority of voters in Cuba go to the polls for fear of “finger-pointing” and retaliation. For decades, the pressure of the authorities on the electorate has been felt both through the enormous and suffocating Castro propaganda and in the figure of minor “agitators,” be they elements of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or little pioneers (children) sent door to door to urge the more morose to vote.

Nor is it a secret to anyone that, if fraud is involved, the authorities may well use the ballots of those absent in their favor by marking them with a resounding “Yes,” which makes it clear that abstaining does not constitute a guarantee of success.

Not to mention achieving a chimeric popular mass march in rebellion against the elections or against the regime. It is unthinkable that an electorate fearful of the simple act of refusing to vote will have the courage to take to the streets to march and face the fury of the Castro repressive forces. Leaving aside other essential considerations such as the lack of sufficient convening power to mobilize a critical mass of Cubans, or the absence of leaderships adversarial to the regime that are recognized by the crowds, it could be affirmed that the option to abstain and/or march is (almost) absolutely unfeasible.

Meanwhile, the proposal to attend and cast a NO vote has some elements in its favor. In principle, the initial call was born from civil society through social networks, not from opposition political parties or organizations of any political tendency. It is an authentic citizen reaction that has been drawing more consensus than dissent among Cubans from all shores, whose campaign has been so fast and viral that it was even anticipated, and put the dictatorial regime on the defensive, forcing its powerful propaganda machinery to a hasty campaign for the YES vote.

As an additional benefit, the spontaneity and speed of the “YoVotoNo” (IVoteNo) campaign has prevented leaders or groups of any denomination from monopolizing its leadership and from “assuming” or taking credit for its course. This seemingly insignificant detail favors the participation of Cubans who do not feel identified with the opposition or who are suspicious of leaders they are not familiar with, but who also reject the dictatorship and aspire to changes within the country, without suggesting the rejection of opponents or the participation of dissidents.

The official discourse – that the YoVotoNo option is a “proposal of the enemy” – collapses with the mere fact that it does not require external financing or financing of any nature: it is the simple, voluntary and straightforward exercise of a citizen’s right, the right to vote, one of the few that we still have and that, judging by the virulence of the Castro regime’s discourse, now stands as a threat to its totalitarian reign, based on unanimity in obedience.

And that is another indisputable strategic advantage of the negative vote: it does not suppose risks of repression, since it is founded on citizens’ right to the secret vote recognized in the Electoral Law. It is impossible to prohibit or hinder the participation of every the Cuban voter on the Island in the referendum, contrary to what happens with street demonstrations that may end up dissolved or simply prevented from being carried out by the repressive forces of the dictatorship.

As for the alleged “legitimation of the tyranny” and of its Constitution, it is just the opposite in this case: the NO strategy is based on using the weapons of the system itself, not to legitimize it, but to empower the citizen vote. That is to say, that the citizen himself legitimizes his rejection of the aforementioned Constitution through his vote, not thanks to the Castro electoral law, but in spite of it.

A strategy whose closest antecedent was – saving the differences – the Varela Project, promoted from the end of the 1990s by Oswaldo Payá, who advocated political reforms based on the Constitution itself, and whose repercussions ultimately meant a political cost significant for the dictatorship, although by virtue of legal subterfuges the initial objective of its promoters was not achieved.

In the current case, however, we are facing a different scenario with very objective favorable circumstances to confront the regime in its own ballot boxes. First, because the referendum call is official, which would make each ballot a legitimate vote, and secondly because almost two decades of failures have accumulated in the system. The shortcomings, despair and frustrations of the population have multiplied, the historical leadership has disappeared, we are at the beginning of another economic schism, the failure of the system is evident after 60 years and the “Revolution” does not have the minimum capital of faith among the majority of Cubans.

Add to this the disenchantment of those who created some expectation around the so-called “popular consultation” and whose suggestions or dissatisfactions were not taken into account in the final result: the LGTBI groups that were literally mocked with the suppression of Article 68; the artists who have rebelled publicly against Decree 349 – now in moratorium but not abolished; and the private transporters who recently staged a sit-down strike in the Cuban capital.  An approximate idea of all the popular discontent that is growing within the island will be apparent.

This suggests that, although it is difficult (though not impossible) to impose the “no vote” at the polls, due to the oiled propaganda machinery and electoral Power fraud, the current conditions are propitious to reach a considerable number of negative ballots against the Castro regime, which means a triumph in itself, because not only would the authorities be forced to commit the most scandalous of frauds, but because the larger the quantity of negative votes the more it would make it virtually impossible to alter all the scrutiny processes, and they will have to at least accept a significant part of the votes opposing the proposal.

Some detractors of the YoVotoNo initiative have suggested that the Castro regime would only accept, at most, the existence of 20% of negative votes. If that is so, they forget that we would be talking about almost two million voters with adverse votes. Recognizing them officially would open the door to future steps and legitimate claims of that broad social sector that does not feel represented in the Constitution and that, consequently, would push for new spaces and freedoms. Almost two million adverse votes mean a deep fissure that would disprove the official discourse of the “unity of the people around their Revolution” and place the true Cuban civil society on stage. The social strength would be greater if the results were higher, in the case where a massive poll turnout to cast NO votes occurred.

It is worth noting, in addition, that contrary to all apparent logic, the Castro regime, in its infinite arrogance, has always relied on fear, apathy, indifference, the fatigue of ordinary Cubans, and also on the eternal internal divisions between the different dissident groups and the opposition. That is why capitalizing on that confidence of the power’s claque in the abject national inertia, and turning it against itself is even more feasible than trying to capitalize late popular discontent in terms of political interests of particular sectors or groups.

A force that multiplies with the support of many emigrated Cubans, who have been encouraging the campaign YoVotoNo from the outside, which indicates that it far exceeds the “legal” limits of the simple exercise of the vote – a right that emigrants lack – to become an axis of unity in rejection of the Castro regime. Probably no opposition proposal had managed to attract so much solidarity and cohesion among Cubans from such different sectors and thoughts as this simple citizen initiative, and that fact alone indicates that in Cuba a before and after may be possible, even from the ballot box.

 (Miriam Celaya, residing in Cuba, is currently visiting the U.S.)

Translated by Norma Whiting

Requiem for the Payret Theater / Miriam Celaya

Payret Theater (historiacuba.wordpress.com)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 14 December 2018 — The recent news about the possible transformation of the iconic Payret Theater into a five-star hotel has fallen like an icy shower over Havanan moviegoers, especially the residents of the municipality of Old Havana, where the building is located, as well as the residents of the adjoining municipality of Centro Habana, which for years had yearned for the restoration and reopening of this classic jewel, unique among the first-run movie theaters of the capital and all of Cuba.

Located in what was then known as “Barrio de las Murallas” (Neighborhood of Ramparts) the area with the greatest cultural and recreational activity of its time, the Payret was inaugurated in January 1877 by a wealthy Catalán who resided in Cuba, who gave it his surname. It was also one of the first theaters to become a cinema hall and one of the favorite places of the most select society of Havana at the time.

During the years after its inauguration, and the years of the Republic, the Payret Theatre had several owners and underwent a number of renovations. It was finally demolished and re-erected, and in 1951, it acquired the architectural image that turned it into today’s iconic structure: neoclassical lines of successive arches, pillars and awnings in its exteriors, combined with eclectic elements typical of the buildings in its surroundings.  Its refined interiors include the elegant lobby with the sculpture known as The Illusion, the work of the Cuban artist Rita Longa, and the famous high reliefs representing the nine muses – done by the same sculptor – on both sides of the stage of the once majestic hall of projections, where the intense red color of the curtains, the carpets, and the upholstery of its chairs stood out. continue reading

In short, the Payret shone among the best in luxury and comfort in a city that had more cinemas than New York in 1958 and was known as one of the capitals with the best equipped cinemas in the world. After 1959, with better and worse moments, the Payret was kept regularly elegant and went through a couple more restorations until the crisis of the 90’s arrived and this beloved icon of Cuban movie enthusiasts deteriorated by leaps and bounds because of material deficiencies and official neglect, until several years ago, when it finally closed to the public in order “to make repairs.”

Surprisingly the alarms are now sounding with rumors about this untimely hotel project, whose details were published on this page last Tuesday, December 11th, giving an account of the ambitious construction plan of the Business Group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), Gaviota SA, which would confiscate the whole block occupied by the old theatre, the “Kid Chocolate” room – a true architectural aberration, conceived and built in a hurry to function as a boxing chamber during the Pan-American Games held in Havana in 1991 – and several residential buildings in precarious conditions where more than a hundred families coexist.

The reports on this project and the final destination of the Payret have not yet been announced by the official press, but information is circulating informally among the group “in the know,” especially among neighbors close to the area and culture groups involved with the capital’s cinematic industry. There are many who feel “betrayed” by the turn of events because, until relatively recently, “what was known” was that the Payret was being subjected to a highly expensive capital restoration which, as has become customary, had been stopped for prolonged periods on several occasions, both for lack of materials and lack of financing, which explains, to some extent, the delay in the long-awaited reopening.

“They said that a budget had been earmarked for a complete restoration, then it was said that it fell short of the initial amount and that between the ICAIC and other entities committed to the work, new funds were being allocated to finish the work. It has even been said that the space will be transformed into a multiplex, when two smaller rooms in the old area are converted,” says Amelia González, an enthusiastic photographer and passionate Centro Habana filmmaker who lives very close to what she still calls “her favorite movie house.”

Like her, hundreds from several generations of Havana inhabitants who reside in the surrounding neighborhoods have the Payret as a reference of better bygone times, when visiting the dark room in this comfortable and beautiful cinema to enjoy a premiere was a pleasant and cultural experience all at once, an outing within easy reach of any pocket.

“I used to come here with my wife often, while it functioned as a movie house to show new movies and as one of the subsidiaries of the Latin American Film Festival, because on my income I can’t afford to go take her a date to a restaurant or to enjoy a show at a nightclub. So every time I passed the Payret, closed for so long, I would ask the custodians if they knew of a reopening date for the cinema, but none of them could tell me, nor was there a sign that indicating anything about it,” complains José Antonio, a fifty-something native of Old Havana who has kind memories of this place. And he adds: “Likewise, there was not even a notice indicating it was being restored, as they do with other works by (Eusebio) Leal (Havana City Historian)… We just chose to believe what the newspaper said”

Because it turns out that the new hotel project that would change so dramatically the function of the Payret is inserted in the construction plan promoted by the Office of the Historian with a view to celebrating the half-millennium of the Cuban capital in November 2019. When it comes to obtaining foreign exchange not even the Historian himself stops to reflect on such nonsense as the maintenance of the Patrimony. In any case, it has already been shown that the architecture of the facades can always be preserved, if the forms are kept. For its part, the plebs will be kept at a distance from the new spaces, because a luxury hotel does not count the proletarian rabble among its clientele.

So far it has not transpired that any official or personality of the world of cinema and national culture has issued an opinion for or against the projected cine-cide.

The proposal to turn the cinema into a hotel, however, is flagrantly contradicted by an article published more than three years ago in the official Granma newspaper “on the subject of the situation of cinemas and video rooms in the capital and other regions of the country.” (” Cuba: do you lose the magic of the movie houses?”, 11 June 2015), where it was stated: “The Payret case is separate (from the rest of the Havana cinemas) because, being an institution of high patrimonial value, it was decided it would be a target of investment, and its financing is much greater.”

The aforementioned article affirmed, citing words of Danae Moros, official at the head of the Provincial Film Directorate in Havana, that in 2015 “1,800,000 pesos in national currency and 700,000 convertible pesos for equipment purchase had been raised. That amount is already running out and we are going to request an increase because it is taking a lot more money.”

The same official assured that the restoration works of the Payret had begun the previous year (2014) with a “first stage” that included the roof, the hydro-sanitary network and the Alhambra room. The latter would be what he called “a polyvalent space” (?). The total reconstruction should be concluded before December of the same year, 2015, “because we want it to be ready for the Film Festival.”

However, three years and three film festivals later, not only has the Payret, which continues to be closed, not been restored, but there is no public information about where the funds allocated to that work ended up and, for greater uncertainty, now the death certificate is taking shape for a movie theater which, for over a century was the pride of Havana and certainly a space of great patrimonial value.

But the fact is that if the force that pulls the strings of this ambitious construction project – which is said to include other emblematic buildings of that strip of the capital – is the all-powerful Gaviota military company with the French company Bouygues Batiment International, and the romantics of nostalgia and inveterate capital film buffs can kiss their dreams of recovering a renewed Payret goodbye. The designs of the military consortium created by the power elite have two essential features: they are conceived in secret, like conspiracies, and they are – in keeping with the classic spirit of the cinema of yore – as definitive and unappealable as the thread of the Fates.

Thus, and probably in less time than we imagine, the Payret will disappear from Havana’s geography to give way to the overwhelming machinery of the state capitalism monopoly under the baton of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) leaders. Without further ceremonies there will be another decline in the narrow list of 42 cinemas that, according to official figures, still existed in 2015, in a capital that in its past glory days boasted of having more than 150 dark rooms.

Of those 42 spaces (not “cinemas” properly speaking) that miraculously survived in 2015, only 13 continued in precarious operation, 8 of which presented construction problems; while the 29 “closed ones” were going to be delivered to other “cultural institutions” because – always in the words of the official Danae Moros – “it is a policy of the Ministry of Culture to maintain in each municipality at least one or two rooms, but they must be comfortable and have good equipment.” It goes without saying that this policy has not been met either.

It remains only to point out such paradoxical and relevant detail in this requiem for the Payret cinema, pride and patrimony of Cubans, and that their loss occurs precisely as a result of the confrontation between artists and the officials in charge of high culture around the application of the controversial Decree 349, within the framework of which the latter publicly insisted in the media that the administration of national culture “is in good hands.”

The fate of Payret, in particular, and the depleted real estate of Cuban cinema in general, confirm the exact opposite.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Between Strikes and Demands: From Obedience to Rebelliousness / Miriam Celaya

Massive protest in Havana, September 13th, 2017 (Photo Liu Santiesteban / Facebook)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 9 December 2018 — Judging by the winds that are blowing through Cuba, those people who say that nothing changes on the Island should begin to reconsider such opinions. It is a fact that some changes have begun, and not precisely those from the seat of Power – which are the kind that skeptics expect – but the most important and authentic: those that occur from the autonomous sectors of society.

The outbreak of citizen rebelliousness started several weeks ago by independent artists with their campaign against Decree 349 that seeks to restrict the freedom of creation and dissemination of the various artistic manifestations. The private transportation workers strike has been added this December 7th, protesting grievances and against the smothering regulations that the government has imposed arbitrarily.

Despite the threats, the harassment and the detentions suffered by several of its main organizers, or perhaps strengthened by it, the strike has begun with British punctuality, and the capital is feeling it. On Friday morning, to spite the “reinforcement” buses which – according to unconfirmed information – were destined to mitigate the effects of “El Trancón” (The Huge Traffic Jam, the nickname given to the strike), the bus stops continued to be mobbed, while numerous “almendrones”* (i.e. taxis, Havana style) circulated empty, not making any stops along Havana’s main arteries. continue reading

Both in the case of artists and in the case of private carriers, the common denominator is the unprecedented nature of the challenge to a government that until now did not admit questions, and much less organized actions, against the designs of its power. Another shared feature is the spontaneous and open nature of their demands and strategies of resistance against the gigantic official institutions.

This time it is not about a small group of conspirators gathered within four walls while the repressive pack blocks accesses and exits. Nor are we facing a response to opposition calls or subversive programs plotted by political strategists from all sides. No. Both the announcements of the masterminds of the peaceful rebellions and their actions have been open public manifestations. Nor does there seem to be a competitive attitude among the strikers or protestors, but an evident coordinated and shared responsibility towards the common goal. Nothing could cause greater confusion and concern to the ruling elite.

Another peculiar fact is the setting in which the events are taking place: months after the retirement of Raúl Castro from his position as President and the assumption of the successor appointed by him, Miguel Díaz-Canel, the first president without generational or family ties with the so-called Historical Generation – therefore, without the legacy of “natural legitimacy” of the participants in the Revolution of ‘59 – in the midst of an insurmountable internal economic crisis, with the pressure of an asphyxiating external debt and of a growing social discontent.

Complicating the panorama, the suspension of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy, which allowed for permanent stay in the US of Cubans who managed to step foot in that country in an irregular manner if they were not intercepted at sea, and which functioned as an escape valve to the system, is having a harmful double effect on the regime. On the one hand, it has spewed the migratory tide from Cuba to other destinations in the region, causing conflicts at the borders of several countries of the area, and focusing on the reality of the supposed Cuban socialist paradise, while on the other hand, it is increasing the social pressure in Cuba.

And as if that were not enough, it coincides with the arrival of Internet service to Cubans’ cellular phones. That is, any incident or event can be reported in real time by any witness and disclosed to the world instantly. It is already known that “the wild colt of the Internet” is indomitable.

For the first time in 60 years, many Cubans are perceiving that emigration has ceased to be the most expeditious option to flee from perpetual poverty, and they finally seem to understand that if they want to change the state of affairs in Cuba, the change must be done by their own hand and within the national territory.

The peculiarity of a society marked by extreme politicization is reflected in that, although the artists’ movement against Decree 349 is not clearly political, essentially, it turns out to be because it establishes a vertical rejection of the government’s cultural policy. The same happens with “El Trancón“, which started this Friday, December 7th, with the private transportation workers’ strike, which does not identify itself as a political protest, but essentially it is challenging the omnipotence of a dictatorship that has governed the country by controlling even the smallest details for too long.

When days ago that same power was forced to retract the new arbitrary provisions that were going to be imposed on the “small business owners” – a reversal which, in its basketful of euphemisms is not called that, but rather a “rearrangement” of the allowed activities – the myth of the invincibility of the power was crushed, and showed that this new force, the private sector, which is more productive and efficient than the parasitic State, has been called to play a fundamental role in the changes that must take place in Cuba.

It most probably will not be a quick or easy process. In some ways, there may even be setbacks. The next step should be for these sectors to be grouped into independent trade unions or associations to strengthen themselves and increase their organization and reach.

However, the truth is that the government, and especially the President (not elected by those who demand rights today) is trapped in the absurdity of a system that he did not create, but agreed to represent. There is no way to get out of this test: if the government yields to pressure, it will be the signal to unleash a flood of demands that will begin to emerge from all corners of Cuba, of the millions of Cubans who have waited decades to voice grievances and the young generations that demand spaces for participation. A gesture of governmental capitulation would stir up a feeling as subversive as it is dangerous, which is hope, and that would precipitate the changes.

On the other hand, to quell the demands with greater repression, as has always been the case, would only serve to multiply the discontent, the rebelliousness and the audacity of the demands, provoking a spiral of violence where the government itself would end up losing the game.

It’s too early to predict an outcome, but a positive balance has already been won for the rebels of these journeys. Beyond the results of the demonstrations of the artists and the transportation workers’ strike, for the first time in six decades Cubans will have demonstrated their capacity and willingness to stand up to the power. Finally, the scab of fear has given way. Let’s see if, after all, it will turn out to be true that the Castro regime will not survive the Castros.

*Translator’s note: Almendrones is the name given to the classic American cars still circulating in Cuba, commonly in use as taxis. The word is a reference to their “almond” shape.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Havana: Return to the Bicycle Era? / Miriam Celaya

> Cubans on bicycles. Photo taken from the Internet

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 19 November 2018 — The eternal transportation problem in the Cuban capital and the intricacies of the ever-impossible solutions of the official agencies in charge of the matter have just led to a new proposal for Havana residents. According to Guadalupe Rodríguez, an official of the Cuban Ministry of Transportation, via the Havana TV channel, a new public bicycle rental transportation system will be inaugurated in Old Havana on November 24th.

The popular evening show Hola Habana, on the aforementioned channel, was the platform for launching an initiative that brings us back to the memory of the 90s, when pedaling on Chinese bicycles that were distributed at workplaces was practically the only means of transportation for ordinary Cubans.

As always, it happened under the then “undefeated” Chief’s baton, one ill-fated day when decided for us, almost by decree, was the option to ride bicycles. In fact, far from assuming it as an effect of the crisis, which it really was, the eternally hallucinated man declared, without ambiguity, that this would put us at the same high level of countries as developed as Holland and Belgium. Ergo, the imposition of the cycle was not a setback, but an extraordinary advance. continue reading

That is why those of us who lived through the terrible experience of those years and survived to tell the story, cannot help but feel a sort of scary deja vu and seeing it as a warning sign. Especially when the outlook around us promises (more) difficult times ahead for those of us who inhabit the battered island. It is almost impossible not to see in this “solution” an obvious sign of worse times ahead in the short term.

Returning to the referenced subjec, it is curious that the inauguration of this mode that is now returning with updated variations will be carried out at the Muelle de Luz, (Wharf of Light) point of embarkation/disembarkation of Havana’s very well-known icon, the little Regla motor launch, in proximity to the site where a private establishment known as “Cuba 8” existed until 1968, dedicated to the rental of bicycles and tricycles for recreational purposes that delighted kids, especially on Sunday mornings, when the flock of children happily crowded the nearby Amphitheater.

The details of the “new” system have not yet been disclosed and, as is usual in Cuba, it will be experimental in nature, with the intention of gradually extending it to other municipalities of the city according to its “acceptance” level. However, the aforementioned official reported that this service will be activated from a system of “associates”, which will allow access to it by prior contract arranged at a designated location in Old Havana proper. Also announced was the creation of several points located in the Historic Center, already selected, where associates can access a bicycle or return it once they have used it.

At first glance we must admit that the use of bicycles could be not only a partial solution to the acute crisis of traffic in the capital, but it could also provide recognized benefits to the health of those who take advantage of it. It is also true that it will benefit the environment of a city that is already sufficiently polluted by the emissions of an old, obsolete and inefficient vehicle fleet.

However, the stubborn reality is imposed on this initiative disguised as ecological intentions, preventing it from being feasible. In fact, the difficulties for the effective functioning of the cycling alternative in the capital are numerous and well known. Unlike many towns and cities in the interior of Cuba, Havana has never been characterized by an extensive use of bicycles as a means of transport, except in the bloody years of the “Special Period” when not only was it compulsory but also an inevitable imperative.

But Havana is essentially a city designed for cars and most of its residents have always dreamed of cars, not bicycles. The roads were never conceived for this type of vehicle, including the very poor state that they are in – emulating the craters and unevenness of the lunar surface — together with the scarcity of traffic signals and the proverbial disrespect for the rules of road by drivers of both cycles and motor vehicles. Havana cyclists are the most fragile element of urban geography. Not coincidentally, accident rates skyrocketed during the 90’s, when cyclists were the main victims of traffic-related fatalities.

To all of this, we could add the absence of a network of repair shops and bicycle parking to effectively sustain the development of cycling as a more general alternative than the current official proposal.  Other objective material limitations are also present, such as the scarce supply of cycles and replacement parts in commercial networks, high retail prices in stores and low personal income of the population that hinder the proper maintenance of bicycles, just to mention the most obvious obstacles.

But the difficulties do not end at this point. The accelerated aging of the population and food deficiencies are both factors to consider when designing strategies of this nature. This means that bicycle use would not only be limited to a minority segment of the population, but it would increase the dangers for the elderly when they move about on public streets.

For its part, the “experimental” municipality chosen, Old Havana, is characterized by its narrow streets, the frequent crowding of its also thin or crumbling sidewalks and the terrible state of disrepair of its many balconies and eaves.  Because of this, Old Havana’s residents have developed the habit of walking in the streets, rather than on the sidewalks, in order to avoid the dangers of a collapse and of broken sidewalks, but increasing the risks of traffic accidents.

It is assumed that those responsible for carrying out the new experimental plan have taken into account these risk factors, including an efficient control system that prevents the theft of bicycles or their parts at the different “stations”, an impossible mission in the Cuban social landscape. However, the “master plan” has already been born with an obvious flaw: the cyclists are hardly circumscribed to ride on the only two bike lanes enabled for this purpose. It is obvious to any person who knows the area in question that these will not be sufficient to allow the “associates” to access their multiple destinations without leaving the original layout.

There will be plenty of stubborn optimists willing to face these “small subjective details” who will believe in very good faith that they will be resolved in the course of the test. That is how forgetful Cubans can be after 60 years spent accumulating failed experiments without ever having worked out even one of them.

Or maybe it’s that, in the background, in the national spirit, the specter of the father of all the impossible nonsense continues to dwell, the one who was once photographed jumping from a war tank in simulated heroism, but never sweating and panting while pedaling on a Chinese bicycle, under the torrid sun and the dust of the merciless city. Perhaps that would explain why many of those who did not live through the hardships of the last century and other incurable enthusiasts — those who are so abundant among us in all occasions — today embrace this old novelty with the expectation and naïve illusion of children on the eve of the arrival of the three Wise Men.

As for me, I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but something tells me that the experiment is not going to work this time either.

Translated by Norma Whiting