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

Distribution of medicines in Cuba (file photo)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Castro Suspects / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban President Raul Castro (Cubanet)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Counting the votes at the Cuban election

cubanet square logo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Not So Revolutionary Nor So Fidelista / Miriam Celaya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba: Without Medicines and Without “Kindness”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Raul Castro (Cubanet)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

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

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

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

Despite this, according to what the First Vice Minister of Labor and Social Security told the official press, the provisions of the decree “do not constitute a setback in the development of (self-employed) activity,” but will “consolidate the organization and control of self-employment work so that it continues to advance in an orderly and efficient manner.” But this official did not explain how a process that has been stopped by a government decree could “advance.”
continue reading

And while such a strategy of advancing by going backwards may be paradoxical, more impudent still are the pretexts that were used to justify the retraction of what was announced years ago as a process of reforms that would oxygenate the internal economy and allow the potential for employment for a portion of the labor force let go from government jobs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Thanks for Nothing, Trump

Donald Trump (Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

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

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

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

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

War Vocation in the “Peace Zone”

Raúl Castro during a CELAC summit (AFP)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Marta’s List

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting

Oil in Cuba: Dream or Nightmare?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filling up at a gas station in Cuba

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Translated by Norma Whiting