Serving a Meal, a True Luxury / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Policemen trying to control line to purchase potatoes (file picture)

Policemen trying to control line to purchase potatoes (file picture)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, HAVANA, 6 November 2015 — Hopes and expectations that encouraged Cubans at the beginning of 2015, following the announcement of the restoration of relations between the governments of Cuba and the US, have vanished completely. Over the past eleven months there has not been a hint of any economic improvement for the population, and  the end of the year is expected to be grim, judging by, among other factors, rising prices in the food sector, our most important market.

Visits around numerous commercial shops and roving street markets in the populous municipality of Centro Habana, in the neighborhoods of San Leopoldo, Pueblo Nuevo and Cayo Hueso, evidence the shortages in merchandise, the low quality of products and the unstoppable rise in prices. Pork meat – the Cuban indicator par excellence –– fluctuates between 45 and 50 pesos per pound; while black beans go for 10 to 12 pesos. Other grains are priced beyond the reach of most pockets. The price for one pound of red beans has reached 17 pesos, while white beans cost between 18 and 20, and the price of chick peas has risen to 22. Continue reading

To March or Not to March… that is the Question / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

March of the Ladies in White through Havana. (EFE)

March of the Ladies in White through Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 October 2015 — The latest cyber-skirmish unleashed around statements made by Eliécer Ávila, leader of the opposition movement Somos+, about the #Todosmarchamos initiative, once again focuses first, on the need for restraint in political discourse and the importance of not allowing ourselves to be swayed by the provocations of those who pursue only ratings and drama from the comfortable security of their distant geographical locations, and secondly, on the inability to weigh things at fair value, whether by the so-called opposition leaders — regardless of their strategies, their ideological orientation or their political proposals, if they happen to have them — or by public opinion.

In this case, there are numerous myths contained in a sort of Theogony of the opposition, a mirage created and sustained from abroad in an absurd desire to hold on to an opposition epic — which should eventually replace the current revolutionary epic — which, like the latter, creates pockets of prestige and heroism, and even castes and lineages, depending on whether the new heroes are willing to bleed or get slapped on the head. It is a well-known fact that we Cubans are experts at repeating our mistakes, especially those that guarantee future suffering and shredding of vestments.

We Cubans are experts at repeating our mistakes, especially those that guarantee future suffering and shredding of vestments Continue reading

National Capitol: Restoring Symbols / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Havana’s Capitol Building (photograph from the internet)

Havana’s Capitol Building (photograph from the internet)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 5 October 2015 — In recent days the official Cuban press published a report on the National Capitol building restoration work currently underway, in order to get it ready for the operation of the National Assembly at an unspecified future date.

Unfortunately, the report suffers from inaccuracies and from the typical flourishes of the Cuban school of journalism, which focuses more on the emotions of the author during his quick tour of the works and his personal adventure aboard a winch at over 262 feet above ground than on the truly interesting questions that might interest a fairly astute reader, for instance, the total cost of the work five years after the start of the project, which has already exceeded the length of time that it took to construct the iconic building, or the reasons that led to the decision to return this structure to its original function of hosting Parliament after its deliberate and systematic destruction and its Republican values by the willpower of Castro I. Continue reading

Transition in Cuba: Real or Imagined? / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

A sole proprietor sells peanuts and sweets in Havana streets, but he is far from opening a store and growing his small business. (Luz Escobar)

A sole proprietor sells peanuts and sweets in Havana streets, but he is far from opening a store and growing his small business. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 3 October 2015 — Halfway between analysis and opinion, and not having responded clearly to his own initial question, journalist Carlos M. Álvarez recently addressed a controversial issue: the transition in Cuba, or to put it more accurately, as posed by the title of his work: Can a transition in Cuba be discussed?

In principle, we must give credit to Álvarez for his courage: to declare that we are experiencing a transition in Cuba may be total heresy for many, beyond their political positions, or likes or dislikes of the government or of the opposition. In particular, it is taboo for those who have communed with the official power; but also, as he points out, it is something denied by many Cubans who are not at all into politics, by a sector of the domestic opposition and by the most intransigent groups in exile. Continue reading

Justice Before Delivering Forgiveness?


Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 September 2015 — The recent visit to Cuba of the Bishop of Rome, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, brought a flood of masses and homilies in several different settings, where, among others, two words were often heard in the context of the Cuban landscape: forgiveness and reconciliation. They were all the more curious since they were not evoked at the same time as those other words to which they are unavoidably related: offense, confession and repentance.

In this fashion, Francis urged all Cubans, believers or not, to reconciliation in the abstract and forgiveness of no particular offense, an exhortation so cryptic and watered-down that it well could have been uttered anywhere in the world. Who are the offenders and the offended, what do offenses consist of, whose turn is it to forgive and who will be the forgiven were matters that were left to each individual to ponder. The Pope also spoke of “suffering of the poor,” of “respect to differences” and many other similar phrases that can assume conflicting interpretations according to one’s point of view. Continue reading

Lots of Bright Colors for Bergoglio / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Carlos III and Árbol Seco (author’s photograph)

Carlos III and Árbol Seco (author’s photograph)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana 18 September 2015 – There is just one day left before the arrival of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Bishop of Rome, and work at the Cuban capital has intensified on the faded facades of buildings flanking the route that the head of the Vatican and his accompanying delegation will travel. A motley profusion of stridently contrasting colors has invaded the city, in an apotheosis of bad taste.

These days, the deployment of supports and scaffolding has been intense around the streets that the sense of humor of people has dubbed “Via Sacra.” As often happens in murky waters, the occasion is also conducive to the illicit sale of paint. Thus, a gallon of water is added to every gallon of paint that is sidetracked for sale, in the watercolor canvas destined to cover the usual filth on the facades. It is an economic law that no opportunity for smuggling should be wasted in a country where the black market is not only the best stocked, but also the most organized and efficient. In addition, the visit will be brief, so Bergoglio will not witness how the layers of bright colors poured out in his honor will fade away under the scorching Cuban sun. Continue reading

What Happens the Day After Pope Francis Leaves Cuba? / The Atlantic, Miriam Celaya


A bricklayer works on a wall in Havana, Cuba.Reuters

What Happens the Day After Pope Francis Leaves Cuba?
The paradise many Cubans dream of is not in the infinity of the heavens, but a mere 90 miles across the sea.

The pope is arriving in Cuba, and with him runaway speculation in the media about the impact his visit will have on Cuban society and politics—and particularly the push for greater democracy in the country.

Read the rest of the article in The Atlantic, here.

19 September 2015

At the End of the Day, Yankees or no Yankees? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya


cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 August 2015 — The digital version of Cuba’s most official newspaper, Granma, has once again published an article harping on the issue of nationalization of businesses and other US properties in Cuba which took place in 1960.

A few weeks before, the same lampoon had made reference to the matter, which, curiously, is one of the items on the agenda currently being negotiated by the governments of both countries.

The insistence on the subject should not be random, though it is inconsistent if we take into consideration that the public event that transpired 55 years ago, in front of a delirious crowd that filled the Estadio del Cerro, when Castro I – along with his younger brother, current negotiator General-President – proclaimed, microphone in hand, possessed by his own soul and by force of populism, the Law that in one swift stroke expropriated some thirty properties belonging to “the Yankee imperialism.” The very same “imperialism” (or could it be another?) that the very same old Cuban government (and no other) is crying out for, without mediating explanation for such a radical reversal. Continue reading

New Embassy for an Old Dictatorship / Miriam Celaya

Inauguration of the Washington embassy with officials from Cuba and the US (picture from the Internet)

Inauguration of the Washington embassy with officials from Cuba and the US (picture from the Internet)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 22 July 2015 — The reopening of the Cuban embassy in Washington finally took place amid extravagant fanfare, and, judging by the profuse media coverage, with catchy headlines and photos on the front pages of almost all the newspapers, it seemed that there was nothing more relevant taking place in the world.

The (re)opening of the Cuban embassy was the recipient of movie star treatment in some of the news media: photo galleries with pictures of before and after, instant ones — not as offensive — of the first opening of the building during the Cuban Republican era, a construction worker, proudly posing outside the newly renovated headquarters, showing off his Che Guevara arm tattoo, an indoor plaque to be unveiled at the time of the opening, and the flag hoisted on the mast; just like all flags at embassies around the world … Undoubtedly, the Island’s proverbial vanity was on a high.

A large official delegation traveled from Cuba, at public expense, to attend the merriment that joyfully celebrated the Castros’ capitulation and which – with that skill for euphemisms — the government discourse coined as a “victory of the Revolution.” These included several representatives of the government “civil society” who offered the embarrassing spectacle of rallies of repudiation orchestrated during the last Summit of the Americas in Panama, who now were awarded a trip of encouragement to the Empire of Evil which provides so many goods. Continue reading

Cuba and the Vatican: the Miracle that Never Arrives / Miriam Celaya

John Paul II and Francis (internet photo)

John Paul II and Francis (internet photo)

Cubans will continue to leave for places where they believe God has placed his hand beyond the intervention of his Holiness

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 July 2015 — It’s been 17 years since a head of Vatican State visited the Island for the first time. John Paul II arrived in Cuba in 1998, preceded by his well-deserved reputation. He had played an important role in the Polish transition – his native country — where democracy was finally achieved after decades of subordination to Soviet communism.

Such credentials of the Pilgrim Pope aroused expectations among many Cubans still being hit by the deepest economic crisis in its history, and also hopeful about the possibility of an eventual transition derived from some “easing” of the rigid centralism of the economy and politics in the Island. They reasonably assumed that after so many shortages and scraping out a living, all that was left was for things to improve. In addition, it was unusual for a pope to honor us with his presence. National vanity reached unprecedented levels, and optimists of the day hoped that Jozef Wojtyla’s appeal would positively influence the goodwill of the Cuban government towards openness.

For even more reverie, the discourse of John Paul II before a square filled with a mixture of the faithful and the dilettante, and facing Che Guevara’s gigantic image, made an overt reference to the need to break the isolation endured by Cubans as a consequence of our political system: “Open Cuba to the world”, he said in his inspired homily to the delirious crowd listening, captivated and hopeful, as if, just by the Pope’s suggestion, the miracle of freedom and democracy for Cuba were to happen by osmosis. Continue reading

“The Revolutionary Offensive” Has Returned / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

(Photo from Internet)

(Photo from Internet)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 June 2015 – There is no doubt that we are witnessing a new “Revolutionary Offensive*” in Cuba. This time, it is not that cumbersome operation that wiped out the small private property and, in 1968, gave the coup de grace to whatever mom and pop businesses, stands or cafes barely making ends meet at the beginning of the early socialist plateau and destroyed the services that the State was never able to meet. The methodology has changed, we can all agree on this, but the purpose is about the same.

Now, when the government takes a conciliatory stance and desperately seeks the arrival of capital that it has so demonized, it tries to retract to a minimum, but without fuss, the glimpses of private initiative. All this, given the danger posed to the olive green autocracy by the coexistence of relatively autonomous sectors within the island with the avalanche of businessmen and foreign tourists that are expected to flood the country as soon as the restrictions imposed by the embargo and the Helms Burton Act begin to disappear.

However, it cannot be said that, with Raul’s offensive against the small private sector, we are either facing a circumstantial situation or that it is about the regime’s improvisation. In fact, the circumstance was the initiation of the “self-employed” initiative that constituted an escape valve for the government, needing to move the domestic economy, and the creation of new jobs that would lighten the load for the State. Continue reading

Cuba: Capitalism has Won the War / Miriam Celaya

jovenes1cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 8 June 2015 — In the beginning, there were the cassettes, first the ones we viewed on ancient Betamax equipment, and a bit later on VHS. In those dark years in the 90’s, the illegal dealers, better known as “messengers” would arrive with their backpacks, pedaling their inseparable bikes, from customer to customer. They charged of 5 or 10 Cuban pesos rent per cassette, depending how many movies were on each tape and the quality of the recording.

Video equipment was not readily available among Cubans, so the happy owner of one of these was not only privileged, but he would become the host of friends and nearby neighbors who eluded the harsh reality of the so-called “Special Period,” taking refuge in some colorful Hollywood product or another, usually recorded by the even more restricted group –favored among the favored- who owned a DIRECTV antenna.

Sharing a show or a movie was also a matter of affinity and solidarity at a time when almost all Cubans suffered the brunt of an economic crisis which, in the same way as the system that generated it, seemed to have no end. So some fellow invitees would agree to rotate the expense for renting the cassettes or contribute some snack to improve the get together, such as tea or coffee or another beverage, duly accompanied by roasted chickpeas. Continue reading

The Reconversion of the Devils / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 May 2015 — Yesterday, Tuesday May 11, 2015, the front page of Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), showed a photograph of the Cuban President General amicably shaking the hand of Pope Francis in Vatican City. Quirks of politics, to convince us of the survivability of the Castro regime, represented by another member of the same caste that in the decade of the 70’s and 80’s harassed members of religious orders, reviled priests and marginalized the faithful. Now, just like that, the Castro regime perfumes its stubborn Marxist conviction with myrrh and frankincense, and it is almost hard to believe that this seemingly respectable octogenarian who visits with the Pope is one of those guerrilla leaders of that Revolution that was anticlerical, antireligious and church-phobic even before declaring itself Marxist.

In retrospect, the war against religious faith in Cuba was not just a momentary attack, but a policy of systematic and ongoing state-sanctioned persecution or discrimination against individuals for reasons of their religious beliefs, while, at the same time, Marxism-Leninism, that other fake religion, kept spreading with the aid of the Kremlin’s petro-rubles. Continue reading

The seventh summit showed that we are not alone / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

President Obama speaking at the Civil Society Forum at the Summit of the Americas in Panama

President Obama speaking at the Civil Society Forum at the Summit of the Americas in Panama

The Summit of the Americas legitimized our right to exist as civil society and as an alternative to dictatorial power. It was a victory of democracy over the empire of totalitarianism.

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Panama, 13 April 2015 – With smiles, handshakes and the usual “family photo” of all the presidents, the Summit of the Americas ended in Panama. This time the hemispheric event had the distinction of hosting, after a half century of absence, the visit of the prodigal son: the representative of the longest dictatorship of the continent, as well as a varied delegation from the Island’s civil society.

Apart from the numerous irregularities, related to the organization of the event, and the almost obvious complicity of local authorities with the obstacles that tried to sabotage the participation of alternative civil society representatives in the various forums of the summit — including power cuts, credential problems, and the well-known repudiation rallies orchestrated by the delegates of the Castro regime’s “civil society” and its continental acolytes — one could conclude that the balance of the conclave was positive for Cuban democrats. Continue reading

Cuba: Medical Impotence / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya


cubanet square logoWhile the government exports thousands of doctors, old diseases are coming back, such as dengue fever, tuberculosis, whooping cough, chikungunya, and cholera, and new exotic diseases are appearing that had never before been seen on the Island.

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 February 2015 – For a few days, Maritza thought that her four-year-old son’s persistent cough was due to a combination of a cold and his chronic allergies. The crisis had started with a fever and a few episodes of hacking cough, and had escalated over the next couple of days, even though he was no longer running a fever. The pediatrician’s diagnosis confirmed Maritza’s suspicions: Alain was suffering from a viral infection, so they would follow the normal treatment in cases like his: they would watch him, give him plenty of liquids, expectorants and antihistamines

But after two weeks, his coughing got so much stronger and frequent that Maritza ended up having to go to Pediatric Hospital at Centro Habana so that her son – already cyanotic and having respiratory spasms Continue reading