The Political Burden of the Dictatorship after the Dictatorship / Miriam Celaya

Days ago, I had the opportunity to read a smart and funny article by Eugenio Yáñez, in which, based on the age of the highest representatives of the government, the writer was questioning the “youth” proclaimed by Castro 2 in his recent speech for the 60th anniversary of the assault on Moncada barracks. Almost at the end of that article, Yáñez successfully launches a judgment referring to the olive green gerontocracy still in power in Cuba: “Instead of trying to distort reality, it would be better to clear the way for new generations that will do it better, because it’s impossible to do it any worse”.

The extent of the case, as simple as it is accurate, brings to mind a debate a couple of years ago with several of my friends that focused on a discussion about who could be the alternative political actors we might consider for the presidency of a Cuba in transition. On that occasion, there were very interesting analyses around opposition figures and programs of the most diverse leanings and positions, including the dissident spectrum from the last part of the ’80s decade until today. The opinions of those debating were, of course, also very different and emotional at times.

I will not fall into the naïve temptation of retelling a version of that reunion here, or the viewpoints of each participant because, after all, it was not about trying to decide the Cuban transition in a simple dialogue among friends, nor does Cuba possess the necessary minimal conditions for freedom and democracy, political maturity or enough civility, even among the dissident ranks, to tolerate criticism or opinions that are different from their own evaluations. In fact, almost every figure carries within him the messiah virus or the belief that he eats the egg of absolute truth for breakfast every morning, and only the more honest ones, the best, have the ability to recognize the evil in their own hearts, and to keep it duly restrained and not allow it to expand and dominate them. Even the people seem to interpret the criticism of any leader or program as a divisive attempt. Often, people seem to need idols more than freedom itself.

But back to the question, the fact is that at that unique and unforgettable meeting attended by several intelligent and acute individuals, the idea that raised the most debate was that of a fellow member who closed the circle, declaring: “Anyone who is democratically elected and supports civil liberties conducive to the exercise of all human rights will do as president for me, since, if that were the case, we would be guaranteed the right to criticize him, to speak out against his administration, to demand, to force him to listen to demands and, within a reasonable period of a few years, to remove him from office in new elections if he doesn’t meet the voters’ expectations”.

I must confess that at that time I wasn’t 100% on board with his proposal, though I could understand he had made a good point. Maybe I was driven by distrust in imagining what the performance of certain shady characters would be when anointed with legitimate power leading the destiny of a nation in the turmoil of a transition that will undoubtedly be difficult. That prospect terrifies me still.

However, Yáñez’s article has made me think about the Cuban reality and once again taken me back to that memorable gathering where, as so often happens, a group of friends discussed the hypothetical future of a democratic Cuba. That friend and Yáñez are both right: the Castro regime has deliberately performed so badly that no one else could do it worse, not even the worst of the worst hidden kingpins we have in every sector of Cuban society. But, to elect “the wrong thing” so we won’t have the worst one, doesn’t sound to me like a good political sense.

Definitely, in the presence of a democratic election, I would not vote for just anyone. However, due to the stubbornness of the eternal Moncada octogenarian boys who cling to power, I can’t help but to recognize that any other option would be preferable, at least for the majority. The dictatorship has become the point of reference to such an extent of what a government should not be that it has sealed the evil within the fate of the Cuban people, even long after it’s gone. And so, paradoxically, it could still play a political role, in case it becomes indirectly responsible of an unfortunate future election of the transition that awaits us.

Translated by Norma Whiting

9 August 2013

The Many Faces of a Conflict. Prostitution in Cuba, Part 1 / Miriam Celaya

mcjiclip_image001In Cuba there are no institutions that guarantee the rights of the most vulnerable. Prostitution is not even mentioned as a problem by the Government.

It is said that prostitution is the oldest occupation in the world. There aren’t any cultures whose histories have not recorded the practice of sexual services in exchange for money or something of value. Other forms of prostitution are fashioned in exchange for favors or privileges.

Prostitution’s time-worn persistence throughout the ages offers an almost infinite variety of forms, circumstances and considerations, sociological and psychological as well as historical, economic, gender-associated and even political. The darker margins of the phenomenon today refer to the trafficking of women through international networks specializing in human trafficking for sexual means –- victims of which are illegal immigrants and young people in impoverished areas — slavery and, specifically, the trafficking and sexual exploitation of children.

Prostitution in ‘Revolutionary’ Cuba’

Recently, the Miami newspaper El Nuevo Herald published an article about the so-called prostitution’s “hustling” (George Porta, El Jineterismo es una Forma de Genocidio [Prostitution is a Form of Genocide] ), which brings into discussion the issue of prostitution in a country that was considered a territory free of the sex trade in the decades following 1959.

“Hustling” is the expression in the marginal vocabulary that defined the prostitution that started to proliferate more strongly in Cuba since the decade of the 90’s of the last century, fueled by the economic crisis after the collapse of the former USSR and the socialist camp, and the increase of tourism as an alternative, developed by the government to generate foreign exchange income. Thus, it is all the more controversial because Cuban prostitutes in the last 20 years don’t stem from — as often happens in other underdeveloped nations — social sectors hit by illiteracy, ignorance and other similar afflictions, but are members of generations formed and indoctrinated in supposedly superior moral principles of “the new man” and many of them hold significant educational levels.

The image of the poor naïve country girl, deceived by some wily suitor who “disgraced” her and ended up exploiting her in some brothel in a provincial city center or at the capital was left back in pre-1959 history. Today’s prostitute is usually a young woman who has completed at least the ninth grade and who consciously uses her sexual attributes to achieve, in a brief time, the material benefits that she knows she cannot achieve from a salary or from the practice of a technological or professional university career.

The “hustling” does not represent a homogeneous caste either. This is a well-differentiated phenomenon in layers or strata, by category, age, physical attributes, qualifications, aspirations, relationships and other factors, of the young woman in question. Thus, there are different types, from the cheap street “jineteritas”**, that satisfy quick sex in a car or in a hallway or small room in a hovel to the spectacular and expensive prostitutes at gyms and spas, beautiful and refined, providing a more “personalized” service, many of whom dream of an advantageous marriage to a dazzled foreign tourist or to some executive at a mixed-capital firm, or to accumulate sufficient funds to emigrate by themselves.

Between both extremes is a world of prostitutes of the most diverse conditions and goals, many whose minimal objective is to survive day-to-day, with no plans or ambitions, dependent on a reality without expectations for a future.

However, the causes of prostitution in Cuba, though they relate to the ongoing economic crisis and the rise of international tourism, are deeply rooted in the deterioration of other values not necessarily linked to the issue of gender inequality, sexism or oppression of women. The phenomenon is much more complex and has deep surges, a legacy of the vulgar egalitarianism that prevailed in the years of subsidized socialism.

Sometime after, there was an inversion of values in Cuba in the social appreciation of the prostitute. Many of these women who used to sell their sexual services to foreigners in the 90’s – previously a reason for disdain and social stigma – turned into a sort of popular heroines, when they became family providers and sometimes even benefactors of their distressed neighbors. In particular, the “class” prostitutes who often provided medicine, hygiene products or food to the most destitute, significantly changed the perception of the profession: to prostitute oneself was not only more lucrative, but could be considered as a source of solidarity and prestige. By the way, by then, we Cubans were not that “equal”.

The same transformation did not take place with the lower-class prostitute. Segregationist prejudice gained momentum starting in those years, stemming from differentiations in purchasing power which spontaneously settled among prostitutes as well. Before Castro, the poorest prostitutes were popularly known as “coffee with milk”. Today’s are “sugar water.”

Having said that, could a jinetera always be defined as a victim of gender and of poverty? Does jineterismo, as in prostitution in Cuba, adjust itself to the definition of “genocide” that the article in El Nuevo Herald proclaims? Personally, I prefer to turn away from the hype. It is a fact that prostitution as a social phenomenon favors the proliferation of related crimes: pimping, human trafficking, gender exploitation, drug trafficking, etc. It is also axiomatic that the material shortages, coupled with the moral crisis, stimulate the spread of prostitution in Cuba.

However, beyond social “tolerance”, experience shows that there are survival options not associated with prostitution that were adopted by most of the women in Cuba, even in the worst moments of the crisis, and that a high percentage of prostitutes voluntarily elected that profession as the most expeditious, for profit and not just for “reasons of survival.” Thus, a large number of prostitutes do not feel the need to be “liberated” from an activity that offers them what, in their perception, is defined as “freedom”: purchasing power above the Cuban medium.

It isn’t about denying the existence of prostitution either, or the importance of anticipating its consequences, but about more accurately interpreting the facts. Assuming the inevitable, everything points to the certainty that prostitution has returned to stay: there is no tourist destination that doesn’t attract this type of profession. So what will matter is how we’ll deal with it.

In principle, any adult of sound mind is the owner of her own body and of her acts, as long as she does not undermine the rights of others, so being a prostitute or not would be – in the first place – a matter of choice, depending on whether the law determines if it constitutes a crime or not, and whether they pursue related criminal activities. Another issue is when a person is forced into prostitution, in which case it is a flagrant violation of her rights as a human being.

It is reprehensible that there are no institutions in Cuba capable of guaranteeing the rights of vulnerable social sectors, that prostitutes are unprotected, that the prostitution of minors is not prosecuted and condemned severely, that the roots of evil are not confronted, and that laws are almost always limited to punishment (the so-called “re-education”) of the prostitute, the weakest link in the chain. Cuban prostitutes, especially the “street” ones, are more likely to be victims of violence, whether by a pimp or by police extortion. On not few occasions the pimp and the police are the same person.

The issue of prostitution is hot, and it’s even part of the political agenda in many developed countries. Some current proposals focus on the regulation of prostitution, previously legalized, though a strong trend has also developed in favor of criminalizing the purchase of sexual services and not their sale.

In Cuba, unfortunately, we are very far away from instituting an effective strategy on the subject. It is known that the first step is to recognize the existence of the phenomenon, submit it for public debate and study its scope and social consequences, which requires the political will of the government: all of it a chimera

In any case, this could well be an important point on the agenda of many independent Cuban organizations interested in problems with a civilian edge. So far, there are no thematic programs on the issue in the emerging civil society. Starting and sustaining the debate will be the initial stimulus that will unleash the proposals.

*Jinetera: female jockey or horse rider, used graphically in the context of hustling.

**Jineterita: diminutive form sometimes used to describe an unimportant, insubstantial, or young prostitute.

Translated by Norma Whiting

21 August 2013

Alcoholism, Corruption and Other Demons…

Image taken from Miscelaneas de Cuba

(A version of this article was originally published in Cubanet [and is translated here])

The exclusive news was first offered by Cuban TV’s Havana Channel, in an evening program on Wednesday July 31, 2013: six people had died and 40 remained hospitalized due to ingestion of methyl alcohol (wood alcohol). According to official investigations, alcohol came from an Institute of Pharmacy and Food warehouse. Stolen by two employees who had access, the alcohol was then sold illegally by a woman from Arimao, in the municipality of La Lisa, where all the poisoned individuals also resided.

It unofficially appears that said illegal dealer is a marginal person of low and irregular income and that her son was among the disadvantaged people who died.

In the days that followed, the National TV News and the written press have continued to update some facts about the case, while taking advantage of the tragedy to highlight the niceties of the Cuban health system and to stress the efficiency of the work of the Integrated Medical Emergency (SIUM) and Toxicology. There have also been testimonials, more ridiculous than moving, of some survivors who have promised their families, “and the Revolution”, that they will stop drinking, as if, in tandem with the bad experience, they had overcome the existential miseries that have pushed them to alcoholism, or as if, ultimately, they were not victims of the illusion they insist on calling “Revolution”.

So far, there have been 16 deaths, several people remain admitted and others have been discharged from hospitals, while they are still reporting some additional cases of poisoning, even in other municipalities, and a combined operation of the National Police and the Ministry of Public Health continues to be active, with a command post set up in a school district to monitor the situation.

Beyond the Events

(Image from the internet)

At first glance, what transpired in a Havana neighborhood might seem like a single isolated event, but such an impression would be misleading. While the high cost in human lives conveys unusual sensationalism to the official press, in reality, it is just the tip of the iceberg, the most visible external manifestation of a generalized crisis arising from economic collapse, the failure of the system, the lack of prospects, hopelessness and loss of values. Only under Cuban conditions or under those of other societies as broken as ours could similar events take place.

This time, there was the combination of rampant corruption, widespread alcohol addiction and low purchasing power of the poorest sectors of the population, all factors that contribute to the trafficking of various toxic substances in the illegal markets.

In fact, illegal trade of alcohol is widespread in the capital, where almost all neighborhoods have one or several of these dealers of spirits of dubious origin and composition, both from clandestine stills and from thefts of legal networks of stores and warehouses. Though trafficking and consumption have always existed, they have proliferated since the 1990s’ crisis, when even the ration card, unable to keep up the hefty subsidies of previous years, guaranteed a monthly quota of rum for each family nucleus.

Cubans with better memories will certainly remember the weekly meetings of the leaders of the [Communist] Party and the Popular Power, televised every Tuesday, which the people dubbed “Meeting of the Fatsos” because of the participants’ glowing looks, in contrast to those of the hungry and emaciated population. In one of the reunions the then First Secretary of the Provincial Committee of the Cuban Communist Party, Jorge Lezcano, cynically stated that what the population could not lack was rum. Alcohol consumption was, therefore, an official policy aimed at dulling people’s thinking: alcohol to forget our frustrations in the midst of the worst shortages in the last century of Cuban history.

As a consequence, alcohol consumption has increased through the years, at the same time as the average age of its consumers has significantly decreased.

For years, Cuban wit has dubbed these concoctions with different names which, in the way of the marginal language, translate into the effects of their ingestion: mofuco, tiger’s laughter, man and earth, train’s spark and the like. Though trafficking and consumption have always existed, they have proliferated since the 1990s’ crisis, when even the ration card, unable to keep up the hefty subsidies of the previous years, guaranteed a monthly quota of rum for each family nucleus. On the other hand, in a country where life offers more frustrations than expectations, it is not surprising that alcoholism has reached truly alarming levels

Thus, the misadventure of several dozen drunks has fired off the official alarms and, this time, events have cut across to the media, but the overall decay of the system is evidenced in all areas and levels of national life, far exceeding the government’s ability to address the crisis. It is the metastasis of a terminally ill system, without the means to cure the nation’s moral unhealthiness

The continuous succession of events demonstrates the irreversibility of corruption under this government: officials who get corrupted, illegal markets that grow and diversify, increases in prostitution, alcoholism and drugs.

There is little left to defend of socialism Cuban style, let alone the kindness of a system where the reality exceeded the macabre and corruption is a means of survival. Today, Cuba is a country where it is possible for stolen human fat from a crematorium to be traded as if it were pork fat, where you can buy a school exam, a surgery or a dental prosthesis, where individuals can applaud an official speech, attend a “Revolutionary” march and steal from the very government they pretend to support, where dozens of mental in-patients at a hospital can die of hunger or cold weather, and where most of the objectives are enclosed in the perspective of an exit with no return.

Translated by Norma Whiting

16 August 2013

Talk About “Improper Conduct”… / Miriam Celaya

The government is campaigning for the ‘loss of ethical and moral values’ in society, but what about the disrespect of entering into armament arrangements with the North Korean dictatorship?

The title refers to a memorable documentary that many of us Cubans everywhere must have seen, based on the testimony of those who suffered stark arbitrariness and terror introduced by the Castro regime in the purge unleashed some forty years ago. Improper conduct was an illegal crime figure established in the 60′s and 70′s of the last century by the Castro regime to suppress what was officially considered sexual deviations (homosexuality, “sentimentality”), ideological deviation or anything that could be interpreted by the authorities as politically incorrect. Many intellectuals, artists and ordinary people were arrested, ousted, sent to labor camps or simply made to feel as strangers in their own country.

Most of the anonymous victims of the witch hunt, which was established as State policy were men, for committing the serious offense of wearing their hair long, their pants too tight, not joining the “people’s harvests” or who preferred a certain type of music, among others. No one escaped the close scrutiny of the Inquisition and its olive green zealous executives. Anyone could fall out of favor against the rigid revolutionary parameters.

The repression continued for a time, but the methods changed.  Some of what was once condemned became tolerated, and, currently, schematic guerrillas have been forced to take on new poses and to even accept certain differences. Without apologizing for the damage, without admitting that the unprecedented persecution or the attack against basic rights of free people, that same government now pretends to be in charge of the defense of those rights, and, to prove it, it promotes campaigns, holds events and even organizes parades and festivals.

However, following the speech by the General President at the recent session of the National Assembly, in which he announced a crusade against rudeness and social indiscipline, he said that the wind of censure against “the loss of moral and ethical values” is once again blowing through our streets. Some people claim that fines are being applied to persons who “swear” or profess rudeness in public, who board the bus through the back door or who don’t pay their fares, those who are loud and disturb their neighbors, who throw garbage and debris on the road, etc. In principle, it would not be such a bad thing if it weren’t just one more campaign, or if there were just one Cuban free from all these sins in order to fine the sinners or, if applying these measures didn’t interfere with the rights of other citizens.

For instance, a few days ago, a teenager whom I will call Daniel, residing in the municipality of El Cerro in Havana, was returning home after his high school graduation. With the ease and ideas of spontaneity typical of his age, feeling himself without the responsibilities of schooling and under the harsh summer sun, he had rolled up the legs of his ugly and faded yellow school uniform, and his shirt was partially unbuttoned and hanging outside the waistline of his pants. Carefree, he walked while concentrating on the music blaring in his ears, so he was taken by surprise when a man, very authoritatively, abruptly stopped him in the middle of the street, after demanding the boy take off his headphones and unroll his pant legs immediately.

Instantly, Daniel doubted whether the man was in his right mind, so he demanded to know who he was and why he should obey him.  Then the individual identified himself, not by his name but as an “inspector of minors”, he accused him of incorrectly wearing his uniform, “a symbol of the mother country that the Revolution had given him” and because of that, his parents could be fined and he could be detained in a “care center for improperly behaved youths.”

Not allowing himself to be too impressed, Daniel explained that he was not in uniform because, in fact, he was returning from his high school graduation, so he wouldn’t have any more use for it, that he was going home after having stood in the hot sun in the schoolyard for a very long time, listening to the required speeches before getting his diploma, and that, as he understood it, the symbols of the motherland were the Cuban flag, the national coat of arms and the Bayamo* National Anthem and not an old pair of pants that -to be exact- the revolution had not given to him, but that his mother had bought at an excessive price in the black market after, a year ago, he had outgrown the one rationed to him. The man persisted with his threats, demanded the boy’s identity card and even tried to hold Daniel by the arm. Then, the teenager shook him off and, seriously scared, ran all the way home.

The event, unconditionally true, is based on the direct testimony of the boy and his family. But, in fact, the important thing here is not simply to determine if Daniel acted correctly or not. For many years it has been customary among our teenagers graduating from different levels to perform this kind of rite of passage which desecrates the old uniform, considered by them -and by previous generations, no longer so young- a symbol of the control that educational institutions exercised over their lives. It’s merely an innocent act of rebellion, typical of this stage in their lives, that results in disparate forms of expression: from having their shirts autographed by their classmates to intentionally tearing their uniforms into strips while they are wearing them, without any major consequences.

What this is about, essentially, is that no officer or agent of the government has the authority to coerce a child, whether in private or in public, thus transgressing the rights of that teenager, as well as those of his parents and of other adult family members. The significance of the matter is that, in different hues and in another scenario, official impunity and people’s defenselessness are repeated, counter to the supposed “changes” that the Government advocates, which should immediately set off fire alarms in the population.

And because this is about fines and punishments, the government is not able to take up the slack. These days, Cubans are the ones who should analyze what actions to take about the unspeakable rudeness on the part of their government of entering into arrangements with our other planet’s dictatorship, the North Koreans, cheating the Cuban people and offending the civilized world and the international organizations of which we are members. Castro II should explain this and many other violations that betray the government’s lack of ethical and moral values before attempting to apply enforcement action over his “governed”.

We should also have to include in the analysis the direct responsibility of half a century of totalitarian abuse in the loss of ethics and moral values of our society, not to mention the systematic violation of citizens’ rights throughout all that time. Too bad this same government has also deprived us, with the suppression of civic institutions, of the tools to demand explanations and ensure compliance. Without a doubt, the hour is getting close for the beginning of real reforms in Cuba, starting with policies.

*Cuban National Anthem’s original and traditional title

Miriam Celaya | Havana | July 26th, 2013

From Diario de Cuba

Translated by Norma Whiting

Waiting for “the boat” / Miriam Celaya

Ghost ship. Graphic taken from the internet

These days, mothers of babies are in search of disposable diapers, missing from almost all stores of Havana. Shortage crises of such articles take place every once in a while, a product that is so useful, and needed so desperately by mothers today, and despite being marketed only in convertible currency. Gone are the days when women had to boil with soap again and again our children’s antiseptic cloth diapers, and hang them in the sun to keep them pure. Fortunately, these days women have left behind slave labor to take up, as far as possible, the benefits of innovations, however expensive that may imply in Cuba.

But the same is true with other essential items, such as sanitary napkins and cleaning articles like mopping cloths, descaling products, toothpaste, detergents and toilet paper, among others, whose intermittent disappearances from store shelves become a nuisance to the people, given how much time is wasted in pursuing such products, going from store to store, many times without results.

On the other hand, some other popular products that are more “economical”, such as butter — for months absent at the foreign currency stores, the only place where it could be purchased — some chopped poultry (such as Canadian chopped turkey, the most popular), hot dogs, and many others, without any explanation on the part of store management… and even fewer explanations through the official “information” media.

Cubans, with a deep awareness of insularity, sown from the very beginning of the colony, without information about what drives these empty spaces on store shelves, and for decades used to not having anything produced here and everything coming “from outside”, have coined a phrase, half joke and half truth, to explain the shortages: “the boat has not arrived”. A kind of imaginary vessel that could come full of anything that has disappeared, from flour, needed to make bread (oh, the favored bread, the first point in the Cuban political agenda!) even the spices that caused so many wars in antiquity and, for many here, almost entirely unknown, or oil with which we cook our humble daily rice. Just comment anywhere that there is a shortage of anything for the popular answer to make its appearance: “they are waiting for the boat…”

A grocer in my neighborhood is of the opinion that we don’t need for the boat to arrive, but a flotilla to take us all out of this Island, while an illegal loudmouthed street vendor of air freshener and clothespins disagrees and has an easier solution: “Nah, with just one boat they can take all of THEM and their relatives, and you will see that then there won’t be any shortages!” In our Cuban cryptic language we all know who “THEY” are. These are quaint touches of everyday life that begin and end in such a castaway complicity as sterile as the system itself.

So, these days, Havana mothers anxiously await “the boat” of disposable diapers with which to alleviate, at least to the extent allowed by each pocketbook, the burden of keeping babies clean and neat, without ruining hands, nails, and wasting time in the process. And meanwhile, they pray that soap and many other cleaning products won’t fall in the cycle of disappearances, just in case the ever-awaited “boat” is delayed.

Translated by Norma Whiting
19 July 2013

Greased Lightning! / Miriam Celaya

It is Sunday, July 7th, and in Centro Habana, only the Belascoaín and Zanja Bank ATM is working.  The line is long and wide. The other two ATMs facing Zanja are empty of funds and the Banco Metropolitano, of course, is closed today.

The line is two and three people deep, and they are chatting among themselves.  It is made up of several dozen people wishing to withdraw funds.  They had trekked, without success, through several ATMs in the city to finally end up at the only functioning one, at least in many blocks around.  People cannot understand what is happening.

A young girl comments that she has been at the ATMs at Galiano and Monte and they are out of commission; a middle-aged gentleman came from Calzada Infanta, where he found two ATM’s were also out of commission.  Another person is sure that the one at Monte and Infanta is out of funds. The one at Carlos III, corner of Marqués González is not working.  In fact, the same ATM (CADECA) at this location and the one at Infanta and Estrella have been closed for the past few weeks. Not just a “bump” that occurred today, but something that is happening regularly. It is rumored that some CADECA’s have been “shut down permanently”, though nobody knows why, so –as usual, in the absence of official information- speculation is running wild.

And, since everything that is “is shot out” here ends up as nonsense and, since every bit of  nonsense is possible in Cuba, each person has his own theory on the subject, and those who are “informed” are never far, the ones with a friend or relative working in banking or finance, so they know more than the rest of us mere mortals. So the word out on the street is that “they are going to unify both currencies, so they are reducing the circulating currency”; that “there is a lot of counterfeit money, so the government wants to detect it and take it out of circulation by closing down the ATMs (?); that there is “no liquidity”; that the network is down”; that “the armored trucks broke down”; that “they discovered a chain (another one) of corruption on the part of many employees and bank executives, so they have ‘frozen’ all the ATMs” and a whole lot of  other rumors that would be funny if it not were for all the obstacles against the rights of people to their own financial property.

“Efficiency” is the general-president’s vocabulary word. However, the use of banking digital technology in Cuba has never resulted in monetary transactions that are efficient, simple or optimal in the service that should be expected, theoretically.  It is just like applying technology all at once in the Paleolithic era. So in stores that accept only foreign currency, the procedure to pay with a card issued by the National Bank is that a person goes through the hassle of simultaneously handing over his identification, writing down his name, address and “customer’s” card number on a form, and signing a receipt that will be carefully filed under the cash register. That, as long as the rare and happy event that the “network is not offline”, while people line up behind the owner of the card to transact their payment. And, paradoxically, the public gets upset and impatient at the customer who pays with the card or with the cashier who has to go through the steps of the complicated procedure.

But back to the line at Belascoaín this Sunday, a 70-something grandmother finally showed up with her hypothesis: “perhaps last night’s thunderstorm affected the functioning of ATMs. Maybe a lightning bolt; these things run on electricity… who knows!” To which a wise old man, with an expression of mischievous complicity, quickly replied: “Yes, ma’am, it was probably lightning, but not one that struck last night. This one struck in 1959 and the truth is that it ruined everything!”

Translated by Norma Whiting

12 July 2013

The Feet Under the Covers / Miriam Celaya

"The business is to deny visas, not grant visas" Granma newspaper, 28 June 2013

“The business is to deny visas, not grant visas” Granma newspaper, 28 June 2013

There is an old tale about a husband who comes home unexpectedly and finds his wife in bed with a pair of men’s feet sticking out from under the covers. Angered by her infidelity, he challenges: “Slut!, whose feet are those?” To which she, serenely, replies: “Oh, husband, you never ask me where the food you enjoy so much comes from, which we could never afford on your salary, or how I manage to pay all the bills with the meager amount you give me, and how we get to the end of the month without any hardships…” to which the husband, after pondering for a minute, wisely answered: OK, wife, but at least cover those feet”.

Obviously, the husband in this story was not exactly a two-timed husband; he had simply miscalculated. Just like what happened to the official organ of the Cuban Communist Party, the Granma Newspaper, when it recently published an accusation, without names, proof, or foundation, against executives of the Interest Section of the United States in Cuba (SINA) for “having accepted bribes from Cuban citizens for granting them visas” and to the US government in Washington for “profiting from applicants who want to travel for family reasons”.

The source Granma echoes, without investigation or process, is an article published on the blog of one of the most perverse Talibans of the regime, which is, so far, just a scam designed to create some new intimation in the regime’s ever-belligerent relations with the U.S. government, who knows with what dark intentions.

But the net they cast is not entirely barren: the use of calculations using the official media is always a good opportunity for reviewing one’s math, which never lies. Managing the numbers involves the possibility of multiple interpretations about the same phenomenon, not necessarily what the sources of the data intended, as in this case.

I would suggest to readers, for their entertainment, a practical exercise: let’s assume for a moment that Granma’s information was completely accurate and that the figures provided by the author of the scam-article are also accurate. That is, in an infinite display of our imagination let’s play at pretending that Granma is a trustworthy newspaper and let’s do the same calculations from the opposite angle.

We would have to assume, then, a scene of 600 Cubans applying for visas every day in the U.S. Interests Office in Havana, each of whom had paid 100 CUC at the offices of the Ministry of the Interior to get their passports, leaving the regime a profit of 60,000 CUC per day, 300,000 weekly and 3,000,000 every ten weeks. All this in a country where 100 CUC is the equivalent of about six or seven times the average monthly salary of ordinary Cubans. And these would be just those Cubans who apply at the USIS and not all those who apply for visas in many other diplomatic offices throughout the capital, who also must have spent staggering amounts to acquire their Cuban passport.

We could add to that the minor detail that most of these Cubans who want to emigrate received the US dollars needed to get their passports from relatives living in the U.S., which turns the ugly little blue book which officially makes you a Cuban traveler –always a potential emigrant and a source of tension at each border where it’s presented- into one of the most lucrative businesses that the government has ever devised at the expense of its peoples. Barely without investing any more than cardboard and ink, with horrible print quality, the emigration industry continues to contribute, directly or indirectly, to the gerontocracy’s juicy dividends, essential principle and reason of the existence of some three million Cubans and their descendants scattered throughout the world.

And let’s not discuss the additional revenues, such as the famous health check to be performed on those wishing to emigrate permanently, at a cost of 400 CUC per adult and 200 per child, which will go directly into the Castro coffers. If the U.S. government approves 20,000 visas per year, and we assume, hypothetically, that half of them are intended for adults and half for minors: the Castro profit would be a total of 4 million CUC for adults and 2 million for children on an annual basis. We would still need to add the title certificates and other documents, with a cost of 200 CUC each in the International Consultancy. Add it up: the result it a not so negligible currency harvest, I’m just saying.

But this is only an imaginary calculation, since we have no official statistics from emigration offices. In fact, statistics in Cuba are like diseases: they make use of them only when they want to realize some advantage.

Now let’s focus on the sociological aspect of the matter. There are no precedents in Cuba’s history of such a huge number of nationals who want to travel, with a large percentage of those eager to emigrate permanently. Without stopping to find out among categories of political or economic émigrés, somewhat absurd in the case of Cuba, where the policy of a dictatorship of more than half a century has devastated the country’s economy, the steady exodus of nationals of all ages and backgrounds has become a plebiscite, especially since, for decades, most of those who leave the country are not the representatives of the clichéd “predatory oligarchies, sellers of the homeland and exploiters of the humble masses,” but the prospects of the New Man, born and raised under the ideological doctrines of the communist party, planted into power, i.e., the peoples; and because even those who only stay away from the country temporarily are part of a family fractured by emigration, a clear demonstration of the political and economic failure of the system.

Granma does itself quite a disservice with the publication of such an unfortunate article. Not only because it is the most eloquent manifestation of the huge levels of shamelessness achieved by the regime, but because it honors that sentence about excessive pride clouding reason.

At this point, I return to the story with which I began this review, where the Cuban government parallels the “cheated on” husband, the people: the wife whose favors ensure prosperity at home, and the “imperialist enemy”: the lover whose feet poke out from under the covers. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate if, instead of accusing someone, the regime took care to cover its own feet?

Translated by Norma Whiting

1 July 2013

¡No, Not That! / Miriam Celaya

Diez de Octubre Street

Diez de Octubre Street

This past Tuesday June 12th was for me a personal errands day in the hot Havana sun, the thick smog of the avenues and the usual dirty streets. It was one of those days that are doubly exhausting because of the slow pace at which life moves on the Island, the mundane nature of any movement, and the irritation of the people under the scorching summer that makes us wish we hadn’t left home. So I felt almost blessed when, at the end of the day, I managed to board a full almendrón*, on my way back home.

As is custom and folklore, the passengers were doing their daily catharsis with complaints about all small and great evils: our lousy public transportation service, the sweltering heat, the cost of living, the bad potato harvest, no one can live in this country, etc. Our driver, however, seemed determined to maintain a good mood and had an optimistic and comprehensive response for each complaint. He was a man of about 50 and seemed to know everything, as if he possessed the gift of universal philosophy. Heat?? “But ma’am, we should be happy for this climate. Don’t you know that there are countries where people are dying due to heat waves or, conversely, cold waves?” Transportation is bad? “Yes my friend, but in a pinch, at least ten little pesos seem to appear to pay for a car, right?”  The potatoes? “There are potatoes, but they are being kept in refrigerators so they won’t rot this rainy season in the fields.” Are the prices high? “Well, they’re doing a study to raise wages, you know.” The country? “It’s the best in the world. Here, anyone will lend you a hand and people will help.  In other countries, you can die and no one will lift a finger to help.” It seemed that this driver, in addition to being a philosopher, was a noted expert traveler and knowledgeable about the world.

But I was definitely amazed about the man’s infinite capacity to appease hotheads and his ability to spread a positive atmosphere inside the vehicle. I think that, deep down, I even thought he was right.  It must be awful to spend your whole day listening to complaints and disagreements, however profitable being an almendrón’s driver might be.

So we went on like this, balancing between the disgruntled and the peacemaker, until we got to the Esquina de Tejas and we had to stop for a red light. Then the driver noticed, on the porch of a nearby house, a group of street dogs: a female dog in heat and a gang of eager suitors wishfully sniffing at her, while a male dog was busy, in turn, sniffing the other dogs, loftily ignoring the female. Unexpectedly, the driver exploded and started yelling at the dog in question: “Sniff the female, you queer, the female!” And turning to the astonished passengers, red with anger, he almost shouted at us: “It turns out that being gay has become fashionable, and even dogs are trying it out! And I will not put up with that! What’s this country come to?” He snorted in a real fury, and accelerated violently when the light turned green.

Suddenly, the quiet philosopher was gone, and in his place emerged an irate homophobe, able to tolerate any of the many problems that plague the lives of ordinary Cubans, but not the right of the people (or dogs, obviously) to choose their own sexuality. Fortunately, none of the passengers backed his opinion and a heavy silence descended in the car until, with great relief, I got off at the corner of Infanta and Carlos III. I didn’t say goodbye.

Believe me, dear readers, this is my testimony, faithfully taken from real life.

*An Almendrón is a taxicab that operates as a small bus.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Chronicle of a Brief Trip / Miriam Celaya

In Stockholm, May 20th , 2013

I’ve just returned from a short trip to Stockholm, Sweden, where I was invited by the government of that country to participate in the Stockholm Internet Forum, Internet Freedom for Global Development, which met on May 22nd and 23rd. While there, I had the opportunity to meet up with other Cuban activists living on the Island, with whom I participated on a Cuba seminar that took place at the Swedish Parliament, and a panel on freedom of the press in Latin America, at the press room attached to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Neither one of these activities were related to the event program.

In just a few days in Stockholm we visited a local newspaper, the headquarters of Reporters without Borders, the offices of ECPAT, a nongovernmental organization fighting against child prostitution and pornography and the trafficking of children, and the headquarters of The Civil Rights Defender. We were also invited to the launching of the book We Must Take the Police Out of Our Heads, edited by the International Liberal Swedish Center, a report on the Island’s reality between 1998 and 2012 and the peaceful struggle for democracy, from the perspective of the analyst Erik Jennische.

Of course, I managed to walk around and learn something about the city, its people and places.

Some regular readers have written to me, asking me to comment on this blog what I consider my most important impressions in this experience, and how they could be used in the struggle for rights in Cuba.  Personally, I was pleasantly impressed with the reception of Cubans who manage the magazine Misceláneas de Cuba, headquartered in Sweden, with whom we had the privilege of sharing through various meetings they set up for us, and I also met others whom I knew only through the mail up to then (as in the case of Hugo Landa) and the dozens of Cuban residents there and in other European countries that showed extraordinary solidarity with our Cuban struggle. Verifying the bonds that unite Cubans of all points of the diaspora is a source of inspiration and hope in the midst of the totalitarian drought in which we live.

Among Misceláneas de Cuba friends and other Cubans and Swedes
In front of Parliament
Mileydi, of Misceláneas de Cuba, was our interpreter in Parliament
Collection of Swedish souvenirs on a boulevard

On the other hand, the event’s sessions highlighted the technological backwardness and computer weakness in Cuba. In addition, many of the delegates expressed their solidarity with the cause of freedom of expression, information and news that Cubans are demanding. Some work strategies of various organizations and institutions in Sweden could be useful in the Cuban case, and we established links with them to implement proper agendas, in accordance with our reality.

A few yeomen of the guard were present among participants of this area, questioning our right to demand freedom when “Cubans have guaranteed free health care and education”. I will not repeat our answer to them, but suffice it to say that we did not see them again, nor did they try to boycott our public presentations, for their own good.

To those who have been so concerned about the funding of this trip, I will personally answer, not because they deserve it, but for the sake of transparency. I was invited by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Swedish government, which generously assumed all costs for travel, accommodation and food. I take this opportunity to publicly thank from this space the many attentions received from all Swedish organizations I had contact with, and in particular said Ministry.

Finally, I hope that, in future editions of this Forum, Cuban participants will have the opportunity to tell a different reality than we have at present. As for me, I will continue to do everything possible to contribute to make it so.

31 May 2013

And Telesur Says So / Miriam Celaya

surtvTo my readers: As has become customary, our desdecuba.com has been hacked again for several days, therefore, I have not been able to update the blog. To my surprise, today I found out it could be accessed, but since I did not have a post ready to be uploaded, I will duplicate an article I wrote, published May 7 by Diario de Cuba.  Hugs to all, Eva-Miriam

And Telesur Says So

At first glance, it would seem that the Telesur TV channel — now live in Cuba — is the same as any other news program on national television. On Telesur, as in the regular channels in Cuba, the U.S. government is the great villain, enemy of peace and prosperity of the people, and equally villain are its allies, the government of Israel and the ever-evil “western powers.”

On Telesur, broadcast reports also indicate that the good-natured and just FARC vigilantes have the government of Juan Manuel Santos up against the ropes. He has been forced to sit at the negotiating table, while Bashar Al Assad is the paradigm of kindness for the Syrian people and the hope of Arab countries against Western domination.

Telesur shows how the hairy ear of the interventionist US imperialism hides behind all the conflicts of the world, with provocations against North Korea –- which for that reason has been forced to use the threat of nuclear war — or with its peculiar way of recruiting mercenaries to overthrow democratically elected governments around the world, mainly in Latin America.

Thus, for example, it could almost be said that there is no opposition in Venezuela, though in the recent elections it won almost half the electorate votes, but a fascist clique spurred from Washington, some of them Venezuelan congressional representatives, who had the audacity to “incite violence” when they were deprived of their right to speak and protest against it, the result of which was a brawl in which — curiously — those same “traitors” were the ones seriously injured by the violence of the ruling bloc.

All very simple, as in the old Western B-movies, the world is divided into good-just-because and bad-to-the-end.

This last weekend Telesur broadcast a report from China, where its correspondent in that country presented as a true gender advance that now Chinese women with larger incomes can have two children instead of the only child that the strict birth control stipulates. That is, couples with lower incomes than that officially established will not benefit from this change. Without a doubt, establishing social differences according to income is something that has become common in systems called “socialist.”

But Telesur is not exactly like Cuban TV, as some claim, because since, at the end of the day, it is a channel that broadcasts to the entire region, where the press is not the exclusive monopoly of governments, it is required to transmit images and events that occur daily in the world, and we know that images speak louder than words.

It doesn’t matter if figures and information are manipulated, the fact is that, for the first time, Cubans have seen and heard Barack Obama’s complete swearing-in speech of the oath of office, and we have also taken part onscreen in free and direct elections held legitimately in “sister countries,” such as Ecuador, Paraguay and even in Venezuela itself, complete with electoral campaigns, opposition, international observers, returns, complaints and all the ingredients of a democratic recipe that we have been denied for generations in our country.

In some twisted way, Telesur is a small chink in the boarded window of Castro’s totalitarianism. When there are contrasts, some light is cast. That is why so many Cubans watch some Telesur areas incredulous and in awe, such as a show called “Atomun” which, by detailing the latest technological advances that occur in the world, has the rare virtue of placing the natives of this island face to face with our enormous lack of computer technology and our appalling isolation compared to other XXI century societies which, paradoxically, have not had the advantages of half a century of “revolution.”

Whether they like it or not, Telesur reports to us from disinformation. And it appears that no one can say they are trying to deceive us. Their intentions to confuse are openly declared, even from their own presentation slogan: “Telesur, our North is the South.” And I say let whoever wants to be confused be confused.

Translated by Norma Whiting

10 May 2013

Neither so Educated nor so Superior / Miriam Celaya

clip_image001HAVANA, Cuba, May, www.cubanet.org- I’ve heard it said that hunger can affect vision permanently. For a while, I thought that this sentence was just a popular myth based on superstition, however, it turns out to be absolutely true. Hunger and other deficiencies cause, additionally, some distortions, such as lack of perception of reality and total lack of perspective.

This explains why, for many “inside” Cubans, almost everything is irrelevant and nothing transcends beyond the narrow confines of daily survival. Decades of material shortages and of totalitarianism have ruined the ability of a large segment of the population of the island to discern, despite the high levels of instruction exhibited by official statistics, turning subjects into slaves of their own elementary needs.

An example of this was the recent electoral process in Venezuela which showed, by comparison, how far we Cubans are from even reaching the first step of this difficult stairway filled with obstacles called democracy. While Venezuelans offered us a true example of civility by exercising their right to vote and to assert the power of suffrage — an unknown experience for millions of Cubans — the main concern of people on the island was the possibility of the start of a new era of blackouts and a new “Special Period” if the opposition candidate, Henrique Capriles, won. Paradoxically, many Cubans refer to Venezuelans as “crude,” “illiterate” and “ignorant.”

The combined action of the monopoly of information and direction, the lack of freedom of association and the manipulation of the press have been three basic mainstays which — together with the material precariousness of survival — have plunged the Cuban population in a deep ignorance that does not reflect the benign statistics. The Cuban case demonstrates exactly how the use of statistics has allowed the government to misinform the population and feed the national vanity. The farce, often repeated, has spread alarmingly, to the point that even many prestigious international organizations have recognized the “achievements” of the revolution in education and health and other indicators of social development.

The numbers, however, are fickle, and mask a reality very different than the image they project. Decades of incomplete, distorted and biased information have resulted in only a minority of Cubans possessing the ability to analyze issues related to politics, economics, or any event occurring in the world. The “masses,” meanwhile, form opinions from indoctrination and emotions… when they form opinions. Usually, the standard displayed among people faced with any matter not related to their daily subsistence is limited to an apathetic shrug of the shoulders.

The indifference and ignorance grow, while each year the statistics are more triumphant and less reliable. Let’s take the case of the training of doctors and other health specialists. The graduations are massive, but the quality of the graduates is generally very low. The levels of professionalism are often extremely poor and only a few dozen will stand out amid thousands of new doctors and technical personnel in each group.

The same applies to general education. Officially, it is stated that there is a teacher in every classroom, which is a lie. However, the worst thing is that there are hardly any teachers able to educate and instruct students, so both, the levels and the quality of education have declined dramatically over the years, particularly since the 90’s.

The proverbial ignorance of many of these “teachers,” coupled with their failure to educate, has forced parents to search for alternative solutions, such as hiring “tutors,” teachers who have been generally separated from the formal education system due to terrible wages and deplorable working conditions, and now teach in private education. This option has proven the effectiveness the official system lacks, and is marking a major schism among students whose parents can afford the expense of hiring the services of a private teacher and those who must make do with the meager knowledge they receive in classrooms.

But, in the meantime, the numbers and the official press continue out there. The statistics support the government fanfare about the advantages of the Cuban system, yet deceive public opinion by distorting, at the same time, society’s general opinion. The media revels, jubilant, in the advantages of the system. Perhaps this explains why Cubans see themselves as highly educated and intellectually superior to many other people in the region. Another deceit that, in some way, constitutes a small consolation after half a century of dictatorship that has erased the memory of a nation’s population.

Translated by Norma Whiting

10 May 2013

Solidarity with the UNPACU Activists and with all the Hunger Strikers in Cuba /Miriam Celaya

Image taken from Gabito Groups

While Telesur and the official Cuban media distract us these days with Venezuela’s political brawls and other conflicts elsewhere in the world, I received a Twitter message on my mobile about the hunger strike just started by 46 Cubans from  National Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), a coalition of opponents that groups members in several provinces of the island, especially the eastern region.

Yesterday, they informed me that activists of the Pedro Luis Boytel National Movement, of the Rosa Parks movement, and of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo FN have joined the province of Camagüey sit-in. Indeed, from this very blog I have expressed, more than once, that I do not approve of hunger strikes as a method of struggle, but today I cannot but express my solidarity with these fellow travelers and respect and support their sacrifice.

The initial demand for the release of Luis E. Igarza Lozada, imprisoned and on strike as of 13 days ago, has even spread to some parts of the province of Matanzas. Posters, leaflets, graffiti and pot-banging protests have been supporting the strikers in various cities and towns of eastern Cuba, amid repression manifested in arrests, beatings, threats and suspension of cellular service to prevent the world from knowing about what happens in Cuba.

The best weapon the activists of the opposition can now count on in their just demand is our support and solidarity. Let’s use the means at our disposal so that they are not alone.  Let’s not allow the cymbals of the Palace of the Revolution, praising their Venezuelan ward, silence the peaceful struggle of our brothers in arms. Let’s boost their voices by spreading the truth about what is happening, and by demanding the release of all political prisoners. We can all be activists against Castro’s repression; do not forget that silence, fear, and indifference are the main allies of the oppressors.

Let’s make a difference.

Translated by Norma Whiting

22 April 2013

Hatuey and Guama are the Parents of the Dissidence / Miriam Celaya

The torture of the opponent Hatuey

HAVANA, Cuba, April, http://www.cubanet.org-   On Monday, April 8th, Cubanet published an article by colleague Jorge Olivera Castillo (Equilibrar la Balanza), which was as surprising as it was regrettable. A fellow traveler who has proven his courage and integrity in the fight against the dictatorship and shared spaces with numerous members of the independent Cuban blogosphere should be more serious and careful when expressing himself.

Perhaps Olivera may have had a bad experience and some day he will understand that lies and veiled criteria do not replace opinions and arguments, but neither do I think it fit to keep silent in the presence of what I consider at least unfair and inaccurate, so to speak. I’m a blogger and freelance journalist, so I feel alluded to in his article and make public my displeasure.

Optimism should not be confused with “triumphalism”, as my colleague Olivera refers to the expectation triggered by the blogging activity of over five years, and also unfortunate is his question about “what the impact could be (of blogging) within national boundaries, when the vast majority of Cubans do not have a computer or internet connection possibilities”.

That observation is doubly unfortunate because, first, although most Cubans don’t have free internet access and that hinders full dissemination of our work, I do not see that any other dissident faction has better possibilities to present their proposals quickly and effectively, and second, because a significant number of bloggers have been the voice of many Cubans, which has proven useful when reporting violations and mobilizing solidarity for all repressed, including political prisoners, and especially the prisoners of the Black Spring.

Olivera asks “how many Cubans would be able to become tweeters, when each transmission costs a little just over a dollar in a country where the average salary is around $20 a month”, and I would ask him how many he thinks would be willing to march through the streets following opposition leaders, demanding their rights or protesting the against the excesses of government. I would also ask him why all those opponents, whose mobile phones are regularly recharged by friends and supporters from outside Cuba, are not tweeters, and what prevents a freelance journalist from opening his own blog and a Twitter account, thus strengthening his voice and those of others to the extent they are willing to do it.

It is possible that the ignorance of the complexities of the blogger phenomenon continues to produce some fears as to the feeling that this is a privileged caste. Many are unaware that maintaining a blog from Cuba has been a source of expense, rather than income, for us. We don’t charge for posting our ideas in a blog, but we have to spend our own money on cards to connect from public spaces in the city so we can keep our personal sites updated.

Our efforts aroused the sympathy and support of many friends who began to give us cards, helped open up many doors, and there even appeared some who were trained to upload our posts when we could not do it. Interestingly, before the renowned blogger Yoani Sanchez won her first Ortega y Gasset award, nobody seemed perturbed that there were at least five active independent blogs in Cuba, or worried about how we managed to post regularly on our web platform. In fact, hardly anyone knew what a blog was around here, and still there are those who are completely unaware of the use of this tool and perhaps that’s the reason they prefer to discredit it rather than to learn how to utilize it.

Another error is believing that the independent blogosphere is “the culmination of a process that spans more than three decades of sustained efforts on the part of hundreds of human rights activists, political opponents, independent journalists and librarians …”, not only because all social or political processes are heir to the accumulation of multiple previous experiences and circumstantial factors, but also because the blogger phenomenon does not represent a culmination in itself, but a conveyer of its own dynamism, barely a phase that will inevitably continue to transform itself into the evolution of civic struggle against the regime.

In fact, for a long time, several bloggers were previously in the process of developing intense dissident activity, either as independent journalists (as in the case of Yoani Sánchez, Reinaldo Escobar, Dimas Castellanos and this writer, among others), or as editors of the first digital magazine, edited and directed from Cuba, which -by the way- did not pay for the contributions of collaborators, since it absolutely lacked any funds or funding, which is why many independent journalists who today attack bloggers refused to collaborate in it then.

Therefore, it is not about that “bloggers reached dissidence”, but exactly the opposite: many dissidents -some hitherto unknown- became bloggers.

Of course, everything has a history, but not necessarily that which colleague Olivera indicates, but the key point is to understand who is considered sufficiently qualified or licensed to narrow historical margins and the inferences and influences of each phenomenon. In that vein, we should recognize the Indian Hatuey and Guamá as the parents of the current Cuban dissidence, for they were “first” in insubordination … We need a bit of contention, don’t you think?

Among the bloggers who now are now the focus of so much discredit -and not only from the authorities, apparently- there are some who had even belonged to opposition parties from before. It is not only about our “new generations” of dissidents. I take this opportunity to make a timely comment: there is no dissident pedigree that allots special merits to those who have been imprisoned or have “arrived before,” as the term is applied by the government, depending on whether or not someone came over on the yacht Granma, was in the Sierra Maestra or not, etc.

To my knowledge, no opponent has been imprisoned by choice but by the arbitrary and repressive sign of a government that we all fight against, that attributes itself the prerogative to select how, when and to whom to apply it, without anyone -before, now, or after- being able to consider himself a sort of supreme magister or chosen one because of it. I, for one, do not aspire to a “merit” that doesn’t even depend on my political performance, but on the sinister tricks of the Castros. The goal is to reach democracy, not the dungeons.

The alarmism that Olivera oozes in the mentioned article seems to derive more from a mixture of animosity and frustration than from some genuine concern, when referring to a supposed “over-dimensioning” for the use of the Internet as an anti-dictatorial tool, or when -at the opposite end, under-valuing such activism- he slips in the phrase “the main question takes route in intramural influence, and that probability is far from realization through the use of the web”.

With all due respect, it turns out to be more hilarious than offensive, but we need to be realistic: the existence of blogs does not block anyone’s dissident path, and we bloggers have never considered that the simple use of the Internet constitutes a kind of secret weapon capable of influencing, by itself, the collective consciousness within Cuba.

However, I would dare say that, since it is capable of creating solidarity networks, up-to-date underground information, and establishing bridges among the different forms and “political and civil entities”, such as Olivera terms them, the blogosphere has demonstrated ample capacity and efficacy. No wonder there have even been special programs dedicated to blogging activity and tweets broadcast on Cuban radio stations abroad reaching a large listening population on the Island. Perhaps the journalist should have researched beforehand with the dozens of tweeters in Cuba whose best weapon for protesting and personal defense has been precisely a cellular phone with a Twitter account.

I firmly believe that if Olivera had heard “rumors that could be the seed of unfortunate ruptures in near future”, he should have stopped them. Rumors only thrive on the receptive ears of those who are willing to pass them on. That may be why no one comes to “rumor” anything with me. I would not allow anyone to speak ill of the efforts of my fellow travelers, whether journalists, figures of the opposition parties, librarians, bloggers or tweeters. Anyway, the “reasons” for a scam are never as “obvious”, as the colleague claims.  The tangles are simply not rational, but emotional, and in all cases, counterproductive.

We could expand into a debate that, far from harmful, would be useful for banishing such an attitude, but it might be better to summon the “preoccupied” to a face-to-face discussion, without “rumors”. Suffice it to remind the colleague and those who have not heard it yet, that, to date, since its inception, the blogosphere has not only consolidated, but in its midst are people who are generous enough to share their knowledge and to multiply it in a community that increases the voice of numerous sectors of Cubans of all beliefs and leanings, thus shaping many who are now able to spread a whole spectrum of opinion and information that otherwise could not be accomplished in such a short time.

Personally, I would never dream of putting the work of any dissident group, or of that of any rebellious brother, on a “scale”. The efforts of all Cubans, on any shore and position, to achieve Cuba’s democracy seems invaluable to me.  It would be truly more productive for us not to worry so much about the visibility or the awards any of our colleagues receive.  Let’s celebrate their well-earned victories together, and above all, let’s take care to balance the underlying emotions.

Translated by Norma Whiting

19 April 2013

Licentiousness of the Press / Miriam Celaya

Preliminary Note to readers: For reasons way beyond my control, I did not have the chance to update the blog for many days. The Desdecuba.com page was hacked twice, and Yoani Sánchez and other friends are still trying to get it fixed. I am posting a new article, and I hope complete service will be established soon.  Thanks and hugs to all friends.

Nobody listens to his stories any more. Work of Cuban painter Abel Quintero

It’s true that in Cuba there is no freedom of the press. In its place, press licentiousness, as prolific and thorny as the invasive marabou weed, has developed. It is a peculiar way to “report”, and, as crazy as the results are, (or perhaps because of it), it’s very consistent with the system.

The press is one of the indicators that most markedly evidences signs of change, a constant that has an influence even in societies such as ours, where secrecy rules.  Some of the readers with sharper memories will remember that, during the period of Castro I, we experienced an absolutely triumphant press: all  the milestones of the three first decades of the revolution were positive, crop and livestock production grew each year, indicators of health, education, sports and culture marked an unstoppable upward course, the harvests were huge, and so were all the line-entries that heralded an economic splendor always knocking at our doors, without ever entering our lives.

Not even the 1990’s crisis was able to destroy the vibrant spirit of a kind of completely alienated optimism.  So the press repeated each inspired and inflamed phrase of the Great Orate, and we didn’t have food, clothing, shoes or fuel… but we did have “dignity”.  We also had the celebrated battle for Elián, one of the most resonant Pyrrhic victories in Cuban history, in which substantial resources were spent while people went hungry, and a while later we had “Five Heroes”… who, some day, will “return”. Then came the open tribunals each Saturday in different municipalities throughout Cuba, squandering what we didn’t have, and the absurd Round Tables were instituted.  The press had the mission to inflate the balloons that substantiated the indestructible success and the indisputable superiority of the tropical socialist system, despite the collapse of the USSR and the abrupt disappearance of subsidies.

But it has been under the period of Castro II that licentiousness of the press has reached its climax, especially in the heat of the “opening” marked by the so-called government reforms, where the economic parameters sealed the full apogee of an original way to “report” under which things are not what they seem, but something completely different.

This explains why, for example, official figures reported a modest GDP growth at the end of 2012, and, paradoxically, at the barely ending first trimester in 2013, an expanded meeting of the Council of Ministers acknowledged hereto unspeakable evils in the Cuban economy: lack of productivity, inefficiency, defaults, lack of organization and lack of discipline, among others, that prevented the fulfillment of the plans.  Nobody bothered to explain this strange way of “growing” by being unproductive.

Indicators of the progress of the harvest and sugar production were recently published, with very poor results, and, compared with the same period last year, a decrease in foreign tourist arrivals has been reported for the month of February, 2013 (full peak of tourist season). However, the press ensures that the investment plan will continue for that “priority sector” and that an increase in revenue is expected on this line-entry of this important economic sector.

The Moa nickel plant ceased production, however, the General-President insists on “the need to work to guarantee the assured external income, including those derived from the export of nickel and sugar”, although the country is forced to import sugar just to meet domestic demand. In his words, “we are moving at a great pace despite the obstacles”. With such news, it seems clear where progress is moving, but there is no doubt that this informative coven lurching between chaos and optimism is the mirror image of the national condition.

In short, the press turns out to be more licentious the more representative of the Castro II “transparency” it is. But there is nothing to wonder at, according to the dictionary of the Spanish language, some synonyms of the word “licentiousness” are: impudence, obscenity, indecency, dishonesty, shamelessness, among others. I guess that, once the terms are known, nobody will deny that licentiousness of the press in Cuba is enjoying perfect health.

Translated by Norma Whiting

8 April 2013

To Root Out the Remnants / Miriam Celaya

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Yoani Sanchez, MJ Porter in New York City. Photo from Penultimos Dias

Many of my dear readers have written asking for a comment on the long tour of Yoani Sánchez through several countries, and the travel abroad of other figures of internal dissent such as Eliecer Avila, Rosa María Payá, Berta Soler and Orlando Luis Pardo, just to mention some of the best known, and the significance this could have for the opposition on the Island

The topic requires, perhaps, a long essay, but it’s enough to follow the statements of the dissidents mentioned as published in various media, the packed agenda Yoani is covering on her journey, and the links that have been strengthened between Cubans critical of the Castro government on all shores, to understand that there is a before and after with regards to these journeys. The issues raised by all of them range across all the problems of Cuban society today and the crisis of the Castro model.

Rosa María Payá (Another promising young person of the Cuban opposition)

Most significant in this case could be the variety of opinions expressed by them and the fact that, despite differences of nuance, there is a consensus on the need for democratic changes in Cuba and that these must be achieved through peaceful and concerted means. I dare to suggest that, save for some specific remnants of some opponents who feel disenfranchised or who refuse to make way for new ideas and figures which have emerged in the political spectrum of resistance, there are many more who identify with and feel represented in the statements of all these young Cubans who are traveling the world.

Just recently I received a bitter critique from a longstanding opponent who felt diminished in importance because I didn’t mention her in an interview I did with my colleague Pablo Pascuel Mendez which was published in Cubanet in January. She did not understand that the questions put to me by the journalist had nothing to do with her activity, much less did my answers encompass disrespect for any of my fellow travelers from before or now.

The are no pedigrees nor privileges in the Cuban opposition, only fighters for democracy; it doesn’t matter who came before or after, we all matter. At least as I understand it. For that reason I have no problem promoting debates, which I consider essential, because a lack of transparency is nothing more than repeating the patterns of the government we condemn.

I think, in the end, that the words of our compatriots abroad will not only strengthen us by offering a more dignified and truthful picture of what the Cuban opposition is in the light of these times, but will also serve to further understanding and support for us within Cuba, which perhaps would be one of their most important contributions. Yoani, Rosa María, Eliecer and Orlando Luis are offering a magnificent example of the true variety of citizen awareness on the Island. Rooting out the remnants among ourselves would be a chance to feel that in them, somehow, we are all represented.

18 March 2013