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

The hustle and bustle also includes the planting of ornamental shrubbery in parks adjacent to the route charted for Francis’s itinerary. In fact, in deference to the visitor, the squalid clumps punished by drought and apathy that surrounded the Central Havana relief image of Karl Marx, on Carlos III and Belascoaín, were replaced by new shrubbery. It is an irony of fate that the site of the father of atheism has been decked out just to honor the most eminent representative of God on Earth. The inventor of communism must be spinning in his grave.

Such a display of brushes and scaffolding responds to a plan that goes into effect in this type of situation, when the authorities need to ingratiate themselves with celebrities who enjoy touring and being engulfed by crowds. Officially, it is termed “The Image Plan”, and consists of investing only minimal resources to temporarily achieve a better image of the settings that visitors will see. The activity does not include any carpentry or mortar cement work for the reparation or renovation of structures. Deteriorated or damaged elements are not replaced, and surfaces are not cleaned, but the low quality paint is applied over the grime, over the exposed rusty reinforcement building supports and over the holes left by crumbling and fallen plaster. The idea is not to improve the city, but to make it look better than it really is. It is part of the scheme: false beauty in a country of false leaders and false devotees.

Carlos III and Subirana, Centro Habana (author’s photograph)
Carlos III and Subirana, Centro Habana (author’s photograph)

Of course, there has been popular criticism of what some consider a waste of resources, a swindle to visitors, and an insult to the growing needs of the population. Hundreds of poor Cubans who fruitlessly rummage through flea markets looking for the most “economic” options to paint their homes wonder how funds materialize when it involves a governmental interest.

Other Cubans question so much deployment of yellow and white Vatican flags, mounted atop public street lights, as in the case on Boyeros, Linea, and Séptima Avenida, among others, especially when, at the start of the recent school year, many primary school children were not able to wear new regulation white shirts because production was inadequate due to shortages of raw materials for garment factories, among other reasons.

But these are secondary issues. In short, including Bergoglio’s visit, three popes have honored us with their presence. It’s not that they have resolved much, but we know the magnitude of Cuban vanity… Three Popes is something not too many countries can brag about, let alone a country like Cuba, where the effects of the blessings have the same duration as the Catholic devotion of the masses: three days. What greater privilege could we wish for!

As a positive note, we know that Bergoglio’s visit will be of some use in smuggling a few messages from the Cuban President-General to the American President as the Pope sets out directly for the U.S. from Cuba. Incidentally, the event will also have been instrumental in the release of more than three thousand incarcerated individuals, some of them common criminals, victims of a system where anything can be construed as a crime. God the Father himself would have to visit us to achieve the release of political prisoners and prisoners of conscience. Let’s wait and see if by then there are at least any walls left standing and in need of paint.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

In fact, now the ‘villain’ is being offered a welcome with privileges: if in 1960 US companies coexisted in Cuba with majority private property of domestic capital, the impending return of the vilified Yankee capital would enjoy rights that Cubans do not have, since the latter are excluded from the possibility of investing in their own country.

However, the elders of the Palace of the Revolution insist that “we have triumphed over the Empire” and that we are “more sovereign and independent” than ever. That is, US companies are now welcome in Cuba, not because the structural crisis of the Castro regime has become insurmountable or because the absolute ineptitude of the Castro saga to even manage the wealth that was seized by spurious laws has plunged the country into poverty, but because the ‘imperialism’ has finally become reasonable after being symbolically beaten for over half a century “by the resilience and revolutionary convictions” of this people.

Thy dollars cometh onto us 

Nothing shows Cuban deterioration as much as the artificial glorification of the past. Unimaginative and lacking in political capital, old revolutionaries continue to choose to appeal to an epic nobody is interested in, except the morbid curiosity of a globalized world that views the Island as a Jurassic stronghold of the Cold War that includes species that are extinct elsewhere, such as dictators satiated with impunity and people who are as meek as sheep.

However, despite the verbal energy of Granma’s writers, General-President Castro II seems to have forgotten his impromptu speech on that July 6, 1960 afternoon, when he took advantage of his older brother’s momentary loss of voice to show off his vocation as unrepentant lackey in all its splendor, and to improvise a little snack of exalted mystical inspiration, praising the virtues of the leader in his conquest of “glory that belonged to only him” and in addition proclaiming “our America” as the “true one.”

It was at that event where “Cuba sí, Yankees no” was born, the famous slogan that the most hardened ventriloquists of the vernacular flock were bleating until just yesterday.

Now, when it’s clear that the fiery leader of the past is not eternal, and when the octogenarian heir to the estate-in-ruins gazes at the fields overrun by the invasive marabou* weed covering the landscape of what was once an orchard, it seems that, beyond the official discourse designed to please idiots, the “real” America is no longer “ours,” but the one that rises north of the Rio Grande.

Everything indicates that the following also ceased to be: “the duty of the peoples of Latin America must be to tend to the recovery of their national wealth, removing them from the domain of monopolies of foreign interests that impede their progress, promote political interference and undermine the sovereignty of our peoples.” It just so happens that new times are in effect, where foreign capital has mutated, from onerous for the people to advantageous, even for this anti-imperialist Island-lighthouse-of all the Americas, where the same politically immutable old leaders remain attached to power, gobbling up the nation, as if they were lampreys.

Soap Opera Journalism

This is why the official press becomes increasingly improbable, to the point of mimicking the plot of a Latin American soap opera, the kind where “nice” characters spend their lives suffering ridiculously from the first to the next-to-last episodes, to end up happy and forgiving “the bad guys” in the final episode.

The plot of the soap opera-lampoon offered by Granma, where once there was an enlightened leader followed by his people and where crowds foolishly hailed the foreign plunder without realizing that this is the best way to legitimize their own, aims to insert that shameful past in the context of reconciliation between the spurned lover (Cuba) and the feckless lover (the United States) who returns for the re-conquest, always convinced of his power of seduction

But, at the same time, the lover-victim of so many excesses and cruelties by the faithless lover feels she must prove to the native audience that, once she falls again (into the arms?) of the irresistible charmer, she does not commit a sin of weakness, or better yet, of imperative need for survival, but that – quite the contrary – this an unquestionable proof of her (“our”) political and moral superiority.

At any rate, the leap turns out to be at least counterproductive. It is as absurd to try to attract foreign capital on the one hand and to shake the memory of nationalizations that undermine this capital on the other. It could be stated that two governments and two parallel strategies exist in Cuba, and if any revolutionary has survived, it might be creating a regrettable confusion for him.

The current olive-green deputies of mass manipulation should consider not only the ambiguity of the discourse, but – at the level of farce that they have chosen – understand that many consumers prefer negative soap opera characters over heroes and heroines. They assume, judiciously, that it is preferable to enjoy oneself most of the time and to suffer only once than the other way around. It is not by chance that the only thing that is growing in Cuba at such leaps and bounds as apathy or uncertainty is the number of people fleeing the glorious national poverty to benefit from the evils of imperialism. They have chosen the villain.

Meanwhile, inside Cuba, and without speeches from the grandstands, the xenophobic slogan of the popular romance years with the olive-green hero (Cuba sí, Yankees no) has changed radically. Today, the island is awash in American flags and the most vilified symbols of the American way of life; the slogan is now “Cuba yes and Americans too.” And if our revolutionary glory days of the past are good for one thing it is to mourn the irreparable loss of these 56 years of suffering between capitalism and capitalism.

*Translator’s note: Marabou (sicklebush) is weed brought to Cuba in the 19th Century that poses serious invasive species problem, occupying close to five million acres (20,000 km²) of agricultural land.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Not to mention the national news report that aired on Cuban TV which, for the first time in 56 years, turned into a surprising tribute to the northern nation, with laudatory references to the beauty of its landscapes, its natural wealth, its robust economy, its productivity, its strong cultural heritage and the values of its people. If TV viewers had not been able to develop a natural defense against cynicism over decades, they would have convulsed. Combat veterans of the long war against the imperialist enemy have definitely lost their job content.

The opening of embassies have been termed “historical” and they are, indeed, after more than 50 years of confrontations and broken relations. However, beyond the pompous adjectives and the symbolic event of the hasty restoration of the old building that (until recently) was the Office of Cuban Interests in (until just yesterday) the enemy capital, few are asking these questions: “What will really change for Cubans “abroad” and “in Cuba”? How positively will the lives of the common citizen reflect this metamorphosis?

Media comments have not been few about the alleged expectations that have surfaced among the people in Cuba with the opening of both nations’ embassies. Obviously, there is no consensus on the criteria of those who have been questioned about the matter and all who stand for the same interests. For example, artists and academics who benefit from cultural exchange programs are optimistic, and so are those who have relatives living in the United States and look at the opening of the Cuban embassy in Washington as a chance for the viability of immigrant entry permits.

But as “normalization” makes its strides in diplomatic circles, there is concern that US visas will eventually be limited. There are those who are convinced that there has been a drastic reduction in the number of visas issued by the United States Interests Section in Havana. Whether this is true or hypothetical, what is real is that the more tangible expectative of the controversial Obama-Castro romance has to do with the wishes for trips and not with the hope that Cuba’s internal situation will show an improvement.

On the other hand, among those wishing to leave Cuba, there is a growing concern about the possible repeal or amendment of Cuban Adjustment Act, which has unleashed a new stampede in the form of illegal migration of Cubans, both by sea and through the borders, especially from several Latin American countries. Every week, dozens have been intercepted in the Straits of Florida and at the borders of Central America and Mexico. I think there is no better survey on expectations of the negotiations than that permanent exodus.

Meanwhile, nothing has changed significantly or hints at any change in Cuba. Although it could be argued that the general opinion of the Cuban people is for the approval of restored relations, nobody seems to expect any easing that will expand the economic, political and social freedoms of Cubans. In any case, the media show of diplomacy and related plethora of celebratory smiles, handshakes and mojitos will not put food on the table, much less point to calm the hunger for freedom that continues to spread, as another quiet epidemic, among Cuba’s best sons.

Even if the logic now drawn from the agendas of official dialogues points at the embargo as a priority –increasingly more symbolic than realistic — emigration, compensation for the expropriation of properties in the early years of the Revolution or a naval base whose occupation or return will not really mean anything to most Cubans; it is becoming increasingly clear that it is time to load the dice about such a crucial issue as human rights, beginning with inclusion of demands for recognition and participation of the independent civil society and the establishment of a national dialogue that reflects the aspirations of all of us for Cuba’s present and future. As long as that does not take place, the much flaunted “new” Cuban embassy in Washington will be just a mere scenario for the puppet show from the Plaza de la Revolución.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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 crowd, however, had their own reasons to believe in miracles. All in all, the government, which barely a decade before the Pope’s arrival had proclaimed itself as communist and atheist and had harassed the faithful of any religious denomination for 30 years, marginalizing and excluding them in what was a crusade in reverse — against the faithful to God — had carried out the spell from circulating the most intense hatred of everything that represented religion to legitimizing all faiths, and even blessing the entry of the religious into the ranks of the Communist Party. And it had accomplished this without gradations, without raising suspicion and, most importantly, without anyone asking for an explanation, since one of the most ineffable native virtues consists of confusing justice with amnesia.

Without a doubt, placing Marx and God on the same altar was the Revolution’s spiritual contribution that is yet to be properly recognized. Thus, a new specimen in the socialist fauna was born: the mystical Communist. Suddenly, being a believer became almost a stylish ornament. Christian crucifixes and Santería necklaces of African heritage proliferated happily among us, often mixed together as naturally as if they had never been banned, as if dozens of young Christians had not been shot at the La Cabaña Fortress, the concentration camps known as Military Units to Aid Production (UMAP) had never existed, or as if the religious spirituality that had always been an essential part of the national culture had not been deeply hurt.

When John Paul II honored us with his presence, we were such a democratically religious country that Monsignor Carlos Manuel de Céspedes himself confessed to having Santería fetishes behind his door. And what about our Sinner-in-Chief, who personally welcomed the Holy Father and received his blessing from the Pope and from God, though he skipped confession in the process.

Nevertheless, the overall balance of the visit of John Paul II was positive, especially for the Cuban Catholic Church, which gained new social spaces, experienced a discreet vivacity and even founded magazines. Though their circulation is not large, these magazines are tolerated by the government and enjoy popular recognition. In the process we also recovered Christmas and the local clergy was granted permission for Our Lady of Charity to take a brief outing – in the manner of a procession — every September.

Since then, the world opened slightly to Cuba, though after Wojtyla’s departure, and to date, most Cubans continue locked up in this Island-jail without democratic freedoms and without the possibility to fully exercise of their rights.

The second Papal visit was in 2012, when Joseph Ratzinger, as Pope, reviewed the congregation’s membership of the hacienda in ruins, mainly to get some concessions from the substitute sinner for the Church. This time, the popular hopes had suffered a considerable decline, but Benedict also delivered his homily to the faithful in a mass — in which there were many representatives of Cuban émigrés — where he delivered another barrage of short-range blessings and left, not without witnessing a small turmoil by a political opponent who shouted slogans against the government and was brutally cut down by blows from a group of members of the national Red Cross, while around them the lambs of the flock remained undaunted, without even issuing a bleating.

Benedict XVI at the Plaza, Havana (Photo from the internet)
Benedict XVI at the Plaza, Havana (Photo from the internet)

Now it is the charismatic Pope Francis’s turn. He will come to Cuba this controversial 2015 with enviable credentials. If it were not enough that he is a Latin American, that he took part in the inspiration of the Liberation Theology, that he’s carrying out a fierce onslaught against corruption within the Vatican itself, or that he demonstrates the austerity and humility of the saint he choose for his Papal name, he enjoys the extraordinary merit of being a mediator in the current rapprochement between the governments of Cuba and the United States, thus helping to end the half century of hostility that has defined Cuban political and national life.

With such curriculum, coupled with such a resounding inspiring capacity that even the General-President in his recent meeting with the Pope experienced a kind of epiphany and promised to “go back to praying” — which shows that a metamorphosis from devout to Cuban Communist Party militant can be reversed — one would expect an avalanche of expectations among Cubans before the imminent visit. However, this is not what is seen on the streets.

The momentary wave of hope that uplifted Cuba with the December 17th announcement has faded with the absence of changes, though we no longer have an enemy at our doorstep. And Pope Francis will arrive in the midst of that feeling of apathy. He will arrive in a timely manner, before our emigration ends up emptying the entire Island. Because those who were very young when John Paul II visited have become adults, and many have fled Cuba. The dreams of prosperity and freedoms have crashed against the rampart of government inaction, and the cryptic speeches of the representatives of God are no longer enough to raise a new capital of faith. Very few here believe in Papal blessings.

After all, the Vatican is also a State, with its own government, policy, and interests. And — with apologies to the faithful — how could our hopes for freedoms interest those who, at least de jure, pin their greatest aspirations on the kingdom of heaven and not in the reality of earth? We have been numbed by the words of false prophets too often to place our expectations in another head of state. After 17 years since John Paul II set foot on Cuban soil, we are still not feeling the effects of his praises. Nobody –except the most obstinate dreamers — expects Francis to make miracles to effect the urgent changes Cuba requires.

Just in case, tens of thousands of Cubans still choose each year to seek blessings at their own risk, and are leaving for places where they believe God has placed his hand without the help of our Holiness at the Vatican. And this is the way it will remain, at least while the olive-green hell continues to dictate the guidelines in this damned Island.

“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

After all, the General-President always said that with the implementation of self-employment, new ways to reactivate the economy were being “experimented with” for a more prosperous and sustainable socialism. Nevertheless, it is unnecessary to recall that he also made assurances that there would be “no turning back”. What he did not make clear then is that there would be numerous constraints for this sector; so many that they would end up strangling many small entrepreneurs, forcing them to give up.

The crusade began almost on par with the openings, just a couple of years later. Suffice it to review some not-so-random events. In December 2013, dozens of self-employed persons who were engaged in imported apparel surrendered their licenses after liquidating their goods. They were bound by the express official ban against continuing with their business activities. The restrictive measure at that time was justified by a simple appeal: licenses to market imported goods had never been issued, since the self-employed did not pay import taxes and the State has an absolute monopoly on that activity. Those merchants were only allowed to sell handmade clothing manufactured in their capacity as dressmakers, tailors and seamstresses. Ergo, there was no official deceit, but the letter of the law had been misinterpreted or deliberately distorted by the self-employed.

Unofficially, it was an open secret that State stores dealing in hard currencies had had significant declines in sales of clothing, shoes and other items since the beginning of commercial activity of the self-employed because the small business owners’ merchandise offered more variety and was of better quality and price. On the other hand, in the shadow of this new trade, and in the absence of a wholesale market, a whole shenanigans of “mules” had proliferated, bringing goods from different countries of the region and keeping private markets stocked.

In short, individuals in the private trade successfully emulated the State, not only just in sales, but also in rustling, thus creating efficient supply channels that outwitted official controls.

The healthiest logic in that case would have been to set import tariffs and to expand the content of what was included in the sellers’ authorizing licenses. We know that such a concession would go against the restrictive nature of the system itself, though the State has proven, amply and sufficiently, its inability to meet the demands of the population, not to mention the deplorable quality of its offerings. As we say in classical Cuban, “we had to ditch the couch**.” Thus, 2014 began with a considerable decrease in the self-employed sector, although the official press declared otherwise.

In recent days, however, it has finally been officially acknowledged and spoken by the very officials in charge of the case that a high number of self-employed individuals have returned their licenses. The sector has been contracting and this time the decline covers a wider spectrum of occupations.

Everything indicates that the amount of the excessive tax imposed – which has gradually been increased for some occupations — the permanent scourge of an army of corrupt inspectors, the absence of the promised wholesale market, the arbitrariness of the established rules and fines, the “under declarers” and other equally absurd legal restrictions, are taking a toll on these “entrepreneurs” who once believed in the good intentions and the irreversibility of Raul’s reforms.

Interestingly, the segment of those engaged in the rental of rooms and apartments has benefited from a significant tax decrease, though taxes still remain high. It is likely that the faulty hotel infrastructure and the lack of State variants to meet the influx of tourists and other visitors is influencing official tolerance in favor of those who are legally making a living from this activity. Goodwill towards landlords will go on, at least until the State produces an adequate number of units to assimilate the tourist boom that is beginning to surface.

For now, let’s allow the fluctuations in the saga of the self-employed sector to be an example of the ineffectuality of our laws for those who venture to negotiate with old olive-green thugs; but also as an indicator of the high expectations of the Castro regime before the arrival of the cherished foreign investors, which will be – without any doubt — shroud and epitaph of what was once the domestic business sector prototype… dead before being born.

Translator’s notes:
*”Revolutionary Offensive” is the name Fidel Castro applied to the final government confiscation, in 1968, of all remaining private businesses in Cuba, down to the smallest shoeshine stand. 
**This common Cuban expression comes from a joke about a cuckolded husband who comes home and sees his wife snuggling on the sofa with her lover. Enraged, he decides to throw out the sofa.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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 messenger, meanwhile, had to have sufficient intuitiveness and training to sort out certain obstacles.  His was an illicit occupation, so the risk of an envious denouncement on the part of a member of the CDR [Committee for the Defense of the Revolution] or police harassment.  Law enforcement officials would hunt down the messengers to confiscate the tapes and later resell them on the black market to another messenger or the owner of some video store, which was also illegal. Thus, the circle was complete.

The authorities had arranged a police hunt to end this practice, which favored “the imperialism’s ideological penetration” in the Cuban population, and affected “especially the young.” In workplaces–in particular those involved in social sciences and research–the battle against the subtle enemy propaganda was an essential point in the guidelines of the nuclei of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and the administrative and syndicate leadership, though many of the leaders themselves and almost all of the workers were regular users of the “venomous” product.

Thus, while during working hours the system’s bureaucrats railed against “track two,” the official label for the “ideological war” of the US government against Cuba, on the domestic front the consumption of the demonized product was growing exponentially. Without a doubt, the same “black” propaganda that the government whipped up against foreign shows and movies only managed to interest the audience in favor of its consumption. The olive-green battle against Yankee influence was doomed to failure.

The “antenna” and DVD’s, imperialist agents of the “zero years”

With the arrival of the twenty-first century and of new informational and communication technologies, video-cassettes were falling into obsolescence, even on this backward and un-computerized island.

During the last few years of the previous decade, DVD technology made its entrance, supplanting old video equipment and favoring the proliferation of CD’s“burned” in some living room, and distributed the same way by a whole army of messengers. The use of satellite dishes proliferated, and their owners rented out their networks to the homes in their vicinity which were able to pay for the use of those services.

Although limited to the preferences of the owner’s shows, the system expanded rapidly in the capital and main cities with large population concentrations, which made it difficult for the repressive forces to detect and confiscate the equipment.

On the other hand, the more technology moved forward, the more difficult the struggle against it. It was no longer about pursuing messengers fleeing on bikes through the maze of streets, but it was necessary to mobilize specialized resources, personnel and equipment, in addition to police patrols that needed to take part in confiscating equipment and arresting offenders.

Such deployment of repressive forces carrying out their duties on one block allowed for entertainment dealers to dismantle equipment in the surrounding areas, stowing it in secure sites. Soon Cubans learned to identify the minivan with the signage “Radio Cuba” that headed the police delegation, and soon the owners of the antennas also had their own informants at the police station, who, through bribes, would warn them ahead of time about the confiscating operations. At any rate, each piece of seized equipment was like a Greek war victory dance for the authorities, taking into account the cost of the operation and the meagerness of the harvest.

The government would score another embarrassing defeat against resources dictated by popular fancy and the experience of half a century of survival in the midst of ploys and unlawfulness.

The Internet, the devil incarnate

With that stubbornness of the mentally castrated, today’s official lackeys pull out their hair and rend their garments before the evidence of the inevitable: the preference of the overwhelming majority of Cubans for the cultural products of “savage capitalism.”. The illegal vessel that now often lands on a weekly basis in Cuban homes is the so-called “package” which has broken all records set by its predecessors’ audiences.

Today, it is almost impossible not to hear from a neighboring home the sounds of regular foreign TV. The package has invaded national domestic life to such an extent that Cuban TV has become an almost furtive intruder amidst an empire of consumption of smuggled audiovisual materials.

An external hard drive is all it takes to transport terabytes of capitalist entertainment and culture that is broadcast in “socialist” Cuban homes at affordable prices, between 25 and 30 Cuban pesos, to break through the grayness of State TV programming.

However, the appointed censors, with that infinite vanity that makes them believe they are arbiters of what should be the general taste and the managers of what each Cuban on the Island should culturally consume, labels as “banality” peoples’ tastes favoring a soap opera from wherever over Cuban TV’s La Mesa Redonda (The Roundtable) and knowing by heart each new series that airs, every movie that comes out, and what Alexis Valdés newest joke is, in addition to a host of musical talents and of the most diverse foreign shows, including cartoons and a great variety of kids programming that fills in the gaps, the blandness, and the poor quality of Cuban TV programming dedicated to children.

Much to the despair of frustrated cultural bureaucrats, the antenna has now been enriched by the undisputed power of the Internet, that “runaway horse,” shortening the time between what is produced and what is consumed in the cultural field, in addition to allowing coherent news updates outside the government system.

A lost war

In this vein, it is not surprising that the official cymbals and trumpets have summoned their cultural curators and their rusty institutions to fight yet another battle against Yankee penetration, as if this was not already a fait accompli. The cultured officials, like vestal virgins, are outraged with the surrender of the former warrior people to the seductive charms of the consumer society.

With their characteristic lack of creativity, the ever-killjoys have launched their own strategy: “backpack” — a ridiculous parody of the “package” — whose most eloquent proof of modernization is the inclusion, among their offerings, of Cuban TV series that made history with the national audience in the ’80s: ” En Silencio ha Tenido que Ser” [It’s had to be in Silence], “Julito el Pescador” [Little Julio the Fisherman] or “Algo Más que Soñar” [Something Else to Dream About]. And they still expect to be taken seriously.

The truth is that, as technology makes strides and its messengers refine their strategies of survival to escape official controls and sell their products, repression –just like the system it represents — continues to be tied to the same methods of surveillance and prosecution typical of the Cold War era. They remain anchored to a past that will not return.

By now it is obvious that Cubans like a colorful world that arrives each week in the package more than the promise of eternal poverty that everyday life throws at them. The socialist mirage that mobilized us decades ago has died a natural death: it suffocated, submerged in its own failure. The date that today excites humble Cubans is with capitalism, even if, for the moment, it’s only through their TV screens.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Thus, just like in the days when Christians hid in Roman catacombs to celebrate their sacred rites, in the years of bloody Sovietizing doctrine in Cuba many publicly denied their faith while attending sneak churches sufficiently distant from their neighborhoods so as not to be recognized and betrayed by their neighbors. Those were the days that faithfulness to God was not only irreconcilable with the Communist militancy, but constituted a serious obstacle to getting ahead in one’s education or employment.

We’re just making mention of Catholic Christians. Jehovah’s Witnesses, considered the quintessence of ideological poison that needed to be eradicated by the roots to safeguard the Revolution, were martyrized, and as such, suffered the worst wrath of the Bolshevik commissariat.

With the end of the Russian Communist adventure in this and other regions of the Third World, and the loss of its European satellites, the anti-religious crusade in Cuba came to an end, and the chameleon-like ability of the Castro regime was evidenced, when the unthinkable became reality: officially, overnight, it was established that Marxism was not incompatible with religious faiths.

And then, with the childlike enthusiasm characteristic of the Cuban people, not only did the Communist militants dust Bibles, old images of Christ and the Catholic calendar, or wear colorful necklaces and other attributes of the African deities, but many members of religious sects who had remained true to their faith, courageously facing persecution and ostracism, ran to become Communist militants. Obviously there are always those who fail to see the difference between one system of belief and another, between one dogma and another: in short, for some, everything is summarized as an exercise of pure faith.

Epaulettes and cassocks

There is a popular Cuban saying that tells us to remember Santa Barbara when it thunders. Castro’s leadership is no exception, so the Castro epaulets and Catholic cassocks have once again been reconfigured without reverence.

God’s return to this island purgatory was first blessed in 1998, during the visit of Pope John Paul II, and without the benefit of repentance or even an act of contrition for its many wicked acts, the Great Orate, active back then, allowed the return of the Christmas season and Christmas carols banned for decades, and the Catholic Church began to recover larger areas, though civil rights for Cubans did not return, and political repression continued. Praying to God while swinging the mallet, says a Spanish proverb.

The government never apologized for the many acts of plundering the Church nor was there an apology to religious members, sacred or secular, rich or humble, though, in truth, the victims have not demanded an official explanation. The lambs are for sacrificing. Thus, the system self-forgave its own sins without even mentioning them and without doing any penance. Today, the Cardinal and the Church have become almost commonplace at some public events, and even –Oh, Marx! arise and watch the sacrilege! – the most important religious events have begun to be televised as good ones and reported by the supposedly “Communist” press.

The second papal visit to Cuba, when the ‘defunct’ Benedict XVI blessed all of us, including the regime, turned into the consecration of the symbiosis between Marxism and Christianity. For some time now the manuals consulted by students have not stated repeatedly that “religion is the opium of the people,” as once proclaimed our mandatory core textbooks.

And, as if the hand of God had turned this Island topsy-turvy, the furious former guerrillas and their troupes have started to attend religious services and to accept (or seek) the pious mediation of the Church and the high clergy, formerly stripped and humiliated by the arrogance of a proclaimed Communist Revolution to solve some uncomfortable domestic minor matters – like of the prisoners of the Black Spring, necessary to free without it seeming as a defeat of the revolution – or, more recently, to reconcile with its staunchest enemy, “US imperialism,” in order to help them extend their time in power for a little longer while they remain in this vulgar material world.

Now, with the visit of the lesser devil to the Vatican, it has become known that the General-President and Pope Francis bless each other through their prayers, and the thought of a praying Castro stands out in its grotesqueness. But so magnanimous is the Church of God. In any case, none of this may prove sincere, but at least everything looks very touchy-feely, just like in the best soap operas ranked #1 by the people.

Believers say God works in mysterious ways, and it must be true, because, without knowing how, it seems that the miracle of conversion of the devils at the Palace of the Revolution into loving lambs of Christ has taken place, and right now they seem to be closer to the Lord than the millions of Cubans who continue to suffer lives of material deprivation and the absence of rights. At this rate, I bet the day will come when future Cubans will witness the canonization of these crooked olive-green old men. And that would be proclaimed, without doubt, as another one of the Revolution’s resounding achievements. After all, maybe it’s really just a matter of faith.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

Needless to say, the vociferous covens starring “revolutionary” wildlife had the opposite effect to that intended: far from demonizing opponents and members of independent civil society, they demonstrated to the rest of the delegations the intolerant nature of the regime and the veracity of the testimonies that have denounced the repression against every different alternative on the island, as well as the disrespect of the Cuban authorities towards the hosts and the other countries of the region.

Not only did the delegates from many social organizations openly express their support for the exercise of the rights of expression of Cuban democrats, but many representatives of the continental Left expressed disgust with the intransigence and violent methods used by pro-Castro attendees, a posture that in their opinion sullies the image of the Left and contaminates its projects in the region.

However, with the morbid interest aroused by the spectacle of violence, the tabloid press has given these repudiation rallies greater prominence than they deserve, and has emphasized the imprint of their protagonists on the Summit, as if that was the highlight of the agenda.

However, for independent civil society the true importance of the Panamanian meeting consists in the fact that its voices have finally been recognized at a major regional event, as well as the joint and harmonious participation of Cubans living within and outside the island, welcoming plural and diverse ideas and positions, capable of mutual respect, and finding commonalities among all of them. In fact, those voices – and not those of the “repudiators” of the Castro regime’s supporters – were the ones that ended up represented in official documents of the Summit, with several opponents to the regime participating in their drafting.

Equally important was the meeting between US President Barack Obama and well-known Cuban dissidents, undoubtedly a gesture of support for the struggle for human rights within Cuba and a clear message that that government will continue to support pro-democracy activists, regardless of the negotiations being conducted with the Cuban authorities at the highest level.

Overall, the exchange between political leaders and leaders of social networks around the hemisphere was of great importance, making independent Cuban civil society visible at the regional level, attesting to the existence of an alternative discourse to that allowed by the regime, a discourse that claims spaces and demands rights, and that made clear the variety of proposals that exist within Cuban society.

It was also an opportunity to participate in debates which included deep analysis about the danger of the spread of totalitarian regimes in Latin America, and the risk this poses to democracy and peace in the region; debates where the continued and increasing violations of human rights and encroachments on freedom of the press and expression in several of our nations was denounced; debates that strongly questioned the role of the Organization of American States (OAS) as a body that is obliged to ensure democracy and enforce the Inter-American Charter, which are the founding objectives of the organization and which have been set aside with the permissibility, indifference and complicity, both of the leadership of the OAS as well as the region’s democratic leaders.

For those of us who had the privilege of participating in this Summit it was an invaluable experience that showed how it is possible to discuss in a civilized manner, beyond politics and ideology, and the certainty that we are not alone in our struggle for the democratization of Cuba.

The Summit of the Americas, as I have argued in all spaces in which we participated, was not a goal, but an important step in legitimizing our right to exist as civil society and as an alternative to dictatorial power. It was undoubtedly a victory for democracy over the empire of totalitarianism: an unpublished chapter after the long history of exclusions that we Cubans have experienced in our hemisphere. Hopefully now that the doors, despite many adversities, have been opened, we are at the beginning of a process of regional integration that promotes democratic openings within Cuba.

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

— could be treated with oxygen. Almost by happenstance, an experienced doctor who heard the child cough took an interest in the case, and, after a more detailed examination, made her diagnosis as whooping cough, a disease Maritza had never heard of and against which – at least in theory — all Cuban children are protected, thanks to subsidized national health system vaccination programs. Furthermore, according to official statistical records, whooping cough (pertussis) was eradicated from Cuba many years ago.

Thanks to that doctor’s providential presence, Alain was treated with the appropriate antibiotics and, following the advice of the doctor, Maritza asked a relative who resides abroad for an emergency shipment of a medication that does not exist in Cuba, pertussis suppositories, used in the treatment to lessen the child’s coughing crisis.

Alain is recovering now, but his convalescence may take up to three months or more. Maritza has overcome her anxiety, but wonders how many children will be in the same predicament, considering that this highly infectious disease is circulating around the Island, and health authorities have not sounded the alarm. In fact, she recently found out that in the past several years the incidence of whooping cough has been on the rise, not only among children, but also among adults.

The lack of information in the official media results in the population not having a clear perception of the risk, and turns Article 50 of the Constitution of the Republic of Cuba into meaningless babble. The article establishes the right of all Cubans to medical care and health protection, and points to the State as guarantor of that right.

Turning back the clock

Dengue fever, tuberculosis, whooping cough, chikungunya*, cholera … With the reappearance of old diseases, the introduction of others that did not exist on the Island and the lack of effective drugs, it would seem that Cuba has regressed to the nineteenth century. However, the Cuban national health system remains a prestigious benchmark for international agencies, particularly since lending Cuban medical services abroad has become the most important source of the government’s capital income and a powerful political tool, given that it allows displaying as example of solidarity and altruism what is actually a poorly disguised form of modern slavery.

So, while the government exports the service of tens of thousands of medical professionals at the expense of a loss of attention to Cubans, and the exposure of the Cuban population to multiple imported diseases, the institutional bureaucracy of international organizations congratulates itself on being able to count on a whole army of doctors mobilized by the regime to deal with epidemics and other pathologies. The government of any moderately democratic nation would never be able to recruit doctors as if they were mercenaries.

The truth is that Cuba currently has two opposing systems: one of “health”, which only exists in theory and today is a sad imitation of what it once was; and the other of “unhealth”, much more efficient, endorsed in a completely dismal hospital and services infrastructure, and in the continuing incursion of exotic diseases, imported by our doctors from the most infected corners of the globe, since, upon their return home to Cuba, the practice of a rigorous quarantine plan and infection risk control is not followed.

All this in a nation that, in the late 50s of the last century, stood out among the top in terms of health care at the regional and global levels, with a respectable hospital network in addition to membership clinics, emergency clinics, maternity hospitals and other health services, both free and private.

At this rate, it is likely that, when the Castro regime finally ends, we may have to request emergency services from the World Health Organization itself and from the International Red Cross in order to address Cubans’ health crisis, as occurred during the US occupation after the 1898 War of Independence, which created the basis for what would become, during the Republic, one of the most enviable health systems of its time.

*A viral disease transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Gratitude / Miriam Celaya

Though I’m several days behind, I get to access my blog to publicly thank all friends and the media who remained attentive and concerned for us during the repressive raid of the final days of 2014.

My son, Victor Ariel González, freelance journalist and 14ymedio.com reporter, was arrested around noon on the 30th, as he left his building to come to our home for lunch, just when his father and I came by to pick him up. Thanks to that strange coincidence, he was the only one of dozens of detainees whose whereabouts was known, since we got in the police car with him, which took all three of us to the Guanabacoa police station, where he remained under arrest until December 31st, when he was freed in the afternoon hours while we stayed outside the station.

During the 25 and one-half hours that he was held there, we received dozens of calls from friends inside and outside Cuba: Yoani Sánchez, who was kept informed of the entire situation through social networks; my friends and colleagues at Cubanet, who also reported every detail and the names of the detainees; Elizardo Sánchez of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights; Laritza Diversent of Cubalex, who kept in touch with us, advising us of the law and whose directions were very significant to put pressure, according to the rights validated by law, for the release of Victor Ariel. Luzbely Escobar and countless colleagues and fellow travelers were in constant contact with us. continue reading

I don’t want to ignore the messages and calls of support I received from different parts of Cuba and abroad: friends from the Coexistence group; Henry Constantin from Camagüey; my friend Frank from Guanabo; of Marta and Eugenio, my essential and everlasting friends from Kendall; my dear cousin from Hialeah, and many others I will not mention because I prefer not to expose them, as they live in Cuba and are valuable anonymous activists.

I assure you that solidarity and strength all of you offered me were crucial to overcome the difficult hours of helplessness, powerlessness and worry about the fate of our son. However, I experienced the satisfaction of confronting at least three of the hired guns with my truths.

I never thought that another individual’s hatred towards me would be capable of making me so strong and of provoking such a comforting feeling. That’s what they are, mere instruments of hatred of a regime that is more brutal the more it is feared.

It makes an impression to see these young lackeys, blind and submissive at the service of a dictatorship which they will outlive. If I didn’t despise them so much, I think I would feel sorry for them.

Both the minions of the political police and the uniformed police, cohorts in the outrage, were nervous. It is absurd to see how fearful they become in the face of the simple possibility that we Cubans may express ourselves freely. An artist barely announces a performance and the terrors of the regime are unleashed, sending its dogs to lock up even people who did not have the least intention to participate in the event.

Also because of fear, they made efforts to get my husband and me to leave the police station.  Relatives of those detained for common crimes stared at us curiously, but also with respect, listening attentively at our every word.

“I recommend you go home. Victor Ariel will remain under investigation for a minimum of 24 hours”, said a young clown (from counterintelligence) dressed in plainclothes, who — among other cute remarks — threatened to arrest me “for contempt.”

“If it’s 24 months, I will not move from this spot until you free him. I don’t know if you were born of a woman, but the one you have locked up there, with no reason and violating his rights, is my son. Lock me up if you feel like you must.” That etcetera left, very upset.

Meanwhile, many friends were getting ready to join us to gather in front of the police station and demand the release of Victor Ariel, if he remained imprisoned for more than a day. I had told this to the police, and I’m sure they were anxious that their bosses would free my son soon.

Finally they took him to the back of the building, secretly, to avoid celebratory scenes in front of their little prison, and returned him in a patrol car to his home. His father and I were informed of this by a uniformed individual, and we anticipated his arrival to greet him on the first floor of his building, where they left him.

I also want to share with readers the pride I feel for my son’s straightforward attitude, who returned with an ever-wide smile and in very high spirits. Around the time he was imprisoned, he refused to take food or water, in protest against the arbitrary detention.

Not for a moment did I doubt his fortitude, despite the threat of the instructor at Villa Marista, who assured him “if you keep doing what you are doing we are going prosecute you legally. Let that be a warning to you.” Victor Ariel did not sign the official warning or the detention documents, but simply replied to that executioner, “I will keep on writing.”

I will too. And I will be with him in all circumstances for certain, however difficult it may be.  I know that there are difficult times ahead, but I also know that I will be able to count on you. We will not be lacking in the faith and confidence that you have shown us.

Again, all of you, thank you!

Translated by Norma Whiting

5 January 2015

Behind the Performances / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya


  • To think that the “common Cuban on the street” –not the dissidents or the usual disobedient individuals- would spontaneously make use of the open microphones at “that” Square, to demand rights from the government is naive, a utopia. The idea is beautiful and romantic, but far, far away from reality.

cubanet square logoHAVANA, Cuba. – During the final days of 2014 and the first three of 2015, the bells have been ringing for artist Tania Bruguera and the wave of arrests sparked by her announcement of the performance Tatlin’s Whisper # 6, after which she intended to provide a minute of freedom of expression for the common Cuban at the Plaza “de la Revolución” itself.

Authorities responded with their usual violence, detaining several dozen dissidents, opposition activists, journalists, and other members of the independent civil society and tossing them into dungeons. Some of the detainees had not even intended to participate in the event, and were arrested only for the crime of leaving their homes on the “wrong” day.

Comments on the subject have swarmed the digital media, as befits the case of such a recognized and award-winning artist as Bruguera, with a prolific career, though she was almost totally unknown to the potential recipients of her performance. continue reading

Tania Bruguera, in short, has suffered the same fate that the other members of the opposition and of the independent civil society have faced for decades: censorship and repression by the regime, while those same “common Cubans” suffer from the proverbial ignorance –be it as a result of misinformation or disinterest. So we reaffirm the urgent need to avail all Cubans of the bulk of information that allows them the civic empowerment and the willingness to come out as actors of the changes.

Ineptness or intention?

The reasons for Tania Bruguera’s intention to perform are too well-known and are more than justified. The repression orchestrated by the Cuban government, however, though predictable, is counterproductive at a time when it should strive to present a more tolerant face.

The General-President has lost a golden opportunity to score before the international public opinion somewhat, showing such an outrageous stupidity that could only be understood if he had the deliberate intention to launch a challenge to Barack Obama’s conciliatory position and the democratic world as a whole.

Anyone who knows the Cuban reality knows that it would have been very easy for the dictatorship to annihilate the “Tatlin effect” and, incidentally, make a fool of the artist using its usual methods. Namely, to let her reach her stage and her microphones, and then control or prevent entrance to the “counterrevolutionaries” – probably the only Cubans who would have dared to exercise their freedom of expression publicly and to voice their opinions and demands – mobilize its more loyal militants (and also their milidummies) to fill the space and to have them take the microphone to launch the usual praises of the revolution and its leaders.

They could even have used their agents, infiltrated in the opposition ranks, to offer the “mad-dog faces” of those who want to see the end of the socialist paradise, to have faked their support for Bruguera’s play by sharing the Plaza’s venue with works of La Colmenita, or by simultaneously celebrating any other “cultural act” with the participation of the many artists who usually lend themselves for such cases. It would have been, no doubt, a massive event, and the General-President would have shown the world, at the same time as the existence of “the most genuine and spontaneous freedom of expression of the Cuban people,” the firm commitment by the people to the revolution and its unquestionable conquests.

He chose, however, brutality, a disproportionate official reaction that sends misleading signals that are inconsistent with the relaxed atmosphere that we should be starting to breathe with the burial of the war hatchets after half a century of confrontation with the natural enemy of the people. But did anyone really expect a different outcome?

Behind the performances

There are those who wonder, following the events, if Tania Bruguera’s performance was worth it, since it turned into an occasion of unleashed repression at a time of year when family traditions are of peace and celebration. The answer to this depends on the artist’s objectives, not on the reaction by the Cuban government.

If her intention was to draw attention to international public opinion about the dictatorial nature of the government, the mere purpose was a success and was worth it. But its price, namely, the official repressive reaction, is the norm in Cuba – as is well known by independent civil society on the Island, with decades of first-hand resistance against the government – and the artist is not responsible for this.

On the other hand, exercising civic rights and free expression of all kinds are worth the effort, be it a performance or simply an everyday practice, but we must not enhance the facts or attribute to the artistic event the capability of “obstructing the normalization” of relations between Cuba and the US.  The propensity for drama is definitively one of the evils that we Cubans drag with us, which turns us into myopic politicians.

So, to pretend that “common Cubans” – not “mercenary” dissidents, or the usual disobedient individuals – could make spontaneous use of open microphones in a public place (particularly “that” public place) for citizens’ complaints and demanding of rights from the government is naive, a utopia, or a combination of both. The idea is beautiful and romantic, but far, far away from reality.

Let’s idealize it: the fact that ordinary Cubans, immersed in survival, need venues for freedom, does not mean that they are ready to openly challenge the government, especially if after the performances they will continue to be inevitably tied to this Island prison. A lot more is needed to overcome the fear of one minute on stage and before a microphone.

A quick poll is sufficient to verify that the recipients were unaware of the act. In fact, neither the artist’s proposal nor the wave of related arrests has emerged in national public opinion.

Havana residents who this last December 30th observed the unusual police presence in the areas adjacent to the Plaza never knew what it was about, and probably did not give it  much importance. We have to understand them: those were the days of the agricultural fair and, as the last straw, in many municipalities, chickens “for the people” were being distributed.

It’s not cynicism, but realism. In terms of rights, we Cubans we have a long way to go, including –by the way – overcoming the temptation to place on the desk of the US Presidential demands that the Cuban authorities will be responsible for complying with. At least, such is the opinion of this Cuban, for whom the exercise of freedom of expression has always been practice, not performance.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Fidel’s Shocking Silence / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

fidel-castro-barack-obamaCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 December 2014 — After the brief speech by General-President, Raúl Castro, about the release of Alan Gross and of “a Cuban-born citizen” at the service of the CIA, and of other prisoners who received “prison benefits, including the release of individuals the US government was interested in,” a speech which also included the announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, everyday life in the capital continued its course, just as if we were not witnessing a moment of historical significance that puts an end to 50 years of uninterrupted disagreement between our two countries.

With agreements reached after months of negotiations, the regional political landscape changes dramatically, while such a controversial decision should, in principle have a greater effect inside Cuba, since Cuba’s excuses have run out about “the enemy” that besieges us, blockades us, and hampers our social and economic advancement. continue reading

Of course, it would be naïve to assume that the regime will make essential changes or allow an opening in political or human rights matters, particularly those relating to freedom of expression and association, just to name the some of the more “dangerous” elements for the survival of the regime. It’s the same quasi 56-year-old dictatorship of totalitarian power, and it is likely the regime will make use of any trickery to evade changes that endanger its authority in Cuba. However, that does not mean that the do-nothing strategy on the part of the US foreign policy towards Cuba was a good formula.

The strategy launched today by the White House, though risky, placed the Cuban leadership against the wall, especially in the face of the international community that, to date, has passively tolerated the ongoing violations of human rights in Cuba, and has even praised the Castro satrapy for its achievements in health and education through the continuation of a belligerent policy towards the most powerful country on earth and the supposed need for the regime to defend itself from it. With the ending of the stagnation and the re-establishing of relations, now we will have to see in what direction the actors move and the resulting changes that the new stage will produce.

We know the weakness of the nascent Cuban civil society, of its legal orphanhood and of the absence of supporting autonomous institutions, so that, on the road towards the achievement of democracy, the support and goodwill of civilized countries and of global agencies cannot be absent, under penalty of sentencing to their doom the efforts, sacrifices and aspirations of several generations of democratic Cubans. The US President seems to be aware of it, since he expressed his commitment to those hopes in his speech.

May Day march in Havana
May Day march in Havana

An Indifferent Cuba

The news came as a surprise to Cubans. However, contrary to what might be expected from so many years of the “struggle for the return of the Five,” and after the substantial resources invested in international campaigns to achieve their release, there or was no apotheosis of people taking to the streets, no calls for a gathering to welcome them home, no live TV broadcasting the arrival of the much awaited “heroes.”

Havana continued its normal routine, altered only by the unexpected delivery of a pound of fish (mackerel) per consumer, an event that overwhelmed people’s expectations, at least in Centro Habana, and the corresponding lines began to form in front of the state-owned butcher shops.

Meanwhile, a group of students were mobilized at the University to do some cheering and shouting; though it still unclear whether the real reason for their joy was the release of the spies or the sudden opportunity to leave the classroom earlier than usual.

Only the primetime evening news ran a brief story, carefully prepared and intended to stir the popular sentimentality, showing the reunion of the released spies and their families, and the words of ringleader, Gerardo, expressing to the General-President his availability to follow his orders. “For whatever purpose,” stated the unrepentant servant. It did not occur to the little soldier to think that, in an environment of good relations that should begin to flow between the two countries, a new espionage adventure would not look good.

The truth is that, in contrast to Alan Gross’s obvious physical deterioration, the Cuban spies looked fat and pompous, as if, instead of having stayed in harsh prison conditions that the official media had blasted, they had returned from a picnic or a long vacation.

May Day march in Havana
May Day march in Havana

The topography of absence

Perhaps the most significant finding on the day of a journey inside Cuba is Fidel Castro’s shocking silence

His absence from the media had already been sufficiently notorious during and after the celebration of the ALBA summit, ten years after the creation of that pipe dream for him and his pupil, Hugo Chávez. But his silence, in the presence of two events so linked to his existence as the end of a story of conflict on which the revolutionary legend was cemented and the arrival on the Island of the central characters of his last “battle,” is highly eloquent.

It is very significant that the return of the three spies has been so rash. This may be the happiest event year for the reflective chief, yet not a single apocryphal note with a copy of his well-known signature at the bottom of the page has appeared. Everything indicates that, either the highest druid has definitively plunged into a deep vegetative state, or he has already left this “valley of tears.” If that should be the case, don’t count on mine.

Translated by Norma Whiting

A “Clandestine” Meeting with Ernesto Londoño / Miriam Celaya

Ernesto Londoño
Ernesto Londoño of the New York Times editorial board

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, HAVANA, Cuba, 2 December 2014 — Young journalist Ernesto Londoño should feel very gratified professionally: he has not only managed to raise a bitter media controversy in recent weeks, stemming from his uncharacteristic editorial which appeared in the New York Times (NYT), in favor of bringing closer the governments of the US and Cuba and the lifting of the embargo, among other proposals, in line with the Cuban official discourse; but these days he has taken a “business trip” to the Island and has held several meetings with some media, including the most official media of all, the newspaper Granma, at whose headquarters he was cordially received on Monday, November 24th by the editorial team headed by its director. Londoño published several photographs of the occasion on his Twitter account.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday the 25th, the magazine OnCuba welcomed him at its headquarters in Havana, where “he talked, asked and responded to our concerns” according to an interview published by that journal, which states that Londoño is conducting research that will allow further development of the Cuba issue at the NYT. The page overflowed with photographs that testify to the meeting, depicting a smiling and relaxed Londoño.

And indeed, it appears that Londoño’s intention and that of his editorial bosses is to gather as much information as possible from diverse opinion sectors in this controversial trip. Or at least, that is what his phone call on Friday the 28th to the director of 14ymedio, Yoani Sánchez, evidenced. During that call, he requested to meet with her, and she agreed to conduct a meeting which should also involve other team members, including 14ymedio‘s editor-in-chief Reinaldo Escobar, reporters Luzbely Escobar and Victor Ariel González, Rachel Vazquez, in charge of the cultural section, columnists Eliecer Avila and this writer, Miriam Celaya. The urgency of the meeting precluded the presence of provincial correspondents.

The Hotel Saratoga, a “Neutral” Venue?

On Saturday, November 29th, at 11 am according to our previous agreement, we met with Ernesto Londoño at a “neutral” venue as the mezzanine of the hotel where he was a guest, the Saratoga, located on Prado and Dragones Sts., right across from La Fuente de la India and adjacent to the Parque de la Fraternidad and the Capitol, where some of us connect to the Internet at the astronomical price of 12 CUC per hour, and to put up with the anguish of slow service and full of “blockades”. In fact, coincidentally, during our close to three-hour conversation, there was no connection.

Ernestro Londoño meeting with On Cuba
Londoño at the publishing offices of OnCuba

All around us, the ill-concealed movement of the agents of the political police in their ridiculous disguises as ‘guests’, employees or clients of the cafeteria, reminded us that, under totalitarian regimes, neutrality is always a chimera. In all that time, not even one of the waitresses came near us to see if we wanted to order at least a coffee, something remarkable in a country where Cuban born citizens cannot remain sitting, occupying a table if we are not “consuming”.

Anyway, all that police deployment was a useless waste: we, the disobedient ones, did not go there to share secrets or to make compromises, but to express ourselves as freely as we usually do in our writings, so we didn’t even take the trouble to lower our voices.

The first impression, after the introductions with the journalist-revelation of the moment, was disappointing: Londoño could not answer the questions that each of us had prepared for him because “he must ask for the approval” of his NYT bosses. The essential requirement was for us to submit the questions in writing and wait for his answers. We also could not photograph him during the meeting. Any opinion he expressed personally at that meeting could not be published by us.

Suddenly, what we thought would be a meeting between colleagues in two different media, at which we would exchange views and discuss topics of crucial interest for Cubans, was turning into a “clandestine” date, with a certain tinge of adultery, a sort of media conspiracy designed to feed and diversify knowledge (his) about the Cuban reality, but without our ability to disclose his view points, his motives about our country or where his interests were headed.

In stark contrast to his stay at Granma newspaper, the meeting would have a restraint (embargo?) imposed precisely from the anti-embargo defender, the NYT. Live and learn!

Londoño at the offices of the Communist Party newspaper Granma
Londoño visits Granma Newspaper. Here, in the photography department, in the presence of Antique cameras.

Nevertheless, the representatives of 14ymedio present at that meeting agreed to offer Londoño our opinions about anything he was interested to know about our country, but we would be free to publish whatever we stated on our own… because such are the advantages of those who don’t need permission to express themselves.

A Gift for the NYT

Thus, based on rigorous ethical issues and honoring the commitment we agreed to, I will only present here a summary of my impressions and commentaries about the meeting and, at no time, the questions and opinions of the foreign visitor.

It is impossible to summarize in only a few words the variety of topics of conversation on that Saturday evening; although I would dare say that Londoño must have been surprised to discover such a diverse group of ages, professions and opinions grouped in the same project. Undoubtedly, he must have noticed the absence of the monotonous “choirs” of unanimous agreements or hesitation among cronies, and he certainly must not have noticed in other meetings the flow of ideas as critical, free and spontaneous: there was no agenda or orders to speak one’s opinion, or taboo subjects. Nobody lead the meeting, nobody moderated, and nobody censured. A real present for a visitor who tries to get close to a reality where entrenched, social auto-censorship reigns.

Politics, economics, society, history, law, Cuba-US relations; new laws; myths and realities of Raúl’s “reforms” and their results so far; necessary steps for real changes in Cuba, which we would like see reflected in the editorials of the NYT; what kind of journalism we Cubans want and what we recommend to foreign researchers if they really want to know Cuba were several of the countless of topics not yet exhausted, but that surely marked the difference between what we are and what they had told Ernesto Londoño we were.

At any rate, despite the limitations and how dreadful what he has written so far in his quasi-perverse editorials, about which I offered my sincere opinion, expressed in several articles published in Cubanet, I’m glad this young journalist has had, so far, the opportunity to listen to opinions from positions and commitments so different as those of the barricades of the official press or the free spontaneity of at least a portion of the voices of the independent press. We hope he will learn to feel the pulse of the Cubans at the bottom rungs, those who subsist in neighborhoods near his expensive lodgings. I hope that, going forward, he is more responsible, or at least that he assumes the consequences of his writings.

I am glad that he has also been in the company of the makers of “critical” publications so light that they enjoy the privilege to work in legal offices in Havana, another reform miracle that betrays the type of changes that the Cuban government has implemented and that constitutes a clear signal of the long road that we Cubans must travel in order to defend our interests, so different from the long Cuban dictatorship and from those that Ernesto Londoño himself has defended with as much ignorance as vehemence from the biased NYT editorials.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban Tourists: Filling-in the Gaps / Miriam Celaya

The truth is that I don’t know all the numbers, but I have been browsing the ad pages of Cubatur, Havanatur and all the Cuban “tours” and I found that this year the “all-inclusive” offers have increased which, since the restrictions for Cubans to stay at hotels were lifted, better-off Cubans have been taking advantage of them.

I’m not criticizing anyone for wanting to enjoy a vacation –usually short– at a beach hotel due to lower prices. After all, shortages and discriminations for decades have created a thirst for consumption and pleasure in the Cuban population that manifests itself as soon as the luckier few have an opportunity to escape the everyday filth and misery for a few days.

So, the number of regular Cubans who regularly take advantage of all-inclusive packages has been creating a clientele that feeds on the assorted neo-affluent sectors, corresponding to the most diverse groups and backgrounds: owners and employees of private restaurants, professionals who often have foreign contracts, employees of “enterprises” and shops that operate in hard currencies, the managerial caste, and even black marketers. Everyone wants their piece of Varadero to live the illusion of “I can”, despite the sorrows. And, of course, “everyone stretches out his feet as far down the sheets as they will reach” like my granny used to say, so there are those who save all year to spend a couple of nights at a three-star hotel, up to those who visit a five-star hotel in the outlying resort islands several times a year. It is, definitely, the realization of a long-cherished dream.

Well, it turns out that this year the “offers” to Cubans have skyrocketed. According to an accredited source (with the obligatory reserve), although some press reports state that foreign tourist participation has increased, the truth is that, in order to increase their income and fulfill quotas, tourist operators have had to extend and enhance the offers that so many well-off Cubans purchase. Cubans also serve to fill the gaps, so they will continue to collect fees, making use of what was, until recently, taboo: enjoyment.

This is not disclosed in the press, but it is so. That’s why the media publishes an occasional report in the news and on the regular press where there is a reference to “Cuban workers who enjoy camping facilities and beaches and recreation centers”; but I am absolutely sure that they never have dedicated one to show wealthy Cubans basking in the sun at hotels in Varadero or the outlying islands: we all know that they have already decriminalized the differences among us, but they should not be displayed so brazenly. These are the conditions to enjoy the benefits of Raúl-type socialism, aren’t they?

Translated by Norma Whiting

22 August 2014