“I Only Know That I Am Afraid” / Tania Diez Castro / HemosOido

HAVANA, Cuba — For almost the first three years of his regime, Fidel Castro was not interested in Cuban intellectuals. He did not forgive their passivity during the years of revolutionary insurrection. They had not put bombs in the street, nor did they engage in armed conflict with the previous dictator’s police. Even those who lived abroad did not do anything for the revolutionary triumph. He never forgave them. Neither he nor other political leaders considered them revolutionaries either before or after the Revolution.

Che Guevara had left it written forever in his little Marxist manual Socialism and Man in Cuba: “The guilt of many of our intellectuals and artists resides in their original sin: they are not authentically revolutionary. We can try to graft the elm tree so that it will produce pears, but at the same time we must plant pear trees.”

But the pears that Che mentioned had nothing to do with human beings because an intellectual, writer or artist is characterized by his sensitivity, his pride, his sincerity. In general, they are solitary and proud.

But also they are, and that is their misfortune, an easy nut to crack, above all for a dictator with good spurs.

During those almost first three years of the Revolution, the most convulsive of the Castro regime — the number of those shot increased and the few jails were stuffed with more than 10,000 political prisoners — surely writers did not fail to observe how Fidel Castro was cracking the free press when after December 27, 1959, he gave the order to introduce the first “post-scripts” at the bottom of articles adverse to his government, supposedly written by the graphics workers.

It was evident that Fidel Castro, who controlled the whole country, did not want to approach them to fill leadership positions of cultural institutions founded by the regime, like the Institute of Art and Cinematographic Industry, House of the Americas, the Latin News Press Agency and numerous newspapers, magazines, and radio and television stations that were nationalized.

For minister of education he preferred Armando Hart. For the House of the Americas, a woman very far from being an intellectual, Haydee Santamaria.  For the Cuban Institute of Radio and Television, Papito Serguera, and for the Naitonal Council of Culture, Vicentina Antuna and Edith Garcia Buchaca, two women unknown in cultural domain.

The first approach that Fidel Castro had with writers, June 16, 1961, in the National Library of Havana, could not have been worse. It was there where he exclaimed his famous remark, “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing,” and where he made clear that those who were dedicated to Art had to submit themselves to the will of the Revolution, something that is still in force.

The maximum leader left that closed-door meeting more than pleased on seeing the expressions of surprise and fear of many of those present, and above all by the words of Virgilio Pinera, one of the most important intellectuals of the 20th century when he said: “I just know that I am scared, very scared.” That precisely was what the new Cuban leader most needed to hear from the intellectual throng: Fear, to be able to govern at his whim.

Two months later the Fist Congress of Cuban Writers and Artists was held, and UNEAC was founded.  The intellectuals had fallen into line.

If something was said about that palatial headquarters, property of a Cuban emigrant, it is that the Commandant was allergic to all who had their own judgment, and for that reason he would never visit it, as it happened.

It is remembered still today that in a public speech on March 13, 1966, he attacked the homosexuals of UNEAC, threatening to send them to work agriculture in the concentration camps of Camaguey province. The “Enlightened One,” as today the president of UNEAC Miguel Barnet calls the Cuban dictator, kept his word. Numerous writers and graphic artists found themselves punished with forced labor in the unforgettable Military Units to Assist Production — UMAP.

These Nazi-style units were created in 1964 and closed four years later after persistent international complaints. If anyone knew and knows still the most hidden thoughts of the intellectuals, besides their sexual intimacy, it is the Enlightened One, thanks to his army of spies, members of the political police who work in the shadows of the mansion of 17th and H, in the Havana’s Vedado where UNEAC put down roots.

In 1977, one cannot forget the most cruel and abominable blow that the Enlightened One directed against the writers of UNEAC when his army of political police extracted from the drawers of the headquarters the files of more than 100 members — among them was mine as founder — so that they were definitively and without any explanation separated from the Literature Section of that institution.

Cubanet, April 11, 2014

Translated by mlk.

Eleven Years Since the Baragua / Lilianne Ruiz

HAVANA, Cuba – On April 12, 2003, media throughout the world carried the news of the execution of three young Cubans for their involvement in the hijacking of the Regla-based boat “Baraguá.” They were trying to flee the country and get to the United States.

Leftist newspapers, sympathetic to the Cuban regime, tried to justify the act, writing: “the government wanted to strike at the roots of airplane and boat hijackings.” They admitted that the punishment was intended to send a message, meaning that none of the accused was entitled to a fair trial.

Some went further. Heinz Dieterich Steffan (who later became the ideologist of “Socialism of the XXI Century”), told on his website how the then-president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, was sending a message to the White House: “You have declared war and your first soldiers have fallen.” And he later added: “I want you to know how to interpret the message of the firing squad, so there is no more bloodshed.”

The executions occurred just over a week after the group of 11 young men, armed with a gun and a knife, had diverted the ferry some 30 miles offshore.

How did it all happen?

The hijackers, upon boarding the boat, fired a shot in the air and one yelled: “This is fucked! We’re going to the U.S.!” After 30 miles the fuel ran out and the boat drifted. The sea was very choppy, so in an act of tragic naivety they agreed to be towed to the port of Mariel with the promise that the authorities there would give them fuel.

They didn’t tie anyone up (as—according to family members of the accused—the prosecution claimed). If they had, how do you explain that upon arriving at Mariel some passengers, at a signal from security agents, jumped into the water? Enrique Copello Castillo, who tried to prevent one of the foreigners on board from escaping, had the gun. But he didn’t use it even when the situation got out of his control. This shows that he was not a criminal, just a young person desperate to reach the United States, in search of freedom and the chance for personal advancement.

On April 8, 2003, after a summary trial, the sentence was issued: Enrique Copello Castillo, Bárbaro L. Sevilla García, and Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac were condemned to death. The rest of those involved in the attempted hijacking were given prison sentences: life imprisonment for Harold Alcala Aramburo, Maykel Delgado Aramburo, Ramon Henry Grillo and Yoanny Thomas Gonzalez; 30 years for Ledea Wilmer Perez; and from 2 to 5 years for the women traveling with them.

In March of that same year, the government had jailed 75 human-rights activists, independent journalists, and political dissidents. These were in the Villa Marista prison when the hijackers were taken to that infamous headquarters of the  Cuban political police. Ricardo González Alfonso, the now-exiled independent journalist and one of the 75, has left behind a disturbing account of the last hours of Enrique Copello Castillo, who shared his cell.

The day of the trial, a State Security captain took him to an office to explain that, although they were seeking the death penalty for Copello Castillo, there was a chance he would not be executed. He therefore asked for González Alfonso’s cooperation in helping save the condemned man’s life if he tried to commit suicide. In light of what happened on April 11, when the condemned were taken before the firing squad without notice to their families, it can be interpreted that the captain was in charge of “supply”: he could not allow the scapegoats to escape their own sacrifice. How could they make an example of Copello Castillo if he had not attended his own execution?

Danger Zone

On San Francisco Street in Havana, between Jesus Peregrino and Salud streets, is the building where Bárbaro L. Sevilla García lived with his mother, Rosa Maria. Some neighbors remember what happened on April 11, 2003. The street was full of cars with military license plates from 6:00 am., forming a police blockade. Some women from the Interior Ministry knocked at the door of Rosa Maria to tell her that her 22-year-old son had been shot at dawn. The woman started screaming and ran out to the street naked, yelling the whole time: “Down with Fidel!” and “Murderers!” Afterward she was forced to leave the country, say the neighbors, who did not give their names for out of concern for their safety.

A short time later police began moving into the building on the corner, on Salud Street. Even today the area is considered “dangerous.” Neighbors also warned this reporter not to take pictures of the demolished middle balcony where the mother and her son lived, because the green building on the corner of  Jesús Peregrino is the DTI (Department of Technical Investigations), a division of the Interior Ministry.

They did not use explosives, but charge will be used in court

Why so much harshness and speed in the execution of punishment if there was no alleged injury or loss of life during the kidnapping? The lawyer Edilio Hernández Herrera, of the Cuban Legal Association (AJC, independent), has prepared a legal opinion that reveals how the law was broken in Case 17 of 2003.

The defendants were tried for the crime of Acts of Terrorism. Law No. 93 “Against terrorism” was published on December 24, 2001, in the Official Gazette.

In the opinion of Hernández Herrera, the portions of the law that apply to the crime committed would be Articles 14.1 and 16.1.a, pertaining to the taking of hostages and acts against the safety of maritime navigation. But the court sentenced the boys for acts that certainly did not happen. The other offense charged, from Articles 10 and 11.c, referred to “acts committed with explosives, chemical, biological or other substances.” With this they intended to justify the sentences of the death penalty and life imprisonment.

Martha Beatriz Roque Cabello, an economist and independent journalist, one of the political prisoners of the Case of the 75, shared a cell in Villa Maristas with Dania Rojas Gongora, age 17, who was on the boat. She was the girlfriend of Jorge Luis Martínez Isaac, who was shot. The girl told how another mother learned that her son had been shot the day she was to bring him toiletries. The last time Dania saw her boyfriend alive, one of the guards said sarcastically: “Plan now how many children you are going to have.”

Roque Cabello has no doubt in stating:

“The dictator Fidel Castro wanted blood. He was furious also because in the midst of this, sending the 75 political dissidents to prison was turning out to be a fiasco. That gained worldwide condemnation. It was his decision: execution and life imprisonment for these young people. So those who are now continuing to serve a life sentence are prisoners of Fidel Castro.

Cubanet, April 11, 2014, Lilianne Ruiz

Translated by Tomás A.

The Revolution’s Pensioners / Reinaldo Emilio Cosan Alen

HAVANA, Cuba.  Jose Manuel Rosado, 74 years of age, from Havana del Este, stands in line at four in the morning to be among the first to “fill up his checkbook.”

The bank opens at 8:30 for multiple transactions.  Many other people like Jose Manuel will wait patiently, on foot, whether in intense sun or cold and rain if it is winter, in order to cash their retirement.  Jose, his two-hundred forty pesos (ten dollars average), which will vanish in the first food purchases and payments for services.

Maria Victoria, 81 years old, stands in line in front of Branch 286 of the People’s Savings Bank — a state bank — in the San Miguel del Padron township:

“I retired at 65.  I was a cook in a business the last thirty.  I worked another eight years.  The money goes to deficient nutrition. I “resolved” my food at my work, do you understand, for my home.  Now I almost cannot walk because of my ulcerous legs, I am diabetic. I rent a pedicab to go get my cash. A dollar going, another returning. Fifty pesos spent, but it is dangerous to walk through broken, dark streets, exposed to robberies to go to the bank.”

She pays another fifty pesos monthly on installment for a bank loan for the purchase of her Chinese refrigerator. She has paid off five years, five are still left.

Build up for whatever official or individual management: mail, Currency Exchange, tax payment, liquidation sale and transfer of property and vehicles, fines, repayments, deposits, bonds, required seals–foreign and national currency–monthly payments for dwelling, loans retirement and pension payments. Craziness!

Pensioner Eloy Marante, 76 years old, pays triple the tax for his courier license. Day by day, he loads, transports and distributes gas cylinders to homes with his tricycle, in order to obtain a supplement for his lean pension.

“We run errands in the warehouse, attentive to if they are selling the piece of chicken allowed to those on a special “health diet.” We pay electricity, telephone, gas. We take the little kids to school and pick them up; take the snacks to the kids in high school, also we do favors for neighbors for a small tip. Jobs that the family throws to the old people. The worst: standing in unending lines to exchange bills for coins because business clerks and bus drivers say they don’t have change!  An fraud*,because the government does not demand responsibility. . .” says Jose Manuel.

Milagros Penalver, director of Budget Control for the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, says there are 672,568 retirees and pensioners out of 2,041,392 people over 70 years of age, according to the Population and Household Census of 2012.

Significant is the prediction by the Center for Population Studies and development of the National Office of Statistics: 33.9 percent of the population will be over six decades old in 2035.  The birthrate continues in permanent decline because of factors so adverse to procreation.

*Translator’s note: The fraud is refusing to give the customer coins and so the business or bus driver “keeps the change.”

cosanoalen@yahoo.com

Cubanet, April 11, 2014, Reinaldo Emilio Cosan Alen

Translated by mlk

Zunzuneo: Subversion or Breaking Censorship; / Odelin Alfonso Torna / HemosOido

HAVANA, Cuba — The Cuba-United States confrontation increased its pitch with the publication by the daily Granma of the article, Zunzuneo: The Noise of Subversion, commenting on a report by the AP news agency about ZunZuneo and Piramideo, two text message services (SMS) accused of having illegally complied a list of telephone numbers to which it sent unsolicited messages on innocent topics like sports and culture, but which later would become subversive messages to young people, considered “susceptible to political change.”

According to Granma, the cornerstone of the ZunZuneo plan — a network that emerged in February 2010 — was to access the “data and phone numbers of Cubacel users,” the branch with the most ETECSA users.  In the same paragraph, the Communist Party daily suggests: “It is not clear to the AP how the telephone numbers were obtained although it appears to indicate that it was done in an illicit manner.”

Maybe the AP does not know that the ETECSA database — guide of mobile and fixed (residential and commercial) telephone numbers — was leaked in early 2010 to laptop and desktop computers all over the Island.  And that, immediately, promotional texts began to appear issued by Cuban artistic groups or clubs and bulk messages — unsolicited — demanding freedom for the five Cuban spies.  I remember perfectly one that said:  ”To love justice is to defend the five.  End injustice!  Freedom now!”

The official ETECSA database is updated every year. The latest version that circulates in the population accounts for 60 per cent of the mobile phones, some 200,000 users, not counting the residential sector. The weight of this application in megabytes is between 200 and 450 (by design) and can be copied in any digital format.

Is it possible that ZunZuneo got 25 thousand subscribers in less than six months without the need of a database as the AP well reflects?  Why not talk about the so popular data leakage by ETECSA and the proselytizing in its unsolicited text messages?

Thanks to a friend not tied to the internal oppositon or independent journalism, I subscribed to ZunZuneo in 2010.  It was all very simple, it just required sending an SMS to a phone number outside the border and you would receive news about sports, culture or science or technology.  Also, one could subscribe on the Internet, at a time when the number of connected Cubans was barely 2.9 percent of the population.

Often senior citizens receive in Cuba promotional messages about a reggaeton concert, also the “March of the Torches Parade in Havana — The Great Country” is convened through Cubacel, as happened January 27 this year.  Is this not, perhaps, the equivalent of infringing on “the laws of privacy” as Granma says of ZunZuneo?

Nothing is said about the database leak by Cubacel, software that has generated groups of clandestine users and even phantom prepaid top-ups within the informal Cuban market.

This Thursday, the US government responded to the AP’s accusations. White House spokesman Jay Carney confirmed that his government was involved in the program and that it even had been approved in Congress. But the spokesman for the State Department, Marie Harf, denied on Thursday that the social network was the product of a secret or undercover operation. “We were trying to expand the space for Cubans to express themselves,” said Harf.For his part, White House spokesman Jay Carney denied that ZunZuneo had an undercover nature although he clarified that the US president supports efforts to expand communications in Cuba.

AP and international media that have reproduced the “scandal” of ZunZuneo should know that the ZunZuneo application never was used for any “subversive” movement in Cuba. Instead, the Cuban government used the ETECSA database to send text messages advocating the liberation of the five spies or the attendance at pro-governmental political events.

About a year ago, the ZunZuneo messages stopped. Cubans still do not communicate freely.

Cubanet, April 8, 2014

Translated by mlk

Police Sharks / Tania Diaz Castro

Osvaldo Brito, Valdy, with his Florida baseball cap – Photo Tania Diaz Castro

HAVANA, Cuba, April – Osvaldo Esteban Brito Amat is another of the many Cubans, mostly youngsters, who every day jump into the sea looking for a better future.

“And the sharks? Aren’t you afraid of them?” I asked him while he told me about what happened to him when he tried to get to the coast of the US for the second time.

“No way. If you don’t take any risks in life, you won’t achieve anything. The sharks here, on land, do you more harm. They go around dressed as policemen and they don’t let you live.”

Everyone calls him Valdy and he was born 41 years ago in Ben Tre, one of the various communities forming part of Bauta Council, in the province of Artemisa next to the city of Havana.

Because of his height, blue eyes and his build, Valdy could be taken for a North American in any place in the world, although the sun has darkened his skin and he speaks in a very Cuban manner.

He boasts of never having been a good example of a revolutionary, because from when he was a child he never felt anything in his heart when he was made to repeat every morning before starting his classes: “Pioneers of communism, we will be like Ché.” He says that nothing that you are forced to do can be sincere.

“I think that ever since I was born I have dreamed of living in the USA,” he tells me. “I didn’t try to go earlier because of my mother. I promised her not to do anything crazy like going in a very risky way. But my mother died a year ago. So now it won’t hurt her if the worst happens. And if I succeed in getting there I am sure she would be very happy.”

“In Ben Tre, that small village, where scarcely three hundred people lived, working on miserable little plots and in the poorest of living conditions, many people remember the former North American landowners there in the fifties of the last century, the good wages they paid to the workers, and how they lost their lands and they left the country when Fidel Castro disappropriated them without offering any compensation.

“It’s the second time I have jumped into the sea, hardly ten days ago, at El Salado beach, at Baracoa. I was a kilometer from the Florida coast. I could almost smell Miami. I felt so happy to be able to open my eyes and try to make out its lights from afar. But they caught us. There were several of us, all youngsters and we almost cried when we saw the US coastguards’ boats on top of us.

“They treated us well. With respect. Just as the Cuban authorities did. They only asked us why did we want to leave. I told them the truth: because I don’t like socialism. I am a bird with four wings who wants to fly to liberty. To earn money by working, not looking for handouts offered by the Cuban government.

“I work for myself. I sell meat and pigs’ trotters, sausages, and some fruit, from my horse and cart; what I get from the community in order to earn an honest living. But that’s a criime in Cuba. That’s why I am familiar with jail. I am very familiar with it without being a criminal.”

“Of course I will try again. As they say, third time lucky.”

He showed me the baseball hat with Florida on it which they gave him in the US boat. For him it’s a trophy for his heroic act of confronting the sharks in the middle of the night. I ask him if he doesn’t think that they deserve to be welcomed into that great country and he looks at me with his deep blue eyes, filled with tears.

Cubanet, 8 April 2014

Translated by GH

Dad, I Want to Go to La Yuma* / Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Josué Colomé Vázquez, son of Cuba’s Minister of the Interior. Photo from Josué’s Facebook page.

Havana, Cuba – It’s not too surprising that a son of Cuba’s Minister of the Interior recently arrived in the U.S. to stay. Josué Colomé–as this immigrant is named–is not the first descendent of a high official of the regime who decided to leave for “enemy” lands, and so join the thousands of Cubans who arrive in the United States each year in search of opportunity. It’s obvious that the Revolution that dad helped make isn’t good enough. Not even for him.

His father, General Abelardo Colomé Ibarra, is one of the historic leaders of the Cuban dictatorship. He serves in a key position, given that he’s the guardian of State Security, in charge of administering the repressive forces, watching friends and enemies alike, as well as executing exemplary sentences. That is, the largest jailer on the island-prison. The job of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) one of the strongest currencies that sustains the regime: fear. The heads of this institution have always been dark characters who enjoy the greatest confidence of the Supreme Leader. MININT is the principle guarantor of the Cuban government (that is the Castro brothers) to exercise their absolute power.

Thus, although not unique, it’s a singular case of apostasy. The son of the General, who now awaits his residency in the U.S., is one of the few who know first hand the intimacies of the governmental summit. Josué has lived among luxuries and complete indifference, and could stay in Cuba enjoying his surname. However, he preferred to abandon ship.

But that’s not the most striking thing: his father having ears that hear everything, it’s tempting to wonder about the following: Did the General know that his son was preparing to escape? Did the chief of MININT participate in the plan in some way, or knowing it, did he look the other way?

It’s hard not to suspect it. The Cuban Minister of the Interior could sin at anything, but not naivete. It may never be clear what, if any, degree of involvement did the Cuban official have in the happy journey? Perhaps it’s not a crazy assumption that the young Josué, now a refugee in the USA (waiting on the Cuban Adjustment Act), had the help of his powerful father to get to his destination through a third country. Then, the “killer” Adjustment Law would have been very good for the family interests of the representative of the regime.

General and Minister of the Interior Abelardo ColoméIbarra with Raul Castro. Photo from Internet

General and Minister of the Interior Abelardo Colomé Ibarra with Raul Castro. Photo from Internet

*Translator’s note: “La Yuma” is what Cubans call the United States and other foreign countries.

Cubanet, 7 April 2014, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

The Difficult Task of Eating Lunch and Dinner / Leon Padron Azcuy

HAVANA Cuba – Imagining a Cuban nutritionist in a health centre is like flying a kite without air. Given the general scarcities, these specialists in healthy eating, in their efforts to propose adequate diets to patients with obesity, high cholesterol or diabetes, have to act as circus magicians.

How can anybody guide you on what to eat to improve your health when you can’t obtain essential foods such as milk, beef, fish, seafood, when malangas (a kind of sweet potato) are available occasionally and potatoes are unobtainable?

Carmen, a nutrition specialist in various hospitals, finds her work makes her sad. “We all know what deficiencies we have to put up with. It pains me to see the looks on the faces of the old people who ask what they should eat, and complain about the impossible prices of fish, a pineaple, or oranges, from the healthy eating suggestions I give them so that they can recover their good heath”, she told me.

Most people – Carmen included – can’t afford fruit, on their miserable incomes. Imagine an old lady whose social security payment doesn’t even allow her to buy medicines, or a single mother without economic support from her child’s father.

Worthless junk food

A balanced diet is necessary to control certain conditions, but it’s also necessary to maintain your health. The worthless junk food eaten by Cubans is really an insult to the palate, is responsible for the small stature of today’s kids, the early loss of teeth, and the use of canes on the part of many under-70’s, due to deterioration in their bones.

It’s impossible to avoid catching diseases, when we are eating our monthly ration of “enriched mince*” (whose ingredients no-one knows), the little bit of chicken you get when there isn’t any fish; and other “leftovers”, dating back to the 90’s, of the notorious Special Period**, which never ends.

Who would tell the Cubans of the island that their food would be much worse than the diet the 18th and 19th century colonist farmers gave their slaves? In the plantation barracks they did not go without dried beef, bacalao (a type of fish), beef, milk and other valuable nutrients.

The 1842 rules regarding slaves specified that the masters must give their slaves two or three meals a day, with eight ounces (230 gm) of meat, dried beef or bacalao, and 4 ounces (115 gm) of rice or other kind of grain, accompanied by 6 or 8 plantains every day, or their equivalent in sweet potatoes, yams, yuccas or other types of tubers.***

Before 1959, the chef Nitza Villapol, became popular with her television recipes Cooking by the Minute. Later, in order to survive in the revolution, Villapol (by then a party militant) adapted her recipes to fit what you received in your meagre ration card. And ended up offering a recipe for “grapefruit steak”.

Even our very own Fidel Castro didn’t escape the temptation of offering cooking recipes. He recommended Cubans to drink some milk with a little bar of chocolate. It seemed like a joke: “what chocolate, and what milk?” asked the desperate mothers at home, who did not know what to dream up to feed their kids.

It’s absurd that the government can’t guarantee every citizen a glass of milk, and doesn’t allow Cubans to set up private businesses to supply milk and meat. It’s hypocrisy to blame the low livestock output on theft of cattle, when it is nothing else but another product of our misery.

What can we look forward to? Today’s slave-owners refuse to relax the state monopoly, the reason why Cubans can’t enjoy a balanced diet. What can Carmen, the nutritionist, say to the elderly person lacking in vitamins who asks her what should I have for lunch and dinner?

Leonpadron10@gmail.com

Translator’s notes:
*”Mince” refers to “minced meat” which, in Cuba is likely to be a “mystery substance” rather meat.
** Fidel Castro coined the term a “special period in times of peace” to refer to the time after the collapse of the Soviet Union when the sudden loss of the USSR’s financial subsidy plunged Cuba into a severe economic crisis
***Source:
El Ingenio, Manuel Moreno Fraginals

Cubanet, 4 April 2014

Translated by GH

Artists on the General’s Farm / Camilo Ernesto Olivera

HAVANA, CUBA.  Each day we awaken, and the dinosaur is still here.  The delegates of the National Union of Cuban Writers and Artists (UNEAC) will meet with the master generals of the island-farm on the 11th, 12th and 13th of this month.

In the tedious lines that the UNEAC members stand in for the Internet, in the navigation room “LaJungla.com,” the commentary is acid.  The lack of respect for them and the dismissal of their opinions on the part of the institution’s leadership is evident.  The creators are losing their fear of saying what they feel and think:

“I am shocked to hear (Miguel) Barnet speaking of UNEAC as the spiritual vanguard of the country,” a young playwright said to this reporter, “in reality this is no more than a playpen where an aging, conformist and reactionary intellectual majority is huddled.  They are more afraid of losing perks than contributing to the Battle of Ideas in the last decade.”

“After seeing the way that the pre-Congress meetings were held, what I hope for is another act of revolutionary reaffirmation,” added the playwright, “the only agreement that is going to be reached here is summed up in this sentence:  ’Tell Raul Castro what he wants to hear, and maybe he will listen.’  On the general’s farm, intellectuals are like toilet paper, always disposable although politically correct.”

The younger members are refusing to accept the closed atmosphere that is breathed.  The taking of certain positions of power within the institution on the part of people with a prefabricated curriculum is also a striking fact.  Their labor is focusing on dividing and disrupting thought that is critical of the system.  They are the cultural police watching the members and reporting to their superiors:

“They are infiltrating their acolytes into disaffected groups in order to learn what is said and rewarding them under the table for the confidential information,” said a poet who requested anonymity.  ”It is a watered down version, subtle, of the atmosphere that was breathed here in the ’70’s, which does not stop being worrying.”  They are playing old and gray cards, applying the Zhadanoviano method of the so-called black lists.  Manipulating the membership with floodgate mechanisms for access to or refusal of the rewards, incentives or other perks.”

The calamitous state in which the majority of cultural institutions find themselves, a situation that is worse in towns in the interior of the island, is a fact:  Theaters and culture centers falling down.  Influence peddling, money embezzled by programmers hiring Reagetton artists who, in their turn, pay a percentage “under the table.”  Radio and television censorship.  Salaries that do not go far…

UNEAC-PEÑA-DE-POESIA-Copy1“You cannot promote culture on an empty stomach,” said a promoter from Bayamo.  ”In my city they closed the visual arts school, and the art instructors’ buildings are full of leaks.”  I mentioned to her the promotional poster for the congress and the sentence by Fidel Castro that appears on it:  Culture is the first thing we must save, and she responded:  ”The country’s culture is not saved with a putrid ideology, it is saved with a strong and well run economy.  And for there to be an economy, there must be free enterprise, opportunities to invest and prosper for those within and outside of the country.”

The future of UNEAC as a historic dam or fence to control the artistic herd is in doubt.  Another intellectuality is being born from the wreckage of fear, and it is approaching the vilified borders of political dissidence.  Although in this 8th Congress of UNEAC, the intellectuals are like toilet paper, always disposable.

Cubanet, April 3, 2014, Camilo Ernesto Olivera Peidro

Translated by mlk.

Spider’s Web to Trap Investors / Miriam Celaya

Dilma Rousseff and Fidel Castro

HAVANA, Cuba – Some 53 years, 5 months and 17 days after the publication of Law 890, which provided for the expropriation of many locally owned and foreign firms, principally American, the regime just introduced the new Foreign Investment Law that goes into effect in 90 days.

The new ordinance replaces the norms in effect since 1995, when the sharpest and longest economic crisis suffered by the country forced the country to turn to foreign capital investments in Cuba, despite the purest principles of the Communist doctrine in which several generations have been (de)formed at the hands of this government. By then, some foreign businessmen were tempted to ensure themselves a space in the virgin market, while others discovered the a true tax haven in the Caribbean socialist inferno.

These capitalist outposts gave the regime the oxygen needed to overcome the imminent asphyxiation, and also made possible Castro I’s backing off from the “opening” that had allowed the return of small private property in the form of some family businesses–such as snack bars, restaurants and rooms for rent, among others–that had rapidly expanded throughout the island from the beginning of the 90s.

Cuba ‘s National Assembly votes in unison like a chorus of stringed puppets

Now that foreign capital has ceased to be an evil that must be overcome by socialism and has been converted into a “necessary good” called on to boost the always promised and never reached “economic development of the country” (Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), Sunday 30 March 2014).

It’s here that, among the surprises that the updating of the Raulist model holds for us, Powerful Mr. Money is destined to facilitate “the consolidation of Cuban socialism,” which this time–yes, now!–will be “prosperous and sustainable, thanks to that formerly demonized capital. That other ancient bearded one, Karl Marx, must be turning in his grave.

Retrospective: the negation of capital

In 1960, Article 1 of Law 890 declared: Nationalization is carried out through the forced expropriation of all industrial and commercial businesses, as well as factories, warehouses, deposits and other properties and members’ rights of the same.

The mega port of Mariel

Under this law, the state appropriated 105 sugar mills, 18 distilleries, 6 alcoholic beverage factories, 6 soap and perfume factories, 5 dairies, 2 chocolate factories, one flour mill, 7 packaging factories, 4 paint factories, 3 chemical producers, 6 metallurgists, 7 stationary makers, a lamp factory, 60 textile and apparel industries, 16 rice mills, 7 food factories, 2 vegetable oil makers, 47 food stores, 11 coffee roasters, 3 drug stores, 13 department store, 8 railroads, a printer, 11 cinemas and film circuits, 19 construction-related companies, a power company and 13 shipping companies.

In subsequent months the expropriations continued, given that the Revolutionary government had decided to “adopt formulas that finally liquidated the economic power of the privileged interests that conspire against the people, proceeding to the nationalization of the large industrial and commercial companies that have not adapted nor can ever adapt to the Revolutionary reality of our nation.”

Another image of the mega port of Mariel

 

Spider Web to trap the unwary

At present no one seems to remember the aforementioned Law 890. Nor do they allude to the fiasco of the entrepreneurs who dared to negotiate with the Castros in the 90s and suffered great material and financial losses in the adventure. Few earned the expected profits, much less kept their businesses on the island. It’s not known if there were indemnifications, although there were definitely damages to public opinion from the irresponsible actions of so many foreign investors and of the Cuban authorities. The government has not publicly acknowledged responsibility for its mistakes, and on the other hand, we Cubans have not seen the benefits from theses inflows of capital. Nothing guarantees we will realize them with the new legislation, the greatly over-used “judicial guarantees” are not for us.

Self-employed Cubans struggling to survive between legality and the black market

The rights and benefits of Cuban workers were also enunciated: “There will not be free contracting of a labor force, so the figure of the employing entity will be maintained, the wages will be conditional upon the labor supplied, efficiency, and the value added that the company generates.” Furthermore, “The payment of the workforce will be negotiated between the employing entity and the foreign capital company.”

Thus, the State-Government, as the “employing entity,” will continue to be the owner and the Cuban employees the rented slaves, a detail that should serve to alert potential employers, given that the chronic low wages is the best incentive for theft and other forms of corruption, common among us as illegal, but legitimate, methods of survival.

The new Foreign Investment Law has not yet been published or circulated as a draft in tabloid form in recent days, so that the exact terms of its text, considerations for parties, etc. are unknown. However, it is expected to suffer some modifications to suit the needs of investors interested in trading in Cuba. The cupola will have to cede or pass away, but it will certainly seek huge profits.

It simply remains to be seem how many unsuspecting entrepreneurs fall this time in the murky legal webs of Castrolandia. Forgive me if I don’t wish them success.

* Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba (Special Edition Havana, Thursday Oct. 13, 1960, Year LVIII, Vol Fortnightly, No. XIX).

Cubanet, 4 April 2014, Miriam Celaya

Our Potato Who Art in Heaven / Orlando Freire Santana

HAVANA, Cuba — Prices of agricultural products have increased between 15 and 25 percent in recent months. An unsustainable burden if we take into account the population’s salaries. The price increase coincides with new forms of marketing. It turns out that the mechanism for bringing producers and consumers closer and eliminating intermediaries set off prices.

It was obvious: An official research center decides to cast aside marketing analysis and concentrates on production.

Armando Nova Gonzalez, researcher for the Cuban Economic Studies Center, told the Tribuna de la Havana newspaper: The levels of production should have increased with the transfer of idle lands to lease-holders. But it has not been so because of how expensively the State sells tools and adequate inputs to the lease-holders in order to make the land produce, among other reasons. Continue reading

Cuba for Foreigners / Miriam Celaya

HAVANA, Cuba – On Saturday 29 March 2014 the Cuban Parliament “will debate” in a special session period the new Foreign Investment Law, another desperate attempt by the regime to attract foreign businessmen who choose to risk their capital and ships where those of others have already been shipwrecked.

This time the scenario and the circumstances are markedly different from the decades of the 90s, when the fragile and dependent Cuban economy touched bottom and the government had no other alternative but to reluctantly open it to foreign capital, creating then a Foreign Investment Law that granted some legitimacy and limited guarantees for investors.

Hugo Chavez’s rise to power in Venezuela at the end of this same decade came to the rescue of the regime with new subsidies that allowed backtracking on the opening to capital and the small private family businesses that arose in the midst of the privations of the period.

Paradoxically, 15 years later, the critical socio-economic and political situation in Venezuelan situation, which threatens to collapse the Bolivarian project, once again closing the sources nourishing the Cuban government, strongly affects a new search for foreign capital because this is the only way the system will survive, but the investors are reluctant and skeptical given the absence of a legal framework to protect the invested capital.

It is rumored that the recent visit of José Ignacio Lula Da Silva to Cuba , concerned about the risk of elevated investments from Brazil and the delay of the government of the Island in updating the Foreign Investment Law, was the definitive touch that made the Cuban cupola decide to push its approval, postponed several times. There are also unofficial rumors about the freezing the Brazilian investments in the Mariel Special Development Zone, and the approval of new credit to the Cuban side, until there are adequate legal safeguards. The agreements are no longer based in solidarity, but rather on purely capitalist financial and commercial relations.

Propaganda at the Recent International Trade Fair of Havana

The new Foreign Investment Law in progress, therefore, is to “strengthen the guarantees of the investors,” while it “also contemplates the total tax credits and exemptions in determined circumstances, was well an increased flexibility with regards to customs, to encourage investment,” according to the statements from José Luis Toledo Santander, president of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly of People’s Power which, “deals with the Constitutional and Legal Affairs,” (Granma, Saturday March 17, 2014, page 3), elements not covered in the Law.

Also the high official declared that the draft presented to the deputies,”established the priority character of foreign investment in almost all sectors of the economy, particularly those related to production.” Clearly, a self-employed person is not the same thing as a capitalist entrepreneur, in case anyone had any doubts.

In the preparatory process, which according to the official press has been developing throughout the country, participating along with the deputies have been “specialists, functionaries from the municipal and provincial governments, representatives of international legal consultants and consultants from important businesses; in general people who could support the discussion.” (Emphasis by this author.) A plot behind closed doors of which some harmless notes have reached the national media, but the common people are nothing more than this conglomerate of spectators incapable and prevented from making some “contribution” and should swallow the pill as the olive-green filibusters stipulate.

The “main concerns and contributions of the deputies” in the so-called process of analysis and discussion of the draft on the Island revolved around “the labor rights of the Cubans who work on these projects, the terms for the investment and the protection of the National Patrimony,” omitting the fundamental question: the privileging of foreigners over what should be the national rights of Cubans. A details that recalls that “Carolina Black Code” that in 1842 recognized the doubtful rights and privileges of slaves such as corporal punishment not exceeding 25 lashes, and the prize of freedom in exchange for the betrayal of fellow slaves.

Almost 40 years of experience in parliamentary simulations allow us to anticipate that, like all the previous laws “discussed,” this one will also be unanimously approved by the choir of ventriloquists from the from the orchestra seats in the headquarters of the farce, the Palace of Conventions, on March 29th. For now, many of the parliamentarians have conceded that the new Law “is in complete harmony” with the economic adjustments drive by the General-President in his process of updating the model, another experiment that—indeed—will allow him, through capital, through capital, the solving of the ever pressing problems of building socialism.

Miriam Celaya

28 March 2014

Fidel is a talented, egotistical guy who hates the Cuban people / Augusto Cesar San Martin

Huber Matos, photo by Augusto César San Martín

Huber Matos, photo by Augusto César San Martín

Havana, Cuba — Hubert Matos is a symbol of the struggle against the tyranny that has dominated Cuba since 1959.

As an admirer of his rebelliousness and perseverance — something that characterized him until he drew his last breath — I resolved during my visit to the United States in January of last year not to go home without interviewing him.

We quickly settled on a date for the interview, arranged by Cuba Independent and Democratic (CID), an organization that he founded to bring freedom to his homeland.

With the help of a 17-year-old student, Christopher Campa, to capture the images of the meeting — he filmed unedited images — we’ll see three generations in his house in Miami. The same home which welcomed him on October 2, 1979, coming from Costa Rica, to where he was exiled by Fidel Castro, and in which country he asked for his body to be temporarily interred, before being placed to rest in Cuba some day.

Huber Matos gave us four hours of his precious time to explore his indefatiguable life, which he committed fully to Cuba.

Before his physical loss, we forwarded Cubanet fragments of the interview, taking notes of the transcription of the video.

Cubanet: I understand that your name has something to do with the life you have lived.

Huber Matos: “The first thing you should know, or the most important in my life, is that they gave me a name the kids said was unique — “Where did they get that name Huber from?”

“Before I was born, my father read a book by a Swiss-German researcher, biologist and naturalist named Francisco Huber. I used to say, “What does that have to do with me?” The man was blind by the time he began studying the lives of honeybees. He spent twenty years studying the subject with the help of two assistants and wrote the most definitive book of its era on the subject.

“That persistence, that strong will of that man… that means you have to be strong inside,” said my father. And that’s how me raised me.

Christopher Campa, Huber Matos and Augusto Cesar in Huber’s garden.

“One cannot soften oneself, one cannot allow oneself to be defeated by adverse circumstances … The life of a human being has one principal function that goes beyond saving one’s skin.

“So I owe a lot to my parents and teachers. It is not happenstance that I could withstand 20 years in prison. Of course, there’s the luck factor. If, in those beatings they give … once they almost split me. They made deep scars on my neck area.

Cubanet: But you also trained values as a part of the Cuban magisterium.

HM: “I spent years training teachers in the normal school in Manzanillo. We were some 20 professors training teachers, from the first year though the fourth. Trying, not only to give them knowledge, but also to train conscience in my case.

“I told them: The Republic is an entity that must be built day by day. Each of you has a role to play, not only to teach reading and writing, and teaching arithmetic … helping to train the citizen in the field which corresponds to him. Help form a conscience.

“As a youth I was afraid of prison. Once they condemned a relative to one year, 8 months and 21 days because he’d taken a girl and didn’t want to marry her. He asked me to visit him in prison. “Cousin, get me out of here”, I told him, “this is insufferable”. Afterwards I had to tolerate 20 years in prison.

Cubanet: You were incarcerated due to a sinister and vengeful trial during the beginning of the Revolution. Linked to events like the death of Camilo Cienfuegos, one of the dark chapters of the revolution. Do you feel hatred towards the Castros, declared enemies of yours since then?

HM: “With all certainty, I tell you in a very sincere way, the question of hatred no, it’s a rejection and some unsettled scores. But I subordinate that of the unsettled scores to the harm I’ve done to them and they are doing to Cuba. In my personal order of things, I’ve overcome all they’ve done to me.

“When I left a free man, I could have accepted recognition at the international level. Afterwards, when I wrote my book, I noted that in my story.

“Right now they’ve called me to Mexico to recognize me as a Hero of Freedom in America”, I told myself “Boy, I didn’t expect this … I think this is beyond my rights, what I deserve.”

“Anyway, I think that in some form it’s a recognition of the demand of the Cuban people for respect of their rights. I try to cover the unsettled account (with the government) with the Cuban people.

“The Castros killed Camilo. I have no proof, but I know that Fidel had tremendous jealousy of Camilo, for his popularity. He wasted no opportunity in the months I was in office, from 1 January (1959) until 21 October, which was when I resigned, to impress me with Camilo.

“Fidel traveled all the provinces twice. I was the boss in Camaguey. No two weeks passed without Fidel calling to tell me something … the two (Fidel and Raul Castro) were determined he’d form some part of the government, or perhaps the Minister of Foreign Relations, or Minister of Agriculture, at the beginning, when they were talking of agrarian reform. In all their conversations with me they were always trying to impress me with Camilo.

“Camilo was a guy the people applauded, but he was disorganized, drunken … I was Camilo’s friend, and I’d tell him: “Take care, you know that Fidel eulogizes you in public, but in private he says nasty things about you.” Camilo didn’t put much stock in that.

“They took advantage under cover of my resignation to see if my people were trying to kill Camilo. Afterward, they took advantage of my situation to eliminate him.

“How they killed him, I don’t know. That which I do know is that they killed the pilot and bodyguard. I can’t affirm how they killed him because I don’t have the evidence. Camilo got in the way of Fidel’s popularity.”

Cubanet: Have you been afraid?

HM: “I’ve been lucky to be a man who doesn’t scare easily. In more difficult situations, I haven’t backed down.

“At my sentencing, I was convinced they were going to shoot me, they were going to shoot me for proclaiming my truth. If they didn’t shoot me, it was because they made a mistake. They brought a lot of people to encourage my execution, so they would shout “To the wall!”, and it happened that when I stopped speaking, they applauded me. And they applauded me because I said: “Okay, if with my death the true Cuban Revolution is saved and the republic is saved, then blessed be my death.”

Cubanet: You know intimately the how attached the Castros are to power. Do you think Raul has the will to change?

HM: “A change to survive them. One always has to expect the chance of deceit, of the trap. Because they’re two individuals who, although they differ much in their personalities, they team up to scam the rest. To deceive the rest and leave with what’s theirs.

“Fidel is a talented guy, an egomaniac who with all certainty harbors a tremendous hatred of the Cuban people, which no one can explain. He hates and detests everything that is not in his self-interest. His taste for dominion and power traps all mankind.

“Raul is very careful to make sure of this and that, he’s organized. Fidel is chaos.

“They’re being flexible in matters of maneuvering here and there, but if they find a seriously adverse situation, they will ensure it’s invented on the way. That is Raul Castro, in my manner of seeing, the man I know and have known through his pronouncements.”

Cubanet: If I told you to send a message to the new generations of Cubans, what would you say?

HM: “That it’s worth it to make the maximum effort to implement the ideals of the founders of the Cuban nation. In a true republic, as Marti said, “with everyone and for the good of everyone”.

“What exist and what the Castros have imposed on us is something, but not a republic. The opposite of the ideals that inspired the mambises, the founders of the Cuban nation. This one (Castro) has a fiefdom, a whorehouse, a colony, a farm — something — but not a republic.

“The compromise with the founders of the Cuban nation and the compromise with the values that inspired them is permanent. Service to collectivity.

“I trust in that. I don’t know if it will take us 20, 15, or 100 years more to achieve a real republic. It’s worth the trouble to make the maximum effort for that achievement.”

Cubanet: Does Huber Matos still have things to do?

HM: Before I die, although one never knows if death will come tomorrow or the day after, I have to write a few more things. I’m taking it from there. I can’t afford to fool myself, 94 years isn’t a very short time.

“I wrote the book How the Night Came; now I have to write how we want the dawn to come out.

“I still have a little understanding, but doubtlessly the almanacs are respectable.”

Cubanet, 28 February 2014. 

Translated by: JT