Setting the Record Straight* / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

“Sin embargo” (literally “without embargo”) means “however” in Spanish. Image: http://youngsday.com/

In recent years, every time the issue of Cuba comes up, whether in relation to the transition to democratic freedoms or to other topics of a political nature, from any place in the world, our repressed national island passions are unleashed. It doesn’t matter whether it’s about a concert at the Civic Plaza** in Cuba, such as the one held in 2009 by Juanes and other artists, or, as now, it’s about a letter with proposals to the President of the United States on Economic Issues.

The reactions for and against, beyond the extremes, show a plurality of opinions from Cuba’s emerging civil society. And this is logical, since democracy is essential plural, as the peaceful opposition is plural, in opposing the only thought embodied by the half century military dictatorships that remains in power in Cuba.

The letter referenced, signed by forty Cuban and American personalities based outside the island, invited President Barack Obama to east some of the restrictions imposed by the American embargo on Cuba. This set of long-standing laws, in our opinion and in the opinion of the majority of the countries of the international community, have been counterproductive for the Cuban people in every sense, justifying and strengthening in different ways the human rights violations of the Castro dictatorship, such that maintaining it is a difficult case to defend. Continue reading

Community of Latin America and Caribbean States / Rafael León Rodríguez

Image from http://www.adelante.cu/

The Second CELAC Summit ended in Havana this January 29th with more pain for Cuban protestors and the population than glories for the anti-democratic authorities, despite the praise received by the hosts of the for the most part satisfied and grateful visitors from Latin America and the Caribbean.

A few leaders from the hemisphere saved the dignity of democracy and in their speeches valued the human rights of all and for all. But the highest note hit in this regard was that of the Secretary General of the United Nations, his excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon, during a press conference, in which he pointed out some details of his conversations with the patriarchs of the island. In these, he said, he referred to the ratification of the United Nations Covenants on civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights by the Cuban government, who already signed them in 2008, and invited them to advance the theme of human rights in general.

The estimable presidents, prime ministers and Heads of Delegations at the meeting forgot, apparently, that on 11 September 2001, in Lima, Peru, the representatives of their governments in those moments, signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which in its Article 3 states:

“There are essential elements of representative democracy, among others, with respect to human rights and fundamental freedoms; the access to power and its exercise and its exercise within the rule of law; the celebration of regular, free, fair elections, based on universal and secrete suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people; the plural regime of political parties and organizations; and the separation and independence of the public powers.”

It is not a coincidence that the Cuban regime is the only one among the 33 that make up CELAC that doesn’t recognize the political opposition in Cuba; discriminated against those who disagree with its authoritarian practices; arbitrarily detains peaceful opponents; violates the rights of assembly and peaceful association, among many others and maintains a real totalitarian power over society. The members of CELAC call this permissibility “unity in diversity” to save the consequent ignominy.

Another intelligent and interesting figure used in the statements and in the founding texts of CELAC, to justify the status quo of some undemocratic regime participants is that of “non-interference,” which on occasion converts, somehow “respectful of the sovereignty of others” into complicity with totalitarian states. Thus, in the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, in point 3 it points out:

“The commitment of the States of the region in strict compliance with their obligation not to intervene, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs any other state and observe the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights and self-determination of peoples. “

Some sectors of Cuban civil society wanted to conduct a meeting where citizens of different political viewpoints would analyze the founding documents of  CELAC. This has not been possible, to date, because of the action of the political police. If the authorities of the island, as would be logical, issued the Declaration of Havana in full, so that it could become known by Cuban citizens, then we, the opponents, would have one more document to discuss and on which to rule democratically. Let no one doubt it.

1 February 2014

To the Sound of Canons / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

The new year 2014 was welcomed in Havana by the sound of canons. Twenty-one of them, so that the recent arrival would experience its first fright. In other parts of the globe, the authorities and the citizens welcomed it with fireworks, parties, hymns and songs. But here, to reaffirm that the old soldiers prefer old canons, pointed those from the La Cabaña fort, as always, at the city.

2013 left us in a December marked by the physical passing of Nelson Mandela, the South African Madiba who, after long suffering, finally rested. The official ceremony for his death coincided with the celebration of Human Rights Day. The football stadium in Johannesburg wasn’t big enough for the thousands of compatriots and representatives from all the world who went to pay a well-deserved tribute.

In heartfelt words, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, said there, “Mandela hated hatred. Mandela loved peace. Mandela showed a great capacity to forgive. It is everyone’s job to keep Mandela’s memory alive in our hearts.”

In Cuba this past month witnessed the unusual first non-unanimous public vote in the National Assembly. Probably responding to a script prepared in advance, but even so, it was interesting. The general-president had repeatedly referred to the need to end the formal unanimity of voting in the Assembly. But it was difficult for some deputy from his or her own free will to take the initiative. And this is because, lamentably, there still do not exist in this Assembly deputies who represent themselves.

The new labor code was approved by this legislature, giving the green light to the 20th Congress of the official Cuban Workers Center (CTC). As always, everything was approved, among which was the budget for the current year, 2014.

Now in this year, during the commemoration of the 55th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution, celebrated in Santiago de Cuba on January 1, the general-president said in his speech “and I quote”: (…) to directly consult with the population on decisions for the development of society… “end of quote.”

So we ask ourselves: Why not consult with the people in a plebiscite about whether they prefer a multi-party system to the dictatorship of a single political party? And if, as he reaffirmed, this continues to be a revolution of the humble, for the humble and by the humble, presumably, as in al lthese years, some humble will continue being more humble than others, some equals more equal than others.

As so to begin this new year, we have the government declaration that the Revolution continues with more of the same after 55 years and, to ratify it, the police arrested several people from civil society for attempting to give toys to children on Three Kings Day.

What else could we expect after that twenty-one gun salute from the canons of yore.

7 January 2014

Humanitarian Demand / Rafael León Rodríguez

  1. In recent weeks we have heard some information in the United States media about the possibility of selling medicines produced in Cuba in that country, particularly Heberprot-P, a drug for the treatment of diabetic foot. On the other hand, the Cuban authorities continue to express themselves about the obstacles facing them in buying certain medications and medical instruments produced in the US, due to the restrictions occasioned by the politics of the US embargo on the island.
  2. There are different opinions about this issue, both for and against, dismissing the urgencies of those priorities which should be considered: the diabetics in the United States who could be treated with Heberprot-P avoiding, in some cases, dangerous amputations of their extremities, and of patients in Cuba who can’t access treatments to cure them or to improve their quality of life because some medications and specialized instruments produced in the U.S. can not be purchased by Cuba.
  3. Faced with any discussion on this issue, it is important to take into account Articles 12 and 15 of the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the “Declaration on the Use of Scientific and Technological Progress in the Interests of Peace and for the benefit of humanity,” among other things.
  4. For all these reasons, the undersigned, Cubans and Cuban Americans, members of independent civil society and citizens in general, affirm our determination to support, from a vision of respect for human rights, the possible analysis that would permit the expansion of everything related to scientific exchanges in the areas of drug development and medical techniques. Also, the marketing of medicines and specialized instruments for these purposes, in order to meet the medical care needs of people who need to be treated in both countries.

Julio Aleaga Pesant — Independent Journalist
Hildebrando Chaviano Montes — Independent Journalist
Manuel Cuesta Morúa — Progressive Arc
Siro del Castillo Domínguez — Solidarity with Cuban Workers
Gisela Delgado Sablón — Independent Libraries
Eduardo Díaz Fleitas — Pinar del Rio Democratic Alliance
Reinaldo Escobar Casas — Independent Journalist
René Hernández Bequet — Cuban Christian Democratic Party
Rafael León Rodríguez — Cuba Democracy Project
Susana Más Iglesias — Independent Journalist
Eduardo Mesa — Emmanuel Mounier Center
Marcelino Miyares Sotolongo — Cuban Christian Democratic Party
Héctor Palacios Ruiz — Liberal Union of the Republic of Cuba
Oscar Peña — Cuban Pro Human Rights Movement
Pedro Pérez Castro — Solidarity with Cuban Workers
Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado — Cuba Democracy Project
Wilfredo Vallín Almeida — Cuban Law Association

21 November 2013

Oscar Espinosa Chepe / Rafael Leon Rodriguez


Imagen from: http://www.aktuality.sk/

I met Chepe one afternoon when we both just happened to be at the home of Elizardo Sanchez. It was the end of the decade of the ’90s of the last century, and our organization, the Cuban Democracy Project, along with others of various political stripes, were working to put together a program of economic, social and political openings, called “Common Platform.”

This, once it was completed, was sent to Cuban governemnt authorities propsing to them its implementation.

Oscar Espinosa Chepe collaborated, from his expertise as an economist, with a group called Table of Reflection of the Moderate Opposition. With measured conduct, cheerful, respectful and modest, he combined within himself the qualities that made him deserving, in the words of Cubans of old, of being called “a decent person.”

A sharp critic of the systemic blunders that afflict the so-called Cuban socialism, Chepe suffered the intolerance of the Castro regime when he was imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003. His death, which occurred in Spain on Monday, September 23, after a long, painful and irreversible illness, deprived our nation of one of its most capable and committed sons, and for those who knew him, of a fair and cordial friend.

Rest in Peace

24 October 2013

Of Princes and Beggers 1 / Rafael León Rodríguez

From http://www.todocoleccion.net/

My neighbor is a retired woman of the ’third age.’ Her last fixed job was at a tourist hotel on the beach. Now, despite the infirmities of old age, diabetes, and the orthopedic disorders she suffers from, she collects discarded aluminum cans on the beach try to balance her basic expenses with her income. Empty cans of soft drinks, canned beer and malts, abandoned and thrown everywhere, are the object of her search and collection for which she uses a small two-wheeled contraption and a sack of plastic fibers; she bends over, picks up the container, then places it in her sack and walks on, this is the routine of her new job.

The Raw Material Recovery Business pays eight Cuban pesos for every kilogram of aluminum, which is 72 empty cans. So to collect 24 Cuban pesos, one dollar or Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) — which is the same — she needs 216 cans, which is a very serious task for someone approaching old age. Ah! But not only that, she’s required to crush the cans in order to sell them to the raw materials place, so my neighbor, which is a stone that she has to take between both hands for lack of a better took, crushes them one by one on the balcony of her house. But what is surprising is that she is happy in her new deal, because it allows her to survive.

To work most of your useful life, providing goods and services, contributing to retirement funds, and then have these payments be symbolic, is widespread in our everyday labor market. You only hear or read about it in the media when they are talking about other countries, with regards to our own they remain silent, becoming silent accomplices, and as payment, they are the potential victims in the future. When we see old people in our environment searching the garbage cans, looking for something; when we see them selling trinkets or grocery bags in the corners, we should have the courage, all of us, to speak out and to demand attention to this injustice.

13 June 2013

Galiano Street / Rafael León Rodríguez

From: http://cubalpairo.blogspot.com/

It extends straight between Reina Street and the Havana Malecon. I remember it from my childhood with its large and polished doorways, with its beautiful display windows of clothing stores, jewelry stores, toy shops and establishments of all kinds. There were several important intersections with other streets also engaged in trade and services in the center of the city with Zanja, San José, San Rafael, Neptuno, Virtudes and San Lázaro. La Plaza del Vapor, an ancient two-story building and a block area completely dedicated to retail stores selling hats, fabrics and textiles, signaled the beginning of Galiano as a commercial artery.

After being demolished at the beginning of the Revolution, with the pretext that they were going to build a residential building, the land was turned into a park. The most famous department store in Cuba, El Encanto, occupied one of the four corners of San Rafael, which it shared with the Flogar Store, La Moda furrier and the Ten Cent store.

After a fire caused by an act of sabotage, in the month of April 1961, the land occupied by El Encanto became another park. Two hotels are located in this major thoroughfare in the capital: the Lincoln and the Deauville.

Even a Catholic church shares space along Galiano between Animas and Virtudes: the Monserrate. The America apartment building with two movie theaters, and the Fin de Siglo and Epoca stores; glassware, coffee shops, ice cream parlors, banks, in short, one of the most important shopping streets of the city of Havana.

In Havana nights it was a pleasant to walk along Galiano, looking at the storefronts or windows, as they say here, under flashes of neon signs. At Christmas, the change of seasons, or just for entertainment, strolling through along Avenida de Italia, Galiano, was a party.

After half a century of Real Socialism everything changed. The lights and glare of Galiano are gone; apathy and chaos are enthroned on their sites as in the majority of the urban landscape of the capital. Now they are finalizing a capital restoration plan for this artery of the city. Paved roads, new lighting, projects to restore the water, sewer and gas; rejuvenated facades, and resuscitation of existing commerce.

But the main thing is still missing, the soul, which gives interest and real value to the property, movable and immovable: the owners. Those who are interested in maintaining, developing and advancing their businesses. They are the very essence of the market, and so, without any capitalist merchants there is no real interest in commerce.

Time will pass and, if small and medium private enterprises are not created, truly independent of the state, the Galiano recovery project will swell the list of failed experiments. It will not be alone there, after a few decades of doing the same scale of work on other commercial streets in Havana, such as Belascoaín and Monte, and, within a few years, everything was gone again. These experiences show that real changes that are necessary, not cosmetic ones, or we will continue on the dry wheel of absurdity.

14 May 2013

Cuba 360 / Rafael Rodriguez

Civic political project “Cuba 360″

For years we have we have been getting on with the opposition movement and we have never left off giving our support, however modest, to the cause of the democratisation of Cuba. It is a constant focus maintained by all those who are involved in the destiny of our country, in spite of the multiple difficulties we have to deal with in developing our work.

It is evident to us how slow it is for our work to actually germinate as a result of the continuous boycotting by the political police, but even so we never stop fertilising and watering our seed for the good of the nation. this time we are drawing up a programme with a multidimensional architecture with the aim of achieving the intercommunication and respectful debate between Cubans and the sustained and total articulation with the civil society in general by way of the executive project “Seedbed”.

With this project we try to outline to people what is our constructive and legitimate message – like all democratic opposition tries to do – to demonstrate to them the different alternatives of hope and reconciliation which exist in and for Cuba.

One option for Cuban society is  simulation, indolence, emigration and irresponsible obedience and, as we indicate in the project, another is the ambitious objective of “transforming each subject into one who acts out his own personal and national destiny.”

Here I leave you with the link to read the promotional brochure of “Cuba 360.”

Translated by GH

1 May 2013

Satellites / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

Image from: http://alt1040.com/

Last week Ecuador placed into orbit its first satellite, named Pegasus, from the Jiuquan launch center in China. Both the design and construction of the nanosatellite were undertaken by Ecuadorian Civilian Space Agency. With a weight of 1.2 kilograms and a dimension of ten cubic centimeters,  the device will transmit images and videos in real time from outer space for educational and scientific purposes.

This step adds Ecuador to Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela and Chile to the Latin American countries that, since the late twentieth century, began getting involved in orbiting satellite technology and launching various numbers of units per country.

Cuba, which pioneered in outer space with the flight of cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo in September 1980, the first Latin American to orbit our planet, so far as we know has no satellites in operation. Spatial collaboration plans between the Soviet Union and the Caribbean island collapsed with the Berlin Wall, proof that they were more political than scientific. Now the Russians travel to Cuba as tourists, to do business and collect debts. Unfinished tasks of Cubans including recovering our freedoms and lost time and, why not, hoping to some day, to proudly put our own national satellite into orbit.

30 April 2013

The Nature of Socialism / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

The “handpicked” successor of the late comandante Hugo Chavez was elected and is not the new president of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro. Starting off, his first statements addresses the aim of radicalizing the revolutionary process. On the one hand he showed his fist and on the other he spoke of peace. All that was missing were the doves.

Later we will surely hear about the imperialist enemy, the assassination attempts, the bourgeois press, the economic sabotage, the counterrevolution, etc. etc. etc.

Any resemblance to the tactics of the Cuban Revolution to install “the dictatorship of the proletariat” is not a coincidence. But these are other times. A great share of the Venezuelan people know where they’re trying to take them and made their rejection clear in the recent elections. One can assume that half the population, or perhaps more, voted for liberal democracy. It is going to be very difficult for Maduro and his team to overcome the popular Venezuelan antipathy for totalitarianism.

In Cuba, at the beginning of the process, events were handled very discreetly, until control of the military, politics and the media was total. Then, then the convenient enemy was used even directed. The rest is history.

The point is that between the seven years of the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista from Banes, and the 54 years of that of his neighbors from Biran, we have now had 61 years of oppression, poverty and despair.

Attempts to revive the economy through the so-called Guidelines, don’t appear to be having the promised results, in the face of the generalized corruption and the apathy of the majority of the people.

In many cases, it’s a return to the stages of the early years of the Revolution; but now without the material resources available at the time of the triumph, which were the result of a productive and prosperous capitalist system of production.

It’s like returning to the starting point, where on arrive we realize we have lost time. So it is with the new travel/immigration law. People have gone abroad and returned who, under the previous regulations, would have been forbidden to travel. And what happened? Nothing. The country is the same.

Years of restrictions, violating people’s rights on a whim, a caprice, or because it is the nature of the system called “real socialism.” And the inertia of that nature is so strong, that they still deny the rights of some citizens to travel.

Among these are many living abroad whom they group into different political categories. It’s so obvious that those people who have a judicial debt to the authorities are not going to travel here to face them, that it is absurd to maintain the requirement for a permit to enter the country for Cubans living abroad.

But it is also absurd to deny Internet access to citizens on the Island. As is discriminating against them for thinking differently. Or for the color of their skin. Or for their sexual differences.

There is the key: As long as they don’t respect differences, all of them, we will not begin to advance in a promising direction toward the future.

23 April 2013

Venezuela II / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

Nicolas Maduro, photo from http://www.m-x.com.mx/

The Venezuelan opposition, led by Henrique Capriles, surprised us on Sunday April 14, and according to figures from CNE, the National Electoral Council, almost defeated the Chavista candidate Nicolas Maduro. The margin of the declared winner of the elections was narrow: 50.75% for the government candidate and 49.07% for the opposition. As the government authorities apparently expected, Capriles did not accept the results declared by the CNE and called his followers to express their disagreement with the banging of pots and pans and street demonstrations. On Monday the situation remained complicated and Telesur reported moderate disturbances in several states.

If, despite the emotional toll of the death of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, the official government candidate got this poor of a result, you can almost predict an uncertain political future in the short term for the Venezuelan nation.

Nor did the material promises of every kind, which ranged from wage increases to plans to construct housing, Nicolas Maduro managed to motivate the citizens of Venezuela to support him. And 14 years of Chavism, with forecasts of a new socialism, a 21st Century socialism — which no one actually knows what it is — has been more than enough for the Venezuelan people.

The Real Cuba is very close, and surely, even those Cubans who have been there on “foreign missions” have told them. The fear of losing freedom first, and everything else later, have been the main protagonists of these national election campaign results. Neither leaders nor oligarchies, nor dictatorships, seem to have a future in our America.

16 April 2013

Elections in Venezuela / Rafael León Rodríguez

Capriles, the opposition candidate in Venezeula

If any country in our region has stood out in recent times for its election practices, the country is Venezuela. The Venezuelan people are now engaged in another election process to decide the their political direction that, supposedly, the majority determine.

The campaigns of the two main adversaries are seasoned more by diatribe and disqualification of the other, than by promotion or critical discussion of the sustainability and viability of their programs.

Capriles, the candidate of the opposition, points out in his speeches the inability of Chavismo without Chavez to resolve the problems that the winner will have to have. The grave challenges of citizen insecurity, the galloping economic crisis, and the the interference by the Cuban government in Venezuelan matters, are his principal arguments. Continue reading