The Ostrich Syndrome / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A group of Cuban immigrants block the Interamerican Highway at the border between Costa Rica and Panama in protest at being held. (Alvaro Sanchez / courtesy / El Nuevo Herald)
A group of Cuban immigrants block the Interamerican Highway at the border between Costa Rica and Panama in protest at being held. (Alvaro Sanchez / courtesy / El Nuevo Herald)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 17 November 2015 — Like the ostrich who buries his head in the sand so as not to see what terrifies or disgusts him, the Cuban government and official media have refused to recognize the plight of thousands of compatriots stranded at the borders of Central America. Single men and women, families with children, workers, peasants, students, Cubans all, are attacked by immigration authorities, exploited by human traffickers, and punished by a nature they don’t know, in their desire to emigrate to the North.

Not a single statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, no comments in the Communist Party’s provincial meetings, not one clarification from a delegate in the Accountability Assemblies of People’s Power. Not even on radio, television or the nationally circulating digital media has there been any mention of the issue. Continue reading “The Ostrich Syndrome / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

However, in the street everyone is talking about it because they hear about it on foreign radio broadcasts, despite the interference, they see it through prohibited and persecuted satellite dishes, or they hear of it by using anonymous proxies to access the internet sites so delightedly blocked by the soldiers of information. In the most dramatic cases, they learn about it first hand, because they have a relative or friend suffering through it.

Cuba is bleeding into an uncontrollable migratory hemorrhage, but listening to officials and official journalists gives the impression that this is the country’s least important problem.

Cuba is bleeding into an uncontrollable migratory hemorrhage, but listening to officials and official journalists gives the impression that this is the country’s least important problem. The speeches follow a script drafted from above and focus on demanding more discipline and a high level of command and control. Inspectors go to stores and count the inventory to the last nail, checking for missing or diverted resources, but fail to note the thousands of employees who leave the island each year, be they warehouse workers or inspectors.

The nation’s expanding desire to leave appears to be of no importance nor cause any pain according to the government’s rhetoric. It is as if there is no interest in the fate of those who launch themselves on the sea or put themselves in the hands of coyotes, leaving everything behind: their professions, property, part of their family, promises of love, debts…

We are becoming a plague issuing from a country that boasts of its healthcare services. We are rejected, disdained, in airports and at border crossings despite our reputation as a sympathetic and friendly people that took us centuries to craft. This new scum* that has leapt from the oven, from the “crucible of the Revolution,” does not want to melt in the mold where they try to tame its nature. In Cuba there is no war, as in Syria, no famine like that of some African countries, only the fear that with improved relations with the United States the privileges awarded by the so-called Cuban Adjustment Act will be eliminated.

In the same way that parents do not divorce their children, States should not lose interest in what happens to their citizens, before whom they have duties, some of which are not even promulgated in laws or articulated in the Constitution. Worse still is the silence of the media, gagged by the same old culture of secrecy. The ostrich buries its head in the sand from cowardice, but its wings are too short to cover the eyes and ears of others.

*Translator’s note: During the Mariel Boatlift Fidel Castro said “let the scum (escoria) go.”

Future Dilemmas / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Second day of the Open Spaces Meeting of Ideas. (14ymedio)
Second day of the Open Spaces Meeting of Ideas. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 13 October 2015 – Some 40 Cubans met last weekend in Miami to talk about the future of the country. The economy, work, property, and social security were the topics on the agenda in this edition of the “Meeting of Ideas,” which arose under the Coexistence Project in Pinar del Rio and which found another space of influence, this time with the participation of Cubans from the diaspora in Miami.

But beyond the data of a press release, it’s worth taking the time to stop, or rather to make a pilgrimage, to submerge ourselves in the wells of thought where the most complex problems our national reality are addressed. Two streams converge there, one from the liberal side, arguing, almost insisting, on the reasons for the market and freedom, and the other more concerned about social aspects, putting the protection of the disadvantaged first. I said they converged, not fought, because far above political passion or philosophical viewpoints, was Cuba, like a mother crying in pain for help for her children. Continue reading “Future Dilemmas / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

And although emotion and reason don’t usually mix in academic environments, everyone there was both reasonable and emotional. Some thought about the Cuba they lost, others about the one they never managed to achieve. From the nostalgia and frustration emerged the best threads of this fabric.

What country can we build? That is a question that can only be fully answered when – in one way or another – the illusion in which we live comes to an end. But the prophetic exercise is essential if we do not want to arrive at “the day after” with our saddlebags empty of projects.

On more than one occasion, while a precise issue was discussed, such as the critical problem of confiscated properties or the presumed overwhelming entry of foreign companies, or the need to raise the birthrate, both viewpoints promoted their different takes on the issues.

While some warned that the nation cannot be mortgaged to satisfy the claims for compensation, others prioritized full respect for property under the rules of a State of Law. Where some proposed protectionist measures to avoid strangling the initiative of small native entrepreneurs, others expounded that the solution is to stimulate the entrepreneurs and not to regulate their competition. Where some demanded subsidies for women who have more children, others aspired to a prosperity that favored growing families.

The proposals of both sides were duly noted and even balanced, avoiding rivalry, but without looking for a consensus, because this meeting of ideas was intended to develop an inventory of proposals, without pretensions of pleasing an eventual electorate, without partisanship or populism.

There are still many issues pending: education, healthcare, legal matters, culture, science and technology, among others. If the spirit of the previous meetings is maintained, both on and off the island, this nation-beyond-borders where Cubans live and dream will have taken an enormously important step. Ideas, solutions, issues for future discussions will have been compiled. The dilemmas that we do not have today, but that we will inevitably have tomorrow, when there is the freedom to have dilemmas.

The Prejudices We Provoke / Reinaldo Escobar

Demonstrators protest in Burundi. (VOA)
Demonstrators protest in Burundi. (VOA)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, Havana, 1 August 2015 — Under the slogan of “Tanganyika breaks heads with big force” a Cuban radio serial from the 50s, my generation was inculcated with the idea that Africans are rude and violent. I vaguely remember that the character of this resonant name was a kind of stupid but unbeatable giant.

I didn’t know then that Tanganyika was a lake and that its northwestern shore touched Bujumbura, the largest population center in Burundi, which became the capital after independence in 1962. The prejudices of my childhood were reinforced years later when tribal struggles arose between Hutus and Tutsis and the dead filled the streets of the city in an absurd fratricidal war.

But for weeks the news confused me. Continue reading “The Prejudices We Provoke / Reinaldo Escobar”

I had been led to believe that those Burundians were a “savage people” and suddenly I see them walking the streets in an enviable gesture of civility to protest the intentions of President Pierre Nkuruziza to get himself re-elected for the third time (which succeeded in controversial elections last July 21). The opposition managed to unite although they continued to disagree about whether to participate in the elections and about the decision of whether to occupy seats in the parliament.

It was the Prensa Latina agency that released a report saying that the main opposition leader Agathon Rwasa would take his place in the Assembly with 20 members of his coalition. Meanwhile the leader of another opposition group, Charles Nditije, declined to occupy the 10 seats he won in the elections.

The newspaper Granma surprised many last Wednesday with the following comment on the elections in Burundi:

“Seven days after the presidential elections, the commission of UN observers concluded that the election was not “free, credible and inclusive.” In its preliminary report, the commission said that the vote was marked by violence and there were obstacles to freedom of expression, assembly and association. In addition, it stated that “freedom of the press suffered severe restrictions” and that “the public media did not guarantee a balanced coverage of the candidates.”

What might be the “preliminary report” of a commission of observers from the United Nations if it were allowed to witness an electoral process in Cuba? Would they say it was free, credible and inclusive? Would they dare to assert that there were no obstacles to the freedoms of expression, assembly and association? Would they notice the severe restrictions on press freedom and note that the public media did not provide balanced coverage of the candidates?

I apologize to the people of Burundi. We have fallen to a level that is below that racist category of “savage people.” We have provoked a greater prejudice, that of being a tamed people.

Writing about the Cowards / Reinaldo Escobar

Moncada Barracks
Moncada Barracks

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 24 July 2015 — I do not know if I’ll be the first to do it, but at a time like this I want to congratulate the cowards.

Those who 62 years ago were summoned to a Revolutionary action in Santiago de Cuba, and who, when they heard the details describing the madness that involved storming the Moncada barracks, declined to participate.

I do not know the exact number of those who backed out at the last moment, much less their names. I have heard that their identities have never been disclosed, because among them there were some who later joined the fight and even fell in combat. The official story goes that of 135 implicated only four did not “step up.” Other versions raise to 165 the number of the conspirators and about 30 who thought better of it. Continue reading “Writing about the Cowards / Reinaldo Escobar”

I can imagine those young idealists on the Siboney Farm, listening to fiery verses of Raul Gomez Garcia proclaiming “We are already in combat”; I can imagine the transfer of uniforms, the smell of the greased metal of the weapons and the invocation to the motherland, the future, the Revolution, while Santiagans were hungover from Saturday’s carnival.

A thousand armed and trained men were waiting behind the walls of the fortress. The fathers of families, sons, brothers, someone’s boyfriend. Many had chosen a military career precisely because of their humble origins. You would have to kill them to take their place and they were willing to kill to stop you.

The Cuban blood spilled on both sides that morning in Santa Ana made impossible any political understanding, any dialogue. Does it make sense now to discuss the inevitability of the armed option? The rash often exert a fatal attraction to the innocent. The radicals, those who did not want to hear nor reason, raised their pedestal on the blood of their own and others.

Now nobody cares if there were four or thirty. They said, “Don’t count me in,” and no one knows if they have lived years of regret or if, all this time, they congratulating themselves on their decision. If they serve for something, those who have survived, here I leave them my understanding, because I’m all out of applause.

Another Way to be a Greek Hero / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras. (tsipras_eu)
Prime Minister of Greece, Alexis Tsipras. (tsipras_eu)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, Havana, 15 July 2015 — Homer would have narrated it differently, opting to die dismembered before giving in, but in these times the heroes are faced with the inexorable fatality of their tragedy, putting at risk their prestige, not their lives. Alexis Tsipras chose to stop right at the edge of the abyss because he believed more in the future of his nation than in his political career. Historians will tell us if he did well or badly, maintaining a pulse facing the Troika, even to extremes. Economists will draw pragmatic lessons watching whether Greece grows or sinks, while the militants of his party will reassemble their agendas with different promises.

Those from other latitudes who applauded the inflexible will now have to swallow their praise and, in passing, learn their lesson. The populists of Spain’s Podemos party will know they will not have a second chance at the polls, and those obsessed with an eternal Baraguá in these parts of the Caribbean will have to recognize that it is time to move on, saying “we do not understand.”

As someone whose name I can’t remember said, “Greece is very familiar to Cubans. She taught us the philosophy, arts and sciences of antiquity when we studied in school, and, along with them, the most complex of human activities: the art and the science of politics.

The story is not over, it never really ends. In the coming hours Tsipras will have to confront his personal Thermopylae in front of Parliament and face his constituents, who will not want to accept the reforms that will come over them. It will be Ulysses facing the pretenders, or Achilles with his wounded heel, but this time the gods will not intervene and it will be the chorus who decides.

Juan Carlos Cremata: A Real Man / Reinaldo Escobar

Juan Carlos Cremata. (Cubadebate)
Juan Carlos Cremata. (Cubadebate)

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 July 2015 — It is very likely that the youngest among us don’t know the reference to the 1951 novel “The Story of a Real Man” by the Soviet writer Boris Polevoy, which tells the story of Alexey Petrovich Maresyev, a fighter pilot who lost both his legs and through a heroic effort continued to pilot a plane and engage in new battles.

Juan Carlos Cremata (born 1961) is the least likely hero of Real Socialism. He is an artist from head to foot, irreverent and lucid, who has left his mark both in the theater and the cinema. He has received numerous national and foreign prizes and a great part of his oeuvre has been dedicated to works for children and teens. Among his most well-known films are Nada (Nothing) and Chamaco (The Kid: Chamaco) as well as works that have circulated via alternative means, as is the case with Crematorio (Crematorium). Continue reading “Juan Carlos Cremata: A Real Man / Reinaldo Escobar”

However, now Juan Carlos has gotten into serious trouble. Saturday the 3rd and Sunday the 4th of July a work directed by him was staged by the group El Ingenio in the Tito Junco hall of the Bertolt Brecht Theater in Havana. The play was The King is Dying*, by the French-Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco, the story of a king who resists the idea that death can touch him any day.

The leadership of National Performing Arts decided to suspend the play and accused the prize-winning artist of the worst insults. But, unlike others, Cremata did not choose to remain silent and responded, leaving nothing out.

Defending the censored artist could be dangerous in the short term, but silence, or even worse, complicit approval, would be disastrous.

Now it only remains to see the reaction of the Cuban intellectuals in the face of this despotic display of censorship. Defending the censored artist could be dangerous in the short term, but silence, or even worse, complicit approval, would be disastrous.

The youngest among us, those who do not know the work of the Soviet journalist and narrator Boris Polevoy, will be tempted to search for “A Real Man” in the digital dictionary Wikipedia, but will be surprised to find there that is a CD by the group Alaska y Dinarama. Some relationship will be found with the polysemic playwright, but those who read the odyssey of the mistreated pilot and who read the arguments of this courageous artist might conclude that, like Alexey Petrovich Maresyev, Cremato will once again fly and fight.

Translator’s note: The play has been staged in the United States under the name “Exit the King”

 

Delusions of Sovereignty / Reinaldo Escobar

My planet Cuba (Childlike drawing)
My planet Cuba (Childlike drawing)

Reinaldo Escobar, 28 June 2015 – Despite nationalist excesses that have reached the official Cuban discourse, to some it seems that the Government should be even more intransigent in defense of the sovereignty of the country. Stigmatizers of everything foreign, these individuals end up boasting of a chauvinism that is more ridiculous than patriotic.

They are the ones who don’t understand that the Island’s boxers no longer use head protectors, to obey the dictates of this sport that the authorities have labeled profitable and where, “The spectacle is more important than the health of the athletes.” In their isolationist delusions, perhaps one day they will propose not accepting that the volleyball net or the basketball hoop be at the height determined by nations where the average stature is a few inches higher than in Cuba. Continue reading “Delusions of Sovereignty / Reinaldo Escobar”

Perhaps they would also ban aluminum bats, swords and foils, racquets, goals, kimonos and even the universal rules in force in competitions among athletes? Would they only practice those sports hypothetically native to this archipelago?

Who can rule out that one day these defenders of uncompromising autonomy will propose the elimination of the study of classic universal arts, both in music and plastic arts or in literature. The original would sweep away references to a Renaissance that occurred thousands of miles away, an Ernest Hemingway who wrote in the language of “the enemy” or a Beethoven born no more and no less than in the far off city of Bonn.

A few steps further in the sovereign obfuscation would lead to discarding the metric system and formulating another, one hundred percent Cuban, never more to abide by the strict norms of foreign organizations that certify weights, balances and measures. Ah…! And the hurricanes of every season would be baptized in Cuba, so as not to comply with any list of names for those meteorological phenomena imposed by international entities.

Why should we accept standards promoted by consumer societies for the packaging of medicines and foods exported from the country? What an affront it is for these anti-hegemonic extremists to dredge the bays in order to allow the entry of larger foreign ships! If they could decide the aeronautic norms, who knows if they would prohibit national planes from being governed by the strict security measures promulgated by other countries.

Taking it further, it is even possible to ask oneself: What sovereignty are we talking about when national currency (the Cuban peso) has a value that depends on its equivalence with foreign currency? Television, moreover, uses transmission codes not invented by Cuban engineers. Meanwhile, in bars, restaurants and hotels they struggle to achieve international standards to satisfy the whims of tourists, who should just enjoy our tastes and customs.

Even the scientific studies to conserve our nature signify an offense for the Robinson Crusoes of nationalism. Because they obey patterns emerging from environmental movements lacking Cuban roots. Not to mention the boxes of cigars we consume and export, containing our glorified aboriginal tobacco that today carries health warnings that foreign authorities have demanded on the product.

If they were consistent with so much ostentatious “Cubanness,” in the field of computer science they would prohibit operating systems with a “well-thought out design foreign to our traditions.” In the provision of healthcare, they would oppose any foreign device, such as Computed Tomography (CT), ultrasound machines or catheters introduced into the arteries. They would undoubtedly resist the growing influence that permeates our science with those academics invited to the Palace of Conventions and awarded prizes that are not promulgated in this country.

Even in the Revolutionary terminology intolerable concessions have been made, or so these promoters of the most uncouth isolationism think furiously. There is no longer any talk of the mass organizations as “transmission poles of the illustrious guidance of the Party,” but rather of some anodyne entities of civil society, stripped of their classist content and whose nomenclature is copied from theories born outside this island.

Luckily, as we have “our own democracy,” they can breathe a sigh of relief. As a single point for boasts of their endocentrism they can say there is only one party, whose leadership is established by a constitutional provision, and a socialism that does not depend on the dogmas coming from Europe, “But on what we judge socialism should be.” Fortunately, they roar filled with pride, “We have our own interpretation of Human Rights that we don’t subject to a supposed universal rule, uniform and hegemonic.”

However, to achieve their delusions of sovereignty they will have to implant the use of another language that doesn’t depend on the rules of others and enact laws that do not appear anywhere else, and finally, as a glorification of absolute independence, manage to isolate and reproduce a national DNA, our own, singular and above all, superior.

Inventory of Differences / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Talk about the lack of unity within the Cuban opposition has already become commonplace. (Marc Gautier / Flickr / CC)
Talk about the lack of unity within the Cuban opposition has already become commonplace. (Marc Gautier / Flickr / CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 26 June 2015 – To talk about a lack of unity within the Cuban opposition has already become commonplace. Among the causes of these lamentable circumstances are enumerated some peculiarities rooted in the greatest depths of our history, whose paradigmatic example is warlordism.

However, there are also rational reasons because opponents gather in separate airtight rooms. First of all, in political vocations. Liberals, socialists, Christian democrats, anarchists, social democrats and other less profiled denominations assume positions about certain topics that can become irreconcilable.

The mere fact of recognizing these nuances sparks commentary from all sides that the most important thing is to dislodge the tyrants from power and that such minutiae can wait until democracy is achieved. But it is not enough to make the immense sacrifice of overlooking future programmatic differences. The spokes in the wheel, the weights, the headwinds, the points of honor that hinder or prevent reaching agreement usually arise from unexpected places.

Here are the most common obstacles to consensus: Continue reading “Inventory of Differences / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

The Cuba-US Dispute

Before December 17, 2014 the discussion centered on whether or not the US economic restrictions toward the island should be maintained, what some call “the blockade” and others “the embargo.” The mere choice of one of these words has prevented prestigious leaders from signing a collective declarationen masse. On this plane we also find the issue of Americans traveling to the island, the reopening of embassies and eventual normalization.

Some are betting that the rigidity of the Cuban system cannot be maintained in an environment of good economic and diplomatic relations with the neighbor to the north. Others believe that the commercial interests of the United States could take precedence over human rights and in the end would award the Cuban Government the benefit of undeserved legitimacy.

The recognition of the reforms made by the Government

Between those who think that, “As long as what has to change isn’t changed, nothing has changed here,” and those who believe that “In this house of cards the slightest movement could lead to the collapse,” there is a large gradation.

This has led some to consider self-employed people as accomplices to the dictatorship, because with the payment of their taxes and their growing habits of consumption they sustain the dictatorship. While others see them as the most dynamic part of the population, who by empowering themselves economically could point the way to political emancipation in defense of the middle class.

The reluctance at every step of the reforms, adjustments, or whatever they prefer to call them, awakes in some the suspicions that it is all about an operation of recycling to maintain themselves in power – a fraudulent Change – and in others hopes that behind every little change there could be lurking a tropical Boris Yeltsin.

In the event that the announced but not yet proclaimed legislation opened the tiniest crack for the participation of the opponents, the divisions would become more pronounced

The attitude toward elections

Not going to vote, voiding or leaving the ballet blank and, more recently, casting one’s vote in favor of a lesser evil or for some malcontent who has managed to get past the controls, are the different attitudes with which some want to demonstrate their disagreement.

The Government’s announcement that it will formulate a new Electoral Law has given the issue new scope for disagreements, as there are those who believe it makes sense to disseminate proposals that could open a space to something like a multiparty system; on the other hand, those who see in the new law another maneuver by the regime to buy time or who call for an independent plebiscite.

In the event that the announced but not yet proclaimed legislation opens the tiniest crack for the participation of the opponents, the divisions would become more pronounced between those who accept involving themselves in the hard-fought elections, and those who consider participation in them as something that gives the game to the dictatorship, and even as a betrayal.

In the street or indoors

Although a consensus is seen in the opposition for the renunciation of violent methods, especially weapons or terrorism, there is a clear difference between those who have chosen to express their differences by going out into the streets, and those who express their critiques through documents, programs or opinion columns. From both sides there are sincere calls to weigh as valid the methods chosen by each grouping or individual, but still, in isolation, expressions appear that label a posture as uselessly provocative proposals of victims, and another as a convenient methodology, free of risk and displaying little solidarity with those who dare to receive beatings.

We are not willing to easily give way before a semantic dilemma; we all agree that it would be easy for the other to accept our terminology

Terminology

I have left for the end an element that affects the text that I am writing. The difference between use the labels Government or the authorities, and others who use the terms regime, dictatorship or tyranny, is perhaps one of the most frequent differences in the opposition endeavor. Other incompatible binomials enter there, like the already mentioned embargo-blockade, or election-voting reforms-cosmetic changes, exile-diaspora, not to mention how difficult it is to classify someone as an opponent, dissident, activist, or independent journalist.

To this is added the generational definitions, which mark a dividing line between those who have spent “more than thirty years in the opposition,” and the recent arrivals; or the contrast between having suffered a prison sentence versus having been detained for only a few hours.

We Cubans depend too much on orality, and are not willing to easily give way before a semantic dilemma. Moreover, we all agree that it would be easy for the other to accept our terminology.

Of course this is an incomplete inventory, I could have mentioned the way in which the role of the churches is seen in the problematic Cuban politics; the choice between remaining on the island and leaving for exile; the relentless pursuit of “doing something” or the patient resignation that time and biology will do its work; with or without dialog with the Government; resisting arrest or letting them take you prisoner; accepting financing from foreign organizations or rejecting it on principle; attending a government-sponsored “Rendering of Accounts” to channel complaints, or not attending to deny its legitimacy; going abroad to participate in events or declining invitations to not miss even a minute of the main struggle, and so on, until we run out of imagination in choosing the very colors of our arrogant identity.

Induced Compliance / Reinaldo Escobar

Butchers in Havana (14ymedio)
Butchers in Havana (14ymedio)

Desde Aqui, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 8 June 2015 – What has come out in the magazine Muy Interesante (Very Interesting) generates no surprise, but what is published in the newspaper Granma causes astonishment.

In the “Direct Line” section, on page 4 of the edition of June 6, under the title, “Are there foods that wake us up and foods that relax us?” we learn that research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has demonstrated that “the proteins of eggs, meat or fish bring tyrosine to the brain, an amino acid that increases the production of neurotransmitters that keep the mind alert, focused and productive (dopamine and norepinephrine).”

Continue reading “Induced Compliance / Reinaldo Escobar”

The article adds that “when tyrosine levels drop we suffer apathy and lack of motivation. If the proteins wake us up and accelerate our thinking, relaxation usually comes from carbohydrates (potatoes, pasta, rice, bananas .. .). These foods induce the release of insulin, which eliminates from the blood almost all amino acids except tryptophan, which exercises a soothing effect.”

My namesake, the commentator Reinaldo Taladrid, takes the opportunity to say here, “You may draw your own conclusions.” Obviously, MIT lost a golden opportunity in our country for study, especially in the times of the microjet bananas that eventually became our daily bread during the harshest times of the Special Period, moments in which in other better-fed latitudes they wondered at the resignation of Cubans in enduring such hardships.

The widespread listlessness in production and provision of services disappears when poorly-fed Cubans jump to other frontiers

This massive obedience, which the Party-State characterized as conscious and unconditional support, should be attributed exclusively to the diet the population was subjected to, though no one would seriously affirm that such dietary restrictions obeyed a scientific plan conceived by some malign genius, but at least it is a detail that should not escape observers of our reality.

It should be added that the effects of this lack of motivation could extend beyond the scarcity of political rebellion and also contribute to that widespread listlessness in production and the delivery of services, which disappears almost by magic when the poorly-fed Cubans jump to other frontiers in which they are converted into beings fiercely eager for prosperity. There they are seen to work without rest, creating with imagination and protesting in freedom.

Is it just a matter of chemistry?

Warm Washcloths / Reinaldo Escobar

Arresto-Cuba-Ernesto-Mastrascusa-EFE_CYMIMA20150224_0006_17
Arrest of dissidents in Cuba (Ernesto Mastrascusa EFE)

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 1 June 2015 – Once again the general-president, giving the impression that he invites criticism, steps on the brakes. He recognizes that it is important that everyone bring their opinions, but qualifies that it must be done “in the appropriate place, the opportune moment, and in the correct ways.”

That he has repeated it this Friday at the most recent Council of Ministers does not matter. That idea has been crushed in Parliament, the Party Congress, and at every opportunity that presents itself, while he warns in passing that he speaks of constructive criticism.

Everything indicates that by constructive criticism Raul Castro understands that which points out errors but does not discuss the theoretical basis that underlies his program, or better yet, the criticism that paves the way chosen by the criticized. Continue reading “Warm Washcloths / Reinaldo Escobar”

Under this logic, Karl Marx’s “Capital” is not constructive criticism, nor would be — saving the insurmountable differences –“History Will Absolve Me,” authored by his brother. However, both texts propose or suggest solutions to identified problems, which is the indispensable condition for a critical observation to merit the adjective ‘constructive.’

A critical allusion qualifies as destructive when it rages against those who do bad things, without giving them the opportunity to improve anything because they are considered unable to rectify it or have the deliberate intention to carry out evil deeds. Something very distinct from undertaking noble deeds in the incorrect way. To quote that memorable epithet that so many politicians deserve: “He did good and he did bad. The good he did badly, the bad he did well.”

When Castro mentions “the appropriate place” surely he is referring to Party meetings, directors’ councils, accountability assemblies or the pages of the newspaper Granma, where a team of censors decides what can be published.

Raul Castro understands constructive criticism to be that which points out errors but does not discuss the theoretical basis that underlies his program

They have not classified as appropriate places Fifth Avenue in Miramar, where every Sunday the Ladies and White parade and are repressed, nor the streets of Santiago de Cuba, where activists from the Patriotic Union of Cuba carry their signs of protest, much less the Plaza of the Revolution, where the artist Tanis Bruguera tried to lend a microphone to all who wanted to say something, or Central Park where the graffiti artist El Sexto wanted to drop off two tattooed pigs.

The opportune moment must be when, from the powers-that-be, a special permit is issued, as happened with those democratization assemblies in the ‘70s and in the preliminaries of the 4th Party Congress in 1994, or more recently when the population was authorized to offer opinions on the 6th Party Congress Guidelines.

The correct way is easy to imagine, initiating the action with due reverence. If we’re talking about racism, the harsh conditions of agricultural work or the mistreatment of women, we have to start by recalling everything the Revolution has done for the benefit of the injured. And if it’s about criticizing the deficiencies in education and healthcare, it is obligatory to preface it by stating that these are the jewels in the crown, free and available to all.

With critiques like these praise is not necessary.

May 20, That Hole in Our Memory / Reinaldo Escobar

On 20 May 1902, Cuba gained its independence from the United States of America
On 20 May 1902, Cuba gained its independence from the United States of America

Desde Aqui, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 May 2015 — Yesterday I invited my granddaughters to get ice cream. To boast of her knowledge, the oldest, who is in the third grade, said to me: “Today marks the 120th anniversary of the death in combat of José Martí, our National Hero.” She said it with the same pride in wisdom with which one day, many years ago, I alerted my parents to the fact that the earth was round.

“And tomorrow, May 20, what will we celebrate?” I asked her, imitating the emphasis of schoolteacher. Almost arrogantly she responded, “On May 20 nothing happened.”

As she was born in the 21st Century I invited her to look for the significance of the date on a phone app containing Wikipedia, which she could consult without an Internet connection. Surprise! The text there reads: “1902: Cuba achieves independence from the United States of America.” Continue reading “May 20, That Hole in Our Memory / Reinaldo Escobar”

But the newspaper Granma wasn’t having it: In the top right corner of the last page, where anniversaries often appear under the heading “Today in History,” it said: “1902: The neocolonial republic was installed in Cuba.”

I can foresee that in the future, that bright morning of the first day of the year will not be remembered as the end of a dictatorship, but as the beginning of another

The protagonists of History are not to blame for how the future interprets their acts. For example, the massacred aboriginals who inhabited our beautiful island never could have suspected the enthusiasm with which Cubans would celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Spanish colonial settlements. The people of Bayamo who watched their properties burn could never have imagined the degree of voluntary unanimity today attributed to the glorious fire of 1869. No one could have convinced those who lost a son, a father, a brother in the bloody events of 26 July 1953, that that date would be a national holiday.

On May 20, 1902 dozens of countries around the world publicly recognized the advent of Cuba as an independent nation. The joy was massive, sincere and overwhelming. And I do not say unrepeatable because 56 years later there was a first of January on which Cubans never thought that a tyrannical regime would be installed in Cuba.

I can foresee that in the future, that bright morning of the first day of the year will not be remembered as the end of a dictatorship, but as the beginning of another. Nor that when my great-grandchildren are asked what happened on that date, they will respond “nothing happened that day.”

Reappearing by Phone / Reinaldo Escobar

Fidel Castro in January 2014.
Fidel Castro in January 2014.

Reinaldo Escobar, 17 April 2015 — Fidel Castro made another public appearance, this time speaking by phone Randy Perdomo Garcia, president of the Federation of University Students (FEU) at the University of Havana. The meeting took place in the meeting hall of the University of Oriente in Santiago de Cuba and was witnessed by young Havanans that make up the so-called Detachment of the 70th anniversary of Fidel’s admission to the University of Havana.

The group of students used their vacation week in April to take a tour of different places, especially those related to Fidel Castro personally. They visited his birthplace in Biran, the Moncada Barracks, the balcony where he proclaimed the triumph of the Revolution, Pico Turquino and other historic sites, as defined in the official chronicle as, “Where the commander left a mark of gratitude to patriots who preceded him.”

With the slogan “Fidel In My Heart” on their sweatshirts, every time they finished visiting a museum, monument or plaza, they ended it by shouting “Viva Fidel!” over and over. The great surprise – perhaps as a prize for their loyalty – was receiving a phone call from the historic leader. From his end of the phone Randy Perdomo Garcia told him what they had been doing, while the former president asked if they had eaten well on the tour. National television used subtitles so that the audience could understand what the old man was saying.

A Tragedy in Several Acts / Reinaldo Escobar

Figure dedicated to Fe del Valle in the park of the same name in Havana. (14ymedio)
Figure dedicated to Fe del Valle in the park of the same name in Havana. (14ymedio)

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 14 April 2015 — Like every April 13, last Monday a group of Trade Union workers met with the task of carrying a bouquet of flowers to a marble statue. It is a figure dedicated to Fe del Valle in the Havana park of the same name and located at the central corner of Galiano and San Rafael. The site usually supplies the absence of public toilets in the area and the sculpture has both hands mutilated.

In this space was one of the most exclusive Havana stores, El Encanto, with branches in Varadero, Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Founded in the early twentieth century by Solis, Entrialgo and Company, S.A. was one of the first properties nationalized after the revolutionary process. Continue reading “A Tragedy in Several Acts / Reinaldo Escobar”

The park is named in honor of the employee who died around this time, trying to rescue goods store in the middle of a raging fire that left the building completely destroyed and which also injured 18 people. Material losses were valued at $20 million. Another shop worker named Carlos González Vidal, known for his opposition to the Revolution and identified as an active member of People’s Recovery Movement, was convicted of sabotage and subsequently shot.

Fe del Valle Ramos, affectionately known as Lula, was born in Remedios on August 1, 1917 and worked at the store from the ‘50s and served as department head. She was a member of the Federation of Cuban Women and in the militia. Eyewitnesses say that she was on duty that night and, although she was found safe when the firefighters arrived, she returned to save funds that had been collected for a daycare center for the children of store employees. Her burned body was found days after the fire amid the rubble.

Nowhere around the sculpture can be found the sculptor’s name. The woman represented there looks more like a kolkhoz from Socialist Realism times than a Cuban woman working a department store. The neighbors didn’t record the date on which her hands were torn off and no one even suggests the motives — political, personal or religious — that led to the vandalism.

In 2016 a celebration will be held for what specialists call a “closed anniversary” – ending in a zero or five. The commemoration of 55 years will be an opportunity to restore the statue, but it will probably follow the passions that were behind each of the acts of this tragedy: the confiscation, the revenge, the sacrifice, the desecration…

It’s not my fault either / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Raul Castro during his speech at the Summit of the Americas (EFE Señal Instucional)
Raul Castro during his speech at the Summit of the Americas (EFE Señal Instucional)

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14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Panama, 12 April 2015 — During the Summit of the Americas, when Raul Castro said Barack Obama was not at fault for the decisions taken by the ten presidents that preceded him, confusion overcame me and it’s no wonder.

Upon hearing that speech, delivered in front of more than thirty leaders meeting in Panama, it became even harder for me to understand why the gallant members of the pro Cuban government “civil society” who came to this city continued to label as assassins the activists, dissidents and independent representations who came to participate in forums parallel to the historic event.

If Obama is not guilty of what happened at the Bay of Pigs, nor the logistics support to the anti-Revolution rebels of the Escambray; if he is not responsible for the creation of Radio Martí, nor the Cuban Adjustment Act… nor even for the implementation of the embargo, then, what guilt is it that they want to foist on the activists defending human rights?

Now, that the general-president has already absolved the dignitary of the country that official propaganda sees as “the enemy,” it is worth asking why his supporters accuse of events that happened decades ago those, who organize opposition parties, or engage in library projects or independent journalism with the sole purpose of proposing a country different from that outlined in the guidelines of the Sixth Communist Party Summit.

When the horrendous sabotage occurred to the Cuban plane coming from the Barbados, Guillermo Fariñas was engaged in or preparing for an international mission in Africa. At the moment when they shot the prisoner Ernesto “Che” Guevara in Bolivia, neither Eliécer Ávila nor Henry Constantin had been born. It would be like blaming Abel Prieto for the firing squads, the forced relocation of the farmers from the center of the country to captive villages, the atrocities of the Revolutionary Offensive, the disaster of the 1970 sugar harvest, the “Five Gray Years” and so many other things.

When I mention Abel Prieto I could include the names of almost the entire delegation whose tickets and lodging were paid for by the Cuban government. Are they aware that when you accuse others of a past in which they didn’t exist nor make decisions, you will also be evaluated in the same light? Are they prepared to take on all the atrocities committed by their predecessors?

The Panamanians, however, gave us a clear example of this positive attitude during the summit, an attitude that is summed up by looking more to the future than the past. I would like to believe that Raul Castro is not responsible for anything… although the evidence points in the other direction.

Perhaps the time has come when we should concern ourselves more with solutions than with blame.

I know many compatriots, who totally within their rights, will not agree with me, especially since there are wounds impossible to heal and grievances difficult to forget. If I had to vote on it, I would raise my hand in favor of their retiring in peace. Their penance, their worst punishment, will be to watch us construct a nation without hatred nor rancor. Once again Cubans, everyone, at the same fiesta.

What one learns in Panama / Reinaldo Escobar

Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba's Minister of Foreign Trade, speaks at a Business Forum at the Americas Summit. (Twitter)
Rodrigo Malmierca, Cuba’s Minister of Foreign Trade, speaks at a Business Forum at the Americas Summit. (Twitter)

Reinado Escobar, Panama, 10 April, 2015 — Intransigence against tolerance, ideological deafness against a willingness to talk, radicalism against moderation, slogans against arguments, and many other pairs of conflicting definition could serve to headline a commentary on what is happening in Panama during the Seventh Summit of the Americas.

The pro-government Civil Society delegations from Cuba and Venezuela have systematically dedicated themselves to boycotting the parallel forums, because for them it is more important to discredit their political adversaries who favor a consensus that could conclude in a message from the civil society of the American people to their respective government. They have opted to beat, insult and denigrate their own compatriots, rather than sit down to civilized debate with them. Continue reading “What one learns in Panama / Reinaldo Escobar”

In a business atmosphere, however, Cuban officials have not been shy about conversing animatedly with representatives of the continent’s exploiting class. Radicalism only fits in the message being sent to the spectators, where photos of Che Guevera, little Cuban flags and wanton gestures are flying. At the other tables, among cocktails and smiles, the area’s capitalists are invited to come and invest in the Island.

Anyone might think that it is inconvenient to show both faces on the same stage, but no, the logic is different. The Government is telling prospective investors, “This is how we treat strikers, those who protest against you.”

The lesson for civil society in the countries that retain some residue of democracy is clear. The day when, in their nations, the politics supported by the Cuban government triumph, they will have to learn to conduct themselves like transmission belts, as Lenin defined the role of labor unions in socialism, otherwise they will have to get used to being treated like mercenaries, cockroaches, worms and whatever other vermin those who bet on totalitarianism choose to call them.