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

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)

14ymedio bigger

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

Another signal of a traffic signal / Reinaldo Escobar

Went former president Fidel Castro passed by, the escorts turned the light red at the corner of 11 and 12. (14ymedio)

Went former president Fidel Castro passed by, the escorts turned the light red at the corner of 11 and 12. (14ymedio)

Reinaldo Escobar, 6 April 2015 — Recently, there came to light a chance encounter between former Cuban president Fidel Castro and a group of Venezuelans visiting a Havana school. A story broadcast on national TV gave a brief overview of the little school that the then Maximum Leader (today Historic Leader) ordered to be built in the exclusive Siboney neighborhood so that the children wouldn’t have to walk such long distances. Going to school there are the children of the staff serving the place known as “ground zero”, where today Fidel is spending his old age. From his “Castro-mobile” he waved, shook hands, asked questions and offered predictions. “He’s alive,” the excited visitors commented joyously. Continue reading

A Leader Of Civil Society, A Real Story Without A Moral / Reinaldo Escobar

Desde Aqui, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 March 2015 — On a cold November morning in the late eighties, some two hundred of us were trying to come to an agreement to organize a line to buy interprovincial bus tickets at an agency in Havana’s Playa municipality. As usually happens in these cases, the line had two heads, both justifying themselves with loud protestations of their indisputable evidence of having arrived first.

The vast majority of those gathered there were trying to spend Christmas in some province. For inexplicable reasons, two parallel lists had been drawn up, both established at different times. At that time – and to some extent still – the police prohibited these lists, so it wasn’t possible to appeal to the police authority to establish some order in such a confusing situation. Continue reading

An Innocent Proposition / Reinaldo Escobar

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 11 March 2015 – The announced intention to promulgate a new Elections Law has already generated controversy.

It is striking that there is no talk of reforming the current law, only of writing a new one. As a blog is no space for legal dissertations, I want to limit myselt here to formulating a completely innocent proposal:

“Let the Cuban voters know how the candidates think.”

Or, to put it another way:

Let every voter have the ability to know how the deputies he or she elects is going to vote Continue reading

The potatoes arrived! No more potatoes! / Reinaldo Escobar

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 4 February 2015 – Early in the morning Josefina heard on the morning news that Artemisa province had started the potato harvest. She heard that the “planned economy” target was almost 8,800 tons of potatoes and that the harvest would run through the middle of April. Almost intuitively, she looked through the blinds of her 8th floor apartment from where she could see that at the nearby farmers market there were two trucks unloading some sacks.

At that moment her daughter Olivia was staging the daily drama of putting on her primary school uniform and Josefina was faced the dilemma or whether to go stand in line before taking her daughter to school. “The potatoes are here!” her neighbor shouted and half the building leaned over their balconies to confirm it. By twenty minutes to eight she had already left her daughter, hair uncombed, at the door of the school, where an aide asked her, “Is it true? Are the potatoes here?”

The line extended around the corner, but her friend who sells plastic bags outside the market beckoned her to come and stand behind her. Half an hour later, Josefina had achieved her purpose. She hadn’t eaten a real potato for six months, and had only rarely had the hard currency necessary to buy a bag of dehydrated potatoes. The additional advantage was that 20 pounds of potatoes only cost 20 pesos in national money*, less than what she would have to spend for a little packet of instant mashed potatoes.

As she was leaving the market she heard the authoritative voice of the administrator shout, “No more potatoes!” A few steps away two burly young men whispered their proposed alternative, “A ten pound bag, only two fulitas (“little dollars”)**.”

Translator’s notes:

*See this article for a discussion of Cuba’s dual currency system.

**In other words, the black market potatoes cost more than four times the official market price… but they are available.

And the Conceptualization…? / Reinaldo Escobar

Granma newspaper in the wastebasket

Granma newspaper in the wastebasket

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 27 January 2014 – It’s been three years since the Communist Party of Cuba’s First National Conference. As can be expected, few are the people, including a great part of that organization’s own militants, who remember what was agreed to at that meeting and, to an even lesser extent, which of the adopted accords remain unimplemented. But, who cares?

The “Work Objectives” approved by the Conference, point 62 of Chapter II, titled “Ideological and Political Work,” outlines the need to “work especially on the conceptualization of the theoretical fundamentals of the Cuban economic model.” Eight months prior to that Conference, the Communist Party of Cuba’s Sixth Congress had revealed the Guidelines (Lineamientos) that would govern the country’s economic and social policies. All pointed to the fact that, since conceptualization could not be the source of inspiration for the Guidelines, it could at least be its after-the-fact theoretical justification.

However, the task of theorizing seems to be more complex than the practical application or, to say it in official jargon, “the implementation” of the Guidelines, which have a structure led by Mr. Marino Murillo, Minister of the Economy. Who is responsible for the conceptualization? What entity is committed to undertake it? No one knows. Continue reading

The Children of Melchior / Reinaldo Escobar

The Magi, the Three Kings

The Magi, the Three Kings

Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 4 January 2015 – January 5, 1957. Under the enormous tamarind tree in the yard of my house in Camaguey, my cousin Alcibiades looked at me incredulously when I read a letter I intended to leave for the Three Kings. We were both 10, but he knew everything about life: where babies came from, how to light a cigar, and the basic differences between a Ford and a Chevrolet.

With his usual insolence he said, “Are you bonkers? Don’t you know it’s your father who puts the presents under your bed tonight?”

“Yeah, of course,” I said, confused, and put the letter in the pocket of my shirt. Continue reading

Are You One of Those Human Rights People? / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 9 December 2014 — Victims of political illiteracy — as so aptly described by Dagoberto Valdés — many people do not know the difference between being a member of an opposition party, a civil society activist, an independent journalist or a protester in their own right. All are usually accommodated under a single definition: “Those human rights people.”

I’m not going to give a history here — which needs to be written – of the Cuban movement in defense of human rights. In the last thirty years, several have specialized in researching, noting and reporting on violations committed in the country of those rights enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights issued on 10 December 1948. Continue reading

Between confrontation and dialogue / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 31 October 2014 – There has been a lot of talk lately of the presumed improvement in relations between the governments of the United States and Cuba. In both countries there are tons of supporters for two antagonistic positions, which in summary and without a desire to simplify, can be reduced to two terms: confrontation and dialog.

Rivers of ink and saliva have been spilled to argue both ways and the more reasons are put forward the further away the solution seems. The worst is when the passions lead to personal attacks and the dismissal of those who think differently. And so I renounce mentioning names here and refrain from appealing to disparaging epithets.

If I were forced to choose I would vote for dialog. I resist confrontation.

But it is not enough. We immediately have to respond to another question that introduces a new dilemma: an unconditional dialog or without conditions.

The General President has insisted that he is willing to sit at the table as long as he is treated equally or, and it’s the same thing, under the condition that his legitimacy is not questioned. And of course without being asked to renounce the “bedrock principles of the Revolution.”

What legitimacy are we talking about? If we refer to the number of countries with which the Cuban government maintains diplomatic relations, its presence in international organizations or its ability to dictate laws and enforce them across the length and breadth of the country, then we have no choice but to admit that the Cuban leaders enjoy a high level of legitimacy even though they are considered dictators, usurpers or repressors of their people, and that is very evident in lack of popular will expressed in free elections. Continue reading