Reasons and Lack of Reasons Surrounding Political Dialogue

Cuban President Raúl Castro tries to raise the arm of US President Barack Obama after a press conference in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 March 2018 — When, in December 2014, the US President at the time, Barack Obama, and Cuba’s General-President Raúl Castro unexpectedly announced the restoration of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the reactions on both sides of the Straits of Florida were immediate.

As is often the case with Cuban political affairs, there was a strong polarization among those who expressed themselves in favor of dialogue as a way to find a solution to the conflict, which in the end could imply benefits for Cubans on both sides and in particular for those living in Cuba, and the ever-intransigents, who considered the events as an undeserved concession to the Castro dictatorship and as a betrayal to the yearnings for democracy of thousands of our countrymen, who for decades had suffered harassment, prison, persecution and exile for their fight against totalitarianism. continue reading

The schism was even greater among the opposition groups. There were no nuances. Overnight, a war seemed to have been declared: the radical groups not only considered the process of dialogue between the two hitherto opposed governments unacceptable, but also disparagingly pinned the labels of “traitors” and “dialoguers” to those broad sectors of dissidents that considered the new policy of the White House as a more propitious strategy to gradually push the long-awaited changes inside Cuba.

It is worth mentioning that the radicals conveniently ignored one small detail. Many members of that large group of political prisoners and persecuted citizens were in favor of the dialogue proces.

The matter became a defining moment, where the most rabid enemies of diplomacy – faithful to their violent and intolerant nature – used verbal aggression and even attempted physical violence against supporters of dialogue in some cases, although the latter were just being consistent with the pro-relations and anti-embargo discourse that they had been defending for decades.

The very brief period that elapsed between the beginning of President Obama’s policy of flexibilization and his departure from power did not make, and obviously could not have mad a significant shift in Cuban politics, but it did have the benefit of undermining the unbending Castro anti-Yankee discourse and completely exposing the lack of political will of the dictatorship to take advantage of the US measures that, if permitted to be carried out as Obama conceived them, would have meant prosperity for Cubans, in particular for the incipient businesses that emerged under the timid attempt of the so-called “Raúl reforms.”

In any case, the “failure” of a rapprochement policy that did not have enough time to show results – and it is known that time is a category of capital importance – was not due to the supposed ingenuity of the American president but to the inveterate stubbornness and totalitarian vocation of the Castro regime. If the dictatorship responded to the flexibilizations of its northern neighbor with repression against dissent and the suffocation of the private sector, it is an account that we cannot attribute to Obama or the restoration of relations, as certified by decades of arrests, imprisonments, executions and despotism that took place in Cuba under the pretext of the existence of the powerful “external enemy” long before the Obama era.

If the dictatorship responded to the flexibilizations of its northern neighbor with repression against dissent and the suffocation of the private sector, it is an account that we cannot attribute to Obama

And since time is a consideration, it is worth remembering that, in fact, in about a year and a half after the restoration of relations between Washington and Havana, the US measures of flexibilization allowed thousands of tourists from the U.S. to enter Cuba, which brought discrete economic benefits, not only for the tourism industry of the Castro regime, their native entourages and their foreign associates, but also – to the alarm of the olive-tree hierarchs who felt threatened by the sudden rise of self-employed Cubans – for a considerable number of private businesses, especially those dedicated to lodging and food services, which in turn generated many jobs associated with their respective facilities.

The election of Republican Donald Trump in November 2016 and his inauguration on January 20th, 2017 not only put an end to the brief era of diplomacy, but it has constituted a clear setback in the rapprochement initiated by his predecessor, to the delight of the recalcitrant opponents to dialogue.

A delight that, nevertheless, is not justified in certainty, since until now Trump does not seem to have intentions to make the two great demands of the most radical sectors a reality, that is: the rupture of diplomatic relations with the Cuban Government and the reestablishment of the ‘wet foot/dry foot’ policy, repealed by Obama a few days before leaving power.

Interestingly, fundamentalists on both banks remain silent on this point. And in general, whether he’ll act or not, Trump remains the unquestionable hero of the fanatics in Cuba.

The silence of the anti-dialoguers is more outrageous these days, when the arrogant Donald Trump has declared his intention to establish a dialogue with none other than the current North Korean satrap

But the silence of the anti-dialoguers is more outrageous these days, when the arrogant Donald Trump has declared his intention to establish a dialogue with none other than the current North Korean satrap, the mass murderer heir to the long power of the Kim dynasty. And this is not necessarily a political error for Trump. In any situation it is more desirable to resolve differences with words and agreements rather than with missiles, especially nuclear missiles.

Only that, following the logic applied to the Obama-Castro dialogue, wouldn’t this President of the world’s greatest power also be “legitimizing” a miserable dictatorship that represses and murders its people? Where are the angry defenders of human rights who are so offended by the US-Cuba dialogue? Could it be that some dialogues are “good” and others “bad”? And in this last case, who is the referee that defines the appropriate adjective in each case?

For the time being, and until they prove otherwise, everything indicates that the exalted atheists of the Cuban opposition have either run out of arguments or they were never very clear. Perhaps in reality what they understand as “politics” is just the reductionist and sectarian vision of a bench of most passionate sports team fans. And there are still some who think of themselves as presidential leaders for the future Cuban democracy. God help us!

Translated by Norma Whiting


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Long Lived Household Goods

A seller of manufactured household goods rides his bike through the streets of the city of Camagüey offering his merchandise. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Camagüey, 9 March 2018 — A skimmer, a skillet or a simple corkscrew became, between the 1960s and the 1990s, pieces of kitchen equipment that Cuban families guarded jealously, due to the lack of their availability in the commercial networks. Any of these household tools was considered a relic to care for and to pass on from parents to children.

With the reopening to the private sector, more than two decades ago, the sellers of glasses, plates, dustpans and even baking dishes returned to the streets. Manufactured and of low quality, these objects have come to fill a void and replace some deteriorated odds and ends that were the stars of the Island’s kitchens for almost half a century.

The most cautious, however, avoid getting rid of their old ladles and can openers. They are afraid that the newly purchased kitchen items will not have such a long lifespan due to their shoddy manufacture or because, as has happened so many times, shortages.


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Cienfuegos Runs Out Of Gas

The La Calzada gas station, in Cienfuegos, closed for lack of fuel. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Justo Mora, Cienfuegos, 27 February 2018 – As of this weekend gasoline has become one of the most sought after products in Cienfuegos, with no information forthcoming about the shortages at the network of gas stations run by the state-owned Cuba Petróleos (CUPET).

“There is no B-83. There is no Regular B,” announces a piece of paper taped to the door of La Calzada service station, in the heart of the city.

According to one employee, the company has problems with fuel distribution so the delays in supply are expected to continue. continue reading

Of five service stations visited by 14ymedio this Monday, only the one located in the Pueblo Griffo neighborhood was offering 83-octane gasoline. And although there is also a complete lack of diesel, neither the authorities nor CUPET have offered any information about that shortage.

A sign telling drivers there is no gasoline, posted this weekend at the service station on La Calzada, in Cienfuegos. (14ymedio)

Cuba depends on the Venezuelan crude that the country imports through cooperation agreements signed with Venezuela since 2000. The crisis now affecting that country, Cuba’s main ally, has affected the supply of fuel at the national level, and in response the state has cut working hours and called for energy savings. It is estimated that the Venezuelan Government previously sent about 110,000 barrels of oil a day to the island, a figure that has been reduced to 50,000 barrels since the crisis in Venezuela.

Oil production in Venezuela has fallen to its lowest level in the last three decades, standing at 1.6 million barrels per day in December, compared to 2.6 million barrels per day produced by the country in 2015. In addition, the Cuban government is alarmed by the failure to meet national oil production plans, which last year totaled 38,000 tons.

On the banks of Jagua Bay sits the Cienfuegos Refinery, a project undertaken by the Soviets that was restarted by Venezuela in 2009, when Chavez said he would build a major petrochemical hub in Cuba that would be an example for Latin America. Less than a decade later, while fuel is scarce, the great industrial center remains a simple memory of an unfulfilled promise.


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Alejandro Castro Espín Can Not Be President Of Cuba

Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, son of Raúl Castro, is considered the true head of the Ministry of the Interior without holding the title. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 25 January 2018 — With the publication, on Wednesday, of the list of candidates for the National Assembly of People’s Power, one of the great unknowns of the transfer of power in Cuba was clarified: the current president’s son, Alejandro Castro Espín, is not on the list and thus is automatically unable to legally rise to the Presidency of the Republic.

Castro Espin was identified by numerous analysts and opponents as a possible successor to his father, Raul Castro, who will leave his position as head of State on April 19. However, only members of parliament may occupy the presidency. continue reading

The 605 candidates listed in the official newspaper Granma must still be ratified in an electoral process convened for March 11. At this stage in Cuban elections there is a single candidate for each seat and voters may only choose whether or not to approve them. No names may be added or deleted.

If Raul Castro decided to make his son his successor as president, he would be violating the Electoral Law, the reform of which, announced in February 2015, has not yet been undertaken. According to Article 10 in paragraph F of the current law, to be eligible for the Council of State it is necessary to have been “previously elected as a Deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power.”

The most recurrent hypothesis among analysts is that Raul Castro’s son, Alejandro Castro Espín, exerts the power behind the throne, acting as a “gray eminence” who, without sitting in the nation’s highest position, controls the country from the shadows.

Castro Espín, 52, is a colonel of the Ministry of the Interior (MININT) and is Raúl Castro’s only son. He is seen as a hard-liner and someone who would continue the politics practiced by his father. For the last five years he has been considered the true head of MININT, although he does not formally hold the title of Minister.

Speculation about the appointment of a “puppet president,” who will act in accordance with the interests of the family clan, has gained strength as the finalization of the new Parliament approaches.

One of the president’s daughters, sexologist Mariela Castro Espín, is included in the list of candidates for deputies of the National Assembly of People’s Power.

The list was published ten days after each province completed consultations on the proposed list of ‘pre-candidates’ for provincial delegates and deputies for each province. The national and provincial candidacy commissions previously prepared these lists, a method that allows them to politically filter the parliamentarians and to choose like-minded people who support the government.

The Electoral Law stipulates that roughly 50% of the 605 parliamentarians that make up the National Assembly are elected from among the constituency delegates, while the other half are proposed by mass organizations through their candidacy commissions.


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Rooftops That Look To The Sky

Havana’s rooftops are far from the intrusive stares in the streets below. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Zunilda Mata, Havana, 25 January 2018 – Rooftops with flimsily-covered wooden ‘houses.’ Rooftops with improvised pigeon coops and the sound of fluttering throughout the day. Rooftops in litigation where the neighbors fight over a place to stretch their clotheslines. Rooftops with water tanks where the water floods when it comes at all and moss grows in the corners. Rooftops that extend Havana to the sky and seen from Google Earth reveal more than they hide.

The city grows upwards and not with new skyscrapers. Building on the roofs, extending our housing over our heads, has prevented more than one divorce in this capital where housing problems drive creativity and the opportune use of any space where a bed can be laid out, a kitchen can be set up, or a newborn’s cradle can be tucked away. Rooftops are also far from the prying eyes that haunt the street.

Private and discreet, they can become a solarium for lightly dressed tourists above the houses where rooms are rented to foreigners, a place for teenage love with the stars as a coverlet, or a territory where you can fire up certain forbidden cigarettes. If the rooftops of Havana could speak they would tell stories of survival and eroticism, of colossal fights and of mirahuecos (voyeurs) who peek out from above. They would betray the hidden life of this city.


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Three Priests Ask Raúl Castro For Real Elections To “Avoid Violent Changes”

The signatories recall that the the Government restricts the manner in which religion is practiced on the Island, and mentions by way of example that public processions or masses must have the express permission of the authorities (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 January 2018 — Three Catholic priests have addressed a letter to President Raul Castro in which they ask the president to let Cubans “choose in freedom,” not vote. In this way, the priests warn, the island will have “different” political options to “prevent that one day, given whatever circumstances, Cuba is submerged in violent changes.”

The signatories of the letter, written on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the “Mass of the Homeland” presided over by Pope John Paul II, and reproduced in full in a public letter, are Castor José Álvarez de Devesa, of Camagüey; José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre, from Trinidad, and Roque Nelvis Morales Fonseca, from Holguín.

“We want to choose in freedom. In Cuba there are votes, not elections. It is urgent to have elections where we can decide not only our future, but also our present. Now we are invited to ‘vote,’ to say ‘yes’ to what already exists and there is no willingness to change. Choosing implies, in itself, different options, choosing implies the possibility of taking several paths,” say the priests. continue reading

The three priests note that, “Since the institutionalization of the Communist Party as the only party authorized to exist, this people has never been allowed to raise a different voice,” and emphasize that all criticism has been silenced.

According to the authors of the letter, the political changes they defend must be accompanied by the creation of a “Rule of Law” in which there is a clear distinction between the executive, legislative and judicial powers, and their independence is guaranteed.

“We want our judges not to be pressured, for the law to be order, for illegality not to be a way of subsisting or a weapon of domination,” argues the letter, which at the same time demands that the Capitol be filled with legislators who represent the interests of their constituents.” The letter denounces “the lack of religious freedom” since “the Church is tolerated, but it is constantly monitored and controlled.”

The letter also states that the Government restricts the manner in which religion is practiced on the Island, and mentions by way of example that public processions or masses must have the express permission of the authorities, and if this is not granted no explanations are given.

The legalization of private and independent media is another of the demands of the letter, whose signatories note that the Church does not have free access to the mass media in Cuba and argue that the “monopoly and control of communication media means that nobody can access public media freely.”

“Cubans have the right to participate as investors in the economy and in our country’s negotiations,” demands the publication, which blames the “lamentable economic helplessness” that Cubans experience on the lack of opportunities for citizens to invest in the island on an equal basis with foreigners.

Nor has education been left out of the epistle, which notes that although education is a guaranteed right on the island and schooling is compulsory, there is a “teaching of a single way of thinking.” The letter defends young people’s right to “educational alternatives” and “options for the teaching of thought” and goes on to say that parents should have the right to choose “what kind of education they want for their children.”

In recent years several calls for attention from Catholic priests to the Government have had a great impact on national and international public opinion. In September of 1993, when the country was immersed in a deep economic crisis, the Cuban bishops released the pastoral “Love endures all things.”

Twenty years later, in 2013, another pastoral titled “Hope does not disappoint,” signed by 13 active bishops and Cardinal Jaime Ortega Alamino, addressed 43 points of the national reality that, from the perspective of the Cuban Catholic Church, should be improved.

Now, the three priests have chosen to publish their letter on a date to pay tribute to Archbishop Pedro Meurice Estiú, of Santiago de Cuba, who on January 24, 1998 gave a homily during the visit of Pope John Paul II to the island, an event at which Raúl Castro, then Minister of the Armed Forces, was also present. During the mass the Pope defined the Cuban people in a memorable way.

A growing number of Cubans “have confused the homeland with a party, the nation with the historical process we have experienced in recent decades and the culture with an ideology,” said the Archbishop at that time.


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Letter to Raul Castro from Three Cuban Priests

A makeshift shrine to Cuba’s Patroness, The Virgin of Charity of Cobre, on Havana’s Malecon

To Raúl Castro Ruz on the 20th anniversary of the Mass for the Homeland celebrated by Saint John Paul II and the words of Bishop Pedro Meurice at Antonio Maceo Plaza in Santiago de Cuba, on January 24, 1998.

On the first of January, the 59th anniversary of the triumph of a Revolution was commemorated. A Revolution necessary in the face of the atrocities committed with impunity by a power that had turned against this people. Many fought and many died to give their children a Cuba where they could live in freedom, peace and prosperity.

Today, almost six decades later, we have sufficient arguments to evaluate what we have experienced in our land.

Since the institutionalization of the Communist Party as the only party authorized to exist, this people has never been allowed to raise a different voice, rather, every different voice that has tried to make itself heard has been silenced. continue reading

This totalitarian style has permeated every layer of society. Cubans know they have no freedom of expression, they are careful in saying what they think and feel, because they live in fear, often even in fear of those with whom they live every day: classmates, coworkers, neighbors, acquaintances and relatives. We live in a web of lies that runs from the home to the highest spheres. We say and do what we do not believe or feel, knowing that our interlocutors do the same. We lie to survive, hoping that some day this game will end or an escape route will appear in a foreign land. Jesus Christ said: “The truth will set you free.” We want to live in the truth.

The monopoly and control of communication media means that nobody can access public media freely. Similarly, there is no alternative education. Every Cuban child has a right to education and access to a school, but to a single model of education, to a single ideology, to the teaching of a single way of thinking. Cubans have the right to have educational alternatives and options for the teaching of thought, Cuban parents have the right to choose what kind of education they want for their children.

The economic helplessness in which this people lives is lamentable, forced by circumstances to beg for help from relatives who managed to go abroad or from foreigners who visit us; to ask for fair compensation or to steal everything they can, renaming theft with delicate words that help the conscience so as not to show it in all its harshness.

Many families lack a minimally stable income that allows them to acquire the basics of living without worry. Feeding, clothing and providing shoes for children is a daily problem, public transport is a problem, even access to many medications is a problem. And in the midst of a people that struggles to survive, the unspoken suffering of the elderly, often silently unprotected, is inserted.

How can it be said that capital belongs to the people, when the people do not decide what is done with it? How can the necessary public institutions be maintained if there are not the necessary resources? Why are foreigners invited to invest their money and Cubans are not allowed to invest theirs in an equality of opportunities? Cubans have the right to participate as investors in the economy and in our country’s negotiations.

And to all this is added the lack of religious freedom. The Church is tolerated, but it is constantly monitored and controlled. Full religious freedom is limited with controlled freedom of permission to worship. Christians can come together to share their faith, but they are not allowed to build a temple. The Church can hold processions and even public Masses, but always on the condition of an express permission from the authorities which, if it is not granted, is not subject to appeal or explanation. The Church can raise its voice in the temples, but it does not have free access to the mass media and, in the few moments when this does happen, it is always under censorship. The laity are censored when they try to apply their faith to political and social practice.

This social dynamic that has resulted in Cuba has forgotten the person, his dignity as a child of God and his inalienable rights; almost 60 years after this people believed in an ideal that is always postponed and never realized. When someone questions, when someone raises their voice, they find only vulnerability and exclusion.

We want a country where life is more respected from conception to natural death, where the union of the family is strengthened and marriage between a man and a woman is cared for; in which pensions are enough for our elders to live on; in which professionals can live with dignity on their salaries; where citizens can become entrepreneurs and there is more freedom of work and contracts for athletes and artists. Young Cubans should find work opportunities that allow them to develop their talents and skills here and not see leaving Cuba as the only way out.

We have a legality subject to power, the absence of a “Rule of Law.” The clear distinction and independence of the three powers is essential: executive, legislative and judicial. We want our judges not to be pressured, for the law to be order, for illegality not to be a way of subsisting or a weapon of domination. Let our Capitol be filled with legislators who, with full power, represent the interests of their constituents.

Our people are discouraged and tired, there is a stagnation that can be summed up in two words: survive or escape. Cubans need to experience the joy of “thinking and speaking without hypocrisy” with different political opinions. We are tired of waiting, tired of running away, tired of hiding. We want to live our own lives.

This letter also has a purpose, which is a right: We want to choose in freedom. In Cuba there are votes, not elections. It is urgent to have elections where we can decide not only our future, but also our present. Now we are invited to “vote,” to say “yes” to what already exists and there is no willingness to change. Choosing implies, in itself, different options, choosing implies the possibility of taking several paths.

If we write this letter is to prevent that one day, given whatever circumstances, Cuba is submerged in violent changes that would only add more useless suffering. We still have time to follow a progressive process towards a plurality of options that allows a favorable change for everyone. But time is running out, it is urgent to open the door.

There is no use hiding the truth. It is useless to pretend that nothing is happening. It is useless to cling to power. Our Master Jesus Christ tells Cubans today: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, if he forfeits his life?” We are in time to construct a different reality. We are in the time to create the Cuba Martí desired: “With all and for the good of all.”

We entrust ourselves to the intercession of the Virgin of Charity, Patroness of Cuba. She, Mother of all Cubans, intercedes before the Lord of history who, as His Holiness Benedict XVI said in Cuba: “God not only respects human freedom, but seems to need it,” so that we can always choose the greater good for all.

Father Castor José Álvarez de Devesa, Cura del Modelo, Camagüey

Father José Conrado Rodríguez Alegre, Pastor of San Francisco de Paula, Trinidad, Cienfuegos

Father Roque Nelvis Morales Fonseca, Pastor of Cueto, Holguín

We Are All Norwegians

The president of the United States, Donald Trump, wants only blond, tall, orderly, hard-working, educated and clean people, like the Norwegians, to emigrate to the US. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerDonald Trump would like Norwegian immigrants. Blond, tall, orderly, hard-working, educated and clean people. Successful people with whom he shares physical features and certain traits. But it’s unlikely that he’ll have any luck. Today, Norwegians enjoy a standard of living higher than Americans and find that in their democratic, free and peaceful homeland there are plenty of opportunities to improve themselves by their own efforts. They have no reason to emigrate. Almost no one likes to depart for destinations unknown.

In contrast, fate (or geography, which is almost always the same) has delivered to Trump Mexican, Brazilian, Guatemalan, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Honduran, Haitian, Colombian and — lately — Venezuelan immigrants and other “shitty people” who flee from their failed societies in search of security and progress. (“Shithole” people is the denigrating and unfair term put into service by the president of the United States himself in a conversation that allegedly was private.) continue reading

In reality, two thirds of the world’s population are much closer to the “shitty” people than to Norwegians. A lax description of the societies in India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, China, the Arab and sub-Saharan nations, a part of Europe, Russia and Latin America would elicit from Trump the same offensive definition he utilized for Salvadorans, Haitians and Africans.

In any case, it is absurd to think that the solution to problems is in social homogeneity. Sharing a single race, a single religion, a single language only guarantees us boredom, monotony and abuse. That’s the road to Nazism and the extermination of different people. The glorious message of republican ideas and parliamentary monarchies is that diversity is not only inevitable but also very convenient.

The 1790 census in the United States tallied roughly 4 million white Americans, almost all of English and Irish origin, and half a million black slaves. Only a handful of native Americans remained, and they weren’t even counted. In 2018, we have 325 million people, of whom 72 percent are white, 13 percent black and 16 percent Hispanic, a strange definition that is attributable to the European colonizer.

This enormous leap has been achieved while the country rose to the head of the planet. In 1890, the United States already was the world’s largest economy. After more than a century, it continues to be, although it grows at the rate of only 2 percent a year. This means that, at least until today, the machine that turns “shitty” people into productive and wealth-producing citizens has worked splendidly, an extreme that should not surprise us. The species is the same. What changes is the circumstances, the incentives and the institutions.

The children of the Polish or Russian peasants, in numerous cases born in tiny Jewish villages, or shtetls, became renowned doctors, lawyers and scholars of all kinds. The Indians, fragmented into 200 castes in their homeland, were the segment with the highest level of income in the United States. The second generation of Cubans, whose fathers had turned their island into an unproductive collectivist disaster, attained a high degree of education and economic performance.

What I mean to say is that the United States does not need Norwegians. It needs institutions, fair laws, opportunities for newcomers to develop, and moral and material incentives for individual enterprise. If that holds, the Haitians will slowly become Norwegians, even though they’ll keep their ethnic features.

After all, today’s admirable Norwegians were once fierce Vikings, crass and brutal, who had a bad habit of spitting into the bathtub where they washed off the blood and mud that covered them after they exterminated their adversaries. That’s when the Norwegians were shitty people.

Note: Translation from El Blog de Montaner


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The Euphemism that Looks After Me / Alejandro González Acosta

‘El compañero que me atiende’ is for sale on Amazon and in some Florida bookstores. (14ymedio)

Alejandro González Acosta, 1 December 2017, Mexico City — Lichi[1] told me that the last time he was in Cuba[2], he went to visit a G-2 colonel at home, the brother of a famous Cuban historian who was Lichi’s good friend in Mexico. Between drinks and confidences, Lichi asked him:

“Come on, man, just between us: You’re surely watching me and having me cableao[3] [listened to] everywhere, right?”

“No, Lichi,” the other responded. “There’s no need because we already know how you think, even what you publish. In addition,” added the security officer, “we don’t have the technology[4] we used to have when the bolos[5] were here. There’s not much left that’s in good working order. And the little we have is directed toward the Central Committee of the Communist Party, because we’re interested in knowing what they’re thinking and planning.”

Perhaps this was just another one of Lichi’s many fictions, but I suspect that this one was true. continue reading

It makes me think of the anecdote that was recently published in El compañero que me atiende [The Compañero Who Looks After Me] (Hypermedia, 2017), the timely anthology that Enrique del Risco (“Enrisco” to his friends), an exiled Cuban historian in New York, compiled and edited.

Like so many other common expressions on the island, this title probably isn’t fully understood by someone who isn’t Cuban and hasn’t passed at least a part of his life in Cuba during the last 60 years. “The compañero who looks after me” can be, for foreigners, a waiter, a mechanic, some employee, who with kind and fraternal camaraderie procures some service or product for them. But we Cubans know that’s not the case: far from it.

Just like the “accomplishments” of the Cuban Revolution that were showcased with pride—every child would have education and every sick person his doctor—so every citizen can count on having his own policeman, solicitous and attentive to what he says, hears and thinks. This ubiquitous and omnipresent character, almost omniscient and supposedly omnipotent is, ultimately, “the compañero who looks after me.” In a totalitarian system like the present Cuban one, where “everything not prohibited is obligatory,” it’s normal that half the population monitors the other half, and even among that half, nothing escapes them.

Something really monstrous that escapes the comprehension of the rest of the “normal” world (Cuban hasn’t been a “normal” country for a long time) is that this “compañero who looks after me” has in turn his own “compañero who looks after him,” and this one possesses another “compañero who looks after him,” in an uninterrupted and infinite succession until you come to the top of the pyramid where that Big Brother who monitors everyone and perhaps even himself is busy looking suspiciously into a mirror of informers. Everything is possible in that surrealistic Caribbean world.

Enrique del Risco understands this perfectly, and thus gives his pertinent commentary about The Trial and The Castle, written by the famous and prophetic Czech author, which he includes in his preface. It’s been said—and it’s no joke—that “if Kafka had been born in Cuba, he would have been a genre writer.” For modern Cubans, The Trial and The Castle have a solid and macabre arquitectonic symbol: Villa Marista, the “home sweet home” of all the compañeros who look after us.

If anybody knows this theme of a “compañero who looks after me” it was Lichi. His famous Informe contra mí mismo (Informing Against Myself) is nothing more than the response, after years of boredom, that he gave to the seguroso [State Security officer] who was trying to get him to inform on his own family.

This matter of citizen spying is almost a genre of opposition Cuban literature: Antes que anochezca (Before Night Falls), by Reinaldo Arenas, would be another response to that “compañero who looks after me.” And Contra toda esperanza (Against All Hope), by Armando Valladares, also. And En Cuba Todo el mundo canta (In Cuba Everybody Sings), by Rafael E. Saumell. And Fuera del juego (Out of the Game), although you would have to say here “the compañero who takes of ‘us’,” since it should include his then-wife, the poetess Belkis Cusa Malé; En mi jardín pastan los héroes (Heroes Graze in My Garden); La mala memoria (Bad Memory), by Heberto Padilla; Mapa dibujado por un espía (Map Drawn by a Spy), by Guillermo Cabrera Infante; La nada cotidiana (The Daily Nothingness); La hija del embajador (The Ambassador’s Daughter); La noche al revés (Night in Reverse), by Zoé Valdés; and 20 años y 40 días (Twenty Years and Forty Days), by Jorge Valls. Even El hombre que amaba los perros (The Man Who Loved Dogs), by Leonardo Padura, is, in its own way, also a novel about permanent vigilance.

For Cubans of this epoch, the Forest of Eyes in Alice in Wondertown is a reality with nothing imaginative about it: Everything is seen and known in this total fortress that is the Cuba of the Castros. Thus, this work of Lewis Carroll served Jesús Díaz for his brilliant interpretation of Alice in Wondertown (1991), with a characterization of the unforgettable Reynaldo Miravalles in the powerless role of the Director of the Sanatorio Satán (Satanic Sanitorium) in the town of Maravillas de Noveras, with his bony accusing finger, descending from the heavens in the rattling elevator.

A little before, Díaz had managed—finally!—to publish his unforgettable novel, Las iniciales de la tierra (The Beginnings of the Earth), where the protagonist Carlos Pérez Cifredo confronts another variant of the “compañero who looks after me”: the interminable autobiographical document that so many Cubans have written, the famous cuéntame tu vida (Tell me about your life), the implacable and intrusive spreadsheet of entry to a political organization. This can also be considered a parallel genre to what Del Risco puts forth later. In some place on the island—perhaps in the Villa Marista—there must be an enormous archive with all the “tellmeaboutyourlife” stories that have been written in these almost 60 years. A Library of Babel of denouncements and, worse even, self-denouncements, saved for memory, disgust and posterity. We should then have a new V. Chentalinski to do with this what he did with The Literary Archives of the KGB.

We can’t deny it: The German film The Life of Others and Kundera’s The Joke are, for Cubans, part of a vital daily bibliography, a kind of Caribbean self-help literature, and this book confirms it. But wise friends are warning me that these references should also include classics like The Rebel, by Camus, and The Captive Mind, by Milosz.

Fifty-seven living authors participate in this “work of multiple creation,” all of them Cuban, the majority outside the island, but also some who live there, for whom the very fact of publishing in this book could have serious consequences—at the very least, a friendly visit from “the compañero who still takes care of them.” There are 57 testimonials, but there could also be 11,616,004 (the total population of Cuba according to the last official 2017 census), since all have, had or will have a similar story (without counting the 2,000,000 in exile). And all the Cubans dispersed throughout this broad and alien world since 1959 have at least one anecdote about that solicitous companion of our terrors and fears.

But let’s not be naive: The perversity of this system is not limited to Cubans alone. Everyone on the island is suspect, even if the opposite is proven. Correspondents and foreign diplomats also have their “compañero who looks after them,” although organized under other façades: the International Press Center, first, and the General Protocol Directorate, second, both camouflaged under the cover of the Ministry of Foreign Relations.

And vigilant attention is not limited to Cubans on the island, either. In the Exterior, they also continue being the object of the watchful supervision that is organized from the Regime’s embassies, always scandalously overpopulated and with an intense espionage activity, under the façade of the Chancellery, supported by that large Ministry of Exterior Police that is the Cuban Institute of Friendship with the People.

Thus, this book is fully registered in the testimonial genre that the Cuban Revolution gave birth to itself, in works like Operación Masacre [Operation Massacre], Trelew [Trelew], and many more, but from the other camp, the other side of the door… or the wall. Although the official “critics” say that if testimony is not “progressive, revolutionary and committed” it is not testimony, Reality contradicts them. In fact, today the testimony of the victims of communist repression is much more alive and convincing than that of the repressors who are determined to deny it or misrepresent it.

The intellectual who is monitored and persecuted in Cuba has been around for a long time. Convinced that they were harassing him, Manuel Zequeira pretended to make himself invisible by putting on a sombrero. José María Heredia left the country disguised as a sailor, an authentic proto-balsero, fleeing from the police. José Jacinto Milanés ended his days in a mental hospital, in a fog of paranoia. José Martí traveled to Cuba as “Julián Pérez” in order to outwit the pre-Castro customs and immigration. Virgilio Piñera was permanently obsessed with “an old panic,” expecting them to come for him. Raúl Hernández Novas, in spite of going about hunched over, couldn’t really hide himself because he was very tall. He committed suicide after experiencing “the enigma of waters,” and he rushed headlong—da capo—to a liberating death.

A typical Cuban feels himself permanently under surveillance. Even when he finally manages to escape the island-prison, for a long time he searches for microphones in lamps and underneath tables if some unwary person asks him something he considers compromising. He never says what he thinks, because he knows very well the price he will pay. He’s been trained. Later he loosens up and even talks too much: Some joke that they pay him to talk and then pay him more to shut up.

The image of a guard holding a sharp, threatening machete and a wide-open eye, watchful and omnipresent like something out of Santería, are the symbols of the CDRs (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), the most pernicious, corrupting and demeaning of all the gruesome inventions on the Island of Doctor Castro.

I’m listening to you, whispers the emblem. Without knowing it, those frustrated old ladies, bitter and needing to feel they’re useful for something, the classic cederistas, are the descendants of the Parisian Bluestockings of the Place de Grève and the fisherwomen of the Marais. They are not named Charolotte or Lisette, but rather “Cusa of the Committee.” What the hell!

A joke about the government can be fatal. In my time, among friends, as an exculpatory and prophylactic exorcism, expecting the presence of microphones—or people with the same mission—after hearing a “joke against the government” we would finish roaring with laughter with a sentence: “On the record: If I’m laughing it’s because of indignation.” And in Cuba, even when we hung up the phone, it listened to whatever was said nearby, an old tactic from the NKVD and the KGB.

A person who is very dear to me lost his promising career as an economist because he told a joke about Nicolás Guillén with a mocking version of his poem, Tengo, in a group of supposed friends, and one of them ran to inform the Cuban Securitate, who expelled him from the University of Havana. Everything culminated in a grotesque scene: the then Rector (Reptile) obliterated him with a critical sentence: “Between doubt and the Revolution, I stand with the Revolution.” Later, this same rector was gloriously dethroned: Such is life in these tropics, dearest. Because the best thing about this story is that the earth is round (although some nuts still doubt it) and continues to turn….

The deeply religious mentality of communism, and especially that of the two former students of schools that were directed by severe priests, as were Stalin (in a seminary) and Castro (in the Ignatius College of Belén), creates a system of constant “examination of conscience,” of which “the compañero who looks after us” is a fortunate confessor in civil clothing. These “castles of the soul” and the Marxist-Ignacius “spiritual exercises” that culminate in the famous auto-criticism (much better and more effective if it is public and humiliating), are part of a process of continual and interminable catechism and purification. Everyone needs to be reviewed periodically, and in this way, one is offered the generous possibility of “repentance.” What is not pardonable is to decline the confession and the auto-inculpation, and even less to persevere in the error with the disastrous bourgeois “auto-sufficiency” that opposes accepting the charges and sins….

One thing that is especially perverse about this “head police” is that, against every presumption, it doesn’t hide; on the contrary, it is shameless. It exposes itself; it demonstrates that it’s always present and that it’s everywhere, because its principal mission, in addition to causing fear, is to dissuade and advise—lovingly and persuasively—almost like a friend: “Don’t burn yourself, dude.” “Don’t create problems.” “I understand you, compadre, but….” It is, let’s say, a kindly, sensitive executioner, almost deliquescent and ethereal. A “guardian angel” in shirt sleeves, who not only can expel you from Paradise but also put you in prison, which is Purgatory or Hell, depending on the sentence.

Enrique del Risco aptly baptizes it Género totalitario policíaco, the totalitarian police genus. It could also be a species of communist bildungsroman, a kind of Cuban formative novel, the “sentimental education” of the “new man.” Or also police eschatology, because of the persistent phantom who always is persecuting you. Or the neo-Gothic novel of castrismo, with its horrendous monsters. Or comic surrealism. A chance Orwellian 1984 but in the continuous indicative present, up to date, 2017.

The kindness of “the compañero who looks after you” goes in two directions: to control and support you, but also to look for your cooperation, to convert you from being someone suspicious to being an informer. Because creating a snitch is the jewel in the crown for the compañero, and there are many who have been persuaded and are now limping along this path.

Informing has been presented historically as a “revolutionary virtue” from a very old date. In the Soviet Union of Stalin the example of the little pioneer, Pavlik Morózov (1918-1932) was very popular. In a supreme surge of generous militant communism, he denounced his parents and grandparents, who were executed. Then he died, according to the propaganda, assassinated by other vengeful family members, but the latest research in the KGB archives allowed Catriona Kelly to make sure in her book, Comrade Pavlik: The Rise and Fall of a Soviet Boy Hero (2005), that apparently it was the “compañero who looked after him” who liquidated the talkative Pavlik, following higher orders, in order to later dedicate to him statues, books, songs, a symphonic poem, opera and even a movie by the laureate, Sergei Eisenstein (Bezhin Meadow, 1937). This should serve as a wise warning to incautious collaborators that their task is extremely dangerous, not only for their victims, but also for the compañeros themselves. “If there were no heroes, you would have to invent them, whatever the price.” So said the good Koba behind his smoking pipe.

One of the most diabolical perversions of the system is that, in addition to having a mandatory Identity Card, every citizen has a File, but unlike the first, which he must always carry, he never sees the second, although it decides his life the whole time: whether he progresses or not, if he makes progress or fails, if he goes forward or falls back, if he lives or not. And this file has a permanent, dedicated scribe, who is, precisely, the compañero, that “annihilating angel” who doesn’t miss a step or a footfall, a bloodhound always sniffing your tracks, that devoted scribe who writes your Book of Life.

In the twisted, repressive logic of Communism, everyone is guilty and thus punishable. If we are alive, of course we’re committing some sin and various crimes. It’s only a matter of finding out. Therefore, if the Power decides to investigate your life, it will always find something for which to blame and punish you. And if nothing appears, it’s invented: Ángel Santiesteban knows something about this.

It’s a shame that Fidel Castro wasn’t able to read this book, which has him in it as a permanent presence. I imagine he would have enjoyed it a lot, because he would have recognized his most transcendent work. He was fortunate to have a long, although sterile, life, always surrounded by the veneration and obsequiousness of his terrified close friends, and he surely would have enjoyed knowing about the creativity of his subordinates to whom he delegated the honorable task of being vigilantes, in that government that’s a carbon copy of Minority Report, constructed “with the delight of an artist.” The ideal for him was that everyone carry his own vigilante inside, a kind of tortuous doppelgänger or devious old uncle, embedded in the subconscious. This compañero is, therefore, a kind of vampire, insatiable and contaminating. After sucking your blood, he prolongs your life, but also makes it impure, in his image, like his spawn.

But I have a terrible suspicion: In reality, the system and its agents are not really worried about what people think, but rather what they say and do. It’s a kind of tacit complicity that although they imagine, suppose and even know what you think, what really matters is what you do and say, obliging people to act falsely without a break, in a permanent performance, a schizoid, never-ending performance, with an irreparable psychic dissociation which forms the character of the present “new man”: “I know that you don’t like me, but what’s important is that you obey and venerate me.”

Without doubt, one of the most cruelly delicious and masochistic experiences will be when this nightmare regime finally collapses, and people can read the bulging files (that I hope they don’t destroy in their precipitous fall), guarded by State Security, the grand fabric of the “compañeros that take care of us.” I trust that they won’t eliminate them because I know that, perversely, they would want to leave the seed of discord to be sown for 100 more years. But, finally, with the sad truth would come mental, social and individual health. “In 100 years,” said the French aristocrat while he climbed the stairs to the guillotine that awaited him, sharp and thirsty, “all this will be only an anecdote.”

This “compañero who takes care of us” is also a character out of cinema, a comedian in a guayabera or safari outfit, with pockets full of pens and pants, with one pant-leg carelessly but elegantly tucked into a boot. Don’t forget that the dark glasses are an essential part of the image. He deserves a movie that would be shown in festivals of horror films and involuntary humor, like the series Mobil 8 and Sector 40, with that sinister and mocking “Manquito” chasing us everywhere.

You would have to expect now the passionate testimony of the other side, written by them; it could be entitled The Compañeros Who Served, where the magnificent influence that the ones watched had on the vigilantes would be appreciated, obligating them to read philosophy, history and art, and even listen to curta music, in order to understand and be able to monitor their prey better. Such a grand cultural level they would attain thanks to that! Because, let’s not forget—supreme irony—they also have been permanently monitored by their own “compañeros who look after” them.

But the “compañeros who look after you” have also been good teachers and have educated outstanding disciples, and now their presence is not required, since their pupils have become very capable themselves. The cultural officials—Barnet, Prieto, Arrufat and several others—are already so good at that Dark Trade as were in their time the “compañeros who looked after them.” You can’t deny that they had excellent teachers and became magnificent students.

Those “attentive compañeros” have been the same “literary advisers,” “curators of exhibitions,” “vigilant publishers,” “omnipotent and decisive jurors of literary competitions,”… truly protean and know-it-all. And, in addition, very proud of their mission. I remember a famous painter and graphic designer, who proclaimed cheerfully and loudly that he was a “trumpet,” meaning a snitch on his colleagues, for which he was compensated and decorated with the Medal for the Twentieth Anniversary of the Ministry of the Interior. It’s the small vanity of the miserable, the joy he couldn’t hide for this variant of ideological bullying, a surprising cross between a cat and a rat.

If anyone inside this genre merits that a novel be written about him, it would be José Abrantes, perhaps the most dramatic figure in recent times in terms of the artistic tension of conflicts. Possibly someday one of his descendants will decide to write it, since the former Minister was the first instructor and creator of the “compañeros who looked after,” before being looked after himself by his trained trainees.

Although they often are solitary, the “compañeros who look after” can operate in harmonious duos, not at the same time but rather successively: First Good Cop appears, and if you don’t understand the lesson, Bad Cop shows up. Or the opposite, according to the individual. But they’re well distributed, coordinated and organized. They’re a didactic couple, in the purest Makarenko style: all a pedagogic poem. They’re the Stakhanovites of culture and thought, the Lunacharskys of ideas, the Dzerzhinskys of metaphors. In sum: the Dear Enemy.

Enrique del Risco qualifies this large anthology as an anomaly, because the genre obviously will not enjoy commercial success in countries where it’s a living reality, since it belongs to the “literature that is rigorously monitored,” and also because—for understandable mental health reasons—it doesn’t want to be remembered or revived in a society where it has already been eradicated. Thus, it is a thankless and upsetting genre, but one that is necessary so that the experience will not be repeated. This anthology-book (in both meanings) is, then, a text that is not only literary and historic, but also informative and educative. It constitutes a whole Practical Manual of Totalitarian Teaching that is operational. If only for this reason, it deserves to be widely read. Perhaps it would serve others to know—although no one learns through others’ experience—what Cubans have gone through and already suffered (and continue to suffer): those beings that are happy, unworried, playful and always under suspicion, Cortázar’s anxious cronopios and esperanzas, permanently monitored by severe famas.

This book is, on the other hand, a work of catharsis and exorcism, and it could be the genuine Book of Text of the Grand Ministry of Social and Political Domestication. It also can have another use: showing the interior mechanisms of spying and snitching, and it can be an antidote and a preventive prophylactic, with recipes that the great artistic maestros elaborated from their unhappy personal experience of evading, confounding and deceiving that vigilante, that monstrous euphemism that is needed to “look after us,” in order to survive as an efficient and productive element of a dreadful mechanism. This book, possibly, is a collection of recipes to neutralize it.

 Translated by Regina Anavy

[1] Eliseo Alberto de Diego García-Marruz (Arroyo Naranjo, September 10, 1951, Mexico City, July 31, 2011).

[2] The last time he was alive. Later he returned, now cremated into “beloved ashes,” to fulfill his wish to be scattered on the murky waters of the river near the home of his birth, by his Herculean twin sister, Fefé (Josefina de Diego), his striking daughter, María José, and a group of close friends.

[3] With hidden microphones.

[4] The technology, equipment, microphones.

[5] Russians.


‘Sputnik’ and ‘Russia Today’ Invade the Cuban Media

The references to ‘Sputnik’ and ‘RT’ are increasingly frequent in Cuba’s official media, which cites them among their main sources.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 13 December 2017 — While the accusations grow against Russia for using social networks to manipulate the Catalan crisis, the American elections and Britain’s Brexit, the Kremlin-financed press gains space in Cuba. The references to Sputnik and Russia Today, which is now called RT, are increasingly frequent in the official media, which presents them among its main sources.

The Russian state news agency Sputnik and its international television channel RT are mentioned every day in newspapers, and TV news and radio programs on the island. The content taken from both media ranges from scientific announcements, to information about Russia to international issues.

Without substantiating the veracity of the information provided, the analysts of the official press assume the points of view, the opinions and the assertions of those media, with the same complicity with which they once promoted information from the Soviet newspaper Pravda and the official new agency TASS. continue reading

Questioning the legitimacy of the West, promoting skepticism of democracy, doubting the future of the European Union, disseminating conspiracy theories about the powers that move the world, and denying the decision-making capacity of citizens in liberal systems are some of the ideas most repeated in those state media.

In support of this scaffolding are added “testimonies” and opinions to reinforce the idea of ​​the superiority of authoritarian regimes in comparison with the chaos that seizes parliamentary debates when approving new security measures or passing laws, in societies governed by the separation of powers.

The current closeness with Russian media contrasts with the attitude of the Cuban government towards Novedades de Moscú (a weekly newspaper published in Spanish) and Sputnik magazine in the years of Perestroika and Glasnsot in the Soviet Union, when the circulation of those publications was censored in Cuba.

The cult of personality around Vladimir Putin and Fidel Castro is also part of the recipe of this propaganda press, with more intentions to indoctrinate than to inform. Analysts warn that the average person does not know if what they see is propaganda or information, one of the keys to the success of these media, especially on social networks. In addition, RT and Sputnik also display a rampant absence of criticism towards any regime allied with the Kremlin or any enemy of the United States.

According to them, the launching of the missiles by the Kim Jong-un regime is the correct North Korean response to “the joint naval maneuvers of the United States, Japan and South Korea,” while the most recent Venezuelan elections represent the “greatest victory’ of Chavism and the “final defeat” of the opposition.

The information published by the official Cuban media on the Catalan crisis was mainly based on RT’s reporting. The support for the separatists reached its climax the days before the illegal referendum, which was presented as a democratic consultation in opposition to the position of the Spanish Government, which defended the constitutional legality but which was branded by the Russian media as “fascist” and an inheritor from the dictator Francisco Franco.

These official bodies of the Kremlin also have a political agenda when narrating the Cuban reality. Positive verbs such as “grow” and “develop” or nouns of a humanistic nature in the style of “solidarity,” “justice” and “collaboration” dot the information about Cuba, in which the supposed achievements of the Cuban health system, its sporting feats and official events are highlighted, while productive inefficiency, police repression or migratory exodus are silenced.

Both media fail to mention the political opposition within the country and, when they do, they repeat terms such as “internal enemies,” “counterrevolutionary” or “financed by the United States,” while presenting Raúl Castro’s government as having broad popular support and a proven diplomatic ascendancy in Latin America.

The worn-out formula of the small “revolutionary” David against the great “imperialist” Goliath fits within all of their content about the relations between Washington and Havana and the diplomatic thaw promoted by Barack Obama. Clearly, according to them, the economic problems faced by the island’s resident every day are the absolute fault of “the blockade.”

On 25 November, RT broadcast a program with the lead “One year after the death of Fidel Castro Cubans remain faithful to his legacy,” in which it delved into topics about the genius and charisma of the former president, in addition to interviews only with his eternally grateful supporters.

Last May, a few days after Donald Trump announced in a speech in Miami the change of course in the relationship between Washington and Havana, Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez offered an interview to the Russian network, one of the only two media that commented on the subject. The other was the Chavista channel from Venezuela, TeleSUR.

Several ideas were emphasized in the material presented: the US president develops a policy “typical of the Cold War”; the White House mutilates “the civil rights” of its own people; and any criticism launched by the occupant of the White House towards the Plaza of the Revolution represents the sin of “a double standard.” Three points from the Kremlin’s information booklet on Cuba.

These biased positions have been widely disseminated on social networks thanks to the island’s cyber soldiers who militantly share the content of RT and Sputnik. Both media also work to indoctrinate the Cuban audience through the Cuban press, thus Moscow influences the way in which the reality of the outside world is perceived by Cubans.

Unlike many European countries where alarms have been sounded over the new media war that is being deployed by the ex-official of the KGB who is now president of Russia, Havana willingly lends itself to all the manipulations of Putin and offers him, in addition, a captive audience of 11 million Cubans.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Desiderio Navarro Dies, the “Lone Ranger” of Cuban Semiotics

The Cuban intellectual Desiderio Navarro. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 8 December 2017 — The essayist, literary critic, semiotician and translator, Desiderio Navarro, died Thursday in Havana, at 69 years of age as a result of cancer that, for the last year, had prevented him from appearing in public.

Navarro, born in Camagüey in 1948, was a renowned polyglot and poet, as well as a rigorous and coherent essayist. In Cuba, he excelled in the studies of semiotics, a discipline that he helped disseminate within the island and that served as a tool for much of his research.

Raised as a Catholic, in his first years in Camagüey he was considered an “uncomfortable” young person, as 14ymedio confirmed with his high school classmates. During that time, he participated in a dispute that turned into a fight in 1961. In that memorable event he allied himself on the side of the young Christians from private schools who led the student organization, against the self-styled “revolutionaries.” continue reading

Later he would settle in Havana and become a student of Marxism. His closest friends considered him more “Marxologist than Marxist” and he made a great contribution to the study of that ideology in Cuba by translating from Russian important theorists of Soviet Perestroika.

The researcher led a bitter controversy against the essayist and poet Guillermo Rodríguez Rivera, whom he accused of committing plagiarism, while the latter ended up denouncing him before the courts for the alleged crime of defamation. That confrontation is considered one of the most talked about disputes between Cuban intellectuals of the last decades.

Navarro founded and directed for 45 years the Criterios magazine and the eponymous theoretical-cultural center, which disseminated among the readers of the Island numerous theoretical texts, especially from Eastern Europe, due to his extensive knowledge of the languages ​​of that region.

The intellectual is also recognized for his meticulous analysis of the poetry of José Martí, Nicolás Guillén and Luis Rogelio Nogueras. Professor and critic Margarita Mateo says that he approached each analysis with “the rigor, dedication, intellectual honesty and ethical values” demanded by a researcher.

In 1986, he published an article in the Casa de las Américas journal that summarized a part of his semiotic work: “What I have written sometimes has the worn look of something already written by others, but also, much of what others have written bears my signature.”

At the beginning of 2007, the well-known Intellectual Debate or Little Email War broke out as a result of the appearance in the official media of several censors from the ‘Five Grey Years’Navarro actively participated in the organization of the discussion sessions that followed the email exchanges and prepared one of the most complete compilations of those texts.

Prominent among his books of essays are Culture And Marxism: Problems And ControversiesExercises Of OpinionThe Causes Of Things and Thinking About Everything: To Read In Context, as well as several theoretical and literary anthologies.

He won the Literary Criticism Award several times and the Ministry of Culture, along with the Cuban Book Institute recognized him with the National Editing Prize. At his death he was part of the National Council of the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba and recently the University of the Arts awarded him the title of Doctor Honoris Causa.

His wake will be held this Friday, between 10:00 am and 3:00 pm at the Funeral Home of Calzada and K, in El Vedado.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

With Yailin and Yoerky, ‘Generation Y’ Arrives at the Head of ‘Granma’ and ‘Juventud Rebelde’

Yoerky Sánchez Cuéllar, new director of ‘Juventud Rebelde’ and Yailin Orta Rivera, new director of ‘Granma’. (CC)

Both directors were born during the years of the Soviet presence on the Island, grew during the Special Period and have lived much of their lives under the dual currency system

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 December 2017 — After several weeks without someone formally in charge, the job of director of Granma, official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), was entrusted on Tuesday to Yailin Orta Rivera, who held the same position on the newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the PCC issued a brief press release in which it states that Orta graduated in 2006 with a degree in Journalism from the University of Havana and began her work as an editor. At 34, the young woman’s career was on an upward trajectory within Juventud Rebelde, where she “was promoted successively to head of department, assistant director and director.”

Orta is a member of the PCC and a member of the National Committee of the Young Communists Union. Her name and photo still do not appear in the Who are we? section on Granma’s digital site. As of Wednesday, the section still includes the fired director Pelayo Terry Cuervo, even though he was removed from office almost a month ago. The reasons for his sudden removal were not stated, then or now, though speculation abounds.

Orta has been replaced at Juventud Rebelde  by Yoerky Sánchez Cuéllar, a 2007 journalism graduate from the Central University of Las Villas, who started his career as an editor for the Vanguardia newspaper in Villa Clara.

Sánchez, also 34 years old, formerly directed Alma Mater magazine, is a member of the Central Committee of the PCC and a deputy in the National Assembly. In several parliamentary sessions in which he has participated he has recited décimas – sonnet-like poems – dedicated to Fidel Castro, José Martí and socialism.

With the arrival of Orta and Sánchez, the two main newspapers of the country are now led by members of Generation Y, young people in Cuba who were born during the years of the Soviet presence on the Island, grew up during the Special Period, and have lived a good part of their lives under the dual currency system. The name of the generation comes from the tendency of at that time to give their children names beginning with “Y.”


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.