In Tribute to Rafael Alcides, Cuban Poet and Writer and Wonderful Man

Rafael Alcides (9 June 1933 – 19 June 2018)

Today Translating Cuba is dedicated to Rafael Alcides, who died yesterday. We are republishing articles by and about him, and you can also do your own search of past articles on this site by going to this link.

The following “Author’s Biography” was written several years ago and is not up-to-date.

Rafael Alcides was born in Barrancas, municipal district of Bayamo (Cuba) in 1933. A poet and storyteller, he was a master baker in his teen years. He has worked as a farmhand, cane cutter, logger, wrecking crew cook, and manager of a sundries store in a cane-cutters’ outpost.

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In Havana in the 1950s he worked variously as a mason, broad-brush painter, exterminator, insurance agent, and door-to-door salesman. In 1959 he was the chief information officer for the Department of Latin American Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Relations, and spokesman of this agency in a daily television program in which he hosted and interviewed foreign political personalities. He was chief press officer and director of Cultural Affairs in the Revolutionary Delegation of the National Capitol.

Among his most recently-published titles are the poetry collections, GMT(2009), For an Easter Bush (2011), Travel Log (2011), Anthologies, in Collaboration with Jaime Londoño (2013), Conversations with God(2014), the journalistic Memories of the Future (2011), the multi-part novel, Ciro’s Ring (2011), and the story collection, A Fairy Tale That Ends Badly (2014).

As of 1993, he had been employed by the Cuban Institute of Radio & Television for more than 30 years as a scriptwriter, announcer, director and literary commentator when, at that time, he ceased all publishing and literary work in collaboration with the regime in Cuba. As a participant in numerous international literary events, Rafael Alcides has given conferences and lectures in countries in Central and South America, Europe, and the Middle East. His texts have been translated into many languages. He was honored with two Premios de la Crítica, and a third for a novel co-written with another author. In 2011 he received the Café Bretón & Bodegas Olarra de Prosa Española prize.

Rafael Alcides, Who is a Very Important Person / Regina Coyula

Rafael Alcides, poet, writer and my husband

Note: This article is being republished from 2013. Rafael Alcides passed away yesterday, 19 June 2018.

My husband is not just any writer.  He belongs to the generation known as “The Generation of the ’50s,” a rather arbitrary poetic grouping that started with Carilda Oliver (1922) and ran through David Chericián (1940). His generation’s peers — if they haven’t died or emigrated — have received the National Literature Prize and enjoyed social and official recognition. This is one of the reasons he is an extraordinary writer. Not only that he wasn’t seduced by the siren song of the National Prize ten years ago. Not only that he willingly “inxiled” himself from Cuba’s cultural life for twenty years and is not published in Cuba. continue reading

For him, the prize has been that his book Agradecido como un perro (Grateful As a Dog) was traded for cigarettes in the Combinado del Este prison in the late eighties, and asked around for; kids coming from the provinces discovered him by chance in a second-hand bookshop. His books today would be collectors’ items, of a writer unknown to the young and unpublished after 1990, if it weren’t for the Seville publisher Abelardo Linares who knocked on our door one day.

He is not a run-of-the-mill writer. Foreign publishers are highly sought after, their visits to Cuba put them in a position to receive a ton of unpublished and published texts from hopeful authors who either fete the foreign visitor or put a Santeria spell on them.

Alcides is incapable of boarding a bus, a shared taxi (almendrón), or a called taxi (panataxi); he is incapable of walking even 200 yards to meet a celebrity. Instead, he is an extraordinary host, so warm and attentive, who immediately makes even new acquaintances feel comfortable.

In this era of ideological polarization, he maintains an intact and intense affection for those he loves, whether a high government official or a senior opposition leader in exile. He forgives (but does not forget, he has excellent memory) some highbrow (?!) silliness from a fledgling poet to a functionary who from his new position has been allowed to treat him coldly. He will regrets the error of omission in the dedication to Roberto Fernández Retamar in a poem in a book just published in Colombia.

Another of the things that makes him extraordinary has to do with his appearance. When we started our relationship 24 years (!!) ago, my niece, with all the candor of ten years, wondered if he was Eliseo Diego. He was then a venerable white beard unsuspectedly balding. His contemporaries seemed like younger brothers. It turned out the joke was on them as he didn’t get any older while others lost their freshness, hair, pounds, physical and/or mental agility and for a long time the tables have been turned. That, despite a copious medical record very well concealed.

With the bias of affection, there are those who say he’s the best poet in the world. There’s no need to exaggerate, although some verses are saved for posterity.

These fires feed this man who writes and writes on a battered computer with no more to give. Leaving poetry behind he is dedicated to finishing enormous drafts, novels that became priorities in the rush of life.

No one would expect that behind this thunderous voice asking who’s last in line at the farmer’s market, this competent cook who saves me from the daily doldrums, is this Amazing Poet in “atrocious invisibility” who tomorrow, June 9th, will be 80 years old.

8 June 2013

Activist Iliana Hernandez Released from Jail

The activist Iliana Hernández, director of the television program Lente Cubano, was arrested for participating in the independent #00Bienal. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 May 2018 — The activist Iliana Hernandez, director of the television program Lente Cubano (Cuban Lens), was released on Saturday after being arrested on Friday when she tried to enter El Círculo gallery, where a show that is a part of the independent #00 Biennial currently taking place in Havana is on display.

Initially her whereabouts were unknown, but on Saturday afternoon Hernandez’s relatives managed to locate her at Cotorro police station, after hours of intense search and the unwillingness of the police to release her location. Hernandez was finally released at night and was able to return home, as confirmed by telephone to this newspaper. continue reading

According to Lia Villares speaking to 14ymedio, State Security blocked several people from entering El Círculo gallery, including the artist Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara organizer of the independent Biennial, who was accompanied by a group of foreign participants.

Last March, Iliana Hernández was declared a “person of priority police interest” after an interrogation at the Cojímar station, east of Havana. The police issued a “warning notice” to her and, in addition, she was prevented from traveling to Miami a few days later, as planned.

Iliana Hernández was born in Guantanamo and has been linked to the sports world and activism. Nationalized as a Spanish citizen after living several years in that country, she returned to Cuba in 2016 and founded her audiovisual channel Lente Cubano. Since then she divides her time between Spain, the United States and the Island.

“I do not plan to leave Cuba, I intend to fight to continue my normal life as I have until now between Spain and Cuba, which are my two homelands,” she said in a recent interview with this newspaper.

In a similar vein, activist Liettys Rachel Reyes, a member of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, was prevented from leaving the country on Wednesday after being “regulated” by the authorities, according to her Facebook account.

Reyes went to the José Martí International Airport in Havana to try to board a flight to the United States but an immigration official told her that she was under a ‘travel restriction.’ “This is how things work with a tyrannical regime like this. One that every day violates the rights and fundamental freedoms of people,” she complained.

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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.

Cuban Doctors, a Controversial Signing in Kenya and Uganda

Signing of the Health Agreement last year in Geneva with Minister Roberto Morales Ojeda on the Cuban side.

14ymedio biggerEFE, via 14ymedio, Pedro Alonso, Nairobi, 6 May 2018 — Hundreds of Cuban doctors are going to cross the Caribbean Sea for the African savannah and will travel to Kenya and Uganda to strengthen their public health services, but without even boarding the plane, they already encounter the rejection of unions and medical associations.

Last week, Kenya and Cuba signed an agreement for one hundred Cuban doctors to come to the African country and fifty Kenyan doctors to travel to the Caribbean island to receive training, especially in the field of family medicine.

The agreement was signed after the historic visit the president of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, made to Cuba in March to boost bilateral cooperation, the first of a Kenyan head of state since both countries established diplomatic relations in 2001. continue reading

The Kenyan Ministry of Health of Kenya insists that the Cuban reinforcements, scheduled for before July, will improve access in rural areas to specialized medical services in areas such as oncology, nephrology and dermatology.

In neighboring Uganda, the president, Yoweri Museveni, returned this week to defend his government’s plan to hire 200 doctors from Cuba as a buffer against the persistent threats of strike by local doctors, who have called the project “treason.”

“I want to bring Cuban doctors because our people behaved very badly and unprofessionally, they started strikes, they incited other doctors and they let our patients die, they blackmailed us,” Museveni said last Tuesday.

During a celebration of Labor Day, the veteran president, who has led Uganda since 1986, referred to the three-week strike that last November paralyzed Ugandan hospitals to demand better wages, among other demands.

“A doctor who goes on strike is not a doctor, he is an enemy of our people and we should treat him as such,” snapped Museveni, not known for mincing words.

Despite the excellent global reputation of Cuba’s “white coats,” the unions and medical associations of the two countries reject the Cuban agreements outright, arguing that they are expensive and do not offer a permanent solution to the lack of specialists.

According to the Ugandan Minister of Public Service, Wilson Muruli Mukasa, the State will pay about 1,500 dollars a month for each Cuban doctor, a salary higher than the 1,200 dollars earned by a high rank Ugandan specialist doctor.

“Uganda already has many specialists, all we want now is better salaries, better working conditions and the tools to offer those services,” demanded the president of the Uganda Medical Association (UMA), Ekwaro Obuku.

The Kenyan Union of Physicians, Pharmacists and Dentists (KMPPDU) has urged the Ministry of Health to hire the more than 2,000 Kenyan doctors, including 171 specialists, who are looking for work, before importing doctors from the Latin American country.

“The Cubans are not going to come to do something that we can not do, they are not going to contribute anything special,” said KMPPDU general secretary Ouma Oluga, who believes that the government plan is a waste of public resources.

In the opinion of gynecologist Nelly Bosire, of the Board of Doctors and Dentists of Kenya, “Cuba trains doctors for export to generate income, Kenya can not afford to buy that expensive product, which should be manufactured at home.”

Doctor Bosire is not mistaken, because the sale of medical services is one of the main sources of income of Cuba, which in 2016 had doctors deployed in more than sixty countries, according to official data.

In contrast to some of the detractors, some voices advocate opening the doors of Kenyan and Ugandan hospitals to Cuban doctors, including the Kenyan entrepreneur Njoroge Mbugua, who received medical attention in CUba.

“On February 2, I started my medical treatment in Cuba and in the last seven weeks I have achieved more than in the two years I was hospitalized,” writes Mbugua in an article published on 8 April in the main Kenyan newspaper, Daily Nation.

In his “letter from the bed of a Cuban hospital,” the businessman relates that he spent a year in a hospital in Kenya and eleven months in centers in India and Dubai in search of a cure for his illness, until he arrived in Cuba, where he found “the end of the road” for his sorrows.

And, without the least bit of doubt, Mbugua sends a message to the Kenyan authorities: “Bring Cuban doctors.”

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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.

Cuban Children and Childish Journalism

Students from a primary school in Havana say goodbye to the 2016-2017 academic year. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 9 April 2018 — On Friday, April 6th, The National Newscast on Cuban Television (NTV) devoted a few minutes of its midday and evening editions to broadcast a critical report by journalist Maray Suárez about parents’ lack of attention to their children. In her own words, this situation, which is becoming worrisome in current Cuban society, negatively affects the education and the formation of children’s values.

It is refreshing to see that someone finally cares about this issue despite the slow reaction of the government press when it comes to addressing the multiple and pressing problems of society. continue reading

The report is based on Suarez’s two particular personal experiences. The first took place 4 o’clock in the morning, when the reporter was on her way to work and she encountered a group of teenagers, between 12 and 15 years old, gathered on a corner of Havana’s Vedado district. The second, when she attended a choreographed performance by a large group of children from the primary school Quince de Abril, in the Havana municipality of Diez de Octubre, on the occasion of the celebration of the 57th anniversary of the Organization of Pioneers of Cuba. The reporter showed the video recording of that performance in conjunction with the report.

It’s heartening that someone finally cares about this matter, despite slow reaction by the government press when it comes to addressing the problems of society

In the first case, Suárez stopped to talk with the night-owl boys, asked them their ages and reflected on the families’ lack of supervision that allows these children to stay up late at night in the street, with all its implied risks.

In the second case, the video presented on NTV shows a group of children at the Pioneer celebration, dressed in their school uniforms, dancing provocatively to the sound of reggae music, sensually swaying their hips, glutes and waists. Suárez believes that the celebration should have included the sort of music which is more appropriate to a children’s audience than that which led to a vulgar, erotic display that played out on the school’s stage.

“Are these the spectacles we want from our children?” the worried reporter of the official press asks rhetorically. The journalist insists on the importance of “the interaction of the child with the family,” underlining that the development of minors is an obligation “that the whole society should be concerned with.” All of which is (or should at least be) true.

However, perhaps driven by her passionate interest in the education and care of children, Maray Suárez forgot to inform us if – as one would expect – she consulted or asked the families of those children for their authorization before exposing them publicly performing their obscene dance in a video broadcast by the Cuban TV news media, which did not take the trouble to have anyone pixelate their innocent faces.

Could it be that this media professional not know that exposing images of children publicly constitutes a crime in any moderately civilized society in the world?

Could it be that this press professional did not know that exposing images of children publicly constitutes a crime in any moderately civilized society in the world? Where, then, are her own ethical values as a journalist? Does she find it very educational to act with such flagrant disrespect to minors and their families?

Unfortunately, since Cuba is not a State of Laws, the parents and children thus vexed are defenseless: they cannot sue the colossal official press apparatus or the reporter in question.

Although the reporter addresses the issue of family supervision, it would not hurt to introduce reflections on the role that the teachers and the primary school management played in this case. Ultimately, it was they who allowed – and perhaps even promoted – these children’s vulgar dance display at school.

For the problem to be really corrected, the official press should put aside all the hypocritical puritanism that mediates each article of information and take on the challenge of describing and exposing the dark and dirty cracks lacerating the current Cuban society.

The official press should put aside all the hypocritical puritanism that mediates each article of information and take on the challenge of describing and exposing the dark and dirty cracks lacerating current Cuban society 

The task is particularly impossible if we take into account that to find a solution to sensitive issues such as the one we are dealing with, it is necessary to stop beating about the bush. Instead of flirting with the effects, you must first identify the causes of the malady.

But faced with a deep problem in education, it will not be the communicators of the government press who air the dirty laundry.

Because, at the end of the day, the official journalists are also a bit like children: to publish each and every one of their lines or tidbits they need the consent of the principal responsible for the disaster: the Government. And the journalists of the Castro regime are, Yessir, respectful and obedient children.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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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.

Which One Is The Criminal?

The brothers Raul and Fidel Castro together with Lula (center) in 2010, when the former Brazilian president visited the island at the time of the death of Orlando Zapata Tamayo. (Juventud Rebelde)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 6 April 2018 — In 2010, then Brazilian president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva provoked a bitter controversy when he compared Cuban dissidents to common criminals. Those words, said a week after the death of the opponent Orlando Zapata Tamayo, take on a new meaning today, a few hours before the Brazilian leader goes to prison.

“I think hunger strikes cannot be used as a human rights pretext to free people,” said the former steelworker, eight years ago in March. “Imagine what would happen if all the bandits who are imprisoned in Sao Paulo went on hunger strike and asked for their freedom,” he remarked cheerfully. continue reading

For Lula, the dissident who agonized in his cell until he died was nothing more than a criminal who refused to eat for 86 days to pressure the authorities to release him from prison. Despite publicly lamenting his death, Brazil’s president believed the official version of Zapata’s death and insisted the Cuban bricklayer, born in Banes, was not a political prisoner.

Now it is the popular trade unionist who has been tried in the courts of justice and public opinion. He came to this point not because he protested police repression in the streets, as Zapata did, but because of corruption and money laundering. As president of his country he betrayed the voters’ trust by exchanging favors, receiving bribes and handing out contracts.

Under the image of a humble man who ascended to the highest position in an imposing nation like Brazil, Lula was in fact a “political animal” accustomed to prioritizing ideology and his old ‘comrades in the struggle’ over the welfare of his people. As soon as he settled into Planalto Palace he began to create his own robust network of perks and fidelities that ultimately blew up in his face.

In this network of favors were not only some of his old comrades from Brazil’s Workers Party, but also those from outdated regimes like Havana’s. Lula solicitously served the Castro brothers the entire time he was in office, an attitude inherited by Dilma Rousseff when she succeeded him in office.

For the Cuban Government the years during which the Workers Party led Brazil served as a panacea. Lula and Rousseff closed ranks to support the Plaza of the Revolution in international forums, kept their shock troops at the ready to attack any critics of the Castros, and financed the Port of Mariel Special Development Zone project, which involved the corrupt Brazilian transnational Odebrecht.

In the name of those old favors, on Thursday the Havana regime released a statement signed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in defense of the former president, calling his sentence an “unfair campaign against Lula, against the Workers Party and against the leftist and progressive forces in Brazil.” Some corruption is repaid with apartments, some with bribes, and much of the rest with political statements.

Lulu’s 12 year prison sentence could well be extended much longer, should the magistrates find him guilty in other pending cases. His time behind bars could be long, enough time to allow him to reflect on everything he has said and done.

Perhaps in the long days that await him looking through the thick bars, the former president can imagine what Zapata’s last days might have been like for the young black bricklayer born in a small town in the east of the island who refused to eat or drink water to demand his freedom. That man, unlike Lula, was innocent.

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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.

Chronicle of a Journey After Being Expelled / Lynn Cruz

Lynn Cruz and Miguel Coyula

Havana Times, Lynn Cruz, 31 March 2018 — The first Independent Cuban Film Festival organized outside of Cuba coincided with my ban from entering the International Film School of San Antonio del Los Banos. With Cubans from the country of “Miami” taking the lead, the event had as its forerunner another that had been organized by the Hannah Arendt International Institute for Artivism, led by Tania Bruguera, which took place in New York’s Museum of Modern Art at the beginning of this month.

Cubans in Miami have won themselves a piece of land in the US. Terrified of Castrismo, they fell like expatriates into the exile boat and contrary to popular belief, thought and art are buzzing here in this city, in spite of its arid landscape and Anglo-Saxon toughness. continue reading

In addition to meeting friends who stood in solidarity with me after I lost my place in Argentinian director Norma Angeleri’s workshop at the Film School, my first surprise when I stepped foot on Cuban-American soil was to meet Nat Chediak, the founder of the Miami Film Festival, in a Chinese restaurant called No Name, which he had deliberately chosen to pay homage to the belittlement that Rafael Alcides embodies in our movie Nadie.

We met Javier Chavez, who was with Chediak, a young, introverted Cuban-American who is slow and deliberate with a really sharp way of looking at things, who collaborated in the festival showing movies and assisting Chediak. Chediak has never returned to Cuba, but he says he never left. He lives it through film. He has been scheduling movie screenings for nearly half a century.

On the other hand, Chavez confesses that he doesn’t feel Cuban at all; he is 27 years old and the curious thing is that most of his generation who live in Cuba, don’t identify with their own country either. Identity is something that is yet to come. You aren’t born with it. A sick land spoils its fruits. It will never be a reason for compatibility.

The Forbidden Fruit Festival at the Coral Gables Art Cinema concluded on March 29th. It included a varied program with 25 movies, bringing together most of the movies that are left in the dark in Cuba. If they don’t deal with subjects banned by the government, some of them find their way into the Weekly Packet, also know as the Cuban Netflix.

Every week, those who are lucky enough to own a computer can purchase this Packet for 2 Convertible Pesos and receive 1 Tb of information, movies, series, TV programs made in Miami, the most-watched videos on YouTube, as well as independent Cuban movies.

The most daring, which can’t be found in the Weekly Packet, are in the Paquetico (Little Packet), which has a more limited, but bold selection.

Today, Cuba could be analyzed via  “illegality,” a term that was invented to describe something that survives in a legal limbo. Thus, independent movies and media and a large sector of our national economic activity, both public and private, suffer under this irregular status.

There is currently a movement that has been created by new technologies and access to new media, which has sparked the evolution of filmmaking to making movies with low budgets, most of which come from crowdfunding campaigns and the self-management of young filmmakers, who are determined to defend a platform that gives them a voice.

However, many of these movies don’t then find their way into a place to be shown, in or outside the island, if they make Cuban politicians uncomfortable because of its daring content, which aren’t subject to self-censorship which most Cubans movies are.

Bruguera and Chediak have come together accidentally and they are raising their voices in the name of a Cuban community that suffers the pain of having their land kidnapped from them. Thus, the subjects dealt with in these movies revolve around deceit, a lack of freedom, fear which borders on paranoia, neglect, apathy, poverty, movies which live in the Post-Fidel world.

The thing I liked the most about Forbidden Fruit was the willingness to move past the hard feelings and disappointments that Cuban people have, who can only come together through art, especially film. There is an English saying that goes: “The boss sets the tone.” Chediak has promoted a dialogue between viewers and filmmakers which, at least in my case, has led to the most special experience I’ve ever had as an actress.

I could see Nadie in a movie theater for the first time, in high definition, and confirm, alongside its director Miguel Coyula, that its audience are Cubans wherever they live, as Rafael Alcides, the dissident poet and lead character in the documentary, manages to express his truth which is the same truth for anyone who has suffered indifference at the hands of a system after crushing anyone who has judged it outrightly and been in power for nearly 60 years.

We were invited to Channel 41, to the program A Fondo, which is hosted by Pedro Sevsec and accompanied by critic, journalist and one of the festival’s curators, Alejandro Rios, a program which goes beyond the local and deals with more universal issues.

Meeting up with Juan Carlos Cremata, Eliecer Jimenez and Humberto Padron, three Cuban filmmakers who also took part in the festival with their movies, was a gratifying and also sad experience at the same time. Trapped by a black and white policy, just like we are, which hasn’t done anything but divide the Cuban people from its exile community. We were free of all labels and manipulation for a few days. The Forbidden Fruit Festival appeared as a real alternative project for independent works created outside of Cuban institutions and the government.

Note: English Translation from Havana Times

The Victorious Failure of the Castro Regime / Miriam Celaya

Cuba’s ‘leaders’

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 March 2018 – On April 19th, when the enigma is finally cleared up about who the new Cuban president (not elected by the people) will be, for the next 10 years, the members of his brotherhood won’t be able to figure out whether to congratulate him or to offer him their condolences.

The new leader will not only be inheriting that old unburied corpse that they stubbornly insist on calling “The Cuban Revolution,” but he will have the colossal task before him of prolonging – theoretically ad infinitum – the funeral of such a long-lived mummy, and in addition, he would also be doing it under the rigid rules (supposedly “Guidelines”) dictated by the outgoing president. continue reading

At least this is what translates from the minimal information published by the official press monopoly on the 5th Plenum of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), in whose framework – which covered two days of “intense work” – “important issues of the updating of the Cuban economic and social model were analyzed,” such as the project of the “Housing Policy in Cuba” and “a report approved by the Political Bureau on the studies that are being conducted for a future reform to the Constitution.” The latter will ratify “the irrevocable nature of our socialism and the leading role of the Party in Cuban society.”

That said, and until the next Congress of the PCC to be held in 2021, General Raúl Castro will continue to lead the “superior leadership force” of Cuban society, unless nature decides otherwise. Then it will be him in this last instance, and not the brand-new President, who makes the political decisions of the country, and who controls the fulfillment of what is ruled under his administration.

And as if all this straitjacket from internal politics were not enough, the incoming president will be the first in the saga of “Cuban socialism” that will face endemic economic ruin without counting on the juicy external subsidies – first, from the extinct Soviet power, then, from the Venezuelan “chavismo,” today ruined and wavering – which their predecessors, the Castros, enjoyed. How the economic crisis and the social discontent will be mitigated without external support and without implementing real reforms will be a challenge that will have to be followed with interest.

Add to this the marked retreat of the leftist regimes in the region, partly as a result of the bad policies that have made them lose the trust of their voters, who have punished them at the polls, but also due to the wave of corruption scandals related to the Brazilian transnational organization Odebrecht, which has involved numerous governments and whose spillovers have already reached Venezuela’s Miraflores Palace, the closest ally of the Castro regime. In this regard, it could be only a matter of time before some of the compromising ‘details’ begin to appear in relation to the Lula-Castro-Special Mariel Development Zone and the aforementioned company.

Thus, the the “new” Cuban government’s margin to maneuver in favor of “apertures” or “reforms” that would differentiate the before-Castro and after-Castro eras should wait at least three more years in the domestic policy order, unless the difficult circumstances of the country, together with the changing external conjunctures create an appropriate scenario for it. And all of this, taking into account the doubtful event that the president “elected” this April has sufficient political capacity, intelligence, and the inclination for change to take advantage of the moment and promote the necessary transformations that will bring Cubans their long-postponed prosperity.

But, in any case, this 5th Plenary Session of the PCC has been perhaps the outgoing president’s last wasted opportunity to demonstrate some capacity in his late leadership after 12 years of erratic hesitations, of tiny advances followed by resounding setbacks, and of so many unfulfilled promises.

Had he lived up to his own commitments, Castro II would have had to leave at least some essential formulas, such as the new draft Electoral Law, announced before the celebration of the Seventh Congress of the PCC; the proposal of a monetary unification plan – with its corresponding execution schedule; and the much-vaunted new rules for self-employment, including the re-establishment of granting of licenses, arbitrarily suspended since August 2017.

So, according to the progress report presented during this Fifth Congress, the evaluation of the implementing of policies authorized in the Guidelines yielded “unfavorable” results – a term which softens the disastrous truth – which is reflected, among other adverse factors, in the mistakes made, in the deficiency of the controls, in a “limited vision of the risks,” in the absence of adequate legal norms, in the information gaps, in the lack of a tax culture and in another string of stumbling blocks that – for a change – are attributable only to “the base.”

“There is a wasteful mentality,” the general-president lectured. But, despite such a catastrophic performance and the failure of what we could generously call his “government program” (the Guidelines, approved during the VI Congress of the PCC, on April 18, 2011), he assures us that “the situation today is more favorable.” He did not clarify how “favorable” or favorable for what.

And since we, the “governed,” have been making mistakes on our own without understanding the clear guidance of this leader through regulatory improvisation for seven years (more), now it is up to us to wait another indefinite amount of time until the wrongs can be straightened out. How will they do it? Well, as always, by bureaucracy and re-centralizing the economy.

To begin with, the new “legal norms” are being created that will ensure self-employment integrity. There will be a greater participation of the central organs in the controls of the fulfillment of each guideline and of each measure, and finally, a “work training” will be undertaken, not only of the leading cadres, inspectors and officials of the structures in charge of the control, but also of the 580,000 self-employed who – according to official figures – exist in Cuba, so that they learn, once and for all, how things should work.

Mind you, what has not appeared in the press to date, and we don’t know if it was discussed in the Fifth Plenary Session of the PCC, is when a training course will be held so that, after 60 years of experiments and “victorious” failures, the lords of the leadership and the rest of the cohort can learn to govern.

Translated by Norma Whiting

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

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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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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.

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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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.

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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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.

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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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.