Americas Summit: Opportunity and Challenge / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Enrique Peña Nieto and Barack Obama spoke at the Summit of the Americas in their meeting last January 6 in Washington. (EFE / Michael Reynolds)
Enrique Peña Nieto and Barack Obama spoke about the Summit of the Americas in their meeting last January 6 in Washington. (EFE / Michael Reynolds)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 8 February 2105 — One of the most controversial issues facing both the Cuban government and Cuban independent civil society is one stemming from President Barack Obama’s December 17th speech when he stated: “Next April, we will be ready for Cuba to join the other nations in the hemisphere at the Americas Summit, but we will insist that Cuban civil society joins us so that it will not only be the leaders, but the citizens who will shape our future.”

Immediately after, Obama added: “And I urge all my colleagues and leaders to give meaning to the commitment to democracy and human rights, which is the essence of the Inter-American Charter. Let’s leave behind the legacy of colonization and communism and the tyranny of drug cartels, dictators continue reading

and electoral farces.”

After the first moments of surprise and with each other’s positions set out on the table about the decision to reestablish diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US, most Cubans are sure that the regime is not prepared to face, in a satisfactorily manner, an honest debate on democracy and human rights, and much less is willing to compromise on its stubborn refusal to recognize areas of rights which would inevitably lead to the end of its power.

But, with the same certainty and for the sake of honesty, we must recognize that we still have major obstacles to overcome in the independent civil society, starting with the one that will be, without a doubt, an essential premise: to agree on our consensus, leaving aside our differences – derived from political partisanships, ideologies, autocratic individuals and other personal agendas — that have divided us and prevented further progress over decades.

In politics, time is a fundamental asset we Cubans tend not to figure into our calculations, being accustomed as we are to half a century of stagnation.

To leave behind political adolescence and suddenly attain adulthood to achieve a common front that amplifies the democratic demands of Cubans which several generations have been struggling for under difficult conditions is not impossible, as evidenced by debate and consensus forums in the past two years. However, achieving a single agenda capable of meeting the essential requirements of all sectors of the civil society will not be easy, particularly for those who are more reluctant to dialogue and have opted instead for a confrontational stance.

It may seem premature to put on the table an issue that depends, in the first place, on the combination and coordination of many as yet unknown issues. But in politics, time is a fundamental asset we Cubans tend not to figure into our calculations, being accustomed as we are to half a century of stagnation.

Obviously, President Obama’s willingness to support civil society does not imply — or at least it should not imply — the government’s direct intervention in financing or selecting the actors who participate in the hemispheric conclave. Presumably, taking as a sign his own statements when he recognized that Cuban issues belong first of all to Cubans, his government’s commitment should be to support the proposals we make, and should include those who do not live in Cuba but who are part of the nation’s heartbeat.

In that case, it would be advisable to start a process of discussion and consultation now with participants in the independent civil society groups and leaders of opinion, journalists, activists of all existing projects, and those individuals or organizations — whether from the opposition or any civic venue — who may have ideas to contribute to the agenda.

It is time to show that we are partners in the dialogues that are sketching all our destinies.

We should not be seeking unanimity, but trying to consolidate unity in those essential points we agree on, and readying our proposals, both in a plausible memo to present at the Americas Summit and in a representation that could encompass, more inclusively and justly, the whole range of organizations and trends of the independent civil society. At the same time, we must give up our presumptions and embrace modesty for the common good.

Unfortunately, we have witnessed the persistence of intolerant positions in recent events, verbal violence and contempt for those ideas different to our own, something that is inherent to a society that has been, for a long time, tense and controlled by a regime that has sown totalitarianism and intimidation as valid methods to prevail, which a handful of democrats seem to want to perpetuate.

These actions, which have been carried out against the public image of a dissidence characterized mainly by its posture of peaceful struggle and respect for differing views, should be banished from the discussions if we wish to strengthen and achieve standing and recognition inside and outside Cuba. It is time to show that we are partners in the dialogues that are sketching all our destinies.

In short, what is truly important is, after all, to be prepared for the occasion that is politically being offered to us. It is a matter of commitment, not a easy ride, and whoever will end up representing us in this or any other international forum should feel the great historical responsibility they assume, and be worthy of the trust of all those who have committed their forces and pinned their hopes on the future of democracy in Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Nancy Pelosi excited by the work of her delegation to Cuba / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

US Congressional Delegation holding a press conference in Havana (Luz Escobar)
US Congressional Delegation holding a press conference in Havana (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 19 February 2015 — On Thursday afternoon, the Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi led a press conference in which she provided a summary of her visit to Cuba, in addition to answering questions from foreign journalists and independent press. The meeting was held on the outside of the residence of Lynn Roche, Head of the Public Affairs Section of the US Interests Section in Havana (ISIS).

During the conference, Pelosi was accompanied by Congressmen Eliot Engel (NY), Jim McGovern (Massachusetts), Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut), Collin Peterson (Minnesota), Nydia Velázquez (New York), Anna Eshoo (California), Steve Israel (New York) and David Cicilline (Rhode Island). Prior to the meeting with journalists, the delegation had met with Cardinal Jaime Ortega y Alamino the highest authority of the Catholic Church in Cuba, as well as holding “a meeting with members of civil society continue reading

,” although no names or groups were detailed.

During the press conference, Congressman Eliot Engel emphasized that “now the ball is in the Cuban government’s corner… We want to see a flourishing civil society,” he said. Engel also highlighted his hope of “seeing part of free civil society at the Summit of the Americas,” although he acknowledged being “very concerned about the issue of human rights” on the island.

Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, said she was “excited” and “proud” of the work that his delegation undertook in Cuba. The Democrat had arrived with the rest of Congressional Democrats Tuesday and on Thursday also met with the Vice President of the National Assembly, Ana Maria Mari Machado, along with twenty members of the controversial Cuban parliament. Pelosi also expressed her pride in President Barack Obama for “the audacity to make such a shift in policy towards Cuba.”

According to what the members of congress explained to the press, both sides in the negotiations for the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States recognize that “this is a time to look more toward the future than the past.” For his part, Steve Israel said that “for this process to succeed both countries have to focus more on the future and less on the past. December 17th was an historic moment for the two countries, but the real story is making the changes.”

Jim McGovern said that “if the embassies open” it could improve the negotiation process because both governments are speaking directly. “We have a more mature relationship. We can not agree on everything, but I think possibly we can achieve much more if we base our relationship on mutual respect… We will continue talking about human rights,” he said, but stressed that it must first a policy “that has proved to be a failure” should be changed. Finally, he supported “establishing formal diplomatic relations, rather than trading accusations and pointing fingers at each other.”

Later Israel himself speculated on how this ongoing process will be looked back on, and “how those who embraced the future of those who embraced the past will differ.”

At the end of the press conference, the delegation of Democratic members of congress met with First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel. To a question from 14ymedio regarding whether they had noticed any desire on the part of the Cuban government to cooperate on the issue of computerizing Cuban society and access to new technologies, Anna Eshoo stressed that “younger people in Cuba, in particular, are hungry for this, and recognize the empowerment that access to broadband would bring.”

Congresswoman Eshoo said that she “had the pleasure of sitting at lunch” with the blogger Harold Cardenas from La Joven Cuba blog, and had “a wonderful discussion.” As for the “preservation of values” that has so concerned the Cuban ruling class lately, the congresswoman said she let them know she understood their position.

Nydia Velázquez conveyed to the those present that they “would like to share [their] experience in promoting economic development,” especially in the field of small private businesses, which in the case of the US are “the backbone of the economy.” This would help the economic growth of many Cuban families, said the congresswoman.

Nauta lowers its prices by 50% for Internet / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Lines in Front of Etecsa
Lines in front of Etecsa (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, 18 February 2015 — These days the line outside the State-run Nauta Internet “cafés” all over the country are much longer than usual. The reduction, to half price for Internet connection cards is the reason for such an influx. The special offering, put into effect by the State-run Cuba Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) this last 10 February, will remain in effect until this coming 10 April. Users not have to pay 2.50 CUC (convertible pesos) for one hour of Internet access, instead of the usual 5.00 CUC.

The measure has caused some excitement among customers, hoping that the special offering will be maintained to the end of the year. “It’s still expensive, but if now I have to pay half the price it means I can do twice the work continue reading

when I connect,” says Liudmila Muñoz, an entrepreneur who coordinates tourist trips to the Island, for which she arranges accommodating, dance classes and transportation.

In front of the Nauta Internet room in the centrally located Focsa Building, people spread the word of the new prices. “I have to come a lot. I’m a sailor and I’m looking for a contract to work on a cruise, so I shouldn’t have to pay so much,” explained José Antonio Romero who, nevertheless, believes that “it’s still armed robbery, to pay so much for Internet.”

The Nauta Internet rooms opened in June 2013 and there are now over 155 nationwide. In statements to the official press, ETECSA’s Director of Institutional Communication, Luis Maneul Díaz Narajo, said that during the first quarter of 2015, another 136 rooms with 538 computer stations will be added in the Youth Computing Clubs.

Local navigation Nauta opened in June 2013 and there are now over 155 nationwide. Speaking to the official press, the director of Institutional Communication ETECSA, Luis Manuel Díaz Naranjo, said that during the first quarter of 2015 136 other rooms with 538 points will be added in the Joven Clubs de Computación (Youth Clubs for Computing).

Despite the high prices of the connection rooms, the demand is very high. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, in 2012 Cuba had only a 25 percent Internet penetration with a population of 11.2 million inhabitants.

Cyber-police and Firewalls to Control Cuban Internet / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Central Computer Palace across from Fraternity Park in central Havana
Central Computer Palace across from Fraternity Park in central Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, February 15 2015 – Only a few weeks after Barack Obama’s decision to allow American telecommunications companies to offer their services on the Island, Raúl Castro’s government is making it clear that the virtual world will not exist without limits. Lately, official spokespersons have taken on the task of explaining to the general public that low connectivity in the country is not due to a government decisions, and this seems to be the purpose of the First National Computerization and Cyber Security Workshop, which is scheduled to take place on the 18, 19, and 20 of February.

According to the official newspaper Granma, more than 11,000 Cuban computer scientists will participate in the event, “the majority connected through videoconferences.” The quote is directed to sketch out a countrywide regulatory cyber-police continue reading

in a moment in which pressures for full access to the web have gained force. Alternative phenomena, like the distribution of audiovisual material in the so-called “combos or packages” (flash memories containing foreign TV shows, etc.), have also been pushing authorities from the Ministry of Communication to make decisions in this respect.

On February 19 and 20, around “260 specialists will share their opinions in commissions centered on four fundamental topics,” noted the Communist Party’s official media. The agenda includes “the human and scientific resources available in the country, electronic governance, cyber security, and economy and legality.” Throughout the Island, 21 headquarters will be made available for users interested in taking part in the debate and accessing the discussions. By visiting the website www.mincom.gob.cu, they will be able to share opinions and ask questions about the topics discussed, announced Ailyn Febles Estrada, Vice Dean of the University of Information Sciences of Cuba (UCI), on the web portal Cubadebate.

One of the most unique results of the event lies in the development of a new social organization that will group together the country’s ICTs (Information and Communications Technologies) professionals, into which recent graduates from diverse backgrounds like Information Technology, Computer Science, and Telecommunications could be incorporated. It is a clear attempt to centralize Cubans who have ICT knowledge, many of whom provide services in the private sector repairing computers and smartphones.

The implementation of a Chinese-style model, with a potent cyber police and extensive firewalls aimed at censuring content and filtering sites, is being outlined

The words cyber-security in the title of this article have also set off some alarms, since in recent years the government has augmented its ideological combat on the Internet. The implementation of a Chinese-style model, with a potent cyber-police and extensive firewalls aimed at censuring content and filtering sites, is being outlined as a priority for Cuban authorities.

The announcement of this workshop is added to the recent promise made by directives of Cuba’s Telecommunications Company (ETECSA) that 136 new “internet cafés” will be opened in the year’s first trimester. The majority of them will be found in the Joven Clubs de Computación (Youth Clubs for Computing), where users will pay for connection time in Cuban Pesos. On the close of 2014, 155 collective Internet cafés operated throughout the country, with a total of 573 available computers offering web access, a service that must be paid in Convertible Pesos.

According to the recently published report Freedom on the Net 2014, which analyzed 65 countries between May 2013 and May 2014, Cuba is the only country in Latin America designated “not free” in regards to Internet access. The study points out the limitations in accessing the world-wide-web as well as the censorship of certain webpages and the high prices for connecting from public places.

Translated by Fernando Fornis

“It does not matter to return or not return” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Abilio Estevez
Abilio Estevez

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana-Barcelona, 17 February 2015 – During this year’s International Book Fair in Havana, Abilio Estevez’s novel, Los palacios distantes (Distant Palaces), was presented. Living in Barcelona for the last fifteen years, on this occasion the author brings us the story of Victorio, a character who shares his pains and passions.

A few hours after the launch of the book in the Alejo Carpentier room, the novelist with a degree in Hispanic Language and Literature responded by email to some questions for the readers of 14ymedio, from Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter where he lives and creates.

14ymedio: To those who still haven’t read Los palacios… and hope to get a copy at the Book Fair, what would you like to warn them about before they enter your pages?

Estevez: Nothing, I would not warn them. I think should have its own importance, and the author should pass as unnoticed as possible. Also, the book should always be a mystery to solve, an adventure continue reading

about which you have no idea. When I was in high school, for example, there were many books I didn’t read because of “warnings” from my teachers. Or I prejudged them, if I read on the back of Buddenbrooks that it was “a reflection of bourgeois decadence.” Later I read those books, I enjoyed them, and I realized the time I had lost because of the “warnings,” which most of the time were too biased.

“I’m not one who is going to close doors on himself.” 

14ymedio: The novel was originally published by Tusquets Editores, in 2002. What was the process to achieve this Cuban edition?

Estevez: Yes, the Tusquets edition came out 13 years ago. Some time ago Alfredo Zalvidar wrote me kindly asking for permission to publish Los palacios distantes in the publishing house he directed, Ediciones Matanzas. I was very pleased. I told him yes, of course. I’m not one who is going to close doors on himself. I put him in contact with the rights office of Tusquests Editores, and that’s all I know. For the process on the Matanzas side you’ll have to ask Zalvidar.

14ymedio: Are you surprised that your book is being presented at an event where exiled writers are often excluded?

Estevez: Yes, a little surprised. Although Ediciones Matanzas has published José Kozer, Gastón Baquero… In any event, there is a lot in my country that doesn’t surprise me. Neither for the better nor the worse.

14ymedio: Laughter, dreams and hope slip into the life of Victorio, the protagonist of Los palacios… despite his living a reality that is falling to pieces, like his own house. How much of your own personal experience is in your story?

Estevez: Certainly there is a lot of my own experience such as, for example, Victorio’s homosexuality and the collapse of his house. However, I believe that it’s a mistake to confuse the character with the author. However much of me is in Victorio, it is also true that there are many other people and, as is natural, imagination. There is a moment in the novel, for example, when Victorio says he never knew love. A true friend, a night of confidences, said to me, “It has happened with me as with you.” “What happened to me?” I asked. Never having known love. I had to laugh. However confessional a novel may seem, it is no more than that, a novel.

14ymedio: How do you deal with distance when writing about a reality that you haven’t lived since two decades ago?

Estevez: I suppose this is difficult if you try to write precisely about a certain “reality.” I suppose it might have been difficult for Emile Zola or for Miguel de Carrion. But for me, I’m not interested in sociology disguised as fiction, something more than reality concerns me, isf we reduce the word to its sociopolitical connotations. I am not a “costumbrista” – a novelist of quaint manners. At least I don’t want to be one. And the world (and this is something that has to be discovered) is fortunately wide and strange, and the problems of human beings are alike and different in each place where one lives. The same distance as literary material. I don’t live this reality, but I live another that also wants to be narrated. Also, I always remember and quote that phrase of Nabokov’s in a wonderful interview, when he responded that everything he needed of Russia he carried with him.

14ymedio: What have you brought to your writing life in Barcelona? How much have you changed from the point of view of writing your experiences as an immigrant?

Estevez: Everything you experience brings something to literature if you are alert to it. Barcelona is a cultured and beautiful city. And I believe that the mere act of walking through the Gothic Quarter transforms the vision you might have about anything. With regards to exile, it seems to me an extraordinary experience, even if it is painful. When I was a child and they took me to church, I heard a prayer to the Virgin that at some point said something like, “To you we cry, the banished children of Eve.” And then I wondered, “Why banished? Banished from where?” I didn’t understand until much later, although my interpretation had nothing to do with religion, because I wasn’t religious. I remember a phrase of Elias Canetti: “Only in exile does one realize how much of the world has always been a world of outlaws.” It’s very good for a writer, this sensation of losing things, of knowing that you are not going to have them again.

14ymedio: Readers have followed and admired your work for years. Will we soon be able to enjoy a presentation of your novels where you will be physically present? Will you return to this Havana of “the distant palaces”?

Estevez: Thank you for the “followed and admired.” This question has no answer. I do not know. It does not matter to return or not return, because what I really want to return to is the good times that I lived. And that, to my knowledge, is impossible.

Coup warning? / 14ymedio, Gerver Torres

Nicolas Maduro talking to the press (File photo)
Nicolas Maduro talking to the press (File photo)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Gerber Torres, Caracas, 16 February 2015 — This article should appear today in the Venezuelan newspaper El Universal. It was censored. From here I make public my resignation as columnist for that newspaper, for which I worked for fifteen years.

Maduro speaks daily with shock and anguish of conspiracies that he discovers, that he dismantles and that apparently reproduce themselves everywhere, all the time. Why does Maduro feel so tortured by a possible coup? The truth is that when one recognizes the circumstances surrounding him, one comes to the conclusion that Maduro is right and has many reasons to be distressed, to fear a coup, and even more continue reading

than one. Let us review some of the circumstances.

His international allies have abandoned him and are all in serious trouble: Cubans rushing to reestablish relations with the United States; Argentine president Cristina Kirchner at the end of her term with an economy in a tailspin and facing serious accusations of all kinds. Brazil’s president Dilma Rousseff, also with a stagnant economy and overwhelmed by the Petrobras corruption scandal, the biggest in the history of Brazil. Vladimir Putin, submerged in the Ukraine crisis, under sanctions by the European Union and in severe difficulties because of the fall in oil prices. Iran, negotiating a nuclear accord with the United States and trying to redefine its relations with that country.

Men very close to the regime are fleeing the country and starting to openly attack the regime: Leamsy Salazar defected to the United States with his wife to tell the story of the Cartel of the Suns (cocaine traffickers within the Venezuela military); Minister of Foreign Affairs Rafael Ramirez will sneak away, distancing himself from the regime. At any moment a bomb explodes there; Giordani reappears emboldened to say that the country has become the laughingstock of Latin America, just months after he was kicked out of the government.

The country’s employment is in the toilet, with Venezuelans experiencing totally unexpected events, lines, shortages, patients dying in hospitals for lack of supplies, runaway inflation, and other tragedies such as unchecked and unpunished crime.

Maduro can no longer count on abundant oil revenues and access to debt which could postpone the solution to many problems.

Maduro lives in a country institutionally ruined, turned into a jungle, without a Judiciary, devoured by corruption. Meanwhile all this was generated by the same regime that presides today and served to sustain it over a long period of time, this same lack of a framework of institutions that now turn against it. The regime no longer has anything to latch onto but repression.

Maduro knows that his popularity has fallen very low, not even the Chavez loyalists want him any more.

Maduro knows, and this is not small thing, that his eternal commander — Chavez — found justification for the 1992 coup in problems much smaller than the country has today.

How is Maduro not going to be anguished by the possibility of a coup?

 

The Filmmaker Ian Padrón Announces his Decision to Leave Cuba / 14ymedio

A frame of Ian Padrón being interviewed on CNN Mexico.
A frame of Ian Padrón being interviewed on CNN Mexico.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, 16 February 2015 — The Cuban filmmaker Ian Padrón announced his decision to leave the island and stay in the US in an interview broadcast by CNN Mexico last week. The artist admitted that he, “was tired of fighting, of the complications,” on the island.

The son of film director Juan Padrón, in communication from Los Angeles, said that there must be respect for those who choose a life abroad and reiterated his will to change the situation in Cuba. “There has to be respect for the fact that I can think “differently,” but at the same time love my country. I feel that in many things I have been misunderstood, I have been marginalized, I have been censored many times on the island,” he said. “One has to be very brave to leave Cuba, but be brave also continue reading

to stay in Cuba,” he added.

The director of numerous videoclips, documentaries and the film Habanastation said he had postponed too long the decision too settle abroad and admitted that it would be difficult to start from scratch after having achived recognition in his own country. “I always wanted to live in Cuba I have come to the United States more than twenty times and have never decided to stay and live here. I felt a social duty, a responsibility to fight to improve my country.”

I sleep peacefully, whoever criticizes me, that’s their right, but I believe that no one is going to resolve my life for me. I have to resolve my life myself, I have to adapt myself and I have to fight for it,” he insisted.

The winner of the award for best video of the year at the latest edition of the Lucas Awards with the video Se bota a matar by the duo Buena Fe, criticized in the same ceremony the official censorship of two of his works (Control, with Juan Formell and los Van Van, and Soy, with Buena Fe), as well as the deficiencies in the process of choosing the winners.

 

Scientists Find a More Aggressive Variant of HIV in Cuba / 14ymedio

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus. (Flickr)
The Human Immunodeficiency Virus. (Flickr)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 February 2015 — A team of researchers from the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium) and the Pedro Kouri Institute of Tropical Medicine in Havana have discovered a new strain of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) present on the island, according to a study published in the scientific journal scientific EBioMedicine. This variant, native to Africa, accelerates the time in which the infected person develops AIDS.

Through the monitoring of 95 patients who received treatment at the Havana institute since 2007, scientists detected that those infected with this strain showed a high amount of virus in their blood and progressed to AIDS at a much faster rate than average, the average being between 6 and 10 years. The study suggests that each year between 13% and 16% of patients diagnosed in Cuba already had AIDS at the time their infection was detected.

Each year between 13% and 16% of patients diagnosed in Cuba already had AIDS at the time their infection was detected

Scientists relate the rapid development of AIDS in Cuba to other factors as well, such as a low use of condoms, often unavailable in the pharmacies, and other diseases such as oral candidiasis.

In Cuba, 19,781 new cases of HIV infections were diagnosed between 1986 and 2014, according to a report by the Island’s government.

Shortage of Condoms / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Some condoms (CC)
Some condoms (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, ROSA LOPEZ, Pinar del Rio, 12 February 2015 – People in Pinar del Rio didn’t have to wait to read about it in the newspaper Granma. For weeks the popular voice says it, louder and louder. “There are no condoms,” started to be heard like a whisper on the corners. “There are no condoms,” said the couples on hearing it and the teens warned their parents before they went out on Saturday night. “There are no condoms,” howl the pharmacy clerks when their customers dare to ask. The uproar was such that finally this Wednesday the official organ of Communist Party issued a formal answer.

Those who still have a sense of humor, after a month long shortage continue reading

of contraceptives in the country’s westernmost province, suggest that perhaps it’s a government strategy to increase the birth rate. We will have to see the birth statistics between September and October of this year, although it could be that the number of abortions will also shoot up in the coming weeks.

Before every shortage, some specialist always suggests a workaround. That’s what happened with the article published by the official newspaper, which says that the Program of Prevention and Control of STDs and HIV proposes that, given the scarcity of the product, “people find alternatives, for example, limiting the sexual act to kissing, caresses and masturbation…” Tell that to a customer burning with passion whose store of condoms ran out at the end of last year!

What the note in Granma doesn’t say is that contraceptives aren’t the only thing missing from pharmacies. A brief tour this morning of places where medications are sold in the city of Pinar del Rio demonstrated that other products have also been disappearing for weeks. Both in the pharmacy on the central corner or Marti Street at Recreo, as well as the one known as Camancho or the one located on the ground floor of the 12 story building on Maceo street, have empty shelves and drawers.

The shortages include drugs such as Meprobamate, anti-flu medications, Dipyrone, Azithromycin, Prednisolone and Clotrimazole. What do the public health authorities propose in the face of such shortages? Looking for alternatives like with condoms? Will they then engage in the fantasy to anticipate what the patients should do in the face of such shortages.

New US regulations Open Markets to Self-Employed Cubans / 14ymedio

Artisans in front of the Caridad Theater in Santa Clara (Wilder Méndez)
Artisans in front of the Caridad Theater in Santa Clara (Wilder Méndez)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 13 February 2015 – The US State Department published new details on its website on Friday about the goods and services that US citizens may import from Cuba. The list includes articles such as perfumes, soaps, candles, photographs, jewelry and crafts, including wood, some metals, hide, plastic or rubber, textiles, shows, ceramic and glass, among others.

However, the limits are maintained for the importing of animal products, vegetables, prepared food, mining products, tobacco and alcohol continue reading

, wool or silk textiles, some metals, machinery and appliances, transport equipment and firearms, among others.

Companies or individuals in the US who import products made in Cuban must have proof that the import is from a self-employed person and not from a State enterprise. For travelers who import the products on the new list, the $400 limit applied to other products does not apply.

For the import of services provided by the self-employed in Cuba, the US government has created even fewer regulations than for goods As of now, any self-employed Cuban who offers services with a license authorized by the State will be able to import that service to the United States. The US person or company that imports goods or services from Cuba must keep a copy of the self-employment license associated with the good or service.

With these new measures, self-employed Cubans will have a new market to export their goods and services, and will have more opportunities to grow their businesses. However, the Cuban government still has no legal framework for self-employed to enter into legal contracts with international companies.

Sources close to the State Department US have assured 14ymedio more changes in the regulations are coming.

Negotiating with Machiavelli / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, February 11 2015 – When Cuba’s government announced the postponement of its talks with the European Union on 9 December 2014, it was speculated that the real reason lay in that the Cuban side wasn’t ready to face the topic of human rights, which had been anticipated to be a part of that round. Instead, the pretext of a photographic exhibition that offended “revolutionary sensitivities” was employed as a reason, but almost no one believed it. Eight days went by and the mystery was unveiled when continue reading

Barack Obama and Raúl Castro divulged to the world their shared intention to reestablish diplomatic relations.

Cuban negotiators will sit at the table with their European counterparts in the first week of March with an unexpected advantage: one provided by the December 17 announcement and one that will allow them to boast of no longer depending on the cooperation the Eurozone can offer. Like good cheaters at poker, they will brag about the Ace of hearts they hide up their sleeves, a dollarized manna from the North, so as to make believe that they no longer play under pressure.

Like he who offers two buyers the same merchandise to see who pays more, they will take with them some list of prisoners they could free, they will announce their next economic apertures, and they will make whatever promise they would be willing to eventually break.

The negotiating technique of the Cuban government rests upon the ambiguity with which it outlines the doctrine of not yielding a single millimeter of its principles. Its pragmatic interlocutors, removed from ideological catechism, are incapable of discerning the extent reached by the cynicism of a functionary who gets flustered upon sensing that an innocent suggestion could “put the sovereignty of the homeland in danger,” and yet, without the batting of an eyelid, seek foreign investment in petroleum extraction projects or the 90-year usufruct-style lease of future golf courses.

It does not tolerate a word about democratic elections, yet it hands the commercialization of rum and tobacco to foreign companies

It’s astonishing, the plasticity of an intransigence that does not tolerate a word about democratic elections, that upholds the morality of arbitrary detentions, of physically attacking dissidents, and of refusing to recognize the legitimacy of civil society while it hands the commercialization of rum and tobacco to foreign companies, and also accepts the exploitation of one man at the hands of another in Cuba, this as long as the exploiter is foreign and the exploited is Cuban.

Cuban negotiators expect to convince their counterparts that the country deserves credibility and respect because it grows and advances on a solid foundation, but that it needs to be aided as though it were a nation in a state of catastrophe. In certain subjects they act as if they had absolute power. They do not feel limited by the existence of a labor union that may prevent them from striking deals that will lower wages or by an eco-friendly group of parliamentarians that will seek to limit mining in protected areas. Much less by the fact that an irritating part of the Republic’s Constitution may not fit well in what is being negotiated.

Oh! But don’t touch that point of Human Rights. It is then that they raise their chins, frown their brows, and clench their fists… or maybe not. Maybe they’ll conjure a knowing smile and make some indication insinuating that it is important to have trust, they might even raise their index finger, to subtly inform that the impediments, external to their own wishes, come from “up above.” Then, slowly, as if they were bouncing an invisible ball with their palms a few centimeters from the table’s surface, they’ll signal the need for patience. They’ll close up their briefcases and they’ll get up satisfied, sure that they have once again achieved a magnificent purchase of time.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Follow the Trail of Flour / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

A piece of bread. (14ymedio)
A piece of bread. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 9 February 2014 – “The flour trail is easy to follow,” says a retired baker whose hands, for more than five years now, haven’t mixed ingredients nor added leavening to a dough. “I left it all behind, because the administrator of the bakery where I worked changed every six months and the last one ended up in jail,” explains this sixties-something man with long arms, wearing a white cap from his days in front of on oven.

The illegal market in flour has grown in recent years. With the revival of private businesses offering varied menus, demand for “the white powder” has multiplied. It’s estimated that three of every five pizzas sold in the private cafés and restaurants are made with flour acquired in the underground continue reading

networks and not from the hard currency stores as required by law.

A recent TV report has revealed that the diversion of the grain starts at the mills where the wheat is processed and packaged for distribution throughout the country. Cienfuegos Combined Cereals supplies the product to 11 of the country’s provinces, and a high percentage of its merchandise ends up in the informal networks. The trail this traffic leaves extends from the ships of the Cienfuegos company, passing through the railroad cars of at least three provinces and also involving entities such as the Business Base Unit (UEB) and Cargo Transport (Transcar).

The Interior Ministry has an ongoing investigation in response to multiple complaints of shortages of flour. The Controller of the Republic herself has intervened in the matter and at the end of 2014 presided over a tense meeting in Camaguey Province attended by all the entities involved in the embezzlement. That meeting turned into a battlefield where each party defended their own innocence and accused the others.

In November 2014, María Victoria Rabelo, director general of the Cuba Milling Company, had sent a long missive with a detailed sequence of the thefts committed against the merchandise marketed by her company, pointing an accusing finger at the railroad authorities. According to the millers’ version, the sacks of precious grain go astray during the journey to numerous destinations in the region.

In July of last year, the Department of National Railways reduced the number of staff in the Loading and Unloading Inspection Division. Added to the spending cuts is the illusion that the security of the loads relies more on automated methods and the verification of the locks of every boxcar with merchandise. The result of this measure has been a real catastrophe.

Three of every five pizzas sold in the private cafés and restaurants are made with flour acquired in the underground networks

In a Provincial Food Company inspection of 60 boxcars, it was determined that between September and October alone, over 100,000 pounds of the precious product disappeared. “If before they reduced the manpower of inspectors they were losing between two and three sacks per boxcar, today we’re talking about losing as much as 17 tons fromone of them,” confessed one Cuba Milling Company official on national television.

Ledy Guerrero Ramírez, head of packing and stowage for Cienfuegos Cereal company, said it was impossible that the product was stolen during loading. “No way,” she responded before the insinuation that the main diversion was happening in her entity. “Here we have a computer with two automatic scales and here we have another computer where the number of sacks loaded to a boxcar is programmed in,” she added. Guerrero Ramírez also said that, when the full number of sacks is loaded, the conveyor stops automatically.

During the police investigation it was found that, despite the implementation of an automatic scale in the filling of the cars, the shipments arrive at their destination with between eight and ten tons less flour. An even greater mystery, and one confusing to the experts, is that this happens without the security seals placed on the door of each car showing any signs of being violated.

The railroad operators defend themselves, bringing up Ministry of Economy and Planning Resolution No. 2 of 2008. According to its provisions, the supplier is obligated to place the product in the warehouses of the customers and guarantee its arrival in good condition and without losses. Following the exact letter of the provision, it is the responsibility of Cienfuegos Cereals to take control of and transport the flour to every distribution center.

Centralized State control, however, obliges the millers and the railroad operators to work together in a forced relationship. The spotlight of the accusations is falling on the work of the UEB railway in Cienfuegos. Its chief of operations, Antonio Subí Claro, referred to the television official who had recorded missing sacks over the whole year, which have been “significantly increased (…), adding up to some 4,800 missing sacks as of December.”

Nothing here … nothing there

Getting the sacks of flour out of the boxcars can only be carried with the complicity – or blindness – of the train crew. Several farmers in the central area say that there are sites located on the outskirts of towns and cities where the illegal off-loading occurs. A non-scheduled stop allows the product to be transferred to trucks, which wait on both sides of the rail line. The security seals on the boxcars were never closed, which requires several accomplices in the loading areas at the mills. Once they take out the merchandise, they proceed to seal the doors, leaving no signs that they had been forced.

Despite the implementation of an automatic scale in the filling of the cars, the shipments arrive at their destination with between eight and ten tons less flour

The web of conspirators is so extensive that from the loading centers they convey the information to the off-loaders about which boxcars are marked by the police, to be inspected on arrival. A game of cat and mouse, where this time the rodents appear to have greater ingenuity and creativity than the stupid cat who monitors them without success.

Contrary to what many believe, a great part of the stolen flour ends up in the state institutions themselves. The bakeries are the final destination of thousands of these stolen sacks. It will be there where they concoct, with the implements and state infrastructure, the bread and baked goods that later will be sold by private vendors. A mix of state and private (estatal and particular) that people have jokingly baptized estaticular.

The phenomenon of undeclared production has become common in state institutions. However, it is in bread baking where it reaches its highest peak. The bakeries work at double their capacity, although the product offered on the ration book is poor quality and underweight. Inside the state entities, the ovens never stop and on the kneading tables they give shape to the bread sold according to supply and demand. This is marketed “under the counter” from the display cases of the bakery itself, or is supplied to private bakers, birthday party managers, café owners and casual shoppers.

Another part of the stolen grain goes to families who hide distribution centers where they package the merchandise in smaller portions and offer it to their usual clients. “We supply owners of private restaurants and cafés, mostly to people who sell Italian food,” says Amilkar, a young man of 28 who is part of the flour distribution network in the capital neighborhood of Puentes Grandes, very close to the Cuba Milling Company.

“This is a dangerous business,” says Amilkar, who has seen many “end up in the tank.” In mid-2013 an illegal flour distribution network was dismantled in the city of Camaguey. The police arrested two young men hiding five sacks and flour and two pounds of leavening in the false bottom of a tricycle. The investigators busted it wide open and ended up taking down a network of 17 people, who included some who were issuing false invoices to account for the grain transfers.

An illegal industry that is carried out with the stealth of those who traffic in cocaine, because all the flour circulating in the country has been stolen from the state network that imports the wheat and processes it in domestic mills. Attempts to cultivate the grain in Cuban soil have ended up being a sterile, and excessively expensive, enterprise.

If I were to buy all the flour I use in the hard currency stores, I would have to sell every pizza at a price no one could afford

In selling flour, so it can be processed by others, the suppliers try to find regular customers. They are offered each sack at a price that varies between 300 and 400 Cuban pesos. Much cheaper than the 2.2 pounds for 1 convertible peso (equivalent to 24 Cuban pesos), which it costs in the network of hard currency stores. Along with the illegal grain business, there also flourished a wide offering of counterfeit receipts so the self-employed workers can justify the product to the inspectors.

An establishment of the Cuban Bread Company.(14ymedio)
An establishment of the Cuban Bread Company.(14ymedio)

“In the absence of a wholesale market, if I were to buy all the flour I would have to sell every pizza at a price no one could afford,” says Norge, an electrical engineer who now runs a private pizzeria. “We have several empty containers labeled with the brand of flour sold in stores in convertible pesos and we fill them with what we get outside, in case an inspector suddenly shows up.”

On Norge’s kitchen floor, there is a trail of white powder that extends to the back door. In the words of an old baker, that footprint is like a betrayal, a most indiscrete and eloquent track left by the illegal flour business.

The Economic Impact of Obama’s Measures / 14ymedio, Luis R. Luis

14ymedio, LUIS R. LUIS, Washington, 13 January, 2015 — The measures announced by President Barack Obama will have a moderately positive effect on the economy of Cuba. Preliminary estimates of additional revenue to be generated by these measures place it between 400 and 500 million dollars within a period of one year, and a bit more in the second year. This represents between 0.5 and 0.6 percent of Cuba’s gross national product (GNP). This figure, while modest in absolute terms, is important in relation to the slow growth of 1.3 percent in the Cuban GNP estimated for 2014.

The most important line in the new measures is the expanded limit for remittances to family members. Available figures indicate that remittances are limited by current regulations in the United States. Raising the personal limit to $2,000 per quarter would boost these transactions, as would the availability of credit cards continue reading

as vehicles for payments. Thus, following the recent sluggishness in these transactions, remittances could increase by 12 percent, or $350,000,000 in one year. These estimates do not take into consideration changes in deliveries brought in by travelers or sent via transport companies.

The increase in non-Cuban-American, US visitors, is a lesser factor, although an important one. This number could double above the 2013 level of 93,000 individuals. The expenditures on the Island of these travelers, not counting transportation, are estimated near $100,000,000 in 2014, according to expenditures allowed under current regulations.

Obama’s measures will benefit US exporters of items such as telecommunications equipment, medicines and agricultural equipment. It is difficult to calculate the impact. The resumption of banking relations between the two countries does not include extending credit to the Cuban importer, but it will facilitate the financial transaction. One conservative estimate is that exports could increase by 40 percent although from a reduced base of $315,000,000 estimated in 2014, according to statistics from the US Department of Commerce. Cuban exports to the US are restricted by current North American legislation that is not affected by Obama’s measures.

As is well known, long-range projections for commerce, tourism and investment will depend on changes in US legal restrictions. They will also depend on the operating climate and the projects available in Cuba for foreign enterprises. It is early to evaluate this without knowing the course that these initiatives by President Obama will take in the US Congress.

Dr. Luis R. Luis is an economist in Massachusetts and has served as Chief Economist of the Organization of American States, and Director of the Institute of International Finance, both in Washington, DC. He is a member of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy and editor of asce.org/blog.

Translated by Alicia Barraqué Ellison

13 January 2015

Notes About a Polemic / 14ymedio, Antonio Rodiles

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Antonio G. Rodiles, Havana, 6 February 2015 – My article published this Wednesday on the site Diario de Cuba has provoked a criticism from blogger Miriam Celaya that motivates me to touch on various points I consider important. In order to mainly refer to the political themes, I will avoid personal attacks; yet without failing to mention that the blogger has, in other instances, published high flown articles riddled with offenses and ill intent against highly respectable people like ex-political prisoner, journalist, and writer Jorge Olivera, among others. If she intends to really take part in a political debate, she should cast this habit aside and concentrate on the points that are fundamental.

The polarization that exists today within the ranks of country’s opposition regarding the United States’ new policy toward Cuba does not necessarily imply a confrontation but does continue reading

, in fact, reveal each person’s position quite clearly.

The position to be adopted by the North American government in supporting change in our country will be of vital importance. We should not feel any sense of shame in accepting it. In a global world such as the one in which we live, it would be naïve not to accept that fact, even more so if in that country resides an important portion of the Cuban population. The presence of political exiles, professionals, entrepreneurs, and even Cuban Americans within the ranks of government provides for a unique and maybe even special feature in our country’s transition and its future reconstruction. In that respect, it becomes very difficult to find a similar political, economic, and social setting when speaking of transition in Cuba. Likewise, blocs such as Europe can be key actors in the process of change if they assume their corresponding leadership role within the international scene.

The usual comparisons with other transition processes should be carefully selected. To take the Spanish transition as a reference turns out to be inexact at the extreme due to the enormous distance between Francoism and Castroism, but some elements can be considered. Spain’s economic condition in the 1960s, the makeup of a social fiber that included trade unions and politicians that favored a transformative process for a society that pushed toward modernization and for which the regime was a nuisance. The country possessed all of the ingredients to enter a process of transformation taking Western Europe as a reference.

In the Polish case we should point out that the negotiating table was set up after years of struggle and repression where the international scene also exerted constant and effective pressure. The signing of the Helsinki Accords and support from the West and leaders of such importance as Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, and the crucial role of Pope John Paul II allowed the independently run Polish trade Union Solidarity to reach 10 million members. When in 1989 the Soviet Union advised General Jaruzelski that it would not intervene under any circumstance, the Polish elite understood that time was slipping away. Only under these conditions could the negotiating table come to pass.

The Chilean case is also very distinct from ours. Stability depended on a middle class formed under a series of liberal economic transformations promoted by Milton Friedman that strayed far from those started by Raúl Castro and his advisory group, spearheaded by Marino Murillo. Once again, there was a great international pressure that obligated the regime, and the dictator especially, to accept the undertaking of a plebiscite and its result, even though it was against his wishes. Despite how bloody the Chilean dictatorship was, its social structure and dynamics were far more complex than ours, preventing political patronage from establishing as a form of government.

Never will Cubans be responsible for their futures if the regime can continue to violate fundamental freedoms with complete impunity.

As I’ve mentioned in various previous articles, the primary promoters of the Espacio Abierto, or “Open Space,” Reinaldo Escobar, Yoani Sánchez, and Dagoberto Valdés, have been fervent defenders of the unconditional lifting of the embargo and also of seeking dialogue with the regime. If those are their visions, why not say so and debate them publicly?

Why deny the existence of polarization, divergences, and even confrontation if it is a reality? We attempt to construct a democracy, and within one those are very natural elements. Open debate will be crucial not only for political actors but also for Cubans to discover what positions they agree with the most and which they are willing to stand by. Current positioning regarding today’s policies does exhibit different political profiles, visions of transition, and forms of building the future of the Island.

This group’s arguments, as well as those of the North American administration, are unstable and should be submitted to greater debate. Of what empowerment do we speak when no Cuban can survive without breaking the law and personal success is based on the capacity to cheat and corrupt? Of what empowerment do we speak when the differences between those who have profitable businesses and those who don’t are based on nepotism and political loyalty to the regime? To start a successful small business with such high taxes and inspectors’ constant harassment is an impossible task.

To use a supposed logic of strengthening society and to generate the false image that any Cuban can grow as an entrepreneur is to play sadly along with the regime and allow it to further postpone a successful transfer of power. Never will Cubans be responsible for their futures if the regime can continue to violate fundamental freedoms with complete impunity. Never will Cubans be able to become empowered if the regime enjoys access to economic resources that will allow it to maintain and develop its repressive apparatus. The reality of 57 years is there to show us what Castroism really is.

To construct hope for change on a foundation of corruption, political patronage, and nepotism is to condemn the future of our nation. It’s not to understand that a nation can only be reborn when it springs from more clean and fresh bases. We will not be the first to transit down those roads of decomposition and arrive at places that will later be extremely difficult to dismantle.

To defend a position and to act in a moment as delicate as this one without stopping to consider other highly probable scenarios is proof of having little political vision, of being unable to adapt or change one’s views or of having only a personal interest.

To say that all of us who oppose the government have no rallying power or that we do not represent the people is to play the regime’s tune.

The “Open Space” promoters have hoped to demonstrate that it is they who hold the greatest consensus within the country’s internal opposition. That Obama’s measures enjoy wide acceptance, and that is false. At first and simple sight, one can observe the number and diversity of signatures supporting one initiative or another. It would also be important to observe the “Open Space” and the “Forum” (el Foro) managers’ ability to rally followers and the true level of their current commitment to the cause of meaningful democratic change.

To say that all of us who oppose the government have no rallying power or that we do not represent the people is to play the regime’s tune. The impact of some opposition groups cannot be measured in all its magnitude because of the high levels of repression before any kind of rally. Many of us who signed the “Forum” have had to face violent acts of repudiation aimed at preventing a larger base of followers.

Those who, from Obama’s administration, have promoted the new measures have not facilitated the building of consensus among Cubans on the Island and in exile. They have, however, sought out a way to demonstrate a greater acceptance of their policies. That was what happened during the recent visit of American legislators to the Island as well as that of Assistant Secretary Roberta Jacobson. That was the reason for which Berta Soler decided to decline breakfast, and why we, the members of the “Forum,” later decided not to attend dinner.

If the Obama administration wishes to brand itself as supportive of the transition process, something we also hope from Europe and some nations in Latin America, it should promote greater consensus.

We’ve repeated innumerable times that it is a mistake to grant the status of a legitimate State to a despotic regime, an action that disregards the pain and moral and physical damage it has inflicted on thousands and thousands of Cubans. This Thursday, Berta Soler, Sara Marta Fonseca, and José Luis Pérez Antúnez gave important testimony regarding these points before the United States Congress.

As peaceful activists, we defend a solution without violence that is also grounded in the realities we have lived. To work in the way that we have until now does not build a solid path and does instead bring forth a scenario that in the medium and long term will work against us. To allow the elite to inherit power will be the worst thing to happen to us as a nation.

These subjects are of great importance and depth. Miriam Celaya has the right to defend her position, but I do believe that these policies’ main promoters on the Island could participate in a debate with those of us who defend the other vision, so as to enrich the political scenario. I propose to Yoani Sánchez, Reinaldo Escobar, and Dagoberto Valdés to sustain a debate and show Cubans how we think of this process and what vision we have for the future. Without a doubt, we will all end up winners.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

A Sterile Confrontation / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, MIRIAM CELAYA, Havana, 5 February 2015 — On 4 February 2015, the digital magazine Diario de Cuba, published a piece by Antonio González Rodiles (“Hablar con la Misma Voz) [Speaking with one Voice] in which the activist refers to an editorial by opposition lawyer René Gómez Manzano about the similarities between two documents issued by the independent civil society on the Island: the Four Points agreed to by the Cuban Civil Society Open Space this past December 22nd and the roadmap proposed by the Forum for Rights and Freedoms several days later.

It would have been nice if the editors of Diario de Cuba had made available Gómez Manzano’s work (“There is no substantial difference between the Four Points and the Roadmap, published 28 January 28 2015) through the corresponding link to the digital magazine 14ymedio, where it was published, but this editorial slip is not the subject of my analysis. I’m just trying to make some comments and annotations about the proposals González Rodiles suggested, acknowledging in advance that I am subject to misinterpretation continue reading

 of his syntax, which is not sufficiently clear in all of his statements.

In principle, I do not share the preeminence granted by the author to the opposition’s polarization in “two tendencies” following the announcement of the restoration of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuban governments. In any case, whether or not one agrees or disagrees with the proposals of President Barack Obama on the subject of the dialogue established with the Cuban regime, that cannot be the focus of the political aspirations of the civil society, and should be accepted as “the watershed “to define two opposing parties in the opposition: those opposed to the approach and who feel the Cuba-US dialogue will “legitimize” the Cuban regime, and those who understand that this could expand the possibilities of the Civil Society within the Island.

The fact that those who choose to bet on the gradual change and seek the opportunities a new scenario might bring to us have assumed — without prior agreement and without caucusing the subject — a common ethical positioning in key aspects, which can be summarized in two main points: 1. The solution of the Cuban problems and the achievement of democracy concerns only Cubans and does not depend on the will or the policies of any foreign government. 2. We have not disqualified, verbally assaulted, provoked or offended anyone who does not share our views.

We have not disqualified, verbally assaulted, provoked or offended anyone who does not share our views.

That is why we need to appreciate that González Rodiles’s writing has finally realized that “both positions demonstrate our commitment to democracy and the end of totalitarianism”, which infers the disavowal of the discredit of contradictory opinions.

So one thing is to agree or disagree with the negotiations between the two governments and quite another is the subject of Open Space and the Four Points, which exclude consideration to suggest the shortest link between our democratic aspirations and decisions of the US government. Mixing both issues in the same discussion introduces confusion, besides not conforming to reality, which is evident, for example, in statements such as the following: “Obama’s policy is applauded by those joined together in the Open Space, which has several visible elements.”

The truth is that not everyone involved in Open Space “applauds “what the author generically called “Obama’s policy.” Nor is it clear what these so-called “visible elements” are, which only reinforce inaccuracies in the writing. I will take this opportunity to remind you that the Open Space began well before our learning about talks between the governments of the US and Cuba.

In another topic, and strictly political in nature, González Rodiles suggests that those at Open Space who are committed to dialogue, who lend “legitimacy to the regime” do not propose “preconditions for the political process” accept “that the transition process will be (…) in the hands of the actors of the regime, which presupposes that they will be part of the future of the Island” and consider “the democratic changes will come as the evolution of supposed economic transformations” introduced by the regime itself under the pressure of measures proposed by the US government.

Obviously, such a position ignores the experiences of other transitions, which have been successful precisely because they have been conducted in a peaceful and civilized manner within the existing social order, based on dialogue and negotiations with elements of the very regimes in power. Such is the case of the exemplary Spanish transition that owes so much to Adolfo Suárez; the transition in Poland, which brought to the negotiating table Solidarity, the powerful opposition syndicate and other actors of the Civil Society, in addition to Wojciech Jaruzelski; or the Chilean transition which allowed for its dictator, Augusto Pinochet, to remain as permanent senator, just to name only the best known examples.

Other transitions have been successful because they were conducted in a peaceful and civilized manner within the existing social order

Achieving peace through political negotiation is not only less traumatic, but also achieves more permanent effects, though it unavoidably involves certain concessions, and offers certain guarantees that are advantageous for both parties.

The only possible alternative to a negotiated solution is confrontation. But, let’s face it, do the opposition and the Independent Civil Society in Cuba have the strength and sufficient resources to face down a government and force it to relinquish its power? A government that controls the army, the police, and all repressive bodies and economy? Certainly not. In fact, we have not even managed to be included in any of the dialogues that have taken place on the release of political prisoners, despite the critical and always meritorious action of the Ladies in White movement for more than a decade, which, despite its value, has failed, so far, in having people join in their marches or outright reject the repression against them.

It is not only that “the government does not acknowledge us” but about the weakness we display. Because, while the government, with all its totalitarian power, has no real legitimacy because it has not been freely chosen by the “sovereign people,” we have not been chosen as representatives of the people either, since, for whatever reason, we have failed to lay a solid foundation among Cubans, therefore we have no summoning power. In whose “sovereign people’s” name would we be acting, especially when they are trying to deny our capabilities?

“Human rights and the promotion of democracy, as primary objectives, should not be masked by other elements. They must be shown especially to the Cuban people, confused after 57 years of dictatorship, so they can decide in what direction they want to take this country.” (Underlined as emphasis by this writer.) This assertion by González Rodiles rules out that the possibility to economically prosper is one of those human rights and is also one of the most expedient to empower Cubans and promote their conversion into independent subjects of the State-Party-Government, and it is contained in one of the United Nations Covenants whose demand for government ratification almost all of civil society has subscribed to. By the way, raising a formal complaint to the Government, presented to the National Assembly, isn’t that also a way of legitimizing the regime?

But, continuing with the author’s statement –- numerically incorrect, since Cuba has already endured 63 years of dictatorship — the core messianic vision to be taught is that it is essential to teach what one should know (because, obviously, he does not know) to these “confused” peoples, who are unable to choose their destiny for themselves and are, therefore, condemned to the possibility that some individual, touched by a kind of divine wisdom, will guide them in the right direction, as F. Castro was able to do in his day. Ergo, the immature people of this country need a new messiah… one in whom we can supposedly be able to and should trust. In that sense, it is reassuring that the Roadmap states: “We will not join the construction of a new authoritarianism”. It is a real relief; I know that neither will we, the ones of Open Space.

It is true that Four Points favors the benefits to be derived from “alleged economic transformations,” but considers them as a potential tool for strengthening an emerging civil society which would add players — not necessarily politically active subjects — to the process of change. Those of us who had the opportunity to speak face-to-face with Roberta Jacobson during her recent stay in Havana expressed our interest in promoting, concurrent with the plans for economic empowerment of Cubans, mechanisms that will allow exercising our human rights, such as freedom of the press, of expression, of information and of association, all essential instruments of democracy which must be placed in everyone’s reach.

We are facing a dilemma that makes us choose between blindness and pragmatism; between belligerence as an end in itself or the lucidity to drive change

But today we are facing a dilemma that makes us choose between blindness and pragmatism; between belligerence as an end in itself or the lucidity to take any of the routes that could be opened to drive change, even if it meant deliberating with our adversaries. This is how politics functions, which is not an exact science but social, so it is based on a rational choice in which all players must replace any preferences or personal interests with the interests of the nation and of Cubans in general.

One of the Four Points includes the claim of “free, democratic and competitive elections” and “recognition of the legitimacy of the independent Cuban civil society within the Island and in the diaspora as a valid spokesperson” so that the charge of “ambiguity “or “lack of transparency” that we have been accused of is, at least, futile.

If politics, in its most succinct definition, is the art of turning the possible into reality, how to achieve a social contract where we are recognized, when there are factions among us particularly interested in preventing any possible consensus, however small? How will our enemies not disqualify us if, within the ranks of the civil society there are elements that refuse to recognize the “others”? What does González Rodiles mean by “discuss with complete clarity,” “serious and direct debate,” “maturation of the actors and the political scene” or the need for “certain political trust among stakeholders” when, in fact, he himself refuses to participate in meetings where he presupposes that there is a conspiracy against him? Conspiracy that, in addition, already reached international borders, since it suggests that US authorities “give preference” to those who approve of its new policy of non-confrontation and exclude those who do not share in it. I call here for restraint and modesty.

It would be extremely extensive to exhaust in a single article all easily refuted topics in González Rodiles’s speech, so I prefer to wrap up by commenting on a criticism about Four Points which turns amphibological; i.e. that the same could be applied to his Roadmap. This is the supposed sin of not tracing a “methodology” “to achieve one’s goals.” For some reason, he did not understand that Four Points is not exactly an itinerary or an agreement document, but a consensus position which we hope will help us advance the delicate path of future councils.

But the truth is that the strategy with which the Roadmap is expected to reach was not exposed either, which in itself is inconsistent, even with the title of the document. What will be the next stop or destination of that Map? Peccadillo.

I don’t mean to wear myself out in a sterile confrontation; there is too much work to do. When González Rodiles proposed “To speak with one voice” perhaps I was thinking something like “Speaking with my voice,” which is not bad, as long as he doesn’t intend to possess the gift of absolute truth to save us all. The effort is appreciated, but, personally, I decline such a legacy. Following the musical analogy he proposed, I already belong to a larger orchestra, fortunately dissonant, called Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting