A Bad Bet / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 13 June 2017 — Of the real and supposed problems that the Cuban Revolution proposed to solve, as the basis of its historical necessity, after more than half a century of exercising absolute power, many have not been solved, the majority have been aggravated, and others have emerged that did not exist before.

The housing shortage, the thousands of families living in precarious and overcrowded conditions, and more thousands housed in inadequate locations, constitute a clear demonstration of the Revolution’s failure. Insufficient and inefficient public transit, for years incapable of meeting the minimum needs of the population, and the appalling and unstable public services of all types, show another face of the failure. If we add to this the loss of important agricultural outputs, the obsolescence of the industrial infrastructure (lacking upgrades and needed investments), plus a generalized lack of productivity, the situation becomes chaotic.

Nor have the political and the social spheres achieved what was promised, what with the continued absence of freedoms and basic rights for citizens, as well as low wages and pensions, covert racial and gender discrimination, street and domestic violence, incivility, antisocial behaviors, corruption, and disregard for flora and fauna.

The blame for this string of calamities has always been cast upon the embargo–but even back when it went unmentioned while the country was benefitting from enormous Soviet subsidies* these problems went unresolved. At that time, the abundant resources were squandered on foreign wars, backed insurgencies, absurd and grandiose failed plans, and other frivolities.

The socialist state and its leaders, albeit abusing the revolutionary rhetoric, have reliably demonstrated in Cuba that the system does not work and is unfeasible–just as happened in the other socialist countries which erroneously bet on it.

To propose a “prosperous, efficient and sustainable socialism” is to propose a negation, and it constitutes no more than another utopia to deceive the citizenry and detain the march of time a little longer–knowing that, at the end, it will fail as it has up to now. Socialism, perhaps attractive in theory, is in practice a failure. A bet on it, in any of its forms, is to ensure a loss.

Translator’s Notes:

*Before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 and the start of Cuba’s “Special Period.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Cuban Republic: Buried by Official Decree / Iván García

Photo of Tomás Estrada Palma by Remezcla. During his exile in Tegucigalpa, Estrada Palma met a Honduran woman, Genoveva Guardiola, whom he married in May of 1881. The marriage produced seven children: José Manuel, Tomás, Andrés, Carlos, Maria de la Candelaria, Mariana de la Luz and Rafael.

Iván García, 24 May 2017 — May 20 of this year with mark the 115th anniversary of the birth of the Republic of Cuba. In the Throne Room of the Palace of the Captains General, a building which now serves as the City Museum, Tomás Estrada Palma — born in Bayamo in 1835, died in Santiago de Cuba in 1908 — would go down in history as the first popularly elected president of the republic.

With heat bouncing on the asphalt so intensely that even stray dogs seek shelter under covered walkways, I go out to inquire about the May 20 anniversary.

Four pre-university students in their blue uniforms have skipped class to go to Córdoba Park, a free wifi zone in the 10 de Octubre district. They want to check out their Facebook wall, chat with relatives in Miami and read the latest soccer blog from the Spanish newspaper Marca.

Though the heat is stifling, the young men do not even notice it. They are eating ice cream cones, joking, gesturing and shouting at each other. Striking up a conversation with them is easy. They are seventeen-years-old and all four of them say that they hope to go to college when they finish high school. When I ask them if they know on what date the Republic of Cuba was founded, they hesitate and look at each other, trying to come up with a correct answer.

“January 1, right?” two of them respond simultaneously.

“You guys are so dumb,” says another, mocking his cohorts. “Independence day is 10 October, when Carlos Manuel de Céspedes freed his slaves.”

Another justifies his ignorance with the excuse that he does not like history. “That subject is a drag. You mechanically learn to answer exam questions like that, but the next day no one remembers the dates or what they commemorate.”

A man selling popcorn, who has been eavesdropping on the conversation, sums it up by saying, “There are a lot of opinions on this topic. Whether it was January 1 or October 10. But I think it was 1492, when Christopher Columbus discovered the island.”

It seems only academicians, professors, students of history and well-informed citizens can explain the significance of May 20, 1902 in the context of national history. Most Cubans are unaware of it. Keep in mind that around 70% of the current population was born after 1959.

For people over the age of sixty-five like Giraldo — from his wheelchair he asks people walking along the side streets of the nursing home where he lives for cigarettes and money — the date brings back fond memories.

“It was the most important day of the year,” he says. “The tradition was to debut a new pair of shoes and a change of clothes. Cuban flags were hung from balconies. I would go with my parents and brothers to Puerto Avenue. In Central Park there were public concerts by the municipal band. The atmosphere was festive. But this government erased it all from popular memory. Now the dates that are celebrated are those that suit them.”

While Cubans living in Miami enthusiastically celebrate May 20, in Cuba it is a day like any other. That is how the military regime wants it.

Dictatorships have a habit of manipulating events. Just as the official narrative would have us believe that José Martí was an admirer of Marxist theories, so too does a military confrontation take on aspects of science fiction. This is what happened in 1983 in Granada. According to the Castros’ version of events, during the invasion of the country by U.S. forces, a group of Cuban workers sacrificed themselves while clutching the Grenadian flag.

For Cuba’s ruling military junta, the past is something to be erased. Economic, urban infrastructure and productivity gains achieved in the more than half century that the republic existed do not matter.

In an article published in Cubanet, independent journalist Gladys Linares recalls that in 1902, as a result of the war for independence, “agriculture, livestock and manufacturing were in a disastrous state. In a gesture of great sensitivity, Estrada Palma’s first action was to pay members of the Liberation Army and to pay off the war bonds issued by the Republic in Arms. To do this, he secured a loan from an American lender, Speyer Bank, for $35 million at 5% interest, which had already been repaid by 1943.”

For its part, EcuRed, the Cuban government’s version of wikipedia, states that “Estrada Palma was noted for being extremely thrifty during his presidency (1902-1906). In 1905 the Cuban treasury held the astonishing sum of 24,817,148 pesos and 96 centavos, of which the loan accounted for only 3.5 million pesos. The accumulation of so much money compelled Estrada Palma to invest in public works. The government allotted 300,000 pesos to be used in every province for the construction of roads and highways as well as more than 400,000 for their upkeep and repair.

The state-run press labels this period with the derogatory term “pseudo-republic” or “hamstrung republic.”

“They have done everything imaginable to obviate or destroy it. From producing television programs such as “San Nicolás del Peladero,” which ridiculed the venal politicians of the time, to minimizing the advances in material well-being achieved by various sectors of society. But when you review economic statistics from the period 1902 to 1958, you realize that, despite imperfections, there was more growth,” says a retired historian.

He adds, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. The Republic of Cuba was founded on May 20, 1902. In the future, setting ideology aside, May 20 should be included in the schedule of national holidays and should be celebrated once again. Everything began on that day.”

That remains to be seen. For the moment, new (and not so new) generations are unaware of the significance of May 20.

This ignorance, a willful act of forgetting, is part of the late Fidel Castro’s strategy of building a nation from the ground up, burying its customs and values, rewriting history to suit his aims. And he succeeded.

Two Solstices Seen From Our Newsroom

The winter solstice (above) and the summer (below) seen from the newsroom. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Generation Y, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 21 June 2017 — It has been six months since a photo taken from 14ymedio’s newsroom, last 21 December, captured the moment when a reddish sun was about to sink into the longest night of the year. This Wednesday the image reflects the other extreme and the reporters of this newspaper look out over the day with the most light: the summer solstice.

From the municipality Diez de Octubre to Old Havana the restless star has traversed the landscape of our balcony. A brief route before the eyes, but incredibly transcendent for nature and life. Spring has ended in the northern hemisphere and the 93 days that summer “officially” lasts have begun, although the thermometers have us believing that we are already in the hottest season.

On this terrace it is impossible to ignore the resounding news that today, at noon, the sun will be at its highest point of the year and will illuminate us for the longest number of hours. In the southern hemisphere winter will begin and it will be the longest night. Meanwhile, in the street, life remains oblivious to how the stars place themselves above us.

The rainy season has also begun, although El Indio seems reluctant to cede prominence to the downpours and insists on mistreating with its rays the already affected Cuban landscape, which is suffering the most grueling drought in a century.

It is true that there will be scarcely any difference between today and tomorrow, that our spring is as close to the summer as one can imagine, and that the sun strikes equally in June as in August, but an avalanche of events has occurred in the six months since that other solstice. In December we were in a total diplomatic thaw with the United States and today we grind our teeth amid the political glaciation, led by President Donald Trump.

In half a year we have also had to say goodbye many times to the friends who have left, the official press has been filled with obituaries, and in our newsroom the gray hairs are sprouting and the impetus to report grows. I only wish that on this day, the longest of the year, the light will accompany us in both its real and metaphorical sense, and give us clarity to know what news is and what it is not; what sinks us and what saves us.

Being Rich Is Banned in Cuba / Iván García

Source: El Universal de Colombia

Ivan Garcia, 8 June 2017 — The die is cast. At the special session of the National Assembly of People’s Power held on May 31 and June 1 at the Palace of Conventions, delegates have, as expected, approved the economic plan for 2016 to 2021 and a national plan for economic and social development for 2030.

Were it not so serious, it would seem like a sketch from the late night American comedy show “Saturday Night Live,” especially since the parliamentary debates were more farcical than rational.

Numerous “discussions” were televised. Not even Pánfilo — an elderly character created by the famous Cuban comedian Luis Silva and a man obsessed with his ration book — generates as many contradictions and absurdities. continue reading

Committees made up of so-called peoples’ representatives held debates, attempted to change one word in a paragraph, tweaked a concept and championed trivialities in order to justify two days of meetings in an air-conditioned facility where attendees were provided with breakfast, lunch and dinner along with breaks for coffee and mineral water.

Mercenaries of a different kind. No parliamentarian asked the recently reappointed economics and planning minister, Marino Murillo, to specify just how much capital one would be allowed to accumulate in Cuba. In other words, how rich could one be?

A few official reports offer some clues. The regime is already preparing a series of measures aimed at limiting or restricting the prosperity of citizens and small business owners.

Lucio, an economist, believes that, “in addition to legal restrictions, they will issue repressive rulings and adopt tax provisions to curtail wealth. Those who accumulate certain sums of money that the government considers excessive will be subject to a severe fiscal knife. In the worst cases, they will face forfeiture or criminal sanctions. I see no other way to curtail the accumulation of capital.”

There is a dreadful incongruity to the new legislative stew. While the island’s ruling military junta grants approval and legal status to private businesses, it also uses a range of prohibitions to limit their growth and to prevent them from prospering or making money.

The island’s chieftains are paralyzed by fear that the state will lose its control over society.

They are worried that, as successful mid-size businesses grow, they will move large sums of money that could exceed a million dollars and create supply chains that will benefit society.

Or that the owner of a restaurant will open two or three branches, expanding within the same city or into other provinces, and acquire a million dollars or more in funding through bank loans or other sources.

Of course, if a private businessman plays his cards right, he will do well, even earning annual profits in the six figures. That is the basis of national economic growth. As long as they respect the law and pay their taxes, bring on successful private business ventures!

But the government has a specific strategy. The only companies that may accumulate millions of dollars and enter into joint-ventures with foreign firms are state-owned enterprises. In other words, GAESA-style military-run conglomerates or others of the same ilk. It is the state playing with capitalism.

I did not hear any voices in the boring, monotone Cuban parliament asking for explanations or details about how Gaviota and Rafin’s multi-million dollar earnings would ultimately be used.*

By 2020 Gaviota will operate 50,000 hotel rooms as well as marinas, golf courses and stores. Within the next ten years the military-run conglomerate will become the largest hotel group in the Americas yet the whereabouts of its revenues are unknown.

Rafin, which according to sources is an acronym for Raúl and Fidel Investments, is an opaque corporation in a country with a planned economy that has never stated publicly what its sources of capital are.

This mysterious company bought Telecom Italia’s stake in a joint venture with the Cuban government that was intended to modernize the state-owned telecommunications monopoly ETECSA. Rafin is now the sole owner of ETECSA.

What is it doing with its multi-million dollar profits? Are parliamentary deputies not concerned that ETECSA has not created a social fund to benefit primary, secondary and pre-university schools, whose makeshift computer labs lack internet access?

Furthermore, they did not complain about the high prices ETECSA charges for its mobile phone, wifi and internet services, a subject much discussed in online discussions sponsored by official media outlets and about which readers have expressed their frustration. Or about the alarming prices for goods sold at hard currency retail stores. Or, even more scandalous, the prices of cars on display in large, well-lit showrooms.

Nor did any parliamentarians demand that state-run companies lower the prices of household appliances, televisions and smartphones at places like the Samsung store on 3rd Avenue and 70th Street in Miramar in western Havana, where a Galaxy S7 edge costs the equivalent of $1,300 and a seventy-inch 4K television goes for around $5,000.

The fact that the state is planning the lives of its citizens through 2030 seems like science fiction when no one knows how we will make it even to year’s end. The average Cuban pays no attention to parliamentary debates or to party politics.

People often look the other way. Apathy, dissimulation and indifference to national affairs pave the way for regime’s excesses.

Workers attend labor union meetings where, without giving them any thought, they approve economic proposals they do not want and do not understand. And in their neighborhoods and districts, they vote mechanically for candidates to the National Assembly who solve nothing. Cuba has become a nation of domesticated zombies.

Everyone complains quietly at home to his or her family members, neighbors and friends. But in workplaces and schools, they feign loyalty to the government, especially when it comes time to have a document approved or to vote in sterile elections. We have gotten what we deserve.

Deng Xiaoping, a diehard communist and father of China’s economic reforms, understood that making money was neither shameful nor a crime. “It doesn’t matter if the cat is black or white. What matters is if catches mice,” he said in 1960. In Cuba’s dictatorship, the cat wears olive green battle fatigues.

*Translator’s note: Gaviota operates a chain of tourist hotels throughout the island and offers other tourism related services. According to Bloomberg, Rafin SA “operates as a diversified financial services company.” In 2011 it bought Telecom Italia’s 27% stake in the Cuban state telecommunications monopoly ETECSA for $706 million.

Consensus and Dissent in the Face of Trump’s Cuba Policy

Hundreds of people gathered in the vicinity of the Manuel Artime Theater to show their disagreement with the change in policy toward Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 19 June 2017 – Over the weekend the official media have repeated ad nauseam the declaration of the government in response to Donald Trump’s speech about his policy toward Cuba. The declaration’s rhetoric recalls the years before the diplomatic thaw, when political propaganda revolved around confrontation with our neighbor to the north.

Beyond these words, many on the island are breathing a sigh of relief because the main steps taken by Barack Obama will not be reversed. The remittances on which so many families depend will not be cut, nor will the American Embassy in Havana be closed.

On the streets of Cuba, life continues its slow march, far from what was said at the Artime Theater in Miami and published by the Plaza of the Revolution. continue reading

Julia Borroto put a bottle of water in the freezer on Saturday to be ready for the line he expects to find waiting for him Monday outside the United States Embassy. This 73-year-old from Camagüey, who arrived in the capital just after Trump’s speech, remembers that Trump had said “he was going to put an end to the visas and travel, but I see that it isn’t so.”

The retiree also had another concern: the reactivation of the wet foot/dry foot policy eliminated by Obama last January. “I have two children who were plotting to go to sea. I just sent them a message to forget about it.”

The hopes of many frustrated rafters were counting on the magnate to restore the migratory privileges that Cubans enjoyed for more than two decades, but Trump defrauded them. Hundreds of migrants from the island who have been trapped in Central America on their way to the US were also waiting for that gesture that did not arrive.

Among the self-employed, concern is palpable. Homeowners who rent to tourists and private restaurant owners regret that the new policy will lead to a decline in American tourists on the island. The so-called yumas are highly desired in the private sector, especially for their generous tips.

Mary, who runs a lodging business in Old Havana, is worried. “Since the Americans began to come, I hardly have a day with empty rooms.” She had made plans on the basis of greater flexibilities and hoped “to open up more to tourism.”

On national television there is a flood of “indignant responses from the people” including no shortage of allusions to sovereignty, dignity and “the unwavering will to continue on the path despite difficulties.” The Castro regime is seizing the opportunity to reactivate the dormant propaganda machinery that had been missing its main protagonist: the enemy.

However, away from the official microphones people are indifferent or discontented with what happened. A pedicab driver swears not to know what they are talking about when he is asked about Friday’s announcements, and a retiree limits himself to commenting, “Those people who applaud Trump in Miami no longer remember when they were here standing in line for bread.”

Of the thirteen activists who met with Barack Obama during his trip to Havana, at least five expressed opinions to this newspaper about the importance of the new policy towards Cuba.

José Daniel Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), was at that table in March 2016 and was also mentioned on this occasion by Donald Trump during his speech. The activist had planned to be in Miami for the occasion, but at the airport in Holguin was denied exit and was subsequently arrested.

“It is the speech that had to be given and the person who could have avoided it is Raul Castro,” the former political prisoner asserts categorically. Ferrer believes that Obama did the right thing whenhe began a new era in relations between the two countries but “the Castro regime’s response was to bite the hand that was extended to it.”

In the opinion of the opposition leader, in the last 20 months repression has multiplied and “it was obvious that a different medicine had to be administered” because “a dictatorship like this should not be rewarded, it should be punished and more so when it was given the opportunity to improve its behavior and did not do so.”

Berta Soler, leader of the Ladies in White, was also prevented from flying to Miami to attend the event. For her, the words of the American president were clear and “if the Cuban regime accepts the conditions that Donald Trump has imposed on it, Cuba will begin to change.”

Soler believes that the Cuban government’s response is aimed at confusing the people, who “do not know exactly what is going on.” She says that Trump wants to maintain business with Cuba “but not with the military, but directly with the people,” something that the official press has not explained.

Opponent Manuel Cuesta Morúa, who manages the platform #Otro18 (Another 2018), is blunt and points out that “returning to failed policies is the best way to guarantee failure.” The measures announced by Trump, in his opinion, do not help the changes, and they once again give the Cuban government “the excuse to show its repressive nature.”

The dissident believes that the new policy tries to return the debate on democracy on the island to the scenario of conflict between Cuba and the United States, “just when it was beginning to refocus the national scenario on communication between the Cuban State and its citizens, which is where it needs to be.”

The director of the magazine Convivencia, Dagoberto Valdés, believes that there is a remarkable difference between the discourse itself “which seems a return to the past with the use of a language of confrontation, and the so-called concrete measures that have been taken.”

For Valdés there is no major reversal of Obama’s policy. “The trips of the Cuban Americans, the embassy, ​​the remittances are maintained… and the possibility of a negotiating table remains open when the Cuban Government makes reforms related to human rights.”

Journalist Miriam Celaya predicted that the speech would not be “what the most radical in Miami and the so-called hard line of the Cuban opposition expected. What is coming is a process and it does not mean that from tomorrow no more Americans will come to the Island and that negotiations of all kinds are finished,” she says.

In her usual poignant style, she adds that “regardless of all the fanfare and the bells and whistles, regardless of how abundant the smiles, and no matter how much people laughed at Trump’s jokes, it doesn’t seem that the changes are going to be as promising as those who are proclaiming that it’s all over for the government.”

Celaya sheds light on the fact that the official statement of the Cuban government “manifests its intention to maintain dialogue and relations within the framework of respect.” This is a great difference with other times when a speech like that “would have provoked a ‘march of the fighting people’ and a military mobilization.”

Instead, officialdom has opted for declarations and revolutionary slogans in the national media. But in the streets, that rhetoric is just silent. “People are tired of all this history,” says a fisherman on the Havana Malecon. “There is no one who can fix it, but no one who can sink it.”

Three “Paladares” Closed Were Among The Best Restaurants In Havana

Lungo Mare is another of the Havana closed in the middle of this week.(14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 16 June 2017 – The closure of three private restaurants in Havana last week has sparked doubts among owners of food service businesses. The fact that the three paladares – private restaurants – were rated “excellent” on Trip Advisor, one of the most important travel sites on the web, has fueled fears that the authorities are acting against the more prosperous businesses.

The police closed El Litoral, Dolce Vita and Lungo Mare, all located in the Vedado neighborhood, after a high-profile operation and the seizure of many goods, 14ymedio was able to confirm.

Alejandro Marcel Mendevil, the visible face of El Litoral, which operates under the name of his mother, Nardis Francisca Mendivil, had previously had legal problems when working for a company linked to the Ministry of Tourism, according to an employee of the place who preferred to remain anonymous. On that occasion he was “under investigation with other employees” for an alleged diversion of resources detected in the entity, which operated with foreign capital. continue reading

That investigation ended without charges but according to the same employee “the suspicion clung to him that he was laundering the embezzled money through El Litoral.”

Nardis Francisca Mendivil, legal owner of El Litoral, refuses to talk to the press so as not to harm her son, who is imprisoned in 100 and Aldabó and subject to a warning from State Security, but she does deny the version published by some media according to which he was the proprietor of the three closed paladares.

“We have nothing to do with Lungo Mare,” said the mother of the detainee. Other sources stated that her son also managed that paladar at one time, but had sold it “a few months ago.”

In addition, Señora Mendival complains that it is not the first time that they have tried to impute false crimes to her son; in the past he was accused of the death of a police officer who, according to Señora Mendival, shot “himself in a patrol car,” a few yards from the restaurant.

The closing of the restaurants took place after an exhaustive search by the Technical Department of Investigations in cooperation with police forces.

The news of what happened circulated through emails in the Cubapaladar newsletter on food service businesses. Its organizers were quick to remove the premises from their list of recommendations and asserted that they will never include an establishment that is “under a legal investigation or involved in any case that violates any Cuban law.”

This Thursday, an improvised sign with the word “Closed” was the only visible sign to customers at door of number 161 Malecón between K and L where until recently the El Litoral was overflowing with activity. The area is now deserted.

”Paladar” Dolce Vita. (14ymedio)

The operation and the confiscation of numerous belongings from the premises were the subject of comments from the whole neighborhood. “I saw many things: air conditioners, drinks of different brands they had in the cellar, chairs, tables, they even took the cutlery away,” says a neighbor.

According to an employee who spoke to 14ymedio, agents also took everything that was in the basement where a new space was going to be inaugurated for “tasting exquisite drinks and Cuban cigars.”

The site, with a wide-ranging menu specializing in seafood and fish, soon became a emblem of the new era for Cuban entrepreneurship after the flexibilizations for the self-employed sector promoted by Raúl Castro’s Government as of 2010.

“From the moment you walked through the door, you felt that you were not in Cuba because of the variety of dishes and the efficiency of the service,” says Grégory, a Frenchman who has visited Cuba more than a dozen times in the past decade, where he has “two daughters and many friends.”

However, those times of bonanza and glamor seem to have ended in the large house with a view directly to the sea.

The scene at El Litoral is repeated in the restaurant Dolce Vita, specializing in Mediterranean food and also located on Havana’s Malecón. The restaurant, which was a bustle of waiters and customers, is now closed, lock stock and barrel.

At the corner of Calle 1a and C, in Vedado, silence has also taken over the outside terrace and the interior area of ​​Lungo Mare. Underneath its distinctive red and white striped awning there is no longer the noise of the silverware or the clinking of the glasses. “This is dead and it will take a long time for it to rise again,” jokes a newspaper salesman who mourns the situation.

“The whole neighborhood benefited from this restaurant because many people came and I could sell some of my newspapers at a slightly better price,” he explains.

“This happened because it stood out a lot,” says Luis Carlos, a young man who delivers agricultural products for several restaurants in the area. “El Litoral became a reference point and many foreigners and diplomats came,” he explains. “Here they sold the best croquettes in Havana and that’s not a joke.”

No other private restaurant or coffee shop owner in the area has wanted to comment on the case.

The (Naked) King of Little Havana / Ernesto Morales

Source: The Independent (UK)

Cibercuba.com, Ernesto Morales, Miami, 16 June 2017 – When the lights and cameras went out, the choreographers of the event breathed a sigh of relief. Mario and Marco, both of Cuban descent, merged in a hug.

No child appeared to utter the alarm: “The king is naked!” This time the one humiliated would have been the President – who would like so much to be king.

But the stage, a Little Havana of arteries strangled by street closures, gates, cars with police lights, yellow tape, dust and vapors of dog shit, did not lend itself to bold and honest children.

The average age of the quorum of the President-King: 900 years.

The trait they all have in common: an anti-Obamaism comparable only in ferocity to their anti-Castroism, the overwhelming reason to welcome the President-King like a messiah from New York who comes, once and for fucking all, to sweep it all away. continue reading

Behind the pulpit of the President-King were the most Praetorian of the hosts, crowded together as best they could to catch the most advantageous camera angles. Man, nothing was missing: it was the day they’d dreamed of. The dismantling of a policy begun thirty months ago by Barack Obama, one that this Little Havana had identified as the alpha and omega of all possible evils: more repression in Cuba (without any evidence), more poverty for Cubans (despite Airbnb saying otherwise), more heat, more plagues of sparrows, more blisters on the feet of the peasants. Whatever.

And the President-King did not disappoint them. Far from it!

Although some of us, the self-marginalized among the troupe, still fail to completely understand why he did not disappoint them. Suspecting that we are passing through the gates of the inferno. That something is hidden from us. Something along the lines of, “And suddenly everyone will erupt in a collective anger and they will tell the President-King: This is a farce!”

The irreverent boy who will dare to shout to the President-King that his executive order, his policy review, his report on Cuba… that all this paperwork was naked.

The mockery is macabre. Not for me. I have cured myself in cynicism. But it is for the old man of genuine faith, who from a low-income apartment in Hialeah still dreams of doing justice to his executed father, his stoned mother.

The mockery is glaringly scathing: because it uses the weariness against a family dictatorship like gunpowder to gain subjects and followers. But this time without even pretending to fight against that same dictatorship!

“Effective immediately, I am canceling the last administration’s completely one-sided deal with Cuba,” came out of the president’s oracular mouth, and the room, criticized by the monarch himself for its narrow space and medieval heat, erupted in applause.

From some corner of the stage the strategists smiled. These are: Marco Rubio and Mario Díaz-Balart. The men who knew how to sell to the President-King the essence of what he had to do to win blind, deaf but very talkative faithful in this Miami devoid of common sense. He just had to fake a change.

It was not necessary for the President-King to dance. Just let him say, “Watch me dance this mambo,” motionless from his podium, and everyone would see him cut a rug.

I am still disoriented.

The cruise ships will continue to dock in Cuban ports. American Airlines, Jet Blue, Southwest Airlines, will continue to land from San Antonio to Maisí. Cuban Americans will have no restrictions on the number of visits per year or amount of remittances per year, as it was under – Yes! Really! – the iron fist of George W. Bush. The embassies will continue, both of them, on their sites. The diplomatic dialog will continue. The “wet foot/dry foot” policy will continue to be a thing of the past. Cuba will not once again be placed on the list of countries that sponsor terrorism.

One by one, without exception: all the elements of the Obama era regarding Cuba. Untouched. Intact. The icons of tropical Obamism, immovable.

“But to say that you dance the mambo, Mr. President, you have to play some music,” they told him. And then to the beat of the worst violinist who ever struck a chord in Little Havana, the President-King said that it will not be possible to trade with the military, and that the gringos must stay within the 12 categories already established to travel to the Island. (They didn’t even bother to remove one category or another, make it more difficult, less broad, the tickets more elusive!)

There was no need. The objective was already achieved: to enchant the plebs thirsting for magic, tricks, illusion.

Before ending the event, the President-King – for whom Cuba is only a reference to the site where, in 1995, he wanted to plant another of his pharaonic hotels – allowed himself a license: to praise the neighborhood. “I want to thank Little Havana.  Havana, we love.  Do we love it?  Would you move anywhere else?  You wouldn’t move to Palm Beach, would you?  No.  No way.  Little Havana,” he said.

And they all laughed, pleased.

All good, except for the detail that 99.99% of the amused crowd does not live in Little Havana, one of the most impoverished, violent, dirty, forgotten places in metropolitan Miami, and a place where now there are fewer and fewer Cubans – they’ve moved to Hialeah – and more and more Central Americans. Wow, a community of “bad hombres,” according to the peculiar reductionism of the President-King.

Miami attended the “Bufo” theater this Friday. To the barbarism of political laughter where the one who dazzles always wins and puts one over on the dumbest. The Miami exile community, to which I belong, is still the dunce of the class.

But a dunce who does not even dare to shout at the King that he forgot to put on his clothes.

Citizen Kastro-Citizen Alcides / Regina Coyula

Miguel Coyula (tallest in photo) and Rafael Alcides (3rd from right) collect the prize for the documentary ‘Nadie’ at the Dominican Global Film Festival. (Facebook FCGD)

Regina Coyula, 14 June 2017– Jorge Enrique Lage interviews Miguel Coyula (excerpts) 4

… at many times during the interview, Alcides interrupted himself and began to speak to Fidel as if he were right in front of him. It’s something one saw a lot in our parents’ generation: bothered by something Fidel was saying on TV and arguing with him, but supposedly there was no one listening inside the box. Documentaries offer that opportunity, that fantasy secret for many.

For me the film is a love-hate story between two men and a woman. The men are Rafael Alcides and Fidel Castro; the woman is the Revolution. Alcides lost her, and deeply resents the man who snatched her from him to dominate her, strangle her, and make her into an unrecognizable ghost. But in spite of it all, Alcides continues loving her somehow.

When he died I said that one of my actors had died, but Fidel appears in Memories of DevelopmentNobody, and Blue Heart. In the three films, I had to listen to many hours of his speeches and conversations to be able to edit and construct the dialogs in them. I can tell you it was pretty exhausting to work with him, who’d succeeded in telling me the lines I needed. But definitely he was one of the great actors of the 20th Century, including at the beginning of the 21st.

Supposedly, now one can read it as a great hallucination too, but when Alcides speaks, he addresses him in the present, as if he were alive. This doesn’t come out of nowhere. Anyone who reads Granma and reads the recycled quotes from Fidel in every issue can, as in the persistence embedded in all the talking heads you see on Cuban television, arrive at the conclusion that we’re being governed by a dead man.

Translated by: JT

Trump And Cuba, Or How To Bet On The Wrong Winner

President Donald Trump (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 13 June 2017 – In less than 72 hours President Donald Trump will declare in Miami the new basis for the United States government’s policies towards Cuba. At that time the decisions of his predecessor Barack Obama, during the process of normalization of diplomatic relations with the island, could be paused or reversed.

The magnate will make the announcement into a spectacle like so many he has starred in since he has been at the head of the greatest power on earth. He will gesticulate, commit himself to human rights and elicit enthusiastic applause, but then he will return to the White House and the Island will fall off his agenda.

Why entrust the fate of this country to a man who has failed to keep a single one of the election promises he made to his own people? Is the policy toward Cuba the only thing that will turn out well from someone who has behaved like a political bull in a china shop? continue reading

Trump will try to please the voices asking him to tighten the screws on Havana. Sanctions, cutting back and revoking the measures taken during the thaw are among the demands of those who bet on confrontation, a strategy that has had half a century to demonstrate its ineffectiveness.

The president will especially address himself to those who insist on “turning off the tap,” cutting off communication and shutting down supplies to the longest dictatorship in the West, as if such measures will cut off the electricity, water supply or internet access to the homes of the Community Party elite.

It is symptomatic that demands for economic strangulation rarely spring from those who wait long hours for a bus, depend daily on the bread that is distributed in the rationed market and have to stretch a monthly salary that is barely enough to survive on for a week.

On the other hand, blaming Obama’s “soft hand” for the wreck of normalization leads one to forget that those in charge in Cuba did not seize the opportunity for fear of losing control. They were more frightened by Obama’s speech at the Gran Teatro de La Habana than by any threat of military intervention.

Those who have aspired for decades to unconditional surrender, to revengeful justice, and to “all or nothing” with Castroism, did not lose any time in putting roadblocks in the way of the process started on 17 December 2014. Starting this Friday they will be forced to accept everything that happens after Trump’s decisions, or to recognize this is not the way to emerge from a dictatorship.

The figures for arbitrary arrests compiled by the Cuban Human Rights Commission are unlikely to decline significantly, the Ladies in White will still be unable to march down Fifth Avenue in the west of Havana, and opposition groups will remain illegal and persecuted by the police.

What will be the foreseeable consequences on the Island of a return to the politics of the cudgel? An increase in repression and a better positioning of the more conservative sectors. The Plaza of the Revolution, the tyranny of the Castros, the regime… or whatever you prefer to call it, will not be alone in facing the tightening of the screws from Washington.

Russia, China, Angola, Nicolas Maduro and comrades from North Korea, Congo, Zimbabwe and Iran will rush to take sides with Raul Castro. Meanwhile, in the streets of the Island the population will mark Trump’s measures with renewed “marches of the fighting people,” shouting anti-imperialist slogans and accepting the postponement of the old promises of the Revolution.

Faced with “the new onslaught from the empire” the government will reinforce its aptitude for entrenchment. In the upper echelons of power there will be no cracks or disagreements. Persecutors will strengthen their power and enjoy the impunity to crush any resistance.

Trump will not achieve, with his new measures, a new march by university students with a “Down with the Dictatorship” poster, nor will the unions call for a general strike against the government, nor will the farmers march to the cities demanding land.

It is not even clear whether the president will serve out four years in office, cornered as he is by political scandals, alleged Kremlin intervention in the elections that brought him to power and his unfortunate way of managing politics through incendiary treatises or threats.

His decisions will not provoke another Maleconazo on the island like the one of August of 1994. That popular protest was spurred by the desire to escape the country, not change it. Those dramatic events were not sparked by the opposition, nor did they generate political changes, just the Rafter Crisis.

Such an outbreak would be a nightmare for a leader with a marked nationalism and an evident anti-immigrant phobia.

This Friday the American president will have his moment in front of the Cuban exile. The applause for him will be short-lived. The placebo effect of his announcements will dissipate to give way to the stubborn reality that no decision of a foreign government will change Cuba, regardless of whether Barack Obama or Donald Trump is at the head of it.

Where is Socialism in Cuba? / Iván García

Looking for a living in the trash

Ivan Garcia, 20 May 2107 — A downpour in May hits the corrugated metal roof hard. Water filters in through several holes into the house of Mireya, a blind, half-deaf seventy-one-year-old woman. She relies on pieces of black rubber to cover and protect her most precious possessions: an obsolete Chinese television with cathode ray tubes and a foam mattress on her bed.

“Every time it rains, it’s the same old story. Water comes in through every crevice. On a day I least expect it, the roof will collapse and bury me under it. That’s really not what I want,” says Mireya. Frustrated, she no longer remembers how many times she has asked for Social Security subsidies to pay for construction materials to repair her ramshackle shed.

“They drag their feet or they turn me down. They say my two sons should be the ones to do it. They send money but they’re not doing well either. Cuba stopped being a socialist society that gave help to those in need a long time ago. We old people are the ones who are worse off. The state does almost nothing to help the poorest people,” says the old woman. continue reading

A retired schoolteacher, Mireya receives a monthly pension of 225 pesos, the equivalent of ten dollars. It all goes to pay the light, gas and water bills and to buy a handful of vegetables at the farmer’s market.

To survive, she sells magazines and plastic bags on the street. “If I walk two blocks, my feet swell. I am being treated for it but sometimes I don’t have the money to buy the medication. And if I do manage to come up with the money, the pharmacy tells me they’re out of it, that there’s a shortage. If it’s not one thing, it’s another,” Mireya says in disgust.

Sergio, a retired metalworker, recalls that “in the early years of the revolution, if you produced good results at work, you could get a home. They would give you a week’s vacation in a house on the beach. Medical care was good. And though food was always rationed, you had a balanced diet. What we have in Cuba today is capitalism in disguise. The old slogan about socialism or death is only for poor people and fools. Those with hard currency have access higher quality products. Managers live just as well as any capitalist business owner.”

“In the Nordic countries and Switzerland, workers who earn the minimum wage and who, by those countries’ standards, are living in poverty, receive government assistance,” notes a sociologist who have been studying social welfare programs for five years. His research is based on interviews with Cubans living in developed countries. “When a Cuban retires in the United States, he receives about $740 a month in aid plus $170 dollars in food stamps, even if he has never worked in the country. Additionally, he receives free medical and psychiatric care if needed. And he can still work part-time. If he earns less than two thousand dollars, he does not have to pay income tax,” he observes.

“Cuba ceased being a socialist society long ago. Being a poor third-world country, the best it can offer is universal health care and free education, but the quality of those has deteriorated substantially. Costa Rica and Guyana, nations to which we should compare ourselves, also offer these free services but they are of better quality,” adds the sociologist.

Adalberto, a Cuban living in Washington, is currently visiting the island. Due to diabetes and the onset of Alzheimer’s he had to retire at age fifty-six. “I receive various medical benefits and, because I worked for thirty years, a monthly pension of $2,400. I don’t have a life full of luxury but have I have the essentials and can help my family in Havana. Let me tell you, real socialism is over there, in the U.S.,” he says.

The quality of life in Cuba has fallen markedly. Salaries are among the lowest in the world. The costs of food and other basic commodities are high. Allegedly socialist businesses such as the telecommunications monopoly ETECSA charge extremely high prices for internet and mobile phone service. Most Cubans cannot afford to vacation in their own country due to the high price of hotel rooms. The military controls 80% of the nation’s economy and engages in the worst form state-sponsored capitalism imaginable, taxing sales of goods by as much as 240%.

Cuban socialism can only be found in speeches by the military bourgeoisie. The Castro regime has discreetly and without fanfare abandoned the slogan “a revolution of the humble, by the humble and for the humble.” Instead, it now manages luxury hotels like the Kempinski Manzana, where a watch can cost four thousand dollars and a week’s stay in Varadero is the equivalent of a year and a half’s salary for the average worker.

What are the humble left with? A ration of seven pounds of rice and five pounds of sugar, twenty ounces of dried beans, one small bread roll per day and half a kilogram of chicken per month.

Health care and education are seemingly free (which is possible because salaries are so low). With any luck, one can hope for a stay at a campsite during summer vacation season. But little else.

The End Of The Cycle For Two Caudillos

The presidents of Cuba and Angola, Raúl Castro and José Eduardo Dos Santos during the signing of bilateral agreements, in the Palace of the Revolution of Havana. (File / EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 12 June 2017 — His mother died, his brother emigrated and now no one brings flowers to the tomb of one of those many young Cubans who lost their lives on the African plains. His death served to build the authoritarian regime of José Eduardo dos Santos in Angola, a caudillo who, since 1979, has held in his fist a nation of enormous resources and few freedoms.

At 74, Dos Santos knows the end is near. His health has deteriorated in recent months and he has announced that he will withdraw from politics in 2018, the same year that Raul Castro will leave the presidency of the Cuba. Both intend to leave their succession firmly in place, to protect their respective clans and to avoid ending up in court.

For decades, the two leaders have supported each other in international forums and maintained close co-operation. They are united by their history of collaboration – with more than 300,000 Cubans deployed in Angolan territory during the civil war, financed and armed by the Soviet Union – but also connected by their antidemocratic approach. continue reading

Longevity in their positions is another of the commonalities between Castro and Dos Santos.

The Angolan, nicknamed Zedu, is an “illustrious” member of the club of African caudillos who continue to cling to power. A group that includes men like the disgraceful Robert Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe for 37 years, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who has governed for almost 38 years Equatorial Guinea.

Their counterpart on the Island surpasses them, having spent almost six decades in the control room of the Plaza of the Revolution Square, as a minister of the Armed Forces or, following his brother’s illness, as president. Neither Zedu nor Castro tolerate political opposition and both have fiercely suppressed any dissent.

Angolans also live amidst the omnipresence of the royal family. On the banknotes, the face of Dos Santos shares space with that of Agostinho Neto, and in political propaganda he is represented as the savior of the country. One of the many tricks of populist systems, but very far from reality.

What has really happened is that the family and the African president’s closest allies have made colossal fortunes. The largest oil exports in Africa today have fueled this oligarchy, which, ironically, was built on the efforts of thousands of Cubans who left their lives or sanity in that country.

Isabel dos Santos, nicknamed by her compatriots the Princess, has wasted no time in taking advantage of the prerogatives that her father grants her. Forbes magazine calls her the richest woman in Africa, with a fortune of around 3.1 billion dollars, and last year she was named head of the state-owned oil company Sonangol, the country’s most important economic pillar. She also controls the phone company, Unitel.

She resembles Raul Castro’s daughter Mariela in her taste for giving statements to the foreign media and presenting herself as someone who has achieved everything “by her own efforts.” She projects an image of a modern and cosmopolitan businesswoman, but all her businesses prosper thanks to the privileges she enjoys as the daughter of her father.

Her brother, José Filomeno de Sousa dos Santos, also economically advantaged, sits at the head of the Angolan sovereign fund that manages 5 billion dollars. An emulator of Alejandro Castro Espín, whom many credit for the impressive voracity that has led the Cuban military to seize sectors such as hotel management.

However, Zedu has preferred to choose a puppet as heir to the post of president and head of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA): Angola’s Defense Minister, João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço. A figure who will be the public face while the true dauphins try to continue sucking dry – like voracious leeches – the resources of a country that is not experiencing good times.

Gonçalves Lourenço is seen as a moderate, as is his emulator in Cuba, first vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canal. Men who will try to give a face-lift to personality-centered systems to silence the voices of those who assert that the “historical generation” does not want to abandon power. Neither has been chosen for his abilities, but rather for his reliability and meekness.

Gonzalves arrived in Havana in mid-May with a message from President Dos Santos to Raul Castro. In Angola, 4,000 Cubans work in sectors such as healthcare, education, sports, agriculture, science and technology, energy and mines. It is one of the countries that most appeals to the Island’s professionals for the personal economic advantages that serving on an “internationalist mission” there affords them.

Gonzalves’ trip, of course, also included a commitment to continue to support the Island, perhaps with some promise of credit or oil aid to ease Cuba’s currently complicated situation. Most likely the heir to the throne came to tell the aging monarch not to worry, that Angola will continue to count itself among its allies. They are words that could be blown away in the wind before the uncertain future that awaits both countries.

For years the Angolan regime benefited from significant foreign investment and high oil prices, the main source of income. However, the fall in the value of crude oil in the international market has complicated the day-to-day situation of citizens subject to economic cuts, a rise in the cost of living and a decline in public investment. The discontent is palpable.

On the Island, not a week goes by without an obituary reminding us of the reality that the “historical” generation is dying off. The brakes are about to be applied to the thaw with the United States, and the mammoth state apparatus isn’t about to adapt itself to the new times. The double standard, corruption and diversion of resources undermines everything.

Neither Castro nor Dos Santos will leave power in the context they dreamed of. One falls ill, after having negated in practice his ideological roots, and senses that history will destroy his supposed legacy. The other loses control over Venezuela, that mine of resources that prolonged the life of Castroism. His worst nightmare is that young Cubans care more about Game of Thrones than the revolutionary epic.

Populism Cuban Style: Conquests, Threats and Leadership

Fidel Castro in his gangster era when he belonged to the Revolutionary Insurrectionary Union (UIR). Here, in 1947, in the company of Rafael del Pino and Armando Gali Menéndez. (D.R.)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 6 June 2017 — The leader speaks for hours on the platform, his index finger pointing to an invisible enemy. A human tide applauds when the intonation of a phrase demands it and stares enraptured at the bearded speaker. For decades these public acts were repeated in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution, shaping the face of revolutionary populism.

However, Fidel Castro’s extensive speeches constituted only the most visible part of his style of governing. They were the moments of collective hypnotism, peppered with promises and announcements of a luminous future that allowed him to establish a close bond with the population, to incite class hatred and to extend his growing power.

Castro has been the most complete product of Cuban populism and nationalism. Evils that sink their roots into national history and whose best breeding ground was the Republican era (1902-1958). Those winds brought the hurricane that shaped a young man born in the eastern town of Biran, who graduated as a lawyer and came to hold the military rank of Commander-in-Chief. continue reading

The political framework in which Castro was formed was far from a democratic example. Many of the leaders of that convulsed Cuba of the first half of the twentieth century did not distinguish themselves by presenting programmatic platforms to their constituents. The common practice was horse-trading to obtain votes, along with other aberrations such as stealing ballot boxes or committing fraud.

From his early days, the young attorney elbowed his way into the milieu of those figures who relied on gangster like behavior, rather than the transparent exercise of authority. He quickly absorbed many of the elements of demagoguery that would be greatly useful to him later when the time came to subject an entire nation.

Unlike republican populism, whose purpose was the conquest of electoral favor, revolutionary populism had as its goal the abolishment of the structures of democracy. From January 195,9 the civic framework was systematically dismantled and the laws were subjugated to the disproportionate will of a single man.

To achieve this dream of control, the Maximum Leader persuaded the citizens that they could enjoy a high degree of security if they renounced certain “bourgeois freedoms,” among them the ability to elect their leaders and a system of power in which leadership alternates.

The so-called Moncada Program outlined in History Will Absolve Me, is a concentration of these promises in the style of a tropical Robin Hood. The pamphlet was presented as Fidel Castro’s plea of self-defense during the trial in which he was indicted for the armed attack on the Moncada Barracks, the main military fortress of Santiago de Cuba, in July 1953.

Until that moment, this man was practically unknown as a political figure. The boldness that characterized the action enveloped him in an aura of heroic idealism that set him up as the leader of the revolutionary alternative to the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista.

In his manuscript, where he described the problems the country faced, he never warned that solving them would require the confiscation of properties. He limited himself to detailing the necessity of an agrarian reform that would eliminate the latifundio and distribute land to the peasants. These were proposals that rapidly earned him sympathies among the poorest.

Upon leaving prison, Castro was convinced that the only way to overthrow the dictatorship was by force. He organized an expedition and opened a guerrilla front in the mountains of the eastern region of the Island. Two years later, his triumphal entry into the capital and his charismatic presence made him the beneficiary of a blank check of political credit, endorsed by the majority of the population.

The first populist ruse of the new regime was to present itself as democratic and to deny any tendency that could identify it with communist doctrine. At the same time that it presented itself as the enabler of freedom, it expropriated the newspapers, the radio stations and the television channels.

The regime struck a deadly blow to civil society by establishing a network of “mass organizations” to bring together neighbors, women, peasants, workers and students. The new entities had in their statutes a clause of fidelity to the Revolution and perform – still to this day – as transmission wires from the power to the population.

The first revolutionary laws, such as the Agrarian Reform, the rent reductions, the Urban Reform and the confiscation of properties, constituted a radical rearrangement of the possession of wealth. In a very short time the State stripped the upper classes of their property and became the owner of everything.

With the enormous flow of treasure, the new power made multi-million investments in social benefits that allowed it to achieve “the original accumulation of prestige.”

From its original proclamation in April 1961, the socialist system declared the irreversible nature of the measures taken. Maintaining the conquests achieved required the implementation of a system of system backed by a legal structure that would make it impossible for former owners to recover what was confiscated.

The new situation brought with it a powerful apparatus of internal repression and a large army to deter any external military threat. The most important bars of the cage in which millions of Cubans were trapped were erected in those early years.

To the binomial of an irreversible conquest and an undisputed leader was added the threat of an external enemy to complete the holy trinity of revolutionary populism.

Conquests

The main conquests in those initial years focused on education, health and social security. Economic centralism allowed the new ruling elite to establish ample gratuities and to distribute subsidies or privileges in exchange for ideological fidelity.

Like all populism that rises to power, the government also needed to mold consciences, impose its own version of history, and create from the teaching laboratories an individual who will applaud greatly and question little.

In 1960 the Island was already among the Latin American countries with the lowest proportion of illiterates, but even so the Government summoned thousands of young people to isolated areas to teach reading and writing. Participation in this initiative was considered a revolutionary merit and dressed in heroic tones.

The text of the primer to teach the first letters was openly propagandistic and the literacy campaigners behaved like political commissars who, on reading the phrase “The sun rises from the East,” needed to add as a clarification “and from the East comes the help we are given by the Socialist countries.”

At the end of the process, a massive plan of boarding schools operated under military methods began, the goal of which was to remove students from the influence of their families. Mass teacher training also began, thousands of schools were built in rural areas, and privately run schools were taken over by the Ministry of Education.

From this rearrangement the “New Man” was supposed to emerge, free from “petty-bourgeois laziness.” An individual who had never known exploitation by a boss, paid for sex in a brothel, nor exercised his freedom.

The fact that there was not a single child left on the island who didn’t attend school became a dazzling paradigm that blocked the view of the shadows. To this day, the myth of Cuban education is being used by the defenders of the system to justify all the repressive excesses of the last half century.

The state monopoly turned the education system into a tool of political indoctrination while the family was relegated to the role of a mere caretaker of the children. The profession of teacher was trivialized to an extreme degree, and the costs of maintaining this giant apparatus became unsustainable.

Many of the achievements that were put into practice were unworkable in the context of the national economy. But the grateful beneficiaries had no opportunity to know the high cost these campaigns imposed on the nation. The country was plunged in an inexorable decapitalization and the deterioration of its infrastructure.

For decades, the media in the hands of the Communist Party helped to cover up such excesses. But with the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the end of the massive subsidies that the Kremlin sent to the island, Cubans came face to face with their own reality. Many of these supposed advantages vanished or were plunged into crisis.

The Maximum Leader

One of the hallmarks of populism is the presence of a leader who is given full confidence. Fidel Castro managed to turn that blind faith into obedience and a cult of personality.

The merging of the leader with the Revolution itself and of Revolution with the Homeland gave rise to the idea that an opponent of the Commander-in-Chief was “anti-Cuban.” His flatterers called him genius but in his long speeches it is difficult to find a theoretical nucleus from which a conceptual core can be extracted.

In the oratory of the Maximum Leader, a preponderant role was played by his histrionic character, the cadence of his voice and his playbook of gestures. Fidel Castro became the first media politician in Cuba’s national history.

Voluntarism was perhaps the essential feature of his personality and the hallmark of his extended mandate. To achieve his objectives at the necessary price, to never surrender before any adversary and to consider every defeat as a learning opportunity that would lead to victory, served him to conquer a legion of fidelistas.

The target dates for obtaining the luminous future promised by the Revolution could be postponed again and again thanks to Castro’s apparently inexhaustible political credit. The demand for people to tighten their belts to achieve well-being became a cyclical political stratagem to buy time.

There were some rather abstract promises, in the style of there would be bread with freedom, and others more precise, such as the country would produce so much milk that not even three times as many people could drink it all. The largest zoo in the world would be built on the island and socialism and communism would be constructed at the same time.

In December 1986, after 28 years of failed efforts, Fidel Castro had the audacity – or desperation – to proclaim before the National Assembly the most demagogic of all his slogans: “Now we are going to build socialism!”

The Enemy

Populist regimes often require a certain degree of tension, of permanent belligerence, to keep the emotional flame burning. Nothing is better for that than the existence of an external enemy. Even better if it is a powerful one that makes alliances with the regime’s political opponents.

From the time he was in the Sierra Maestra commanding his guerrilla army, Fidel Castro determined who that enemy would be. In a letter dated June 1958, he wrote: “When this war is over, a much longer and larger war will begin for me, the war that I will launch against them [the Americans]. I understand that this is going to be my true destiny.”

Between April and the end of October 1960 there was an escalation of clashes between Washington and Havana. The expropriation of large tracts of land held by US companies, the suspension of the sugar quota enjoyed by the Island, the nationalization of US companies based in Cuba, and the start of the embargo on goods from the North are some of the most important.

During that same period, Soviet Deputy Prime Minister Anastas Mikoyan visited Havana, diplomatic relations were restored with the USSR and Fidel Castro met in New York with Nikita Khrushchev, who went on to say in an interview: “I do not know if Castro is a communist, but I am a fidelista.”

In the eyes of the people Fidel Castro’s stature rose and he begin to take on the outlines of a world leader. The exacerbation of nationalism, another characteristic of the populists, reached to its fullest expression when Cuba began to be shown as the little David facing the giant Goliath.

Revolutionary arrogance, driven by the conviction that the system applied in Cuba should extend to the whole continent, led many to believe that fomenting the Revolution beyond the borders was not only a duty but a right protected by a scientific truth.

The populist root of this “liberator of peoples” thinking led tens of thousands of Cuban soldiers to fight in Algeria, Syria, Ethiopia and Angola as part of the geopolitical interests of the Soviet Union in Africa, although wrapped in the clothing of a disinterested Revolutionary internationalism with other peoples toward whom there supposedly was a historical debt.

The enemy was not only “American imperialism” but the South African racists, the European colonialists, and any element that appeared on the international scene that could become a threat to the Revolution.

Convinced, like the Jesuit Ignacio de Loyola, that “in a besieged plaza, dissidence is treason,” every act of internal opposition has been identified as an action to contribute to that enemy and by the official propaganda every dissident deserves to be described as a “mercenary.”

However, the beginning of the diplomatic thaw between Cuba and the United States in late 2014 has shaken the thesis of a permanent danger of invasion. The death of Fidel Castro, the decline of leftist forces in Latin America and the announced stepping down of Raul Castro by February 2018 diminish what remains of revolutionary populism.

On the other hand, younger Cubans have a less grateful and more critical perception of those conquests in the field of education and healthcare that were presented as a generous gift of the system.

The reappearance of notable social differences arising from the urgent acceptance of the rules of the market and the growth of the economy’s “non-state sector” – the authorities are reluctant to call it “private sector” – have rendered unrepeatable the slogans of biased egalitarianism espoused by the ideological discourse that justified the obsolete rationing system for food products.

Haute cuisine restaurants and hotels of four or five stars, once exclusively for tourists, are now within reach of a new class of Cubans. The elimination of the exploitation of man by man, an essential banner of Marxist-Leninist socialism, has not even been discussed.

The widely shared conviction that the country has no solution is one of the main drivers of emigration in recent years. But this lack of hope for the future, combined with fierce repression, also limits the work of the opposition.

The system that once counted on enthusiasm is now supported by virtue of reluctance. The so-called historical generation still in power is fewer than a dozen octogenarians in the process of retirement and the new offspring are more inclined to business than to the podium. Today’s grandchildren of those populists have more talent for marketing than for slogans.

_______________

Editorial Note: This text is part of the collective book El Populismo del Populismo , which will be presented this Tuesday at the Casa de América, in Madrid. The coauthors are, among others, Alvaro Vargas Llosa, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Mauricio Rojas, Roberto Ampuero and Cayetana Álvarez de Toledo.

Private Carriers in Santiago de Cuba Complain About Inspections

Inside a truck retrofitted for passenger transport that circulates through Santiago de Cuba

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 12 June 2017 –Authorities have taken a firm stand with private transportation in Santiago de Cuba and have begun to demand exhaustive proof of fuel purchases from the state gas stations to verify that they are not from the black market.

“Last Friday there was a massive operation, and four drivers were detained in the Micro 9 unit,” says activist Jose Antonio Lopez Pena, who closely follows the transportation issue in the eastern province. At least one of them had to sign a warning, to which this daily had access, in which they confirm that he cannot operate as a carrier if he does not buy fuel in the state gas stations. continue reading

The warning is issued by the Ministry of Transportation and signed by Wilfredo Ramos, an official with the province’s State Traffic Unit (UTE).

The application of the rule, which was already widespread in Havana and in the west, has been extended to the eastern zone since the end of May and deeply disturbs the carriers who resort en masse to the black market to buy fuel. Most of that gasoline comes from diversions from the state sector.

“The police and inspectors know that we can’t make a living if we buy oil and gasoline from the State,” explains Ramon, who drives an old truck from the middle of the last century to make the route between several Santiago municipalities.

Warning which confirms a private carrier cannot act as a driver if he does not buy fuel in the service centers.

The private carriers complain about the large sums of money they spend on licenses, taxes and vehicle repairs, so they try to make money by acquiring fuel on the black market at a lower price than the official rate.

During recent months instability in the petroleum supply from Venezuela caused significant cuts in distribution within the state sector. This situation triggered the price of the product in the informal market which is fed by diversions from businesses, entities and personal allotment that is given to some professionals like doctors.

From eight Cuban pesos (CUPs) per liter, petroleum suddenly rose to 15 on the so-called black market, while in the state service centers the equivalent is sold for 24 CUPs per liter (roughly 1$ US, or about $4 a gallon).

The government has responded by setting prices for private transportation in some places like Havana and also started a cooperative that tries to compete with individuals. However, the vintage taxis and trucks managed by the self-employed continue to be one of the most popular forms of transportation among the municipalities and provinces.

The carriers guild is quite big in the country but lacks its own union which could press for an improvement in work conditions. More than 80% of self-employed workers, according to official data, belong to the official Workers Center of Cuba.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel

Cuba: From Worse to Impossible (and We Haven’t Hit Bottom Yet) / Iván García

Beggar sleeping. See details of picture below.

Ivan Garcia, 3 June 2017 — In coming days when the administration of the unpredictable Donald Trump, following four months of review, announces its Cuba policy, it could be that Obama’s guidelines are retained save for touch-ups of a few items such as doing business with military enterprises that directly benefit the dictatorship.

Good news for the regime would be that the White House were to maintain the status quo.

To appease the internal dissident movement and a segment of the historic exile community that supported his election bid, Trump will demand respect for human rights, economic liberty and freedom of expression, and blah, blah, blah.

But the Castroite autocracy will counterattack with plausible and powerful arguments. continue reading

And it will point a finger at the Trump administration, which accuses his own country’s press of being his worst enemy and which makes multi-million-dollar deals with the Saudi monarchy, a government that violates innumerable human rights and reduces women to mere objects. All of which makes it not the best moral paragon to speak of freedoms.

During the Obama era–my god, how the regime misses him–Castroism did not allow small private businesses to access credit nor import products from the US.

The Cuban government’s strategy is simple. They want to do business with the powerful Norte, all comers, but with state–or military–run concerns as the sole partners.

If Trump maintains the scenario unfolded by Obama, i.e., academic, cultural, business and political exchanges between both nations, Raúl Castro will probably make his move and grant greater autonomy to small private businesses on the Island so as to placate the New York real estate mogul.

Not a few small private entrepreneurs, perhaps the most successful ones, are children or relatives of the olive-green caste, and they head up successful enterprises such as the Star Bien paladar (private restaurant), or the Fantasy discotheque.

If the panorama does not change, the regime will continue its diplomatic and academic offensive, utilizing its agents of influence in the US to continue efforts to bring down the embargo, or at least weaken it until it becomes a useless shell.

For the olive green autocracy, the plan to counteract that “damn obsession of US elites with democracy and liberties” involves conducting sterile negotiations that only buy time.

The Palace of the Revolution wants to change, but only in the style of China or Vietnam. It does not understand how those two communist countries can partner with the US while Cuba cannot. Castroite strategy is headed in that direction.

There are two subliminal messages coming from the military junta that governs the Island.

First: With an authoritarian government of social control in place, political stability is assured and there is no risk of a migratory avalanche or of the Island becoming a base of operations for Mexican drug cartels.

Second: Were there to be a change that provoked the people to take to the streets, the Island could become a failed state.

Trump, who is not known for his democratic qualities and has the discernment of an adolescent, could take the bait and do an about-face. “After all,” he might think, “if we’re partners with the monarchies in the Gulf, we continue to buy oil from the detestable Maduro government, and I want to make a deal with Putin, what difference if I play a little tongue hockey with Raúl Castro or his successor?”

But Trump is an uncontrollable reptile. And Cuba is not a center of world power, and it has a small market and laughable consumer power. Thus it could be that Trump will play the moralist and make demands that not even he himself lives up to, just to satisfy the Cuban-American political bloc in Miami.

Whatever happens, Trump has begun shooting tracer bullets. His announcement of a drastic $20 million cut in funding for dissident projects favors the Havana regime.

It is likely that this was not Trump’s intention. But remember that he is not a Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He is a man in his third age with the mind of a primary school student.

With all that the Island autocracy is going through–reductions in petroleum from Venezuela and a crisis that could annihilate Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, leaving Cuba bereft of an important economic support; Russia supplied a shipment of fuel but is asking where will the money come from next time; and a Raúl Castro who is supposedly destined to surrender power–for the military mandarins the scene that is coming into view at the moment is the worst possible.

Don’t worry about the repression. Hard-core dissidents will never want for punches and slaps. But in a country at its breaking point, any spark can give rise to a conflagration of incalculable proportions.

Right now, the average salary in Cuba is 27 dollars per month, but to live decently requires 15 times that amount. And Havana, the capital of the Republic, has gone for a week without water.

Food prices are through the roof. Public transit has gone from bad to worse. And, as if we were living in Zurich, Samsung has opened on the west side of the city a store (more like a museum) where a 4K Smart TV goes for $4,000, and a Samsung 7 Edge costs $1,300, double its price in New York.

Havanans, mouths agape, go to gaze and take selfies with their cheap mobiles. This is the snapshot of Cuba. A mirage. And all during a stagnant economic crisis dating back 27 years which few venture to guess when it will end.

While we thought we were in bad shape, the reality is that we could be worse off. And nobody knows when we will hit bottom.

Iván García

Photo: In the entryway of the Plaza Hotel, in the heart of the capital, a beggar uses a nylon bag containing her belongings as a “pillow.” To the side is an empty cigar box collecting coins from passersby. This image is part of The Black Beggars of Havana, a photo essay by Juan Antonio Madrazo published in Cubanet.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

The Cuban Government, Complicit in Corruption and Peddling Favours / Iván García

Cuban bodega (ration store). From AvaxNews.

Iván García, 26 MAY 2017 — Ideology is no longer the most important consideration if you want to get an administrative position in Cuba’s chaotic business and commercial network. They only ask you to do two things: fake support for the autocracy and show loyalty to government business.

If you have both these qualities, they will remove any common offences from your work record. Nor is it a problem if you frequently beat your wife or drink more rum than you should.

Human qualities are no longer a priority if you want to have a job in a company management team or join the ranks of the Communist Party. continue reading

Let’s call him Armando. He has always worked in internal trade. “It’s all been run down. Starting with the beginning of the Revolution. In the food and internal trade sector, the biggest wastes of space have occupied key positions. The employment culture is asphyxiating, like being in a prison. Money, extortion, nepotism and witchcraft are more important that professional qualifications and personal qualities”.

After letting his life go down the drain, what with getting into trouble, involving knives, robberies, public disorder, Armando decided to get himself back on track when his son was born. “I spent most of my youth and adolescence in the clink. With a family to support, I have to look at things differently. I have no family in the States who could get me out of here. I had to learn how to play the system. With the help of a friend, after paying him 300 chavitos (CUC), I got a bodega [ration store] for my wife and managed to include myself in the staff as an assistant to the storekeeper”.

After a year and a half, his wife started the process of joining the party. “She knows nothing about politics, but in Cuba having a red card opens doors for you. My next goal is to ’buy’ a bodega just for me.”

According to Armando, for 400 CUC you can get a bodega with lots of customers. “The more people buy things in your store, the more options you have to make money. In six months or a year, depending on your contacts with truck drivers and people running warehouses, you can recoup your investment”.

Although the neighbourhood bodegas have seen a reduction in the distribution of goods being issued through the ration books, various storekeepers have said that, in spite of that, they are still making money.

“It’s not like thirty years ago, when we had 25 different products delivered to the bodegas. You don’t get rich, but you can support your family. You can do two things: cheat on weighing, and buy foreign made things and sell them on to owners of private businesses or direct to customers”, admits a storekeeper with forty years’ experience.

If there is a robbery in a state-owned food centre or bodega, the boss or storekeeper has to meet the loss. “A little while ago, they stole several boxes of cigars and bags of coffee. I didn’t even report it. I paid about 4 thousand pesos for the loss and coughed up nearly another 200 CUC have new bars fitted and improvements to the security of the premises”, said a storekeeper

An official dealing with these things emphasises that, “When a robbery occurs, the first suspect is the storekeeper. It’s an unwritten law of business. If you get robbed, you should pay up and shut up, because police investigations usually uncover more serious problems”.

Naturally, in high-turnover food stores and markets you pay weekly bribes to the municipal managers. The manager of a state pizzeria explains: “The amounts vary with sales level. The more you sell, the more you have to send upstairs. At weekends I send an envelope with 1,500 Cuban pesos and 40 CUC to the municipal director, as I sell in both currencies”.

This hidden support network, of mafia-like construction, at the same time as it offers excellent profit on the back of State merchandise, also generates a de facto commitment to the government.

“It’s what happens in any important government activity. Whether it’s tourism, commerce, or import-export. The money comes from embezzlement, irregular financial dealings and corrupt practices. One way or another, the present system feeds us. It all comes together, as a kind of marriage of convenience. I let you do your thing, as long as you let me do mine”, is a sociologist’s opinion.

Raúl Castro has tried to sort things out, and designated Gladys Bejerano as Controller General of the Republic. “Successes have been partial. They get rid of one focus of corruption but leave others or change the way they work. If you were to arrange a thorough clean up of the network of government-run businesses, the system would break down. Because, like the bloodsuckers, they feed off other peoples’ blood”, explains an ex-director of food services.

Essentially, what is left of socialism in Cuba is a pact. In its attempt to survive, Castroism violates Marxist principles and, in place of loyalty, accepts that Catholics, Santeria priests and masons can enter the Communist Party.

In the business sector there is a different idea. Embezzlement in return for applause. In that way, not much is being stolen – kind of.

Translated by GH