The Immense Distortion of Martí / 14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea

José Martí in a photo from 1891. (University of Miami)
José Martí in a photo from 1891. (University of Miami)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, José Gabriel Barrenechea, Havana, 28 January 2015 — It is true that in the writings of José Martí one can apparently find the justification for political aberrations like those we suffer since Fidel Castro took off his democratic and legalistic mask in mid-1959. And I highlight here the word “apparently.”

To achieve a sufficient understanding of the thinking of any intellectual or political figure, it is imperative to search for his or her life’s purpose. That of José Martí’s was none other than the constitution of an independent and sovereign Cuban Republic continue reading

that, through the exercise of its civil virtues, would propel a hemispheric, or even global, renewal of the republican-democratic forms. The man we call the “apostle” of our independence was able to rid himself of all dimensions of human life not having to do directly with the labor of that self-imposed apostolate.

Now, like any other thinker in the mise-en-scène of his life’s purpose, José Martí understood he was obligated to respond to minor problems. Responses that were almost always rushed and that, with the passing of years, would lend themselves to be used by others to justify their aberrations, like in the abovementioned instance. Only through this magnification of what is secondary in José Martí’s thinking could a democrat of his caliber be transformed into nothing more than an intellectual antecedent to the profoundly antidemocratic forms imposed on Cuba by the despot Fidel Castro.

Only through this magnification of what is secondary in his thinking could Martí be transformed into nothing more than an intellectual antecedent to the antidemocratic forms imposed on Cuba by Fidel Castro.

An example of this error can be found in a well-known series of Latin American essays published by Martí between 1889 and 1890. A hurried researcher will only see the obvious. Martí, disabused, distances himself for a moment from Cuban affairs to focus on others within closer reach: the OurAmericans, or los Nuestroaméricanos (title of the most important work of those in question). The reality is, nevertheless, another.

These essays were written with no other objective than to manipulate the fears of certain political elites within Latin American republics in an attempt to win them over for the cause of Cuba’s independence. Those days, Martí, a man not inclined to such behavior, did not dedicate his time to mourning bitter disillusionments. And so his life’s purpose develops fully and fruitfully like few times before or after. During those days, in the Pan-American Conference which he attends as representative of various Latin American republics, he insists on one of the most important and least known battles of his life: the fight to prevent the sale of Cuba to the United States that several Our American foreign ministries supported.

Taking these essays as a base, without considering the vital circumstance under which they were written, it has been attempted to change his arguments in order to convert Martí, the Latin American that best understood and admired the United States in his time, into an anti-American who took after an Italian conspirator of the romanticist style. This restructuring of his line of argument, by the way, serves to make us swallow the absurdity of presenting him to us as the great intellectual justifier for the return to the political forms he fought against: those of the besieged fortress, of thuggery, in other words, those that, under its firm boot, Spain subjected us to from 1837 until the end of the Great War (1868-1878).

In essence, it’s not Martí we should get rid of; instead we should dissolve the hagiographic vision that has been imposed on us by the majority of his interpreters, for whom the scope of the greatest Cuban of all time was so superior to their limited senses that they have restricted themselves to reducing him to a managable virtuous caricature. Martí was not a fanaticized follower of some inflexible principles that prevented him from compromising to achieve his objectives. On the contrary, Martí the politician understands that it is essential to give way in order to attain what is hoped for.

It’s not Martí we should get rid of; instead we should dissolve the hagiographic vision that has been imposed on us by the majority of his interpreters

The art of politics should not reside in absolute imposition or in relinquishing the least possible, rather, in the long term, whatever is relinquished can be used to achieve the original plans, or at least what doesn’t hinder them. If one tries to diminish the support of Latin American republics for the aforementioned plans of cession to the United States, one must incite their fears of a possible European re-colonization, which was not such a far-fetched idea at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries.

A culture is a weight that can’t be cast aside with such ease, or without harmless effects. In the case of Martí, what we should in fact do is study his work, paying close attention to his vital circumstance, until we can organize his thoughts hierarchically and clear up Martí’s argument without any preconceived notion other than that that we are not dealing with a saint, only with a human being of unusual intelligence who was able to subordinate his life to a task that he imposed on himself. A task of which we are to a considerable extent the result.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

What Will We Do With the Hope? / Yoani Sanchez

An "Esperanza" (Hope) grasshopper. (Silvia Corbelle)
An “Esperanza” (Hope) grasshopper. (Silvia Corbelle)

“Any frustration is the daughter of excessive expectations,” I shared my concern with the U.S. members of Congress who visited Cuba in January. The phrase was designed to stress the flow of illusions that has been let loose in the population since December 17. The announcement of the restoration of relations between Cuba and the United States has provoked a resurgence in this country of a feeling lost for decades: hope.

However, the expectations that have been created are so high and so difficult to meet in the short term that many may feel disappointed. There is no way that reality can satisfy such extravagant fantasies of change. The level of deterioration in Cuba needs enormous resources and urgent transformations continue reading

to be overcome. Time is of the essence, but the Cuban government still has shown no real political will for the new scenario to benefit a wide spectrum of Cuban society.

Before December 17, each person had been focused on aspirations in his or her area of interests and needs. An old locomotive engineer, who saw the dismantling of the railroad of which he spoke with great pride, now says, “You’ll see… we’ll even have a bullet train.” If you ask him the source of such a conviction, he assures you that, “When los yumas – the Americans – start to arrive they will improve transportation and surely bring us investments to improve the lines and buy the latest generation cars.” His dreams take the form of an iron serpent, brilliant and fast, crossing the island.

The expectations that have been created are so high and so difficult to meet in the short term that many might feel disappointed

There are others whose illusions take on the lightness of a kilobyte. A young man, 20, who only know the Internet through a few hours of slow and expensive connections in a Nauta Internet room, says that before the end of the year, “We will have data service on our cellphones.” His certainty is not born from any classified information to which he has access, but because, as he explains, “Obama already said so, the telecommunications companies can negotiate with Cuba, so what’s lacking for me to connect to Facebook and Skype all day long, it’s nothing… nothing.”

The great national obsession, which is food, also has had a space within the imaginative dreams of recent weeks. A housewife, who defines herself as “sick of having to cook the same thing, because there is nothing else,” has projected her illusions on the arrival of goods from the north. “Some lost products will return and the stores won’t have empty freezers like now.” Her perspectives are direct and clear, experiencing the lost taste of beef, the texture of oil and the smell of an onion browning in the pan.

Small private entrepreneurs are not far behind. For the owner of a luxurious private restaurant in the Vedado neighborhood, hope takes the contours of a ferry connecting Havana and Florida. “It will come soon and then we can bring cars, large imports and fresh food for our menu,” he explains with a conviction that provokes a certain anguished denial. He gives the impression that a full lounge, with drinks, bottles of wine and dimmed lights, will cross the water and arrive at the new place he’s building right next to his restaurant.

While expectations grow like a balloon about to burst, others contribute to them with projections from the artistic and creative field. A friend, a private film producer, believes that shortly, “Hollywood could be filming here and Cuban film talent could finally have the resources to do big productions.” For this celluloid artist, “What’s missing is a starting bell to authorize independent productions and allow us to have investors from the United States.”

Among the dissidence and civil society more than a few are preparing to legalize their groups or parties at the least opportunity. Among the hopeful, they are the most cautious because they know that the spigot of political liberties will be the last to open… if it opens at all. They project their own transition from the “illegal, clandestine and heroic phase” to the stage of a “legal, public and intelligent opposition.” Nor should we discount the illusions that have reached Cuban academia, the schools and other official institutions, where people are dusting off their old ideas of jumping into the arena of politics when the single-party system is a bad memory of the past. 

When the bubble of dreams bursts and the excessive expectations bring collective frustration, what will happen?

All these hopes, born on St. Lazarus Day and fed with the visits to Cuba of members of Congress and American negotiators, are now a double-edged sword for the Island’s government. On the one hand, the existence of so many illusions buys time and sets the horizon at the end of a long process of conversations between both administrations, which could go on for years. But, also, the disappointment derived from not meeting or from postponing such dreams will be focused directly on the Plaza of the Revolution.

The anger towards failure will not fall on Obama, but on Raul Castro. He knows this and in recent weeks his spokespeople have emphasized cutting back on the perspectives filling the streets of the entire country. They are trying to anticipate that everything will be more or less the same and that too many expectations can’t be met. But there is nothing harder than countering dreams. The symbolic weight of the beginning of the “thaw” between David and Goliath, cannot be alleviated with calls for calm, nor energetic speeches that point toward a halt in the negotiations.

When the months pass and the “bullet train” doesn’t arrive, the Internet continues to be impossible, the store freezers are as empty as they are today, the customs rules continue to block commercial imports to private hands, the Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC) maintains its monopoly on film production, and being a member of an opposition party still results in official repression and ideological stigmatization… when the bubble of dreams bursts and the excessive expectations bring collective frustration, what will happen? Maybe from there the energy necessary to push for change will be born.

“I am a meddlesome peasant” / 14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez

Eduardo Diaz Fleitas on his farm.  (14ymedio)
Eduardo Diaz Fleitas on his farm. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Juan Carlos Fernandez, Entronque de Herradura, 31 January 2015 – Entronque de Herradura is a little village in the Pinar municipality of Consolacion del Sur. I go there in search of Eduardo Diaz Fleitas, a Cuban with rapid speech, skill with the ten-line stanza and proven courage. He was among the 75 dissidents sentenced during the Black Spring of 2003, but not even a long prison stay made him lose his smile or wit.

Fleitas asserts that he is “just a meddlesome peasant.” In this interview he speaks of his life, his early activism and of that other passion, which is the land where he has worked as long as he can remember. continue reading

Question: In other interviews your work as an opponent always comes up, but I would like to speak of your personal history. What did you do before that fateful March of 2003?

Answer: As a child I worked in the fields. I had to grow up fast, and I studied auto mechanics. Later I became a driver and even drove a bus. In 1989 I started driving a taxi and later became a transport inspector. However, in 1993 I stopped working for the State, demanding that they pay me with dollars to be able to buy in the hard currency stores because the national currency had no value. Since then I have worked on the plantation with my father.

Q: Where did the ethical and moral values that guide your life come from?

A: My father taught me respect, kindness, honesty and love of work, spirit of service and help to others. From my mother, a farmer and housewife, I learned effort and integrity as well as loyalty and also love, which I have seen in them, because they have been married since 1950.

Q: What was the process that led you to be disappointed in the political and social process which, from its beginnings, said it was defending the peasantry?

A: With the triumph of the Revolution we thought, like many, that it was something good. But after three or four months things began to get bad; the executions, the land was no longer ours. The discourse ran one way and reality the other. All that was waking me up.

Q: But it’s a long way from discontent to activism. When did you begin to be a dissident publicly?

A: In the year 1988. Since then and until now I have been active in several opposition organizations and held different responsibilities.

Q: During the Black Spring of 2003 you were arrested along with other dissidents, journalists, librarians and independent trade unionists. They sentenced you to 21 years imprisonment and you were behind bars almost nine years. How hard was jail?

A: What most struck me about the Cuban penitentiary system is the great cruelty with which the inmate is treated, whether political or not. There you are not a person, you are at the mercy of your jailers. I saw extremely sick prisoners ask for medical attention, and the guards laughed in their faces. We must humanize Cuban prisons!

I also have to say that prison offered me the chance to see, to my surprise, how many people support, in one way or another, the peaceful opposition movement in Cuba. I never felt alone inside. Prison also gave me the opportunity to harbor not even a drop of hatred against my victimizers. In my heart there exists neither hatred nor rancor towards them.

Q: You have participated in several unity initiatives among opposition forces, the latest of them the Open Space of Civil Cuban Society. Do you believe consensus can be achieved in spite of differences?

A: All proposals of this type are excellent. What I do consider unjustifiable is the dismissive insult and personal attack among ourselves. That is the method the Cuban government uses against us, it is anti-democratic and not at all ethical. No activist should fall for something like that. We must have consensus on basic points, and that is what Open Space has achieved and what we have sought for years. I am happy to be able to participate in that initiative.

Q: What do you think about the intention of the governments of Cuba and the United States to re-establish diplomatic relations after more than half a century of confrontation?

A: As of last December 17 a new era for Cuba began. The government of the United States has realized that the prior policy was a dead end with no way out, and now a host of opportunities is opening for our people.

I have asked people about the measures announced by the American government, and they look favorably on them, because they mean prosperity for the people. But when I have asked them what they think of the Cuban government in the face of this challenge, they answer that they do not trust it. Nevertheless, I am optimistic. We must create awareness that dialog is best. I believe that the United States is committed to us and has intelligently confronted the regime.

We have to have the courage to reclaim democracy and to respect our rights. The era of change may be coming for all Cubans, and it falls to everyone to do it in harmony. Cuba has to flourish again for everyone and for the good of all!
Unanimity is not good. We must live in diversity. But it is good for us to be unanimous when dealing with differences. Well…better I say it in verse:

Cuban,
Why is it that it doesn’t matter to you
To ruin your dignity?
Because so much calamity
Will never produce heroism.
Bury that pessimism
That daily assaults you.
Raise your voice, you are able
To be the example of the titan
Awaken those who are
Prisoners of their own webs.

Translated by MLK

Rosa Maria Paya meets at the White House with negotiator on Cuba / 14ymedio

Rosa Maria Paya
Rosa Maria Paya

14ymedio bigger24 January 2015 (EFE) –Rosa MariaPayá, daughter of the late Cuban activist OswaldoPayá, in a meeting today with the senior advisor for Latin America at the White House, defended the need to “stop the impunity” of the Cuban government against dissidents on the island, and the right to decide for Cubans.

Payá, who left the island a year ago, participated in a forum on human rights, before meeting with Ricardo Zúñiga, who is part of the White House delegation that, since June 2013, secretly negotiated with Cuba the rapprochement between the two countries.

Speaking with EFE after the meeting, the activist explained that she sent the US official some “very specific” points that, in her judgment, continue reading

“should be addressed with the Cuban government, which of course address ending the impunity with which State Security operates on the island.”

The Christian Liberation Movement (MCL) activist (as was her father), lamented the harassment to which some of her compatriots are subjected, a complaint that has been elevated to international organizations such as the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), before which she asked in 2013 for protective measures for her family.

“We want the democratic governments which are in communication with the Cuban government, to approach not only the Government but also Cuban citizens,” said the activist.

The 26-year-old daughter of dissident Oswaldo Payá — who died along with activist Harold Cepero in a traffic accident in 2012 — used the meeting at the White House to call for an independent investigation into what happened.

“What they have said to me is that there will be a discussion on human rights and that is where we want to influence, not only on the subject of independent investigation, (…) but in favor of that which is the basis of Cuban democracy,” he said.

This week negotiations begin in Havana to restore diplomatic relations after the thaw announced by both governments last December 17.

In this new scenario, Payá believes that “there are some possibilities to bring pressure for the rights of Cubans,” supporting some demands “consistent with democratic values” such as a plebiscite to “ask citizens if they want to participate in free and pluralistic elections.”

“No Cuban who is younger than 80 has ever participated in fair, competitive and free elections, so it is time that Cubans can decide their own future,” said the young woman who asked the democracies of the world to “support the right of Cubans to decide.”

“The Chileans did it in the eighties, the international community supported the Chilean plebiscite, Cubans deserve no less,” she said.

Payá’s hope, she said, lies “not in what a foreign government can do for Cuba, but what we Cubans can do for ourselves, and I hope the democracies of the world will support this.”

The young woman said that a commitment to the request for an independent investigation into the death of her father will be on the negotiating table, as well as support for the right of Cubans to decide.

“Check out how free this country is!” / 14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez

Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.”  The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)
Presentation about the book ‘From Confrontation to Efforts at “Normalization.” The Policy of the United States towards Cuba.’ (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Victor Ariel Gonzalez, Havana, 29 January 2015 — “In Vietnam, Yoani Sanchez would be in prison,” says Rafael Hernandez, editor of the magazine Temas (Topics), comparing the Cuban regime with the Vietnamese one. And he adds: “Check out how free this country is!” According to the official researcher, Cuban bloggers “are arrested and released, but they are not put in prison,” as occurs in the southeast Asian continue reading

country, where these cyberspace activists receive “nothing but” jail for being “anti-government.”

The political scientist and essayist offered these observations last Wednesday at the Juan Marinello Center during the presentation about the book “From Confrontation to Efforts at ‘Normalization.’ The Policy of the United States towards Cuba,” by the publisher Social Sciences. One of the authors, Elier Ramirez, participated in the panel discussion held by the magazine.

Just reading its name, one deduces that the essay by Elier Ramirez and Esteban Morales – co-author – reflects the offical Cuban position about the rapprochement between the Island and its “historical enemy.” The word “normalization” in its title appears in quotation marks because, among other reasons, “the United States has always understood normalization from the position of domination,” says Ramirez. “There is no change in its strategic objectives [basically, regime change in Cuba, but] a profound tactical adjustment” behind the negotiations between Washington and Havana, according to the author.

This work had already been released, at least once, during the presentation of the volume “Back Channel to Cuba: The Hidden History of Negotiations Between Washington and Havana,” written by U.S. researchers Peter Kornbluh and William LeoGrande. But then, last October, the political situation was very different from the current one.

During Wednesday’s presentation about the book, the comparison between Vietnam and Cuba emerged in the context of what Rafael Hernandez considers a double standard in U.S. foreign relations which criticizes Cuba on questions like freedom of expression while not doing the same to other countries. “How do you [the American government] demand from me [the Cuban government] what you do not demand of the Vietnamese who put bloggers in prison?” asked the researcher who is also a moderator of the space Ultimo Jueves (Last Thursday).

Rafael Hernandez also referred to the case of the performance by Tania Bruguera last December 30. In order to justify the attitude of Cuban authorities, he gave as an example a hypothetical megaphone protest in front of the home of the British prime minister. “Before taking out the loudspeaker, they already told him off and got him out of there,” he said, referring to the imaginary protester. “What does that have to do with freedom of expression? What are we talking about?” he added, insisting on the supposed “double standard” of the western discourse with respect to that basic right.

Entering into a process of negotiations that both parties have deemed “historic,” one can no longer speak only of “a relationship between two governments” because now there is also “a relationship between two societies” declared Hernandez, who called for a realization that “there is a new game.”

The official analysts define this “game” as a “form of battle” for preserving the regime, different from all previous battles. This war, certainly is already taking place also in the symbolic realm where the most rancid nationalists have been contaminated by a certain foreign banality, especially American.

It is not strange that an official intellectual like Hernandez expresses himself thus about the rapprochement between the two countries. As far as his comparisons in matters of human rights, it is legitimate to ask what exactly the editor of Temas meant to say. There are three possible interpretations:

  1. Vietnam is a dictatorship.
  2. Cuban bloggers should be prisoners.
  3. We bloggers should feel grateful for the few handouts of freedom that the regime grants us and that it also can take from us at any time, imitating its “sister nation” from southeast Asia.

Translated by MLK

The ‘Sandor Case’ / 14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz

Known as "The BimBom 23 and Malecón" this is one of the meeting points for pingueros. (14ymedio)
Known as “The BimBom 23 and Malecón” this is one of the meeting points for “pingueros.” (14ymedio)
  • In tribute to El Caso de Sandra (The Sandra Case) by Luis Manuel García Méndez

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lilianne Ruiz, Havana, 30 January 2015 — A farmer wakes up before dawn to brand with a burning iron the last cow he has left. It’s a ritual of pain and possession. A tourist brands a young person in one of Havana’s cabarets and takes them to bed in exchange for some money. The brands are different, but both as permanent.

Sandor was born in the countryside and was raised to be rough. When he reached adolescence he had already castrated and slaughtered pigs. His wide shoulders, olive skin, and oriental eyes earned him town-wide fame as being “hot.” Since he was young he felt the pressure of desiring other men continue reading

. It was like a permanent breath down his neck that followed him everywhere.

His father had deep wrinkles around his mouth, a group of them also skirting his eyes. The hours in the furrow, beneath the sun, had cracked his skin and his character. He started drinking rum with his friends in the afternoons after work, but ended gulping anything he found. One day, Sandor saw him downing one of his grandmother’s perfumes. His mouth smelled of sweet roses for hours.

Sine he was little, Sandor resolved not to end up like his father. After he turned 16, he packed up what little clothes he had and went to Havana. He arrived at night and walked from the train terminal to Fraternity Park, where the lamps were off and one could hear moaning coming from the shadows. “This is my thing,” he immediately said to himself.

Between footlights

In Las Vegas Cabaret, the air smells of urine. There are tables far from the lights where almost anything can happen. Sandor watches, empty-eyed, the male stripper show unraveling on the stage. The bodies shine from the oil they have been rubbed with.

A sixty-year-old moves forward and puts some bills inside one of the dancer’s underpants. Sandor follows him with his eyes and later sits on his same table. He’s wearing very tight clothes and his muscles stand out provocatively, but competition is strong. He is part of a sea of ephebes practicing prostitution that will battle to see who takes the foreigner to bed.

“I am a male sex worker, a pinguero,” he says shamelessly to anyone who cares to hear him. He offers his goods to any buyer, although he emphasizes not considering himself a homosexual. Sometimes his clients are women, European and in their fifties, but his main market is made up of men who come “de afuera” – from abroad. Cuba is a promising destination for gay tourism and Sandor casts his rod into the turbulent river waters of caresses for money.

He fixes himself up constantly while speaking, an eagerness for physical perfection that makes anyone who approaches him feel ugly and wrinkled. He has shaved his eyebrows and painted them in a fine, high arch. On his arms, his forearms, his chest and his pubis there isn’t a single hair. Hours of painful hair removal have left his skin smooth and even.

He prefers this world to days of working in construction, erecting walls or putting roofs together. He spent his first months in Havana working with a brigade of bricklayers, but he couldn’t stand it. Now, the palms of his hands feel soft from the body lotion he lathers on to please his partners with caresses, but during those times the hammer and chisel had left him with rough and ugly calluses.

He is part of a sea of ephebes practicing prostitution who will battle to see who takes the foreigner to bed.

The Malecón, Central Park and the private Cabaret Humboldt, on the street bearing the same name, are his habitual working grounds. “I go looking for yumas [foreigners]. I get there and, in between drinks, the zorreo [flirtation] begins and then comes business,” he says when describing his modus operandi. There isn’t much to say in those places, because those who visit know the codes and steps to take in order to leave accompanied.

“I never leave with a Cuban, even if he has all the money of the world,” assures the young man. The rates range from 10 to 100 CUC, so he seeks to reach a middle ground so as to not sell himself “for nothing” but also not to end up “more alone than the 1 o’ clock peal.” Not few times has he had to exchange love for objects, like a watch, a pair of shoes or an expensive bottle of cologne, but “I prefer cash,” he says.

The hours to “expensively sell oneself” are before midnight. After that, “the goods lose value and you have to take whatever comes your way.” He learned that language, or jargon, while working in a produce market. Amid dirty sweet potatoes and the smell of rotting onion, he understood that wasn’t the life for him. “Now, in one night I can make as much as I made in a month behind the counter of an agricultural market.”

Below the sun-faded awning where he sold fruits and vegetables, the first foreigner branded him. This, in street slang, means identifying someone and exchanging seductive glances. He was Dutch and had come to buy some plantains, but he noticed Sandor and invited him for some ice cream. That night, they slept at the Hotel Nacional and for the rest of the week he didn’t show up to his job at the produce market. He had never been in a hotel, so he jumped on the bed and left the faucet open for hours. He swallowed his breakfast almost without chewing it and the tourist gave him a gift of some clothes.

Las Vegas Cabaret, one of the places where tourists “brand” pingueros, jineteras, and more. (14ymedio)
Las Vegas Cabaret, one of the places where tourists “brand” pingueros, jineteras, and more. (14ymedio)

At that time, Sandor lived with an older woman, through whom he was able to get a transitional address in the capital written down on his national ID card. Without that, he was in danger of being deported by the police if they asked him for his ID on the street. One night he arrived with a lot of money, a bottle of wine under his arm, and she began to suspect. While he slept, she checked his cellphone and found a picture in which the Dutch man held him by his fly. In the middle of the night, the woman threw his clothes from the balcony and told him never to return.

Later he had a Mexican. “When this farmer saw himself driving a rental car, with a gold chain and money in his wallet, he got used to this life,” he recalls while speaking of himself in the third person. However, he says he prefers Europeans and North Americans because “they pay better and are more delicate.” He had an African only once, a doctor from Luanda who gave him many gifts.

“My body is my enterprise,” he brags. “Pingueros are better paid than the most regal prostitutes”

Beginning some years back, Sandor has had a routine he repeats daily. He gets up at noon and tries to eat only protein. “No bread or fried things that make me fat; my body is my enterprise,” he brags. He also takes vitamins and spends hours in the gym. “Pingueros are better paid than the most regal prostitutes,” he points out while lifting several pounds of iron to render his biceps irresistible.

At the gym he met Susy, a transsexual who is also in the business. She helped him find more select clients with more money. They both work without pimps, although there are groups of pingueros that pay others to protect them as they try to make a living in certain territories. On the corner of Payret Theater one can only work if “one is protected” because police harassment is very harsh, explained Susy on the first week of friendship.

The police know the hook-up zones well. Some of the officers fight to patrol those corners or streets to get money in exchange for looking the other way. It’s a profitable business, where the pinguero has everything to lose if he doesn’t give the cop a piece of the prize or do him a sexual favor.

Sandor prefers not having to show himself off on the street, instead he looks for his clients inside of clubs, cabarets, and other local party scenes. His ID with a transitional Havana address expired and he is now illegally in Havana. If he comes across a troublemaking policeman, it’s very probable that he will be deported to his home province.

Since he arrived in the city, he has been detained on various occasions. He has three warnings and could be tried for the charge of pre-criminal dangerousness. The last time he was inside a police station, the officer told him that he knew what he was doing, so he changed his area of operation from Old Havana to Vedado and Playa.

The danger is not only to end up in a courtroom, it’s falling victim to police extortion and having the entire night’s earnings snatched away

The danger is not only to end up in a courtroom, it’s falling victim to police extortion and having an entire night’s earnings snatched away. If he had a pimp, then he would protect him and keep la fiana, or the police, away, but since he works alone, he needs to deal with those in uniform. The worst thing is ending up in a cell, because there anything can happen. 

The price of meat by its hanging weight

Every day, the market becomes more competitive and each client wants the best porcelain for the smallest price. The illusion of buying a home or supporting a lover with what you make is a thing of the past. A wrinkle, a bit of belly that may show when you strap your belt will signify tens of convertible pesos in losses. “On facial and body treatments, gym and clothes alone, I spend most of what I make,” he says while showing us his Dolce & Gabbana underwear. Most likely they are a counterfeit of the Italian brand, but, even so, they cost about a month’s earnings for a regular state worker.

He doesn’t scout his clients on looks because he confesses that his work does not give him pleasure and it’s been a long time since he has felt anything. In order to give a good performance of his role, he tries to think of some porn film or he drinks some alcohol. Sometimes he thinks of a girlfriend he had back in his town, when he still wore his middle school uniform and life seemed simpler.

But that was a long time ago. Now he has to work very hard. Cuba continues to be a cheap destination for tourists searching for a night of wild passion, but there are many young people for sale and prices decrease. For months he disguised himself an “intellectual” with sandals and went to Plaza de Armas. There, he feigned looking at books on displays and branded the yumas, capturing various sleepless admirers of Che who wanted to feel “the clay of the new man.”

Susy has shown him how to tell the ones who are forrados (the wealthy ones) apart. It’s in the details; like being treated to bottled water or a Heineken beer on the first date. He once knew a German who, in August’s midsummer heat, would pack his own beverage in his backpack and wouldn’t even offer a sip.

The man turned out to be so stingy that Sandor got payback and applied la segunda, which is to take him in a taxi to where, supposedly, they will spend the night. The client would have paid for the room in advance and when he gets out, the driver hits the gas and “if I once saw you, I no longer recall.” He later had to share his earnings with the taxi driver, but at least he taught the miserly man a lesson… “so he learns,” he would chuckle to himself for weeks.

Cuba continues to be a cheap destination for tourists searching for a night of wild passion, but there are many young people for sale and prices decrease.

The best case is when an old client recommends a pinguero to his friends and so more come over. Sandor spent some months with a group of Japanese businessmen because of that, but the Cuban government didn’t pay them what it owed and no one from the company ever came again. When he remembers those days his face lights up and he shows off a gold tooth, “it’s a shame they didn’t come back, because they were very polite and had a lot of money.

In the world of the pingueros there’s someone for every taste and every wallet, but Sandor explains that “the one you see there, with the nice watch and the fancy cellphone, most likely if a yuma propositions him for 20 CUC he will say no” and he will demand that he give him more than the 150 he already has in his wallet. But those older than 20 can’t make such high demands. “Fresh meat, the fresh meat always wins,” he says with some melancholy as he touches his hardened thigh muscles from hours at the gym.

When Sandor closes a deal, he goes off to a privately rented room. A bed, condoms, and it’s all set. Nowadays he prefers private rooms to hotels because they’re more intimate and he also gets a commission for taking a client. Some of them are just like hotel rooms, with air conditioning, Jacuzzis, minibars, and mirrors on the ceiling.

Sometimes he gets a client who wants a longer relationship. Those are the most yearned for. The biggest success of the operation is finding a foreigner that will support them from overseas. The highest price for his caresses is to manage to leaving the country. But, make no mistake, on the other side he says he wants to abandon this lifestyle. “I’ll load bags onto ships with my bare back or mop floors in a hospital, but I won’t return to this filth.”

For the moment, while waiting for the foreigner who will get him out of here comes around, he dreams of buying a motorcycle. When he has it, he wants to show it off in the same areas he has offered his goods, but this time with a “hot girl with a killer body” on his arm. That will be his small revenge for all that’s past.

Maybe he’ll go back to his town, to see what’s become of his dad. He will take a bottle of aged rum for him and get his grandmother some new perfume. From that trip “I’ll come back with a country girl to wash and iron my clothes who I can also introduce to the business.” He plans to live off of her for some time, but, if they have a child, “he has to get out of this shit, he has to get out of this shit.”

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

Internal contradictions, solutions and the new politics of the United States / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 29 January 2015 — The main contradictions in Cuban society lie between the concentration and centralization of property ownership and decision making of all kinds, and the broad cultural, technical and professional training of Cubans, eager to improve their material and spiritual living conditions. The unviable state-dependent employment model has been incapable of satisfying these needs.

Its origin is the conception of socialism inherited from Stalinism, which was based on the concentration of ownership and decision-making, and the system of wage-labor for the State, with everything administered by the Communist Party continue reading

: a State-monopoly capitalism that sharpened all the conflicts of the exploitative wage system.

The lack of a solution to these problems has stalled the productive forces, the development of society, economic progress, modernity and improvements in the living conditions of the great majority of the population.

The solutions move to increase the participation of citizens in property, ownership of the results of their work, and decisions of all kinds: economic, political and social. Democratization of politics and socialization of the economy are also imposed.

But “state socialism” blocked these solutions, almost eliminating the small and medium proprietor, preventing the development of forms of free labor — unionized or otherwise — the free-management of production, the social economy, and restricting the democratic participation of citizens in political matters.

Now, with the normalization of relations with “the enemy,” there is no danger of military aggression, always used as a justification to postpone the empowerment of the people, and the Cuban government should not delay any further moving in this direction.

The solutions move to increase the participation of citizens in property, ownership of the results of their work, and decisions of all kinds

The return to power of groups of oligarchs allied to American capital would not resolve these contradictions – rather it would increase them – newly excluding workers and citizens in general from economic and political power, with concentrated ownership passing from the hands of the State to the huge capitalist entrepreneurs, and political power from the Communist Party to another party that could act at will without submitting itself to democracy.

The proposals made from the positions of Participatory and Democratic Socialism, since 1991 with the 4th Cuban Communist Party Congress, raise the need to advance this process of democratization and socialization of politics and the economy. Traditional opposition sectors have also presented similar demands.

In 2006, networks of the international left published “Urging the Cuban Revolution to Advance Entrepreneurial and Social Self-management” and sent it to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and the Government. The following year, they published “15 Concrete Proposals to Revitalize Socialism in Cuba.” In 2008, we publicly presented the document “Cuba Needs A Participative and Democratic Socialism, Programmatic Proposals,” and with the view of the 6th Congress of the PCC and the entire Cuban people, we announced our “Proposals to Advance Socialism In Cuba.” More recently, we published “14 Keys for the Padlocks that Depress the Cuban Economy.”

These and other documents of the broad democratic left argue the need to democratize the party and the society, free up self-employment and cooperatives, and especially to involve employees in the direction, management and profits of state enterprises, without ignoring the necessary spaces for state capital, domestic private capital, and foreign capital.

The neo-Stalinists have tried to prevent the people from having knowledge of these ideas and a part of the traditional opposition has tried to ignore them.

The “update of the model” did not resolve these conflicts — although it introduced dynamics and presented proposals concomitant with participative and democratic socialism — due to its limitations, state-centric origin, biased legislation and its application of the same traditional bureaucracy present in a State willing only to strengthen its total control and never disposed to transparently bend toward the essential.

In this scheme, the “update of the model” has not been able to accomplish substantial modifications in what continues to block the development of a socialized economy directly in the hands of the citizens.

The recent agreements between the governments of the United States and Cuba come when all the problems of Cuban society are aggravated and the insufficient “updating” is exhausted, unable to attenuate those problems.

The inability of the State-Government-Party to understand the urgent need to develop popular autonomous control of the economy and the political life of the country is worrying

Today, with the persistence of a high level of ownership concentration and centralization of decision-making and its respective mechanisms and laws, the economic and political structure of the country appears unprepared to absorb the impact represented by the new US policies.

The inability of the State-Government-Party to understand the urgent need to develop popular autonomous control of the economy and the political life of the country is worrying.

Bureaucratic obstructionism at all levels, at fault for the slow “updating of the model,” seems to be playing the same game with respect to the normalization of relations with the United States.

The democratic left is also concerned that the eventual increase in investment will be directed only to state enterprises, which will not resolve the already exposed internal contradictions of Cuban society and will lead to an alliance between monopolistic State capitalism and huge American capital which, logically, will results in greater exploitation of Cuban workers.

While there are American business sectors whose only interest is to do business in Cuba, the Obama administration is also interested in supporting “non-state” businesses, which they welcome.

The issues of democracy and human rights in the United States and Cuba are a matter for their people, not the governments of both countries, which should respect the Cuban people’s sovereignty and their capacity to decide their future. The role of the governments is to create conditions so that people can exercise their sovereignty.

Cuba should open a process of dialog and negotiations between all the visions and projects, political, social and economic, led by a new constituency, capable of harmonizing in democracy all the interests present in the country.

The enunciated American policies to economically and politically empower the citizens don’t hide their intentions to influence the internal politics of Cuba, which are being manipulated by the new-Stalinist mentality, the official press, the political structure and foreign “leftists,” like the “imperialist [intention] to overthrow the Revolution by other means.”

The US government may be making a mistake by stating that its new policy is designed to achieve the same strategic objectives of the previous failed

The US government could be making a mistake by stating that its new policy is intended to achieve the same strategic objectives as the prior, failed, policy. If the objectives continue to be to provoke political changes in Cuba, the American government should ask itself if it would like Cuba to propose the same objectives in its policies toward the United States.

The objectives of the new policy, if they don’t want it to backfire and be counterproductive, should be to live in peace with Cuba, to support its economic development and to facilitate, with the elimination of pressures on the Cuban government, the Cuban people being in a better condition to decide their destinies, without political changes imposed from outside.

For its part, the Cuban government must consider that methods (policies) must predominate over ends (strategy), so that the fact that the United States has changed its policy – from one of pressures and isolation to one of dialog and rapprochement – should influence what prevails in this latest approach.

There are those in the bureaucracy and in the opposition who believe that the problems of our country can only be resolved with the help of the United States. Those who think this way don’t seem to recognize the character of the internal contradictions nor their solutions, such that it will be difficult to find support for their plans among the great majority.

We appreciate the support of Obama and his administration for respect for the human rights of the Cuban people, and for their offer of assistance to non-state businesses and to facilitate people’s access to the Internet. But the democratization of the Cuban political system, the decision about the form of government, and the democratic election of our representatives, these are our tasks and the more the Cuban government feels that the United States is interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs, the more difficult is the situation of Cubans in Cuba and the more the current government will oppose this process.

The more the Cuban government feels that the United States is interfering in Cuba’s internal affairs, the more difficult is the situation of Cubans in Cuba

 Accelerating all the transformations toward a greater democratization and socialization of political and economic life should be the priority in order to cushion the impact of the new dynamics generated by the “normalization” and to guarantee that internal changes are driven by citizen empowerment and not by external forces. Something that appears to be impossible as long as the go-slow bureaucracy continues to have sufficient power to block the necessary transformations.

The difference between changes being promoted from within versus from outside could mark aspects of the independence and sovereignty that would appear in the future, sooner rather than later.

The current contradictions could exacerbated, rather than resolved, and the call for normalization of relations with the United States could stalemate or fail through not achieving the dynamics a new US policy could generate, and through lack of respect by both governments for the interests of the Cuban people who, in their vast majority welcome the normalization, but who also – for the most part – reject outside interference.

Early Farewell to the CUC / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Several people stand on line at a currency exchange (CADECA). (EFE)
Several people stand on line at a currency exchange (CADECA). (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 January 2015 — It was barely 10:00 am Wednesday, January 28th, and the currency exchange (CADECA) at Belascoaín had no national currency (CUP)*. One of the tellers explained that he had only several 50 peso bills and that was it until the “cash truck” arrived.  Some customers, leaving because they could not transact business, stated that this has become the norm, not only at this currency exchange continue reading

, but also at the one on Galiano Street, across from the Plaza del Vapor.

These are virtually the only two currency exchanges operating in the municipality of Centro Habana after most of them were converted to ATM’s, so both exchange of hard (i.e. foreign) currency to Cuban convertible currency (CUC) as well as CUC to CUP implies traveling to some CADECA or to Banco Metropolitano, both located at some distance, and the likelihood of having to stand on long lines before being able to complete the desired transaction.

Another difficulty that has become common in both CADECA and ATM locations is the absence of bills in denominations smaller than 100 or 50 CUP, which also distresses the population, especially the elderly, who receive their pensions in debit cards and are often unable to withdraw all of their money, since there are no 5 or 1 peso bills available. In these cases, they need to wait a whole trimester or quarter until enough funds accumulate in their accounts to cover the minimum denominations of 10 or 20 CUP, a ridiculous amount compared to the high price of any market product, but what is significant is that the affected individuals depend almost entirely on this income.

Since the start of 2015, Cubans who receive remittances from abroad or convertible pesos by other means are quick to exchange their money into the national currency. Those who receive larger amounts – on the order of 100’s of CUC, in general the owners of more thriving private business — prefer to use the black market to exchange their funds into US dollars. The common denominator is that nobody wants to hold CUC money, which, until recently, was in high demand and CADECAS would even often run out of.

Announcement of a new national currency bill being issued into circulation in February, in 200, 500 and 1000 peso denominations, coupled with the ability to access the former “hard currency market” with either money, has sounded the drum-roll in people’s psyche as a prelude to the much anticipated monetary unification. People fear that an official changeover will take place that will carry penalizing fees that will cause serious losses to people’s pockets.

Fear is running throughout the population that an official changeover will take place suddenly, with extremely high fees that would produce serious loses to their pockets

The expectation is felt, by osmosis, in the capital’s agricultural trade networks, especially in meat markets that are not “state-owned”, where either one of the two currencies was accepted a few weeks ago. “Mother of Mercy, give me national currency!” is the butcher’s cry at Combinadito de Sitios in Centro Habana when a customer brings out 20 CUC to pay for a cut of pork meat whose price these days of non-ration cards has risen to 45 Cuban pesos per pound. “Country farmers don’t want CUC, my brother, they have a lot of money** and are really afraid of the monetary unification. They won’t sell me meat unless I pay in national currency”.

Something similar is happening with peddlers with street carts, who still accept payment in “convertible” currency for retail sales, but their wholesale suppliers are demanding payment in national currency for their products. A street peddler in my neighborhood states “farmers have high incomes and almost all producers have accumulated large sums. None of them wish to lose when the currency is unified”.

The lack of information and clarification from the official media creates uncertainty and speculation in the population.

It is evident that, once more, the lack of information and clarification on the part of the official media are causing uncertainty and spreads speculation throughout the population, giving way to obstacles such as the (unexplained) shortage of cash in the CADECA, increasing the demand for US dollars in the black market foreign exchanges.

With the imminent introduction of the new denomination bills, clear evidence of the very high inflation rate in Cuba, nothing is known about a monetary unification that -according to official notification- will be gradual and will “not affect” Cuban pockets. For now, it is expected that, when it takes place, the official exchange rate of 25 pesos in national currency for each CUC will not continue, a transaction with which the CADECA and the state commercial networks have operated to date. Our experience, after decades of deceptive monetary maneuvers, has motivated the popular wisdom so that, already, before the dreamed about monetary unification, Cubans are shedding was has been the last few years’ supreme sign of Cuba’s status: the CUC.

Translator’s notes:

*See here for a longer discussion of the history of Cuba’s currencies and the plan to move to a single currency. Briefly, Cuba has two currencies: Cuban pesos, also called moneda nacional (national money), abbreviated CUP; and Cuban convertible pesos, abbreviated CUC. In theory CUCs are a hard currency, but in fact, it is illegal to take them out of Cuba and they are not exchangeable in other countries. Cubans receive their wages and pensions primarily in CUPs, with wages roughly the equivalent of about $20 US per month, and pensions considerably less. The CUC is pegged 1-to-1 to the American dollar, but exchange fees make it more expensive. The CUP trades to the CUC at about 24-to-1. 

**It has been a common practice in other tightly controlled countries, when new currencies are introduced, to limit the total amount of money people are allowed to exchange and/or to require documentation of the sources of larger sums. As the old currency becomes instantly worthless domestically and internationally, people who have been ‘hoarding’ it can see almost all their savings disappear. Cubans fear this could happen with the elimination of the CUC.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“Our actions can make people lose their fears” / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar and Jose Daniel Ferrer

José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)
José Daniel Ferrer during the interview. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 20 January 2015 — Few could imagine that this activist, born in the east of the country and leader of Cuba’s most numerous opposition organization, is also a compulsive reader and an avid collector of famous quotes. Conversing with José Daniel Ferrer is like a trip that starts with a pamphlet cast in the streets of Palmarito del Cauto, then jumps to the best texts about the French Revolution, and ends in the pages of some modern psychological treatise.

Yet, the biggest pleasure of speaking to a man like him is to see him behave as if he were free, despite the police surveillance and the years he has spent in prison. During a quick visit to Havana, Ferrer answered some questions for the readers of 14ymedio about the current situation of activism in Cuba and the new stage that is opening up for dissidents.

Escobar: How does the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU) view the negotiations between Washington and Havana?

Ferrer: This process, which started after 18 months of secret talks, will be very positive in bettering the difficult life conditions of our people. However, the final result will best be appreciated as the announced relaxation of policies is implemented and also in the way that it is put in practice. If it is applied in an intelligent manner and is consistently complemented by solidarity and support to the independent civil society, it will yield better results than the prior policies. continue reading

Escobar: And the embargo?

Ferrer: Our people and the international community have in great part been critical with regards to the embargo, which by now has lasted for more than 50 years. In all this time, and especially following the collapse of the Soviet bloc, the Cuban government has placed the blame for our economic woes on the embargo, and has even used it to justify repression within the country. Obama’s policies delegitimize these justifications. Additionally, they are in tune with the sentiments of Cubans and of the international community.

Escobar: During your encounter with various American members of congress, you expressed the gratitude of your organization’s activists who had been released from prison as a result of the negotiations. Can you give us more details about them?

Ferrer: Of the 38 political prisoners that were freed between the days of January 7 and 8, 28 of them were members of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, in other words more than 70%. Of the 10 who were not members of UNPACU, 4 have already reached out to us and vocalized their desire join our organization. However, 14 of our activists are still imprisoned, 10 of them affiliated with our branches in eastern provinces and the other 4 belonging to organizations that are associated to our own.

“As soon as they find out about someone who has chosen not to make their dissent public, they threaten them with removing them from their jobs or even worse things.”

 Escobar: What type of activism does UNPACU carry out?

Ferrer: Our organization is not just a group of audacious and courageous activists that protest peacefully on the streets. That mode of operation, that type of battle, is just the tip of the iceberg. Our strategy includes a great variety of means of peaceful combat, including seminars, courses, disseminating leaflets when the wind is favorable, putting up posters in public spaces… even better if it’s at the headquarters of the People’s Power (Poder Popular) or the offices of the Communist Party.

In a society that has been paralyzed by terror for many years, our actions can make people lose their fear.

Escobar: Do you see a disjunction between street activism and other forms of dissidence?

Ferrer: Discrete activism also greatly annoys the regime. They, through their intelligence apparatuses, know where we meet and with whom despite our greatest efforts. As soon as they find out about someone who has chosen not to make their dissent public, they threaten them with removing them from their jobs or even worse things. This is especially true when it’s someone who, because of his or her training or talent, could be a strong protagonist. But, if that person chooses to defend their rights, then the threats can be greater. That’s the proof that they fear these forms of activism more than the others.

Escobar: It has transpired that the organization you lead has lost alliances with other groups. Is that true? And if so why is that?

Ferrer: Many factors come to play here. In the first place, when other organizations merged with the Patriotic Union of Cuba, the oppressive bodies of the government also multiplied their efforts to divide us. Another issue is that some leaders believed at certain points that the best way to accelerate the process of non-violent combat was by uniting with UNPACU and later they changed their minds. Be it because attacks multiplied or because there were also instances of disagreement, some chose to return to their prior situations.

In fact, the relations between these groups and us remain good. Our disposition to cooperate remains. If we had to choose what was more important, for everyone to come under the same name and things not run as smoothly as they should, or that each keep their organization’s name and that things work better, we would choose the latter. We have separated but we did not become enemies.

“Some activists and opposition leaders object to reestablishing relations between the two countries and also disapprove of dismantling the embargo.”

Escobar: And has Obama’s announcement of December 17th deepened those differences?

Ferrer: With regards to the recent changes in policy announced by the Cuban and United States governments, there are some who believe it is a mistake. Some activists and opposition leaders object to reestablishing relations between the two countries and also disapprove of dismantling the embargo. However, we have to find what unites us. They want the same as we do: the democratization of the country and that Cuba respect human rights. They want us to be a just and prosperous nation “with all and for the good of all*.” The difference is in the means, not the objective, which we hold in common.

Escobar: So, you propose finding consensus points?

Ferrer: Yes, we would work together to reach that common end, including those who disagree with us today on topics like the reestablishment of relations between Cuba and the United States. We hope that they too understand that they can cooperate with us.

*Translator’s note: A quote from José Martí who is honored by both the Castro regime and its opponents.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

“I Live Happy Because I Live Without Fear” / 14ymedio, El Sexto

Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’
Map of the 4H Company in prison hand drawn by Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto’
  • El Sexto tells of his incarceration in the Valle Grande prison

14YMEDIO, Havana, 28 January 2015 — Danilo Maldonado, the graffiti artist known as El Sexto, finished a month in prison this January 25. He was arrested while riding in a taxi whose trunk was carrying two live pigs. The animals were painted green and each bore a name written on his side. On one could be read Fidel and on the other, Raul.

The artist’s intention was to release them in Central Park in order to recreate a rural tradition in which one tries to catch pigs with the added difficulty that their bodies are smeared with grease. His frustrated performance art was entitled Animal Farm, in Memoriam.

The light blue Lada that was transporting him was intercepted by three Revolutionary National Police patrol cars. The agents took away the identity cards of Danilo and the vehicle’s driver and took them to the Infanta and Manglar Station. Two days later, they transferred the artist to the Zapata and C unit where a prosecutor told him that he would be taken to trial. He stayed in those dungeons seven days until he was transferred to the central police station of Vivac de Calabazar, where he spent another seven days.

It happened that Vivac was the destination for dozens of arrestees accused of trying to participate in the performance announced by performance artist Tania Bruguera in the Plaza of the Revolution last December 30, which was interpreted by authorities as a counter-revolutionary provocation. Some of those arrested, who learned of his presence at the place, shouted, among other slogans, “Freedom for El Sexto.”

From the Valle Grande prison, where he is now, Danilo has sent us some jail anecdotes and a couple of drawings.

The Tank

When I arrived at Valle Grande they took blood samples for the lab, shaved my head and beard. They also photographed me. During my stay in Vivac, they had diagnosed me with pneumonia, for which reason I was carrying antibiotics with me, but they took them from me and have not seen fit to return them to me so far, nor has a doctor listened to my chest to find out if I am the same, better or worse than when I arrived here. To make matters worse, I am surrounded by smokers who do not care at all that I am sick and asthmatic. continue reading

I am in Company Four. They call this place “the tank,” and there are all kinds of people. I met four dissidents from Alturas de la Lisa. Yorlay Perez, Yusel Perez, Santiago Perez and Hanoy.

Fidelito

One day a boy came into the tank who said he knew me from the park and that he followed my work on the streets. This swarthy young man of small stature surprised me when he took off his pullover revealing on his back a tattoo of the face of Fidel Castro. I explained to him that I am an opponent of the Castro regime and that the gentleman he wore engraved on his skin was the one responsible for me being a prisoner.

He responded that he had no family and that he was a “son of the fatherland,” for which reason Fidel had given him a home, and that was not happening anywhere else in the world. I told him that was true, that if he had been born in another country no one would have given him a home, but maybe he could have sought it for himself and that really he owed nothing to Fidel. I told him of the case of Amaury Pacheco, who with a family of six children was harassed into an eviction from an abandoned house in the Alamar suburb, where they had gone so far as to refuse him water and electric service.

Later I found out through another boy, whom I met in Vedado, that it was said that he was with State Security and that he always had a pistol under his shirt. His acquaintances nicknamed him the Hoarse One, but I called him Fidelito.

This son of the fatherland was prisoner for falsification of documents, something he had done in order to leave the country. In a single night he tried to hang himself twice.

Yusel, the Opponent

In one of the constant inspections that they carry out here, a major and a second lieutenant thought that the fingernails of one prisoner were too long and that he had to cut them. He explained that he had no nail clippers, much less scissors. The major took a knife from his belt and threatened to cut his nails by force. The boy resisted and then the major told him that he had to bite them off.

Bunks. (El Sexto)
Bunks. (El Sexto)

When they passed by the place where the opponent Yusel was, they noticed that he wore a white bracelet with the word Change on one of his wrists. As he did not obey the order to take it off, they forcibly snatched it from him. Then Yusel started yelling, “Down with the Castros, down with the dictatorship.” The second lieutenant cornered him against a bed to beat him but the rest of the prisoners got in the middle and prevented it. Things got hot but did not go further because the major started screaming that they were not going to beat him. Only then did the prisoners relax. Yusel was in a punishment cell for four days, but they did not beat him.

‘The Cigar’ that urinates

The Cigar arrived without a noise. Strong, tall, he must be between 60 and 70 years old, and he does not sleep. He said that he was a prisoner because he had threatened with a screwdriver some teens who were throwing a ball against the wall of his house. No one got close to him because he did not bathe. One day he urinated in the middle of the hallway, which was understood as “blackmail” for the other prisoners who would have to clean his filth. When they demanded that he wipe up that puddle, he said that he would do it with his clothes but they did not let him because that would mean enduring an even greater stench from him. We understood that he was going crazy the day that they read out loud the cards where our names and crimes appear. Then we learned his case: child sexual abuse.

To my Facebook friends and blog readers

I want to tell you that I really miss finding out about your trips and other events that are reflected in your accounts. I would also like to thank everyone who supported my cause and confess that none of my crazy things would have been possible if I had not known that I was not alone and that I count on the support of many of you. It is possible to fill hearts with hope. Evil will never overpower good. Retrograde minds will never overcome free minds. Violence will never overcome art and reason. Death will never overcome life and love.

I am going through an ordeal that has only been the legitimization of a good work and the confirmation of an iron dictatorship, which must be combatted with wit and cunning.

Believe me, sometimes I laugh alone in this dark place of 18 by 100 feet with 37 triple bunks, that is to say between 118 and 190 people plus those who sleep on the floor. I laugh even though the toilets are stuck next to each other without any privacy. I live happy because I live without fear and, although they persecute and harass my family, they will never manage to make a dent in my creativity. This time I believe they have been ridiculed like never before by anyone. Although they kept the pigs from getting to Central Park, all of us who have an imagination can see them running with their names engraved and people behind them like a true Animal Farm.

Ha, ha, ha. Hugs to all, and I wait to be able to read you.

Danilo Maldonado Machado

Translated by MLK

The spy who never wanted to be one / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

The journalist Jose Antonio Torres.
The journalist Jose Antonio Torres.
  • The unusual story of ‘Granma’ journalist sentenced to 14 years in prison

14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Santiago de Cuba, 27 January 2015 — Just outside the building, a ditch carries sewage down the street. Several children jump from side to side of the stinking canal which later runs through Micro 7, a neighborhood in the José Martí district of Santiago de Cuba. For a few years now the neighbors have pointed to number 9 on one rough block and said, “That’s where the Granma newspaper journalist lives.” Today the family bears the stigma of a journalist who is in prison, where he is serving a sentence for espionage.

The steps are rough and uneven. At the top improvised bars cover the door to the house. I knocked for long minutes, but no one answered. Mayda Mercedes, José Antonio “Tony” Torres’s wife, only received me another day, with a certain tremor in her voice while looking up and down the street. There I managed, for the first time, to see the court ruling that twisted the fate of this man, as a bolero says, “like a weak tin rod.” continue reading

The official government reporter never imagined that on his 45th birthday he would be behind bars. After graduating as a journalist in 1990, he’d known nothing but success in his career. He served as deputy director for Tele Turquino, correspondent for the National Information Agency, for the National News, and later for the newspaper Granma. He was a sports commentator, secretary general of the Communist Party’s Santiago de Cuba Correspondents unit, and his work was even praised by Raul Castro. Everything pointed to rising to professional heights closer to power and to better remuneration.

All this ended, however, on 8 February 2011, when they arrested him and – after three months in State Security’s Villa Marista prison and transfers to other prisons and exhausting interrogations – a court sentenced him to 14 years in prison for the crime of espionage. In the file of Case No. 2 of 2011, it says he is accused of having written a letter to Michael Parmly, who was then the head of the United States Interests Section in Havana (USIS). The document also states that the accused wanted “to get a personal interview with this person to provide him (…) sensitive information (…) that could endanger national security.”

Tony says that the idea of writing this letter was the child of spite. His wife had been a victim of injustice at work and, according to the journalist, he decided to get revenge on the authorities. A revenge that consisted of pretending to have secret data that would destabilize the Cuban government. His defense attorney said later that there was “no real danger to State Security,” and Torres confessed that he “made everything up.”

A scaffolding of lies that ended up falling on him, because the crime of espionage in the Cuban penal code includes “anticipated completion.” The mere suggestion to a foreign state of sensitive information carries a sentence.

From late 2005 until January 2007, he wrote a long text on a neighbor’s computer in which he claimed to have sensitive information about “the Elián González case (…), classified materials of a military character (…), information about government corruption (…), scandals in the ranks of the Communist Party (…), original documents from the five spies (…), defaults on economic contracts with China” and much more. An explosive list of topics, to which he added his own resume as a journalist to give the matter greater credibility.

With a meticulousness unusual in these parts, he also devised a complicated code of passwords and keys that included “half of a moneda nacional one peso note,” that Michael Parmly could only complete when the two of them were face-to-face. A postcard of the Casa de la Musica in Miramar, also cut in half, would reaffirm the identity of each party. On the brightly lit scrolling ticker across the top of the US Interests Section building in Havana where headlines and news were displayed, after the receipt of the document the US was to display the code “Michael 2003” if the official accepted Torres’s full proposal, and “Michael 6062” is there was only interest one a part of it.

Reading, today, about this methodical system of alert and verification, it’s hard not to smile at this apprentice James Bond, who ended up a victim of his own cleverness. But Tony didn’t seem to calculate the seriousness and danger of his actions. So in early 2007 he asked his brother to travel to Havana and put an envelope containing two diskettes with copies of the letter along with the halves of the peso and the postcard, in the Interests Section’s mailbox. The countdown that would end in his disgrace had started to run, but he wouldn’t know it until four years later.

In a cell in Boniato Prison, one of the Cuban prisons with the worst reputation, Torres has nurtured for years now the illusion that some journalist to whom he could tell his story would visit him. He has refused to despair because someone will shed light on his situation. In the middle of last year he added my name to the list of those who could visit him in prison, to personally narrate for me his version of a story that at times seems taken from The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad, and at others from The Joke by Milan Kundera.

So far the meeting hasn’t happened. The political police monitored the calls and “accidentally” lost the list with my name on it to visit him this weekend. So, after a long journey, I found myself in Santiago with no opportunities other than to reconstruct the “Torres case” through court documents, the testimonies of those who knew him and the letters that he regularly sends me from prison. A jigsaw puzzle, which at times seems more literary than credible.

Tony is punctilious when he tells his story over the telephone, his job as a reporter shows in every detail. He has tight handwriting that fills pages and pages that he dispatches here, there and everywhere. He soon turned me into a recipient for his desperate writings. Phone calls crossing the Island’s geography ring in my fourteenth floor. “Sometimes I have to buy access to the phone with cigarettes,” he tells me.

The former official spokesperson is now clinging to independent journalism and the opposition like the shipwrecked to a precarious life. He has left behind the opinions expressed in an allegation that he never read before the trial court and in which he claimed that he had requested money for information that he would supply the United States to make them believe he was an agent in the service of a foreign government because “no counterrevolutionary is respected if he doesn’t look for or use the path of that conduit of dollars.”

The rigors of prison later lead him to seek the support of the Patriotic Union of Cuba and its leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer. His disappointment in the system of which he was a part has also been felt in his writings. In the middle of last year, in one of his letters, he described the Cuban people as “wounded by the disappointment, with their patience exhausted, sick and tired of scarcities, badly fed, with a ton of postponed demands, crammed into the eternal limbo of unkept promises. 

Last week, his despair led him to write a letter to Barack Obama and another to Pope Francis, asking them for help

Last week, his despair led him to write a letter to Barack Obama and another to Pope Francis, asking them for help. The letters have already begun their journeys to their destinations, but this time they do not carry keys nor currency cut in half. The prisoner hopes, at least, to see his name on the list of political prisoners of conscience, which several groups among the Cuban dissidence have drawn up. However, his case “is difficult to defend,” say several human rights activists, while others reproach him for his long official past.

On the morning when they began the release of the activists derived from the secret talks between Washington and Havana, my phone rang early. “Do you know about the releases,” inquired the pompous voice of a television announcer. I took a deep breath, and provoked him, “They are going to release a spy who served the United States for years, but it’s not you… it will be Rolando Sarraff Trujillo.” His scathing laugh barely let me finish the sentence.

Ironically, when José Antonio Torres demands to be considered innocent and not to be classified as an American intelligence agent, he is also distancing himself from the possibility of being included in a spy swap. His main argument in defending himself, and with which he demands justice, could also be the greatest challenge to achieving his release in the near term.

While I was knocking and waiting for Mayda Mercedes to open the door, a neighbor climbed the stairs carrying a bucket of water. She walked carefully and slowly, as if she was carrying a newborn in her hands. In July 2010, Torres had written an extensive report for the newspaper Granma where he denounced the irregularities, the “negligence” and the “bad job” being done on the repair work of Santiago de Cuba’s aqueduct. The city was full of holes and broken streets, but the delivery of water still hadn’t stabilized after months of work.

“The gagging is so strict that we have converted a force of pressure into innocuous prisoners of repetition and compromise”

A tagline from Raul Castro was published along with the painstaking report, in which the general affirmed that he “disagreed with some of the focus,” but did “recognize the Santiaguan journalist for his persistence in following the work.” In government journalism circles it is still rumored that it was that article, and not Torres’s masquerade as a spy, that marked the severity of the subsequent conviction against him.

While the world read the article as if it were a signal of information glasnost in Cuba, State Security already had surveillance on the journalist’s house from four different angles. By then, Torres was repenting of his absurd action and believed he would never be discovered. Everything indicates that it was in that moment that the act of revenge conceived by the writer of that missive in the past ran smack into the vengeance of others. The journalist would have no chance to walk out with an acquittal.

A couple of years later, from prison, Torres would analyze the official press with the self-criticism that has been part of an artifice for a long time. “In this country (…) the press doesn’t know, nor do its duty. The gagging is so strict that we have converted a force of pressure into innocuous prisoners of repetition and compromise,” he wrote in a letter that managed to make it out of Boniato, when his hopes for release were at their lowest.

Antonio Torres's diploma in journalism
Antonio Torres’s diploma in journalism

The arrest occurred on a February morning. His youngest daughter was crying while they conducted a thorough search of the house. They took video cassettes, notepads filled with his precise handwriting, eight sheets detailing the work on the Santiago de Cuba aqueduct, a work notebook on the balance of the public health sector, weather reports, documents with ideas delivered to the military sectors during Bastion 2004, photocopies of letters from the spy Antonio Guerrero to his son, two letters from Torres to Raul Castro, among other materials.

His belongings didn’t exceed what any journalist would have in his files. None of the data collected by the court points to his possessing “State secrets.” According to what was shown, he didn’t even have the letter where he offered his services as an informant. It’s not clear how the letter “appeared” in a garbage can outside USIS and not in the mailbox where Torres’s brother had supposedly placed it. A prosecution witness, an agent from the Specialized System of Protection S.A. (SEPSA), said that he found the envelope there with the diskettes.

He didn’t even have the letter where he offered his services as an informant

Torres tried to base his defense on the inviolability of diplomatic correspondence, but the court focused the accusation on the “sensitive information of interest to the enemy.” Even today, the journalist appeals that his act was only an attempt that would never have transpired if the USIS mailbox was not “under observation by the Cuban intelligence services.” His self-defense does not claim innocence, but poor procedures in obtaining evidence. But the appeal to reassess the sentence was declared “without merit” in late 2012. A bucket of cold water fell on his hopes of seeing a reduced sentence.

In Section 4 of the Boniato prison they call him “The Thermometer.” The prisoners have given him this nickname because he “is always hot” because of the fights between the inmates and the violence that prevails in the place. In the midst of this, a man who talks like a TV anchorman now spends his days. Once, long ago, he narrated the socialist paradise – and the stains that should be eradicated to perfect it – with his voice and his writings.

At night, when the guards turn off the light and call for silence, he places under his mattress the sheets filled with tight handwriting that will later be put in improvised envelopes. On this passion for writing letters from prison, he now hangs all his hopes of being set free.

And the Conceptualization…? / Reinaldo Escobar

Granma newspaper in the wastebasket
Granma newspaper in the wastebasket

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

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

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

The term “update” has been chosen to define what, in less official settings, is referred to as “reforms” to the Cuban economic model. The genesis of said model was designed based on those economic theses which, in 1975, during the First Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba, put in practice the so-called Economic Direction and Planning System. But, that framework collapsed when in 1986 the comandante unleashed the Process of Rectification of Errors and Negative Tendencies. All that has come since then has been a chain of improvisations filled with patches intended to find momentary solutions — to keep “resolving.” Today, when speaking of “updating,” no one explains clearly what has aged or where the novelties have come from. That would be the task of conceptualization!

Today, when speaking of “updating”, no one explains clearly what has aged or where the novelties have come from

The first condition needed to achieve this mission impossible of conceptualizing what has been outlined by the Guidelines would be that the formulations bear some coherence to the principles of the Marxist-Leninist doctrine or, at the very least, with one of the vague statements made by the historic leader. Not even Cantinflas would be able to do it. Unless, of course, some enlightened graduate of the Ñico López National School of the Party has found the keys to the new revelation. But the evolution of our reality demands another kind of theoretical orchestration. To appeal to the conceptual tools that lie at the origin of our problems cannot result in the emergence of solutions. That would be like trying to uphold geocentric principles using string theory or explaining Cuban “Bufo” Theater with the Stanislavski System.

We’re a little over a year away from the Communist Party of Cuba’s Seventh Congress. If only as an elemental formality, the conceptualization should be presentable before that event, so that it may be discussed and approved. But, who cares?

Translated by Fernando Fornaris

The New Scenario / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Roberta Jacobson at a press conference at the residence of the head of the US Interests Section in Havana (Luz Escobar)
Roberta Jacobson at a press conference at the residence of the head of the US Interests Section in Havana (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 23 January 2015 – The possibility that some day the dispute between Cuba and the United States would ever be solved, the discussion about how to accomplish it having been successively postponed, seemed so remote.

If we were to identify in a simple form the background of the disagreement between both contenders, we would have to say that it can all be reduced to the intention of the Cuban government to implant a socialist regime with a single party and without private property, in the face of the geopolitical will of the United States to maintain in the region a homogenous system of representative democracy and market economy.

The fact that Cuba became the first socialist country in the Western hemisphere sustained the dream of Nikita Khruschev to some day see the hammer and sickle flag waving over the Capitol in Washington. Perceived from afar, the problem qualified as one element of the contradictions of the Cold War. continue reading

But, observed from within, the conflict could not be reduced to a brawl between Cubans and Americans replicating the East-West conflict, rather it starred Cubans with different ways of thinking. The imposition of the Marxist ideology provoked an internal schism in Cuban society and in the Cuban family. Under the guise of a growing class struggle, appeared victims and victimizers, and an enormous quantity of silent witnesses.

To those who proposed to align the Island with the countries of the Socialist Camp, it wasn’t enough to confiscate all American-owned properties, in addition, in less than a decade, they swept away the last vestige of private property. They implanted a ferocious “scientific atheism” and prohibited any political or ideological display that didn’t maintain absolute fidelity to the principles of Marxism-Leninism.

The enemies that process engendered, inside and outside, ended up joining forces. There were armed landings, groups in the mountains, bombings and sabotage. The prisons filled with political prisoners, and the terror of suffering the consequences of dissent brought faked obedience. The great majority of victims of the Revolutionary laws left for exile, while socialism in Cuba continued to produce the dissatisfied.

One fine day, McDonald’s arrived in Moscow before the flag of the proletariat was hoisted in the capital of the empire, and as a consequence, the construction of pure hard socialism on the Island ceased to seem a Utopia to reveal itself as an absurd aberration. A Special Period that nobody dares to put an end to, the uncertainty about whether the leadership is a delirious dying man or a pragmatic conservative, the inability to produce, the insolvency to buy, the lack of an attraction for interested investors, the absence of an understandable definition of the way forward, the total exhaustion of old slogans, a crisis of values never before seen, an unstoppable emigration, the decline and aging of the population, the insecurity that Venezuela will continue its support with energy and financing, and a thousand more reasons, have placed before the Cuban government the need to sit down and talk with its oldest adversary.

These talks have found enthusiastic defenders, enemies and skeptics. These tendencies, with all the imaginable gradations and with greater and lesser visibility, are present in all environments: at different levels of power in the United States, in the apparent unanimity of the Cuban Government, in the exile, in the internal exile and, of course, in the gagged protagonist that is the Cuban people.

The enthusiastic defenders can be localized easily in that group of people on the Island who have as a priority achieving material prosperity and being legitimated as an emerging middle class. In the exile, there are those who would like to invest with guarantees in the innumerable niches that can be opened; from government positions, those who dream of recycling generals into managers; and from the environment of the opposition, the few with the healthy naivety to believe that, as a consequence of dialog, political dissent will be decriminalized and they will soon be seated in parliament after winning the votes of their constituents.

The enemies of the rapprochement are found among the hawks of the U.S. military sector and in that part of the exile that dreams of violently overthrowing the Cuban Government and making them pay with blood for their multiple and unpardonable crimes. They can be seen emerging in the internal opposition among those who suspect that if the government is sitting down to negotiate with the Americans, they will no longer have to talk to them.

They argue that their demands, their just demands, particularly with respect to Human Rights in Cuba, will fade into the background relative to the claims prioritized by the American executive branch. In addition, there is the group of those who aspire to be included in the refugee program, or to be beneficiaries of “help” from the North, and fear that all of this will disappear before the flowers that today adorn the negotiating table wither.

Paradoxically, those in the Island’s power structure who totally reject the reestablishment of relations appear to be at the controls of the repressive bodies; those who would be left without work and, still worse, without privileges, on the day that, by virtue of the presumed dismantling of the exterior harassment, Cuba can no longer be considered besieged and, in consequence, dissidence ceases to be treason. Along with this troop, are the gallant combatants who refuse to abandon their trenches, the ones where they won their medals and merit points that one day served to get a house, a car, a job and even public prestige.

Skeptics lack confidence in anything that some group of anonymous negotiatorss have agreed to in secret. There are abundant reasons to believe that the only thing the American government wants is to regain its hegemony in the region, or that the only purpose of the Cuban ruling elite is to save their heirs. They are everywhere, though they don’t speak up, or do so with due caution.

The issue of the reestablishment of relations, with everything that rests on it, will be an election issue in the campaigns of Republicans and Democrats; it could lead to political purges in the Communist Party, the government and the parliament; it could rearrange alliances in the exile; and delineate with greater precision the divisions in the internal opposition. But it will be a reason for hope in the crowded buses, in the lines for “chicken for fish,” in the private taxis and private restaurants, and among all those who have a relative on the other side.

We Cubans should never find ourselves in this extemporaneous and foreign dilemma. The real problem continues to remain unresolved and it is the dispute between the people and its government.

Neither optimistic enthusiasm nor sterile skepticism is any use, much less the intention to reverse what seems inevitable. The script is written for four hands by those who are already quantifying gains and losses. The only certainty is that there will be a new scenario where new rules will come into force and every actor must rearrange his or her strategies.

2015 Partial Elections: an Old Woman Wearing Rouge / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Billboard for the 2008 parliamentary elections. "Cuba in elections: without masters, without impositions"
Billboard for the 2008 parliamentary elections.
“Cuba in elections: without masters, without impositions”

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 19 January 2015 – Next spring, Cuba will hold the first election process after the announcement of the restoration of relations with the imperialist enemy. Everything indicates that the authorities of the Island are ready to stand the test of what the democratic makeup should look like to create an impression of positive change. For this reason, they are rushing to create their own mechanisms for “approval” with the democratic systems in the region.

If the US President wants to see democratic change in Cuba, the regime’s double-dealers are working on it. After all, the old adage has already stated it: “It is not enough to be Caesar’s wife; it is a must, in addition, to appear so.” Though we Cubans are aware that the innovations brought about by the hand of the same government that curtailed civil liberties are only imitations of those dilapidated and unkempt old buildings in order to prolong their existence, and that, in the popular jargon we refer to as “an old woman wearing rouge.” continue reading

Last January 5th, the official Cuban press published a call of the State Council to the midterm elections, “as established in the Constitution of the Republic and Law #72 of October 29, 1992” in which delegates to the municipal assemblies of the People’s Power will be “chosen” for a “mandate” of two and a half years, subject to revocation.

The next day, the 17 members of the National Electoral Commission took up their positions and received appropriate accreditation. They must “organize, manage and validate the electoral acts”.

Granma newspaper reported the start of a “political and strengthening process on the 55th Anniversary of the CDR [Committees for the Defense of the Revolution]”, at the municipal level, as part of which  “assemblies at the popular board level” were held on January 8th, and on the 12th, they were held “at all zones of the CDR’s.” Such assembly process sought to “improve the functioning of the leadership structures of the CDR” from the grassroots level –on each city-block up to the municipal and zone-specific committees, and at the same time the “conditions of individuals who occupy charges at different levels of management” were evaluated. According to the national CDR coordinator, Carlos Rafael Miranda Martínez, this process ensured, among other objectives, “to help support the election process and the incorporation of young people.”

Election campaigns and political parties are expressly prohibited, but the PCC really runs the election process de facto

The first round of the process will take place on April 19th, 2015, the second round, “at those constituencies where none of the candidates have obtained more than 50% of the valid votes cast,” on the 26th.

The current Electoral Law in Cuba states that any citizen can be nominated as a candidate for delegate by a show of hands in the assemblies of each constituency, and subject to popular vote at the polls to exercise that capacity. Election campaigns and political parties are expressly forbidden, so it’s not a requirement that delegates and deputies belong to the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), but the PCC really runs the election process, plus governs the country de facto. Therefore, all levels of government of the popular power are subordinate to the PCC. In fact, party militancy is often a relevant qualification when proposing a candidate for delegate.

In the succinct proposal process, selection of the candidates and voting for the delegates of the electoral districts, all “democratic possibilities” are exhausted. Cubans are deprived of their legal capacity to choose, not just a President to rule the country for a reasonable defined period, but they won’t be able to opt directly for governor of their municipal district, city, or the province where they reside.

The “delegate” thus embodies the living exponent of the beginning and the end of the (popular) citizen power in Cuba. In this way, from the actual implementation of the first revolutionary electoral system, established in 1976, Cubans have strictly voted for a district representative – barely a portion of a neighborhood – whose function is mainly centered on receiving complaints from his constituents and passing down to them the decisions or guidelines emanating from the Municipal Assembly. That’s where the functions and powers of electors and elected at the grassroots level cease.

A possible ban on using the Little Pioneers as agitators often sent by the presidents of polling stations to citizens’ homes to go to the polls

A few days after the decree for partial elections in April 2015, seminars have begun to be taught in the capital to those called “trios” – composed of three individuals, members of the Communist Party, subject to the municipal committee of the PCC – who are responsible for driving and controlling the grassroots electoral process.

At these seminars, the trios are being instructed in the new guidelines that will begin to be applied to Cuban elections, whose main component is the addition of two new figures: the observer and the supervisor. This information has not been published in the official media. Also not published to the seminar attendees is what organizations will be in charge of watching and supervising the elections in order to validate their transparency.

At this point we could only speculate that the Cuban government requested the presence of observers from allied organisms as the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) or the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA), since Cuba is not a member of the Organization of American States, an institution that has its own mechanisms for such effects. This will allow the Cuban government to evade the direct supervision of those entities more discerning in matters of democracy.

Another detail of these elections will possibly be banning the use of the Little Pioneers (i.e. children) as agitators, who are often sent by the presidents of the polling station to citizens’ homes to get them out to the polls, a practice guided by the directorate of the municipalities of the PCC to each electoral table, which has been in effect since the establishment of the system.

“In these elections, voters will not be able to be pressured to go to the polls so that election stations may close early,” an instructor of a seminar directed a large group of trios at the Centro-Habana municipality. He also made implicit reference to the coercion that has been exerted on the electorate – who sometimes vote as to “not stand out,” so their own will not be harmed, or with lesser knowledgeable sectors who might believe that voting is a mandatory exercise – when he stated that a voter may show up when he decides to do so, and that they should not be pressured into being forced to come out and vote. If 10 show up, then it will end up being 10. Whatever. Nobody is required to vote.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Yes to Regulation, No to Control / 14ymedio, Henry Constantin

Filmmaker Fernando Pérez during the interview with Henry Constantin
Filmmaker Fernando Pérez during the interview with Henry Constantin

14ymedio, Henry Constantin, Camagüey, 21 January 2015 — I interviewed Fernando Pérez in a small room of that little movie theater is still left in Camagüey one day after the premiere of his latest production, La pared de las palabras (Wall of Words), a stellar film about which I didn’t ask a single question. I decided not to interview the film director and instead question the intellectual, the public figure who contributes more than just his works to the daily life of Cuba.

Fernando Pérez deserves, and can handle, any difficult question one can think of. His films, never boring and with noteworthy depth, reveal a certain level of social nonconformity and demonstrate high cinematographic and intellectual capacities that transform the slim and modest man into a very serious subject. Despite being thoroughly deserving, the cinematographer isn’t inflated with the airs of a great artist or a prominent public figure and treats with kindness both his public and the press. continue reading

I had to ask him a complicated or daring question in the scarce minutes of my interview because there was little I hadn’t heard following his eloquent speeches before the camagüeyano audiences that had welcomed him in various places throughout the day.

Constantin. Following the prohibition of privately owned movie theaters, do you, cinematographers, still include in your proposals for the Cinema Law the independent distribution and showing of films?

Peréz. We’ve advanced a proposal that, of course, includes the distribution, showing, and preservation of our patrimony.

Regarding showings, there are very few venues that meet the requirements of a real movie theater. There are generations of youths that don’t know what a real movie theater is, even in a moment where the ways of showing and distributing films have diversified, for better or for worse. Rescuing the quality of movie theaters is fundamental. I can watch a movie in a smaller screen, on a laptop even, I don’t oppose that, but its true place is in a movie theater, not because it’s dark or because it is projected on a larger screen, it’s because of the energy generated from watching it alongside a live audience. It’s as if you were living within another movie altogether. Our movie theaters have either lost their intended purpose at the expense of other varied activities or, due to decay, have ceased to operate completely.

“Personal initiative would generate better results than having to wait for centralized decisions to be passed down.”

On the other hand, distribution is still centralized within The Cuban Institute of Cinematographic Art and Industry (ICAIC). We need to debate an editorial policy that is concrete and safe because there are national works – and I’m not talking about the international ones – that are not shown due to an editorial policy that is unclear. That needs to be regulated as well; it can’t be subjected to circumstantial or temporary decisions.

Q. Does your proposed Cinema Law conceive the ICAIC as the sole entity charged with distributing and showing films in Cuba?

A. Not exactly, although we don’t have all the answers, but distributing and showing is an extensive process that depends on a financial framework that we neither manage nor will. But, we are considering and analyzing the possibility of a breakup, a decentralization of many of these activities, where independent initiatives, regulated but not controlled, can generate improvements and also experience a more dynamic growth themselves.

I think that beyond Cuba’s audiovisual industry, having a centralized pyramidal social structure has caused many aspects of our reality to be plagued by processes that delay, that don’t find solutions, that aren’t dynamic, and that are bureaucratized because they depend on centralized decisions that cannot respond to everything. More freedom to operate and act would facilitate personal initiative, and personal initiative would generate better results than having to wait for centralized decisions to be passed down.

This structural relaxation has to somehow be envisioned as part of the system we would like to have. I can’t give you concrete solutions because we are, in fact, debating. We don’t want them to come only from us; we want to explore them with other regulatory entities in our country. Not everything will be feasible immediately.

We feel like that policy is not yet outlined, or like we don’t know where it’s going, or that it’s too centralized, that it starts on a routinely straight line that is very difficult to divert.

“Maybe Tania foresaw that it wouldn’t happen and that was the real performance, none at all.”

Q. From what I’ve seen within your work, you strike me as a person who believes that art can serve to change the world you live in. How do you see the relationship between art and politics?

A. Art needs to relate and mingle with life and also have its own discourse within that relationship, holding the person at the center of it all. While politics delves into the general, art targets the particular. Politics can serve art, by always upholding the freedom of expression that art needs, and art can serve politics, by rendering its reality more complex without becoming propaganda. If art becomes political propaganda, its reach becomes limited.

Q. I asked you that question because I was interested in knowing your opinion regarding Tania Bruguera’s performance and all that occurred around it.

A. Tania Bruguera’s situation has been very, very, very complicated. I think that it is possible that at some point an open microphone can be placed on Revolution Square. What happened was that Tania proposed it at a time when she knew it wasn’t possible. For a performance to have a deliberate result, it needs to account for its possible reach. Maybe Tania foresaw that it wouldn’t happen and that was the real performance, none at all. So, the performance was the whole process, the waves of detentions, censorship… it wasn’t the microphone for people to speak through. That will happen someday, but not now.

Translated by Fernando Fornaris