The Pope Will Meet With Fidel Castro According To ‘Vatican Insider’ / 14ymedio

Altar being prepared for the Pope in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana (Luz Escobar)
Altar being prepared for the Pope in the Plaza of the Revolution in Havana (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 7 September 2015 — Pope Francis will meet with the Cuban president, Fidel Castro, during his upcoming trip to the island, scheduled from 19 to 22 September, as revealed on Monday on the site Vatican Insider.

In the article, it is explained that the Vatican requested the meeting, which has received the green light from the authorities of the Island. The details of the meeting, to be held in Havana are still unknown.

Sources close to the papal entourage consulted by Vatican Insider say there is a good atmosphere for the agreement to kept.

The former Cuban leader was received at the Vatican in 1996 by then Pope John Paul II, whom he met with again two years later in Havana. After this visit, then Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio led a task force to analyze the teaching of the Polish pope in the country. In 2012, Fidel Castro also met with Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to the island.

Sketch For A Debate On Inequality / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Social differences (Photo Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)
Social differences (Photo Reinaldo Escobar / 14ymedio)

Regina Coyula, Havana, 5 September 2015 — The distinguished researcher Pedro Monreal in his interesting work Social Inequality In Cuba, Triumphal March? which I recommend reading, notes that there is no scientific evidence to support that economic decentralization brings inequality. The inequalities are not the result of economic adjustments implemented in recent years. They are older; only now they are more, greater and more visible. While I do not have a scientific formula, observation of the environment allows one to also diagnose with sufficient empirical logic that Cuban society is experiencing rising inequality.

Economic policy has served to widen the gap between different income levels, more evident since the expansion of self-employment. Previous policies, in their intent to reduce this gap, had the dubious achievement of making a clean sweep downwards, that is, impoverishment. Improvisation and voluntarism still have their day and have been a constant which economists and planners have had to deal with. continue reading

Privileging the term social justice rather than the equality offers better perspectives

The full social equality, liberty and dignity that so many talk about, are relative concepts in our society; the so-called “circumstantial necessity” of inequality seems much more permanent; social equality rests in equality of opportunities, but not of possibilities. To privilege the term “social justice” before that of equality offers better perspectives.

If I understood the Palma coefficient correctly as an indicator of the degree of inequality comparing the richest 10% of society and the poorest 40%; in the study of the statistics a comparative analysis with similar strata of society before the economic crisis of the ‘90s and before the triumph of the Revolution in 1959 cannot be omitted.

Beyond production and productivity, a source of income that has nothing to do with work is remittances—money sent from family or friends abroad. Any citizen who receives just 100 CUC a month lives notably better than the immense majority of Cubans. Nor should we forget the point that remittances are received mostly by residents of the capital and by white people, and the terms of this paragraph are very important when speaking of inequality.

Let passion blind no one: mismanagement of the economy has been the responsibility of the socialist government, no matter how many attacks, “blockades” and “media campaigns against Cuba” have been generated from the exterior. It is not enough to have guaranteed health care, education and social security prior to our hitting bottom in the crisis of the ‘90s, after the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

The disappearance of Soviet subsidies exposed the vulnerability and the ineffectiveness of the domestic economy; not only had the national project that would bring welfare and justice not been achieved, but along the way, the social cost meant a loss of freedoms, moral and material impoverishment, and massive emigration. This is not the idea of a successful naitonal project.

Policy changes often create expectations that end up being disappointed

Monreal discusses the overlap between the political analysis of inequality and economic analysis. Like the academic adventure itself, policy changes often create expectations that end up being disappointed. I believe that this element, which refers directly to a criticism of the government, is intended to avoid leaving the analysis in the field of the economists.

To mention the Battle of Ideas* strikes a dissonant tone in a study of inequality, because that effort absorbed substantial economic resources for an exclusively political objective. These unknown and difficult to measure figures impede the calculation of a cost-benefit balance, but I have not the least doubt that those resources would have been much better employed had they been used for the construction and repair of houses, for one example.

It will be very hard for the socialist vision to see the workers happy to offer their skins for tanning – according to the Marxist allegory cited by Monreal – if in that way they can finish the month without “production failures” or “diversion of resources.”

This will happen with the coming of foreign businesses paying poverty-level wages, relative to their countries of origin, but yet much higher than current Cuban wages. This is what happened in Vietnam and China, now “revisionists” (a word now fallen into oblivion but so in vogue in the sixties and seventies of the last century) with respect to Marxist theory.

Without proof, I say this more as an observation and common sense, my impression is that Cubans are not entirely satisfied with the maxim “better the known evil”… and feel inclined to take risks and test their strengths in the vagaries of an open economy, and perhaps in this way, feel themselves to be less unequal.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro coined the term “Battle of Ideas” during the custody battle over the Elian Gonzalez, the 6-year-old lone survivor of a group of Cuban rafters, rescued off the coast of Florida in 2008.


The Arrogance of “Forgiveness” / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Pope Francis I at the European Parliament last November. (Flickr / CC)
Pope Francis I at the European Parliament last November. (Flickr / CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 September 2015 – Pope Francis has just taken an extraordinary step: he has arranged for the Catholic Church to grant forgiveness to women who had abortions during the Holy Year (December 8, 2015 to December 20, 2016) provided they are sincerely repentant of it. This is a temporary authorization for the clergy to exercise love and the infinite mercy of God.

Only time will tell if such a decision, included in the changes launched by Bergoglio since his ascension to the Papal throne, will turn out to be temporary or more permanent in character. However, we must recognize that the step taken by the pontiff is, at minimum, bold. It could not be otherwise, if he really intends to carry out a process that places the Catholic Church — essentially backward — on track to assimilate the dynamics of the twenty-first century, when religious scholastic pruderies are being relegated in the presence of new realities that pose real challenges to old moral orders, such as this and other controversial issues, including the recognition of gay rights and gay marriage.  continue reading

Two thousand years of successful existence suggest that Catholicism has sufficient resources and intellect to adapt to changes

Two thousand years of successful existence suggest that Catholicism has sufficient resources and wisdom to adapt to changes. In fact, no other religion has a political structure as organized as to form a State, and one of the oldest in Europe at that. Let’s hope that it will finally start moving towards this globalized world without any major setbacks.

Good for Francis, who has chosen to stick his neck out for issues so difficult to reconcile, such as the right to life that those condemning abortion proclaim, and the right of women to make decisions over motherhood and their own wombs, a battle that millions of women and Western society feminist movements emphatically defend.

As usually happens with controversial issues, the Pope’s stance is provoking mixed reactions. Those who consider this a cosmetic measure have criticized the move. Others hold that the Church has finally begun to delve into issues that are being discussed at the global level on which there is no consensus. 

We females are much more than mere uterine containers over which male arrogance may decide

In fairness, it is needless to say that the Catholic Church could not do any more, especially when it is an institution so hampered by machismo throwbacks, such as the myth of virginity, celibacy, the exclusion of ordination of women to address parishioners as priests, subordination of nuns to the male clergy and other equally discriminatory practices. But the Church’s truly revolutionary position in this case means a step back in feminine objectives. What political power can claim the right to decide about motherhood?

In any case, the debate on abortion falls, first and foremost, to women, and they should be the ones who ultimately decide on their bodies and the consequences arising from their nature as receptacles for the reproduction of human life. Women are much more than mere uterine containers over which male arrogance may decide. So, the position of “forgiveness” of the stiff Catholic Church is appreciated, but it would be necessary to establish the “guilt” beforehand. It is not clear how the lords of the Church, so far removed from sexual matters and procreation of children in their celibate world could discern this particular point. By the way, perhaps ending celibacy would be a good starting place for the updating of the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, the merciful ecclesiastical forgiveness will be barely a good gesture for the faithful who submit themselves to punishment and remorse for ever having the ability to have decided over their fertility. It will have, above all, symbolic value as a point of departure from the old dogmas. No more.

The mere word “forgiveness” contains a world of arrogance under a cloak of apparent generosity

It is not that abortion, legal or not, is good. Radical measures never are. But it is undeniable that women’s freedom of choice about motherhood is, as is the choice to terminate an unwanted pregnancy safely and with the greatest assurance for her own life. This has cost centuries of struggle and countless women’s deaths in clandestine clinics, or as a result of malpractice, often carried out without a modicum of the requirements of health and hygiene. Because there has always been and will always be women who, for countless reasons, opt for abortion in given circumstances that no one, other than they, should judge.

I think the mere word “forgiveness” contains a world of arrogance under a cloak of apparent generosity. Forgiveness presupposes the existence of a morally superior entity fully entitled to label the actions and lives of others, and so arrogant in his own narcissism that he attributes himself the virtue to absolve the supposed sins of others. If indeed there is a God in heaven, He should punish such a great vanity.

Although, on second thought, we women should be generous with the Catholic Church. Let us thank the good intentions of having had, for the first time in centuries, the delicacy of directing its eyes toward us, those eyes usually focused up on high sacred and mundane grounds. Those who have faith in God should pray, pray lots, to save the souls of those men who, with or without cassocks, continue to use our status as fertile females to carry out their politicking. Amen.

‘Art With Consequences’, Tania Bruguera’s First Conference Outside Cuba / 14ymedio

The group of Yale World Fellows for 2015, including the artist Tania Bruguera (Top row, 2nd from right). (Yale University)
The group of Yale World Fellows for 2015, including the artist Tania Bruguera (Top row, 2nd from right). (Yale University)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 4 September 2015 — “When politics meets art the aesthetic defines its relevance, when art meets politics ethics can not be avoided.” So begins the announcement for Tania Bruguera’s presentation this coming September 15 at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie (New York).

Entitled ‘AEST-ethics’: Art with Consequences, it is the first public event featuring the artist outside of Cuba since her recent forced stay in that country, and is part of the Antonio Márquez Lecture Series organized by the university on the occasion of Hispanic Heritage Month.

“Political art is art that has consequences. The ethics, the conduct and the specific political moment are some of the materials that are spokesperson uses today to create an art that works politically,” reads the statement.

Bruguera is currently engaged in an year-long artist-in-residence engagement in New York and is helping that city’s Office of Immigrant Affairs recruit undocumented immigrants for the idNYC Program, which aims to provide identification cards to all residents of the Big Apple.

The artist finally obtained her passport on 11 July, after being detained by the Cuban government last December, when he was arrested before making a performance of political art in Havana, and has since suffered several clashes with State Security.  On June 8 the artist was detained along with 47 Ladies in White at the exit of Santa Rita Church in the Havana municipality of Playa.

A few weeks earlier, during the activities of the Havana Biennial, Bruguera decided to pay tribute to Hannah Arendt with more than 100 consecutive hours of reading, analysis and discussion of the book The Origins of Totalitarianism. The event was hijacked by successive incidents police pressure, a noisy street repair outside the home of the artist, and the subsequent arrest of her and several companions.

Chilean Congressman Among Those Arrested In The March Of The Ladies In White / 14ymedio

Chilean congressman Felipe Kast (center right) and Antonio Rodiles (center) marching together in Havana. (14ymedio)
Chilean congressman Felipe Kast (center right) and Antonio Rodiles (center) marching together in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 September 2015 – This Sunday 49 Ladies in White and 15 activists marched along Fifth Avenue in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood, surrounded by a strong police operation. At the end of the pilgrimage they were arrested and sent in a bus to whereabouts unknown.

Among those detained was the Chilean member of congress Felipe Kast, from the EVOPOLI party, who accompanied the march. The incident happened hours after the Chilean Foreign Minister, Heraldo Muñoz, ended his official visit to Cuba along with a Chilean delegation made up of officials of the Chilean government, and representatives from 35 businesses and trade associations.

According to what a source close the Chilean congressman told 14ymedio, Kast was detained for several hours before being released, around 4:00 in the afternoon local time. One released he was taken to Jose Marti International Airport where he left for Santiago de Chile that same afternoon.

Beginning early in the morning, the dissident Martha Beatriz Roque warned of “a police deployment around Santa Rita Church.” The activist detailed that the “repressive forces” were positioned on 3rd, 7th and 31st streets, to block regme opponents from accessing the place.

Meanwhile, the regime opponent Angel Moya denounced that there had been 20 arrests of the Ladies and White and other activists, hours before the beginning of the Sunday march.

In the town of Colón, Matanzas, independent journalist Ivan Hernandez Carrillo reported that 10 Ladies in White marched “for the release of political prisoners, followed by plainclothes police,” with no arrests reported.

Betrayals / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

A Cuban doctor in Pernambuco, Brazil (photo flickr)
A Cuban doctor in Pernambuco, Brazil (photo flickr)

14ymedio biggerReinaldo Escobar, Mexico City, 5 September 2015 – A long time ago, I can’t remember where, I read a phrase that said, “When you have to choose between two betrayals you will recognize that you are lost.”

The label of “traitor” has been used indiscriminately in Cuba during the last half century, by the government propaganda machine, to “disqualify” anyone who express their discontent with the policies of the Communist Party, as well as against those officials, artists, athletes and doctors who have made the decision to abandon some “mission” abroad, with the intention to restart their lives outside of Cuba. continue reading

In most cases, these decisions involve family dramas and the relocation of the “deserter,” sometimes temporarily, other times permanently, into a workplace far from their capabilities and personal ambitions. However, the hemorrhaging of talent does not stop and at times increases in a threatening manner.

If Cuba had not lost all the creative potential that has chosen emigration, today we would be one of the countries with the greatest human capital in the world. Because, unfortunately, those who leave are the entrepreneurs, those with the necessary self-esteem to believe, right or wrong, that they can survive and thrive in a competitive environment.

All of them had to choose between two betrayals, one against the system that supposedly formed them and one which they would have made against themselves if they had remained faithful to a project they had stopped believing in.

If Cuba had not lost all the creative potential that has chosen emigration, today we would be one of the countries with the greatest human capital in the world.

After having tried every arbitrary measure possible to prevent doctors from abandoning the country, the Cuban government just announced that “Health professionals (…) have the opportunity, if they wish, to rejoin our National Health System” and in a parallel manner they let be known other immigration modifications to increase the grounds for repatriation of other emigrants who are affected by the restrictions.

Now, in a gesture promoted as an act of generosity on the part of the Revolution, they are trying to replace Cubans who once escaped in search of better destinations, in a situation to reverse what the government classified as treason but which, in the majority of cases, was simply the renouncing of wearing a mask.

The question is, why not just once and for all abolish all the absurd migratory restrictions; why can’t Cubans see in their country a safe and welcoming home to return to and leave whenever they want, and for whatever length of time best suits them.

The Cuban government is the one who is lost, not because it must choose between two betrayals, but because it cannot allow itself the luxury of choosing to respect the most elemental rights. They have no choice but to change everything or to continue to behave as vulgar dictators.

The Scandal of the Conflict and the General’s Silence / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

The lifeless body of Diomar Tarcisio Arenas Sanguino is transferred through the fence that separates the countries of Venezuela and Colombia. Arenas died of appendicitis in Guasdualito, Táchira, after failing to receive adequate treatment just for being Colombian, said his sister Sulbey Arenas. (EFE / Mauricio Duenas Castaneda)
The lifeless body of Diomar Tarcisio Arenas Sanguino is transferred through the fence that separates the countries of Venezuela and Colombia. Arenas died of appendicitis in Guasdualito, Táchira, after failing to receive adequate treatment just for being Colombian, said his sister Sulbey Arenas. (EFE / Mauricio Duenas Castaneda)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 September 2015 — The paranoid frenzy of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has reached delirium levels, and now, in the midst of the crisis taking place on the border between his country and Colombia, and in the course of his untimely visit to Vietnam, geographically removed from the diplomatic cloud of dust he provoked, he appeared on Hanoi national television and took the opportunity to accuse Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, of “turning a blind eye” to the campaign which – he claims to have proof — is being orchestrated in Bogota to kill him.

What began a few years ago as innocent conversations with a bird Maduro claimed to be the ghost of his tutor, the late Hugo Chávez, has ended up becoming a sequence of hallucinations about a true international conspiracy to assassinate him – since he is so famous and important — and destroy the Bolivarian Revolution, as if he himself hadn’t wholeheartedly taken on responsibility for that task. continue reading

In addition to all this, he is calling for Latin American and Caribbean nations to help Colombia confront the last decade’s flow of “humanitarian exodus” of Colombians to Venezuela, as they flee “from drug trafficking, paramilitaries, war, famine, homelessness and inhumanity.” Maduro chose to be discreet about the increasing emigration of his nationals to the United States and other destinations, as well as shortages, rising poverty, violence, insecurity and the power of armed groups known as “colectivos” in Venezuela, who kill, terrorize and repress with total impunity.

Meanwhile, the Colombian President has accused his Venezuelan counterpart of causing the humanitarian crisis on the border, by deporting (“repatriating”) over a thousand Colombians settled in Venezuelan soil in that area, and also precipitating the exodus of another 7,000, who chose to return to Colombia rather than to suffer the same fate as their compatriots.

Maduro chose to be discreet about the increasing emigration of his nationals to the United States and other destinations, as well as shortages, rising poverty, violence, insecurity and the power of armed groups known as “colectivos”

At the same time, it has become known that Colombian authorities are prepared to grant citizenship to Venezuelans who are a part of the Colombian families deported by Maduro.
In the midst of such a delicate situation, which must be settled at the September 3rd meeting of the Union of South Nations (UNASUR), after Colombia’s failed request for a meeting of foreign ministers of the Organization of American States (OAS), analysts are wondering how the diplomatic conflict between the two governments will affect talks on the peace process between the Colombian Government and representatives of the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) being held in Havana, in which the Venezuelan government is acting as mediator.

Another conjecture tat intrigues public opinion is the role the government of Cuban General-President Raúl Castro will play in the conflict, given the close relationship and influence which, according to rumors, Havana supremacy brandishes over its Venezuelan counterpart. In any case, the absence of a clear official statement on the Cuban position on this conflict raises a few eyebrows.

However, it is known that the Palace of the Revolution octogenarians are masters of conspiracy, and generally choose to wait out the course of events and possible outcomes before making statements in order to adjust the tone and commitments according to their own interests.

Presumably, in sharp contrast to the chaos of the Venezuelan president, the Cuban General-President will try to maintain a reasonable balance.

However, it has also come to light that Cuban doctors on missions in Venezuela have received guidelines to act “in defense of the Bolivarian revolution” in case of an armed conflict and, according to the official Cuban media, Cuban doctors who carry out their professional duties in the border area of Táchira are continuing to provide their services without interruption, despite the “state of emergency” declared by President Nicolas Maduro, counter to the irregularities that have taken place from this conflict.

Nor is difficult to guess on whose side the sympathies of the leadership of the Cuban power rest, especially when there are reservations about the possible role it played in the steps taken by the Venezuelan president regarding the closure of the border there. In any case, Venezuela remains an important card to the Cuban government as long as there is no verified effective progress in its new relations with the US, and as long as the long-awaited investment of foreign capital in Cuba has not taken place.

We mustn’t forget that the forces that oppose “normalization” and the lifting of the embargo between the circles of political power in the US hang, like the sword of Damocles, over the controversial process of talks between Havana and Washington. Presumably, in sharp contrast to the chaos of the Venezuelan president, the Cuban General-President is trying to maintain a reasonable balance, weighing every step. A collision against Colombia and its allies may be as risky as turning its back on Chavez’s deranged heir. Because, as clearly as an old Spanish proverb indicates: A bird in the hand is worth more than a hundred in flight.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“You Have To Eat A Bread That Has Dignity” / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Baker Alberto Gonzalez in front of 'Salchipizza’s' oven. (14ymedio)
Baker Alberto Gonzalez in front of ‘Salchipizza’s’ oven. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 4 September 2015 — I just wanted to reach Carlos III Avenue. Pass quickly through Infanta Street, avoiding the propped up arcades, to catch a collective taxi and go home. This street, named for royalty, is too woven into the memories of my childhood not to lament every pothole, every sewer leak draining across the sidewalks, every balcony on the point of collapse. However, this week the avenue had a surprise for me, in the shape of a smile and the aroma of bread.

Alberto Gonzalez is an entrepreneur, “a little crazy” say those who predicted he would never launch his artisan bakery, much less in a neighborhood where many eat this staple only through their meager portion from the ration market. Determination, stubbornness and a good dose of optimism have combined so that Salchipizza, his private business, is efficient, well run, with varied offerings in the midst of this heir without the right to a throne that is Infanta Street. continue reading

Amid the bustle of customers who come to buy, Alberto gave me a moment for this interview about his personal history, the obstacles faced by the self-employed, and his dreams for the future. It comes to 14ymedio readers with the freshness of bread just out of the oven.

Yoani Sanchez. Chemical engineer, specialist in water treatment, and emigrant living in Italy for 14 years. Why did you return to Cuba?

Alberto Gonzalez. For the values ​​we are losing and because of the poor diet on the island. We Cubans eat anything. I think to open a business in a place as central as this, 562 Infanta Street between Valle and Zapata, I can help rescue those values, that culinary tradition that we have always had. A Cuban child today doesn’t know what an apple is, what bread tastes like… they only know what pizza is, or a hamburger.

A Cuban child today doesn’t know what an apple is, what bread tastes like… they only know pizza… a hamburger.

Sanchez. And why did you choose to open a bakery, when you trained as a chef and even achieved a Michelin star?

Gonzalez. I ask myself that question. Why bread? If someone searches the internet for the phrase “breads of Cuba” almost nothing shows up in the results. It is an offense that we don’t have on this island something that identifies us with respect to bread. When bread is identity, union, family.

Sanchez. Anything emotional uniting the flour, the yeast, the oven?

Gonzalez. When my grandmother died in 2011, the last phrase she uttered in life was “this is not bread.” She was in the hospital, very sick with cancer and I returned from Italy to see her at the hospital. She asked me for a piece of bread and I bought her one from one of the Sylvain bakeries. When I gave it to her to try she said, “This is not bread.” Then I ran home to knead her a special one, with her recipe for “whole wheat bread,” but she died before she could eat it. Because of this I told myself, “If I open a business in Cuba it will be to make bread.”

Sanchez. Why locate the bakery in Central Havana, a neighborhood with such precarious material circumstances?

“My biggest dream is to stand in a plaza and cook for thousands of Cubans. Whether in the Plaza of the Revolution with a giant kitchen, or in Infanta Street.”

Gonzalez. If someone wants to do something beautiful, they must start with the most ugly part. The values of the human being that we must rescue first are here. Here, people with a piece of high quality bread can begin to save themselves, to rediscover their values. It is not only about filling a hole of hunger with bread, but it has this personality. You have to eat a bread with dignity.

Sanchez. Is there a touch of madness in the decision to open this business?

Gonzalez. Yes, it’s crazy to go back to the raw ingredients. It is crazy to open a business as small as this, without resources, without knowing where you can find ingredients and having to deal with the amount of culinary ignorance on all sides.

Sanchez. I see on the menu you have cornbread, fine herbs, eggplant, fennel seed cookies and even whole wheat bread. How do you maintain such a range in the midst of the food shortages this country is experiencing?

Gonzalez. I am in the process of repatriation to Cuba and that only allows me periods of ninety days in my own country. After that the current law forces me to leave, so I go to Mexico and bring in many of the seeds, flours for those suffering from celiac disease, whole wheat, in my personal luggage.

Sanchez. What do you most need to bring in from abroad?

Gonzalez. Finocchietto (fennel), a very tasty seed that we put in some cookies.

Sanchez. You have an image here with a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. with his most famous phrase. And the dream of Alberto Gonzalez? What is it?

'Salchipizza' Bread, owned by Alberto Gonzalez. (14ymedio)
‘Salchipizza’ Bread, owned by Alberto Gonzalez. (14ymedio)

Gonzalez. My biggest dream is to stand in a plaza and cook for thousands of Cubans. Whether in the Plaza of the Revolution with a giant kitchen, or in Infanta Street. To unite all the cooks in Cuba to make a dish together and to have people come and eat for free.

Sanchez. What would you make in that case?

Gonzalez. A dish that unites Italy and Cuba: cornmeal made ​​with cheese and crab.

Sanchez. What is the main obstacle to private sector development and entrepreneurship in Cuba?

Gonzalez. The raw materials and inspectors. They still haven’t authorized wholesale markets to sell raw materials and they don’t allow self-employed people to import commercial products. There is no stability in the quality of the products. Sometimes the flour is good, other times it’s terrible. So I go to Mexico to bring the “core” and the yeast, which lets me make a higher yield bread than we offer. It I want to maintain my offerings I have to do it this way, because it’s very clear to me that the continuity of the product makes the work excellent.

Those are the major obstacles and also the taxes. For example, I have to pay a large sum—about three thousand Cuban pesos—on electricity for the oven, but I hoped that to pay taxes and be a good contributor, this bill would come with certain benefits, with discounts, but it’s not like that.

Sanchez. Are you licensed for a “bakery”?

“My license is for ‘preparer of light food.’ There is no license for a bakery. So I am always afraid of being told, ‘You can not continue in this occupation’.”

Gonzalez. The license is very general: “preparer of light food,” not something specific to bake and sell bread. There is no a license to own a bakery. So I am always afraid of being told “you cannot continue in this occupation.” I went several times to the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT) to see if they could make any adjustment in the law, but it’s still the same.

Sanchez. This coming October 10 is Salchipizza’s first birthday. What is your assessment of the health of the business?

Gonzalez. I rate it as good, because I have made myself known to people. This coming year I will sell a little more.

Sanchez. A tip for those who want to open a business in Cuba?

Gonzalez. That they think twice: first, “think about it”; two “think about it” … Three, “see if you can open it.”

Material Shortages in Schools Hinder the Development of Values / 14ymedio, Orlando Palma

Delivered school supplies to children in primary education. (Luz Escobar)
Delivered school supplies to children in primary education. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Orlando Palma, Havana, 1 September 2015 – Early Tuesday morning the bell rang for the first morning of the school year in more than 10,300 schools throughout the country. All eyes are now focused on the availability of teachers at the front of the classroom, the material conditions of the schools, and the epidemiological questions in those provinces affected by dengue fever and cholera. However, the most titanic task that faces the Ministry of Education is to meet the commitment to develop values in children and young people.

Ena Elsa Velázquez Cobiella, head of the branch, has made frequent calls in recent weeks for vocational training of students, working with families, and the transmission of ethical and moral values ​​within the school. The greatest difficulty on the path to this achievement is the limited training of many teachers and the lack of incentive provided by teachers’ salaries, say parents and teachers. continue reading

“My daughter has a Spanish and literature teacher who has never read Don Quixote,” says an astonished mother of a teenage daughter in the 9th grade at a basic secondary school in Old Havana. The family has tried to alleviate the poor training of the teacher by paying for hours of study with a tutor. “He worked in a high school and gave excellent classes, but can’t stand being in education any more,” the lady says about this particular teacher.

“In these times with the internet and technology we should have more support from these novelties in our classes,” says Mario

To cover the shortage of teachers in the capital, they have mobilized more than 3,000 teachers from other provinces. The measure doesn’t please many, nor does it resolve the situation. “It seems incredible that they have to bring people from other places, with what that costs, instead of raising the salaries of those here,” complains Roberto, a retired teacher who spent a good part of his working life in an elementary school in Central Havana.

The salary of a secondary school teacher does not exceed 600 Cuban pesos a month, less than 30 dollars. The union demands a salary increase, especially after the increase in salaries in the in Ministry of Public Health, but their demands are whispered and not published in the official press.

“The doctors care for the bodies of people, we feed their souls, so they should also increase our salaries,” explains Mario, a history teacher at Santa Clara High School, who has more than once cherished the idea of leaving the classroom. “I would leave my house to sell lollipops, which would certainly earn me more and I would have more peace of mind.”

The material situation of the schools of education also discourages professionals in the sector. “In these times with the internet and technology we should have more support from these novelties in our classes,” says Mario. “Can you imagine how I could teach my students about the scenes of historic battles through Google Earth,” he adds.

In schools across the whole the country, there is a total of 61,908 computers. There is no need to do complicated calculations to know that this means six computers for each campus throughout the Island. However, 64% of these are more than 12 years old, and so barely function with the most modern programs. And in most cases they only have access to a local intranet.

Many teaching assistants or recent graduates fill in for the absence of professionals with more teaching experience

Teachers also complain about the accumulation of extra-curricular tasks that have been added to their teaching activities. “Many meetings, too many lists and tables to prepare and reports to write. We have almost no time to prepare for classes,” says a teacher at José Miguel Pérez High School in the Plaza municipality.

The picture is not very different in higher education. This September 1st the university classrooms hosted more than 170,000 students throughout the country, 33,000 of them new entrants. Many teaching assistants or recent graduates fill in for the absence of professionals with more teaching experience.

Despite an investment of around 20 million pesos for university campus repairs, the situation of the furniture and the infrastructure still presents many shortcomings. In the worst situations there are student dorms with serious problems with the plumbing, windows and woodwork.

“Developing values is very difficult, because we have other emergencies,” concludes a teaching assistant at José Luis Arruñada elementary school. Behind her, a line of children in recently-ironed uniforms looks forward to entering the classroom. September has returned.

UNPACU asks the Pope for Solidarity with the Oppressed / 14ymedio

Building the stand in Havana's Plaza of the Revolution for the papal visit. (Luz Escobar)
Building the stand in Havana’s Plaza of the Revolution for the papal visit. (Luz Escobar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 3 September 2015 – The executive secretary of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), Jose Daniel Ferrer, sent Pope Francis in a letter published this Thursday on the organization’s website, to warn him that on his upcoming visit to the island he is going to find a scenario very similar in many aspects to that observed by his predecessors on previous visits to Cuba. The activist asked the pontiff for “a gesture of solidarity in defense of the oppressed.”

“From the visit of Karol J. Wojtyla to date, the world has opened itself to Cuba, but the Cuban government, in a reticent way, appears to open itself to the world, while at the same time continues to be closed to the feeling of an entire people and continues to deny rights and freedoms without which the happiness and well-being of nations and of the individual are impossible,” he writes. continue reading

Ferrer argues that those who speak of “reforms” on the island exaggerate, and that “the measures taken by the government are still insufficient, they do not go to the root of the problem.” However, he adds, that something has, indeed, changed substantially: the mentality of the people. “The majority already say that what they feel and want is profound changes. The fear of repression, little by little, is being overcome,” he added.

The UNPACU secretary argues that the Cuban people suffer not only widespread material misery, a product of decades of the centralized economy, but also, and above all, the lack “of the precious gift of Freedom.” He also regrets that the spaces of association and participation for civil society “continue to be disjointed and stranded,” and he asks the pope for a “gesture” to support the building of a nation on the basis “of freedom and solidarity.”

“You can intercede and advocate for the rights of the oppressed, and in Cuba we are the majority,” he affirms, asking support for the release of political prisoners and for the end to arbitrary detentions of peaceful activists.

In addition, Ferrer explains that many members of the organization, as well as other groups of independent civil society, wish to attend the masses that the pope will celebrate during his stay in Cuba, between 19 and 22 September, but “the secret political police will prevent it, as happened during the visit of Benedict XVI.”

Leftist Imperialism In Latin America / 14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea

Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera. (Wikicommons)
Bolivian Vice President Alvaro Garcia Linera. (Wikicommons)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Jose Gabriel Barrenchea, Santa Clara, 24 August 2015 –One morning, I had just arrived at the Cabaña Fort during the days of the 2014 Havana International Book Fair, and on consulting the daily program discovered that at this very moment the Bolivian vice president Alvara Garcia Linera was offering a videoconference in the Lezama Lima Room. The room was full of Bolivian civilians and Cuban military, who in a state of excitement not very common to a book fair, were cheering with the veins in their necks bulging every time Linera showed on a map a piece of territory which, according to him, one of his neighbors had grabbed from Bolivia.

According to Linera, absolutely all the countries bordering Bolivia had participated in this plundering. In fact, according to his speech, almost half of South America legally belonged to his country which, more than Andean – and in this he was explicit – was by right Amazonian. continue reading

The truth is that, despite all the supposed integrationist advances in Latin America, territorial or maritime claims are the order of the day. This persistence is due to the Latin American tendency to use the differences that these claims generate to divert public attention from domestic policies. There is no Latin American government, elected or imposed, of the left or the right, which in the face of a scenario of enormous popular disapproval doesn’t immediately look at a piece of territory that, supposedly or truly, some neighbor grabbed at some time in their history.

No Latin American government in the face of massive popular disapproval fails to remember the piece of land that a neighbor grabbed at some point in its history

The most emblematic case is the invasion of the Falkland Islands by Argentina’s military dictatorship which was foundering in a difficult economic and social internal situation. Emblematic because not only did it go beyond threats and rhetoric, but because the opponent was nothing more than one of the nations with the strongest fighting traditions and most prominent navies in human history: the United Kingdom.

The most recent, and the most pathetic (not to say cowardly), is the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, with its pretension to claim from a much poorer country a piece of its territory rich in petroleum. A piece that, incidentally, represents half of Guyana. Thus, after the Chavez-Maduroism of the last two decades launching continuous and daily diatribes against imperialism, now takes off the mask and behaves like it actually is: a deeply ideological imperialist.

Thus, we can see the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela now practicing a blackmail diplomacy throughout the Caribbean, in a manner more unsubtle than almost anything Washington has done in its entire history.

How can we reconcile the integrationist Venezuelan discourse with this despicable and cowardly act? It does not make demands of the power of Great Britain, but rather of the poorest country that emerged through independence from that colonial power. Nothing changes, they shout to the four winds, with the resources in dispute in Venezuelan hands as they will also be available to the Guyanese people thanks to the extensive cooperation with the country “in solidarity.” On the contrary, this justification better shows the true nature of the “integrationism” and the Chavez-Maduro solidarity. It is Maduro’s Venezuela that decides and has the last word. In the end is it not our oil? Well do and think as we dictate from the Caracas fascism… I’m sorry, the socialism of the 21st century.

Venezuela seeks to strip from Guyana, a much poorer country, a piece of its oil-rich territory

The ultimate reasons for this infamy are the same ones that led Galtieri to assault the Falklands in 1982. With a barrel of oil under 38 dollars, and with increasingly meager support, Chavez-Maduroism seeks to distract attention from the difficult internal situation and, at the same time, put Venezuela in a state of war that gives it a free hand to close the few remaining spaces for democracy in the country. Because something that must be understood by the opponents to Chavez-Maduroism who, however, support this imperialist adventure: the principal objective is nothing more than to annul them as opponents, presenting the opposition attitude as treason “at such difficult times.”

The fear is that attitudes like that of Chavez-Maduro’s Venezuela are being repeated by other leftist regimes in these difficult times for them in the region. It should not surprise us when very soon the president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, sitting on an erupting volcano, remembers the half of the country that Peru snatched from Ecuador more than a hundred years ago. As for the land of the “Great Indian Chief of the South,” Bolivia, we have already mentioned where the ideas of Linera have currency, his Great White Brain: a guy to be reckoned with and a bomb thrower.

A Child Writes the Tragedy of a People in the Sand / 14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez

Front page of Spain's El Pais, 3 September
Front page of Spain’s El Pais, 3 September

I am innocent and I have come to the seashore 
Gaston Baquero

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, 3 September 2015 – There is a boy on the beach, he does not move, he does not smile, he does not build sand castles. The life of Aylan Kurdi has been brief: only three years, but the drama of his people has lasted decades, centuries. A tragedy that sheds light on the displaced, on wars, on the overwhelming economic contrasts that mark this planet. The little head that rests in the sand encompasses the pain of those who flee, who leave everything behind, but who never arrive at their destination.

A people who escapes always understands better another who emigrates. They know the pain of saying goodbye to things that are left behind. Goodbye table. Goodbye tree. Goodbye window, from which every day they gaze upon the sunrise, and the horror. Goodbye friends. There is always a touch of innocence, of blind hope in those who leave, as if they are filled with the certainty that they will reach the other side. continue reading

The Mediterranean smells like a cemetery these days. In its water float many of those whose geographic fatality left them trapped in a war and who decided to do what human beings have learned from the days of the caves: find a save place, protect your family by taking it to a place far from danger. But the world now has borders, customs, immigration officials who inspect passports and, above all, the fear of those who come from a distant place, great fear.

The odyssey of Syria and other places in Africa belongs to everyone. Every inhabitant of this planet has a share of the responsibility

The odyssey of Syria and other places in Africa belongs to everyone. Every inhabitant of this planet has a share of the responsibility for those countries that are being dismantled right now, wracked by lawlessness, the brutality of the Islamic State and material scarcities. It is not only Europe’s responsibility to help ease this humanitarian situation and to shelter people desperate to emigrate. Where is the solidarity of other continents? Why do we not hear of the governments of Latin America, Asia, North America or far off Australia offering asylum quotas for those who flee?

The historical debt to Africa is one we all carry on our backs. When we enjoy the beauty of an ancient temple erected with the sweat of its people, or savor a spoonful of sugar bought at the cost of lashes and death for centuries. Even when we remember the applause we dedicated to the Arab Spring; that moment when the citizens of the region rocked the dictators and took to the streets with their cellphones and their enthusiasm, confident that a new era was beginning.

The solution to the immigration crisis that is engulfing the old continent should not be left only in the hands of those at the emergency summit called by the European Commission for 14 September. This problem must involve the greater share of the governments on the planet. Including the countries that people escape from every day, like this island in the Caribbean whose Mediterranean is the Florida Straits. No one should be oblivious to the drama of a boy dead on edge of the beach.

The Language in the Struggle for Democratization / 14ymedio, Pedro Campos

Graffiti of a tall Christmas tree painted over the initials of the Committee for Defense of the Revolution
Graffiti of a tall Christmas tree painted over the initials of the Committee for Defense of the Revolution

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pedro Campos, Havana, 1 September 2015 — If for you revolution is taking up arms on a hill and facing the bullets of power, for one of your interlocutors it is an act in which the masses take to the streets to change one government and impose another and for a third participating, it is the process of changes in the relationships of production, you and your other two interlocutors will have a hard time understanding any discussion on the topic.

We can say the same with regards to socialism, capitalism, democracy and another set of basic terms of today’s politics. It will be very necessary for us to agree first on what we mean by each of those words, if we are to reach broader agreements. Achieving this implies opening ourselves to different positions. continue reading

Likewise, we can speak of a positive language and a negative language. When someone shows themselves to be in favor of something it can be heard by someone who doesn’t think the same and can find points of agreement. But if a person or group defines themselves as against such a thing, they may begin by saying, “I totally disagree with you,” “you are completely wrong,” “with you there is nothing to discuss.” In fact, it is assuming an attitude of opposition and confrontation that impedes approaching and interacting directly with regards to that thing or person.

For the anti’s, those who are against it, the solution is generally the elimination of the contrary, the adversary, and not in its assimilation, in its dissolution into something new and everything is subordinated to this elimination, especially the methods to achieve it.

When the goal is to do away with the contrary, the objective itself determines how to do it and compels the methods of suppression, the use of violence. Consequently, almost always it generates a natural force of reaction in the object to be suppressed; force that often is superior to what it is opposing and so send up defeating the anti.

The study of history shows that if indeed many changes were achieved through violence, in practice these changes were already being developed

The study of history shows that if, indeed, many changes were achieved through violence, in practice these changes come already developed and settled; only those interested in rapidly provoking them turn to violence to achieve their objectives and end up with the contrary.

History also teaches us that many of those violent changes were not strong and lasting precisely because they had been precipitated – still not having created the conditions adequate for their full development – and they can only be sustained by continued violence. When violence ceases to be exercised in such conditions, generally the changes are reversed. Ergo: changes imposed, changes reversed.

It is not taking an anti-Castro, anti-communist, counterrevolutionary position – or whatever you want to call it – for those interested in the democratization of Cuban society to pursue it. Between an anti-something position and democracy there are insurmountable contradictions, precisely because anti implies suppression and elimination and democracy is not about suppressions or exclusions, but about a coordination among positions, including contradictory ones, and about inclusions and taking into account the interests of everyone.

One of the great masters of Cuban diplomacy, Professor D’Estefano, who died years ago, in one of his lectures on negotiations back in the seventies, taught us his “theory of ham loaf.” In a negotiation you cannot get everything all at once, just line you can’t eat a ham loaf in one bite, but if you take it slice by slice, you can eat the whole thing.

In this democratization of Cuba, those who have tried to eat the entire ham loaf in one go have always fallen into a grave error that has led to failure. No, gentlemen. This has to be done step by step. Not “with many pauses and no hurry,” but with negotiations, making progress slowly, not imposing positions, much less trying to suppress contrary positions.

In this democratization of Cuba, those who have tried to eat the entire ham loaf in one go have always fallen into a grave error that has led to failure.

Democracy can also be reversible when it is imposed, when it has not been preceded by a process of social and economic education. This is what we have seen in many countries where governments come to power by democratic means and then act like others that came into power through violence and end up hijacking the power of the people for partisan ends or for elites.

It is time for those who consider themselves sincere fighters for democracy in Cuba to begin to act with more consequence, intelligence and wisdom, to think more about the way, the methods, to achieve their objectives, rather than continue to consider themselves opponents, anti’s, enemies of the established power and to seek its elimination, to look for ways to negotiate a process of democratization with it that is inclusive, something everyone can agree on.

But if it is assumed there will be no democracy if the Castro tyranny does not first come to an end, then there will be no negotiation, no agreement, no peace process, no achieving the desired democracy. Why see this objective as a precondition and not as a result, where everything will end up changing?

I offer these ideas not that many of us are trying to come to an agreement about how to advance the process of democratization in Cuba. If everyone interested in democracy on the island doesn’t learn these lessons of history, they may have to resign themselves to standing firm for 50 more years in their “anti-Castro positions.”

From the movement for democratic socialism, I support the idea of a dialog involving all Cubans, and also those interested within the government-party-state, without anyone dominating it, where we all work together for the democratization of Cuban society. And if someone wants to remain outside this process by their own choice, that will their responsibility.

Why see this objective as a precondition and not as a result, where everything will end up changing?

In this struggle for democratization, we subordinate many other parts of our program to this objective that we now consider primary and supreme. We hope that all those sincerely interested in this process consider this elementary principle of coordination.

And I emphasize “coordinate” because it is not the same “to coordinate,” “to come together” — said José Martí — maintaining our identity and seeking points in common, as to fuse homogeneously into something that will later only serve hegemonic groups and over the long term, because the internal contradictions are not adequately developed, and they try to cut it short “for the sake of unity.” Is it necessary to recall recent disappointments of our history in this sense?

For the sake of the efforts being that are being undertaken no one is trying to impose straitjackets; no one is trying to distort the meaning of the words. If we have problems with the language and semiotics, let us first agree on that and then discuss the issues. Negotiate, negotiate and negotiate is what we must do.

Recently the Roundtable of Democratic Action Unit (some of us preferred another name) was established in Havana, and in Puerto Rico an important meeting was held with many Cubans from inside and outside the island who are interested in achieving democracy in Cuba. In order for these coordination efforts to make a positive contribution to the process of democratization, we must take into account all these historical lessons.

For the most positive forces of the government-party-state to not see “the enemy” in these movements and look for ways for their involvement, the first thing is not to present ourselves as such and to take a proactive position.

Cuban Bank Will Lend To Private Sector Without Collateral / EFE, 14ymedio

Long lines outside a bank branch Infanta Street in Havana. (14ymedio)
Long lines outside a bank branch Infanta Street in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE / 14ymedio, Havana, 2 September 2015 — The self-employed in Cuba may borrow up to 10,000 Cuban pesos ($400 US) without submitting financial guarantees or guarantors, and the loan may be approved within three days, the official media reported today on the island.

The measure by the People’s Saving Bank (BPA), which operates throughout the country except in Havana, will take as a guarantee a “developing” savings account, explained Greicher La Nuez, BPA’s director of Business Banking to the State National Information Agency.

The deposit will contribute to the amortization of the debt (if the payments are 200 pesos a month, 50 will remain in the account), said the functionary, who said that the accumulated savings could serve as backing for another loan, once the first loan is paid off. continue reading

Cuban banking authorities – who recognize that this operation is “risky” – say they will perform a “rigorous analysis” of the feasibility of the borrower’s business and its “chance of success,” as well as the applicant’s history, before issuing the loan.

Among the relaxations that benefit this “growing economic sector,” BPA increased the “grace period” and the repayment period (previously five years and now up to ten), as well as “reduced the minimum credit threshold and the cumbersome documentation.”

The Cuban State banking entity also recently allowed its municipal branches to offer credits of up to 100,000 pesos ($4000 US) – the previous figure was 20,000 – “without requiring higher levels of authorization,” according to BPA’s management.

Some 2,482 self-employed people applied for loans to “buy goods and maerials” at the end of this last July, said the note, that insists on the “reduction” of this number in the midst of the boom experienced by the private sector thanks to the economic reforms initiated by Raul Castro’s government in 2010.

According to official data, the number of self-employed in Cuba surpassed half million at the end of May of this year, for a total of 504,613, a figure that keeps rising.

Self-employment or the expansion of the private sector is one of the main measures taken by Raul Castro in his plan of reforms to “upgrade” the economic model of the island.

Cuban State Enterprises: Compete Or Die / 14ymedio

The general secretary of the Workers' Central Union of Cuba, Ulises Guillarte on the program 'Good Morning'.
The general secretary of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba, Ulises Guillarte on the program ‘Good Morning’.

14ymedio biggerCuban state enterprises, the cornerstone of the country’s centralized economy, could be about to suffer a major setback with a new review process. The inspection that concludes this coming November will evaluate those entities that present losses and could determine to do away with many of them, according to a report this Monday in Trabajadores (Workers).

Among the measures to be adopted against the enterprises that do not demonstrate profitability will also be the redefinition of their organizational structures and the salaries of their workers. The analysis should conclude before the next session of the parliament, this year’s last, to be held in December.

continue reading

The general secretary of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba (CTC), Ulises Guillarte De Nacimiento – who is also a member of the Council of State – alerted the official press that the country is heading towards “an economic context in which monopolies will in no way prevail.” He made a call to “promote creative thinking about the enterprise system to generate competitiveness.”

Among the measures to be adopted against the enterprises that do not show profitability, will also be the redefinition of their organizational structures and salaries of their workers.

In remarks punctuated with the words “profit,” “results” and “efficiency,” the official addressed the issue of granting new powers to state sector enterprises seeking greater autonomy and flexibility. While acknowledging that by their specific nature some enterprises may operate at a loss, he affirmed that keeping them would require “approval from (…) the Council of Ministers”.

The mission of unions during this process, according Guillarte De Nacimiento, will be to oversee a “continued raising of the rigor of the evaluation of these enterprises and to mobilize the workers’ collectives to bring to the fore potential reserves of efficiency.”

The union leader did not mention, however, that the workers could reject or discuss the definition of “not profitable” assigned to their company, nor that they could demand compensation or indemnification in cases of loss of employment. The CTC will place itself, in this situation, on the side of the management of the entities reviewed and the directives that come from the State.

However, Guillarte De Nacimiento acknowledged that “in the end it is the workers who pay the consequences, because their incomes are effected when an enterprise does not achieved the planned results.”