There’s No Nostalgia Worse Than Longing for What Never Happened

That obsessive search of a mythical golden age that Donald Trump repeats in his speeches has to do with a characteristic of the conservative personality. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Donald Trump is wrong when he declares that his intention is to Make America Great Again. When has the country ever been in better shape and its society more comfortable? When have its Armed Forces been more feared and more powerful, endowed with an annual budget of 600 billion dollars, an amount greater than that of all its enemies combined? If someone knows, it’s urgent that we do away with the doubt.

In the 1930s came the Great Depression, caused by the Wall Street collapse. In the 1940s came the Second World War, immediately followed by the Cold War and the fall of China into communist hands. In the peaceable 1950s,cradled in the tranquilizing arms of Eisenhower, after Korea and its tens of thousands of dead Americans, came the unrest in the Middle East and the ominous national practices to survive a possible Soviet nuclear attack. continue reading

The 1960s brought race riots, Vietnam and government lies. In the 1970s, Nixon imploded, and at the end of the decade, in the Carter era, bank interest rates climbed to 20 percent, the economy suffered from “stagflation” and it seemed that the period of democracy was coming to an end, overrun by Soviet collectivism. A little later, however, Mikhail Gorbachev buried the Soviet Union and communism was relegated to two loony bins without any real importance: Cuba and North Korea. (In China and Vietnam today we find another genre of dictatorship, distanced from Marxist superstitions.)

In the United States, people’s life expectancy has risen, as has happened in almost the whole world, sparked, in large part, by the country’s medical discoveries. Homes are larger and are furnished with all kinds of electrical appliances (even among the poorest social groups); food, including junk food, is so abundant and so cheap that the country’s great problem is not hunger but obesity and a progressive increase in diabetes.

The poor — approximately 15 percent of the population — are poor because a family of four receives “only” about $24,000 a year, plus food stamps. Everyone — the poor, the middle class and the rich — has access to electricity, the Internet, drinking water, clothing, cell phones, transportation, schools, state or private universities that award scholarships to the best students and loans to almost everyone, police protection, reasonably efficient judicial systems and opportunities to work and move ahead.

True, the United States has problems, but they have always existed. It is a free society, complex and plural, with 325 million inhabitants, of whom more than 42 million are Afro-Americans and more than 57 million are Hispanics, whose representatives maintain order with a much discussed and debated punitive strategy where approximately three million are incarcerated.

It is also true that the quality of students decreases while the cost of tuition increases, but the country has the 25 best university and research centers on the planet. Simultaneously, there is no universal health insurance, medicines are expensive and malignant drugs cause deadly damage (never better said). The latter — the drugs — are linked to the fact that in some cities there are areas of extreme violence with very high rates of homicide. However, the United States remains a fundamentally free country and one full of opportunities.

That explains why millions of human beings try to settle in this country. There is no better index of the relative quality of a society than the presence of immigrants. The United States is a magnet because the American Dream is alive. As it was in Venezuela until Chavismo came. As it was in Cuba until Castro crushed the dream that one could prosper through one’s own efforts. As it was in Argentina, until Peronism ruined that great nation with its populist message, intermingled with fascism. The immigration balance of these three countries was very favorable until the ideological stupidity and barbarism destroyed the productive apparatus and pulverized coexistence.

It is true that there are places where life is better in some aspects than in the United States (half of Europe, including Spain, perhaps in Israel or Japan, because quality of life does not depend only on material issues), but perhaps in none of them can immigrants can establish themselves like in the USA, where in the last elections two senators, children of immigrants, aspired to the presidency, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, while the story of newcomers and their descendants who succeed is repeated again and again as a permanent mantra.

In the 15th Century, the Spanish poet Jorge Manrique, moved by the death of his father, Rodrigo, wrote a great poem with a melancholy ill-thought verse: “Any time in the past was better.” Not true. In those societies, such as the United States, where an institutional continuity exists despite the reversals and bad junctures, they manage to prosper in a constant manner, making themselves true progressives, an adjective that countries and parties that progress least often usurp.

Probably that obsessive pursuit of a mythical Golden Age that Trump keeps repeating in his speeches has to do with a characteristic of the conservative personality. Conservatives tend to be pessimists. They invariably see the glass half empty and become frightened when they see an ethnically diverse society, more tolerant in sexual and religious matters, in which the norms of behavior, from strident and rude music to tattoos, are very different from what they learned in a safe childhood of white and Christian homes.

Conservatives associate the profile of society with their own biography. In the past, they were young and handsome. Today, they are old, wrinkled and ugly. The past was better, they believe. That’s not true. It was different. Another poet, a singer named Joaquín Sabina, has expressed it in a very popular song: “There’s no worse nostalgia than longing for what never happened.” This is what is happening to Donald Trump.

Note: Portions of this translation taken from The Latin American Herald.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

We Are All Norwegians

The president of the United States, Donald Trump, wants only blond, tall, orderly, hard-working, educated and clean people, like the Norwegians, to emigrate to the US. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerDonald Trump would like Norwegian immigrants. Blond, tall, orderly, hard-working, educated and clean people. Successful people with whom he shares physical features and certain traits. But it’s unlikely that he’ll have any luck. Today, Norwegians enjoy a standard of living higher than Americans and find that in their democratic, free and peaceful homeland there are plenty of opportunities to improve themselves by their own efforts. They have no reason to emigrate. Almost no one likes to depart for destinations unknown.

In contrast, fate (or geography, which is almost always the same) has delivered to Trump Mexican, Brazilian, Guatemalan, Cuban, Puerto Rican, Dominican, Honduran, Haitian, Colombian and — lately — Venezuelan immigrants and other “shitty people” who flee from their failed societies in search of security and progress. (“Shithole” people is the denigrating and unfair term put into service by the president of the United States himself in a conversation that allegedly was private.) continue reading

In reality, two thirds of the world’s population are much closer to the “shitty” people than to Norwegians. A lax description of the societies in India, Pakistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, China, the Arab and sub-Saharan nations, a part of Europe, Russia and Latin America would elicit from Trump the same offensive definition he utilized for Salvadorans, Haitians and Africans.

In any case, it is absurd to think that the solution to problems is in social homogeneity. Sharing a single race, a single religion, a single language only guarantees us boredom, monotony and abuse. That’s the road to Nazism and the extermination of different people. The glorious message of republican ideas and parliamentary monarchies is that diversity is not only inevitable but also very convenient.

The 1790 census in the United States tallied roughly 4 million white Americans, almost all of English and Irish origin, and half a million black slaves. Only a handful of native Americans remained, and they weren’t even counted. In 2018, we have 325 million people, of whom 72 percent are white, 13 percent black and 16 percent Hispanic, a strange definition that is attributable to the European colonizer.

This enormous leap has been achieved while the country rose to the head of the planet. In 1890, the United States already was the world’s largest economy. After more than a century, it continues to be, although it grows at the rate of only 2 percent a year. This means that, at least until today, the machine that turns “shitty” people into productive and wealth-producing citizens has worked splendidly, an extreme that should not surprise us. The species is the same. What changes is the circumstances, the incentives and the institutions.

The children of the Polish or Russian peasants, in numerous cases born in tiny Jewish villages, or shtetls, became renowned doctors, lawyers and scholars of all kinds. The Indians, fragmented into 200 castes in their homeland, were the segment with the highest level of income in the United States. The second generation of Cubans, whose fathers had turned their island into an unproductive collectivist disaster, attained a high degree of education and economic performance.

What I mean to say is that the United States does not need Norwegians. It needs institutions, fair laws, opportunities for newcomers to develop, and moral and material incentives for individual enterprise. If that holds, the Haitians will slowly become Norwegians, even though they’ll keep their ethnic features.

After all, today’s admirable Norwegians were once fierce Vikings, crass and brutal, who had a bad habit of spitting into the bathtub where they washed off the blood and mud that covered them after they exterminated their adversaries. That’s when the Norwegians were shitty people.

Note: Translation from El Blog de Montaner


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The Man of the Year and the Usual Vice

To avoid the sentence of 19 years in prison, Marcelo Odebrecht has betrayed his accomplices in his capacity as an “effective collaborator of justice.” (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 31 December 2017 — Marcelo Odebrecht is the man of the year in Latin America. This Brazilian engineer born in 1968, grandson of the founder of a huge business conglomerate, is the prince of the planet’s bribe-mongers. To avoid a sentence of 19 years in prison, something he accomplished just a few days ago, he has betrayed his accomplices in his capacity as an “effective collaborator of justice,” destabilizing many of our countries, showing (much to their dismay) the miseries and cynicism of many politicians and officials.

The Odebrecht Organization was a huge civil engineering company, with almost 200,000 workers and a turnover of more than 40 billion dollars, of which it has already lost a third. It operated in a score of countries, some of them with a GDP lower than the company’s income, but the bulk of its operations and its bribes were carried out in Brazil.

It distributed a total of about one billion dollars. In absolute terms, the most corrupt country outside Brazil was Venezuela (98 million), something totally predictable, because its government is a kind of vile toilet, but the Latin American nations that received the most per capita in bribes were Panama (59 million) and the Dominican Republic (92 million). continue reading

The modus operandi was simple. The Odebrecht men detected a candidate with possibilities and began to negotiate. Brazil had large advertising and magnificent campaign cabinets. That great expertise was placed at the service of the person chosen together with important amounts to cover the cost of the operation.

All that the candidate had to do, once elected at the polls, was to approve the large budgets and entrust Odebrecht with the execution of the planned public works. The enormous amount was paid for by the taxes paid by the people or by loans that would have to be faced someday.

The Odebrecht Brazilians, on the other hand, did a good job on the roads, tunnels or whatever, and took care to pay seriously what was agreed to in Switzerland, in Andorra or in some other tax haven, carefully organizing the logistics of corruption. They kept their word. Theirs was not to deceive politicians or to rob the thieves, but to provide them with the famous secret slogan of “steal, but produce,” while increasing the turnover year after year.

You could trust the words of mobsters endowed with silk ties and five thousand dollar suits. They lacked ideological color. Without the slightest scruple they agreed with Venezuelan Nicolás Maduro or the Ecuadorian Jorge Glas, Rafael Correa’s vice president — apostles of 21st Century Socialism — natural enemies of the private market economy, of which the Odebrecht company was the quintessence.

The problem, of course, is not Odebrecht, but the mentality that prevails in Latin America. On a more modest scale, it is like this, through bribes, small or large, that most of our governments have worked since time immemorial, with a terrible aggravation: our societies do not care. Corruption appears at the end of the list of the evils that should be eradicated in most surveys. In Mexico they have come to affirm, seriously, that “corruption is just another way of distributing income.”

Why does this lack of principles happen in our world? Maybe, because most of the Ibero-Americans — including the Brazilians — do not perceive clearly that public money is contributed by all of us and corruption is as if they had put their hands in our pockets and stolen our wallets. What happens with the State does not concern us.

Perhaps, because the cynicism is total and we take for granted that the government is going to steal and it does not worry us, as long as it is “our own” that is enriched with the resources of others. We are victims of a clear moral anomie.

Undoubtedly, because patronage, that small bribe granted by the government, is a form of corruption, a type of harmful behavior, in which millions of Latin Americans are trained.

That is why it is not surprising that, despite Lava Jato (Wash the Calf), as the judicial operation against corruption was called in Brazil, once again they chose Lula da Silva, who today heads the polls despite his dirty business. Years ago the Peronists in neighboring Argentina said in a graffiti that time has not erased and that reveals the drama at the heart of it: “Sodomite or thief we want Perón.”


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Rehearsal for a Civilized Divorce

The secession of any Spanish region would have to be a rational and consensual decision within a law that took into account a measure that would affect future generations. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Miami, Carlos Alberto Montaner, 17 December 2017 — On Dec. 21, the residents of Catalonia will vote again. Few international news have generated so much interest among Latin Americans as those emerging from Spain. I don’t say “the Catalans” because (as it should be) all the Spanish citizens living in the four Catalonian provinces — Barcelona, Lérida, Gerona and Tarragona — have been summoned to the polls. And I’m talking about a territory of 32,000 km2 similar to that of Belgium, with a population of 7.5 million similar to that of Israel and a First-World GNP measured in a purchasing power of 43,000 dollars, approximately like Canada’s.

My interest in this subject transcends journalism. In addition to having spent the best 40 years of my life in Madrid, I aver that a substantial part of my family comes from the Leridan Pyrenees, including Andorra or Lloret de Mar (Gerona). Four sisters of my maternal grandfather inaugurated genital nationalism in Havana. They remained spinsters in Cuba, lamenting (in Catalan) that they couldn’t find Catalonian men to marry, even though they made periodic trips to Barcelona for the purpose of kidnapping them and taking them back to the island. They failed. They died virgins and martyrs (I believe) many decades ago. continue reading

The surveys show pro-Spain voters in a slight majority, generally contented with liberal democracy (which, I admit, pleases me) dispersed in a broad framework that ranges from the conservative right of the Popular Party to the leftist Socialist Workers Party of Spain, which occasionally is vegetarian and social-democratic, although sometimes it experiences carnivore spasms and bites in radical hunger. Add to this the liberal center of Ciudadanos (Citizens), the group that might earn the most votes, which in no way guarantees that it will be able to form a government. The right is inconvenienced by its existence and the left detests it.

Although the purpose of the elections is to give a legitimate government to a region whose bosses have been ousted for violating the existing legality, Tyrians and Trojans (though they will not officially admit it) will interpret the outcome as if it were a nonbinding plebiscite on independence and we’ll go back to the starting point. Childish though it may seem, there is no emotion more powerful and tenacious than nationalism. Trying to decapitate it is futile; it always reappears. So, the wisest course is to learn to coexist with the phenomenon and keep the blood from spilling into the river.

That is why I believe the reasonable thing to do is to open a Constitutional door to the pro-sovereignty crowd so they can leave, if they ever manage to permanently build a majority decisive enough to achieve their separatist objective.

I see Catalonia as part of an unequal Spain, created in olden days with different contributions, so I’d love to see it remain inside the common nation, but — because it’s a sentimental, not a legal issue — the most important factor is how the Catalans see themselves, not how we see them from the outside.

It’s like a divorce. It took the Spaniards (and some Latin Americans) far too long to admit that the decision to remain together belongs to the married couple, not the family. Any region of Spain should be given the chance to separate from the whole of the government to which it belongs. (Five regions are essentially differentiated: Catalonia, the Basque provinces, Galicia, the Canary Islands and the vast Spanish zone that includes the rest of the country.) Most likely, that “open door,” far from exacerbating the recurring calls for independence, will tone them down.

Because I know the history of Cuba, I know that Spain’s refusal to replicate the relaxed relationship between the United Kingdom and Canada sparked the final and definitive War of Independence. Perhaps a larger dose of self-government for Cuba might have prevented the war, the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine and the disaster of 1898.

Cuba — especially Havana — was and felt reasonably Spanish, but the politicians in Madrid made that relationship impossible, perhaps because of the uncontrollable turbulence of a nation that in a few years went through the trauma of the end of the Bourbon dynasty, the enthronement of a luckless Italian prince, the chaos of the First Republic, and the shady deals of the Restoration. There wasn’t enough tranquillity to act wisely.

Of course, the secession of any Spanish region would have to be a rational and consensual decision within a law that took into account a measure that would affect future generations. That would require a pro-independence majority of 60 percent, the approval in two consecutive plebiscites held during two separate legislative sessions to prevent conjuctural and insufficiently pondered reactions, and the economic consequences of any rupture, which must be previously analyzed. The parties must determine how the common goods will be divided and who will pay for the onerous cost of separation. Exactly the same as happens in any civilized divorce.


The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

One Year Without Fidel

The rock containing Fidel’s ashes.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, 19 February 2017 — It has been one year since Fidel’s death was announced. It seems like a century ago. For more than a decade, from July 26, 2006 to Nov. 25, 2016, he lived with one foot in the grave. That slow-motion agony was very useful to his brother Raúl. It served to fasten him to the presidential chair and allowed Cubans to adapt to his control while he gained power and surrounded himself with people he trusted.

Raúl is president because that’s what Fidel decided. He may have seemed a mediocre person to Fidel, without savvy and without charisma, but he was absolutely loyal, a virtue that paranoid people value far above all the others, so Fidel fabricated a biography for him to turn him into his shield bearer. He dragged him into the revolution. Made him commander. Made him defense minister. Made him vice president, and finally bequeathed to him the power, initiating the Castro dynasty. continue reading

Since then, Raúl has governed with his familial retinue. With his daughter Mariela, a restless and plain-speaking sexologist. With his son, Col. Alejandro Castro Espín, educated in the KGB’s intelligence schools. With his grandson and bodyguard Raúl Guillermo Rodríguez Castro, son of Deborah. With his son-in-law or former son-in-law (nobody knows if he’s still married to Deborah or if they divorced), Gen. Luis Alberto Rodríguez López-Calleja, head of GAESA, the main holding of the Cuban chiefs of staff.

Those are the people who govern with Raúl, but they have three very serious problems. The most important is that very few believers in the system remain in Cuba. Sixty years of disaster are too many to stay faithful to that folly. Raúl himself lost his confidence in the system in the 1980s, when he sent many army officers to European centers to learn management and marketing techniques.

Why should the Cuban brass learn those disciplines well? To implement the “Military Capitalism of State,” Cuba’s only and devastating intellectual contribution to post-communism. The State reserves to itself the 2,500 midsize and major enterprises of the productive apparatus (hotels, banks, rum distilleries, breweries, cement factories, steel plants, ports and airports, etc.) directed by high-ranking military or former military officers. When these people cannot directly exploit an industry for lack of capital or expertise, they bring in a foreign partner to whom they promise ample profits, all the while watching him as if he were the worst of enemies.

Simultaneously, ordinary Cubans are barred from creating major businesses. They must limit themselves to running small places of service (restaurants), baking pizzas, frying croquettes or frying themselves driving taxis. They are forbidden to accumulate wealth or invest in new businesses, because the objective is not for entrepreneurial individuals to display their talent and keep the profits but to come up with the manual labor that the State cannot provide. In contrast with China, making money is a crime in Cuba. In other words, the worst of both worlds: statism controlled by the army brass and microcapitalism bound hands and feet.

The second problem is that the Communist Party means nothing to almost anyone in Cuba. In theory, communist parties are segregated by a doctrine (Marxism) that, after losing all meaning, turns the CP into a purely ritual affair. That’s what happened in the Soviet Union. Because nobody believed in the system, the CP was terminated by decree and 20 million people went home without shedding a tear.

The third is that Raúl is a very old man (86) who has promised to retire from the presidency on Feb. 24 next year, although he will probably remain ensconced in the party. In any case, how long can he live? Fidel lasted 90 years, but all you need to do is read his final screeds to understand that he had lost many of his faculties. The oldest Castro sibling, Ramón, died at age 91 but had spent many years crippled by senile dementia.

The sum of those three factors foretell a violent ending for Castroism, maybe at the hands of some army officer, unless Raúl Castro’s heir (officially Miguel Díaz Canel, the first vice president, but it could be someone else) opts for a true political opening and dismantles the system in an organized manner, to prevent a collapse that will destroy that fragile power structure.

That’s what the electoral process is supposed to do, but the Raulists have already barred the way to a hundred or so oppositionists who are willing to participate in the next election, while rejecting the referendum proposed by Rosa María Payá, daughter of Oswaldo Payá, a leader assassinated for asking for the same thing his daughter, bravely, is pleading for today.

In other words, Raúl will bequeath to his successor a terrible jolt. The dynasty will die with him.

Translation taken from Interamerican Institute for Democracy

A Hurricane Called Communism

An old woman sitting in front of her home waits for the electricity to return in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 17 September 2017 — In the middle of the hurricane I received a mysterious photo of Fidel Castro. At the top it said: “Fidel resurrected.” Below the portrait the mystery was clarified: “His name is Irma.” The Commander was reincarnated as a ferocious hurricane.

The joke has a serious basis Juan Manuel Cao, one of America TeVe’s leading journalists, explained it to me. Communism and hurricanes have many things in common. They leave society that suffers them without electricity, without food, without medicines, without clothes, without gasoline. The drinking water becomes an elusive trickle that fades with skill of Houdini. They are magicians. Everything disappears. Socialism is like this.

But both catastrophes differ in one key detail: hurricanes last only a few days and people look forward to the end of the water and the wind. Communism, on the other hand, lasts an eternity and, little by little, hopes of seeing the end vanish. We Cubans have been suffering for 58 years. Venezuelans, although they have not yet reached the sea of ​​happiness, as announced by Hugo Chávez, began the journey almost 20 years ago. They are already close to the goal. May God take them confessed. continue reading

The Cuban Human Rights Foundation, chaired by Tony Costa, in a bulletin written by the historian Juan Antonio Blanco, adds a forceful denunciation in response to statements by dictator Raul Castro. The general explained that almost all the resources available to Cuba in the last quarter of 2017 will be used to rebuild the hotel infrastructure destroyed by Hurricane Irma.

The companies, almost all foreign, co-directed by Cuban generals, will have priority. If a street or a building has to be fixed, a power line or telephone has to be fixed, it will not be the Cubans, but the foreigners. It has always been like this. It is the government, without consulting the citizens, who will decide how it will spend the resources generated by the work of Cubans.

When these catastrophes occur, the cruel absurdity of the systems in which the government, owner of all property, of all resources, and of all decision-making mechanisms, chooses the certain bad luck of its subjects.

In societies in which private property prevails, citizens protect their assets through insurance, and if they do not have it, they acquire loans to repair their homes or estates. They do not expect the State to solve their most urgent needs because they know, as Ronald Reagan used to say, that there is no more dangerous creature than the one who tells us: “I am a representative of the government and I have come to solve your problems.”

In Cuba there are thousands of victims of hurricanes that happened six, seven or ten years ago, and who continue to live in temporary shelters that are falling apart. Often the aid that comes from abroad is then sold in dollars in special stores.

I remember a shocking revelation made me by Jaime Ortega, very upset, who was then bishop and soon cardinal, in the nineties, at my house in Madrid: when Germany, already reunited, tried to give thousands of tons of powdered milk, to be distributed by the Catholic charity Caritas, and their diplomats in Havana learned that the government sold these coveted gifts, the indignant representative of the Cuban government, a deputy foreign trade minister named Raul Taladrid, on the instructions of Fidel Castro, uttered a tremendous sentence that should pass to the universal history of infamy: “Cuban children will drink water with ashes before milk distributed by the Church.”

Now it was Irma’s turn. Little by little the country will erode sharply, from hurricane to hurricane, from storm to storm, until it becomes an incomprehensible ruin, as long as the current system continues. I am not surprised by the bitter joke. Fidel reincarnated in “Irma.” Tomorrow it will be as “Manuel” or “Carmen.” Until Cuba is a fuzzy memory, or until this chastened society can get rid of the heavy chain and take the long road to national reconstruction away from the socialist utopia.

Trump and the Tweets of Wrath

Donald Trump (EFE)

14ymedio biggerAna Navarro, a CNN analyst, says that Donald Trump must stop behaving like a “mean girl.” She was referring to the president’s latest tweets against Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, hosts of Morning Joe, a popular morning show on MSNBC. Trump called Joe a “psycho” with low audience ratings (which is false). He called Mika a “crazy” woman with a “low IQ” (also false) whose face bled after a recent plastic surgery.

This is not a question of Trump against the leftist press. Ana Navarro is a Republican analyst, a lawyer, raised in Miami, former ambassador of Nicaragua, her native country, on the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, where she effectively defended dissidents and persecuted citizens of Cuba and other countries. Later, she was hired by CNN to tell her point of view, always moderately conservative, clever and amusing vs. other democratic versions farther to the left.

Scarborough and Brzezinski, a couple on-screen and off it, are also close to the Republican world although Mika is a Democrat. Before being a TV host, Joe was a lawyer, elected four times to the U.S. Congress by the Republican Party, to which he still belongs. Mika is the daughter of the late strategist Zbigniew Brzezinski, a professor at Columbia University and czar of U.S. diplomacy during the Jimmy Carter administration. continue reading

In the Spanish theater of the Renaissance, the word “decorum” described the congruence between the post held by a character and the language or costume used onstage. The list of Republican leaders concerned by the lack of decorum shown by President Trump is impressive: Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House; senators Lindsey Graham, Ben Sasse and John McCain; representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and I’ll stop writing names so as not to turn this article into a boring telephone book.

The argument made by Ana Navarro and numerous other Republican figures is that Trump’s behavior is not proper for a White House tenant. Just as, during the campaign, it was not proper to tack nicknames onto the names of adversaries or mock a critical journalist who suffered a neurological syndrome that produced spastic movements. That’s just not done. It’s something typical of yokels, not of true statesmen, even if it’s useful to gain the votes of a certain type of voter who lacks empathy.

In the 1950s there was a legend that the U.S. political parties might face off harshly, but when it came to National Security they acted in concert. Not true. It never was true. American parties are like other parties in the rest of the world and carry their conflicts everywhere.

Nevertheless, there is a fundamental difference in favor of the American experience. The legislators on the ruling benches in the U.S., both in the House and the Senate, are not obligated to obey the president when the time comes to vote. The idea of representative democracy in this country is that the politicians represent those who elected them, not the parties of which they’re members. For that reason, Trump — although he holds an absolute majority in both chambers — does not have the votes he needs to replace the health plan known as Obamacare.

I suspect that the conflict between Trump and the party that sponsored him will grow. That’s what a Republican congressman tried to say when he told me confidentially: “I can’t wait for the year 2020, when this nightmare will come to an end.” He was hoping that Trump will be a one-term president.

Translation from the Interamerican Institute for Democracy

Maduro Continues to Be a Danger for Everyone

Nicolas Maduro, President of Venezuela

14ymedio biggerCarlos Alberto Montaner, 2 April 2017 — Maduro changed course. The country’s Attorney General, Luisa Ortega Díaz, facilitated it on a silver platter. Surely it was prearranged. First, Nicolás Maduro eliminated any vestige of democracy in Venezuela. His hitmen in the Supreme Court of Justice took care of it by assuming all the duties of the National Assembly. It was to be their last maneuver. The dictatorship would continue, but now without pretending, and with an even tougher iron hand. The way was made clear to accuse the deputies of treason against the fatherland, or of anything else that came to mind.

They didn’t get away with it. National and international resistance became too strong. The congressman and the students took to the streets in protest. The latest step had been too impudent. Luis Almagro quickly set up the trenches at the OAS, while the PPK in Peru was practically breaking off relations, while Maduro’s allies –Leonel Fernández, Rodríguez Zapatero and Martín Torrijos– began to advise him that they could no longer join in this latest totalitarian twitch. continue reading

The operation to destroy the National Assembly began in earnest after the electoral defeat in December 2015. It was to be the Venezuelan version of the Nicaraguan piñata. It was then, during the few weeks that remained before the new Parliament was due to take charge, when, foot to the pedal, they undertook to reform the high echelon of the judicial branch, trampling on the Constitution and getting ready to govern by brute force as necessary.

And what does Raúl Castro think about all this? The bottom line is that the headquarters of 21st Century Socialism is in Havana. Nicolás Maduro is but a puppet (and a bad one at that) trained in the Marxist-Leninist workshops at the Cuban Communist Party’s School for Cadres, first suggested to Hugo Chávez by Fidel Castro.

To the Cuban intelligence services Maduro seemed to be a malleable and docile simpleton who speaks to the birds, and is much less corrupt and more tractable than say Adán Chávez, brother of the late Lieutenant Colonel. He was not perfect, but, from the available Venezuelans to choose from, he was the most useful to “the Cubans,” precisely on account of his weaknesses.

And what is going to happen now? Not much, unless the United States abandons its ridiculous attitude that “Venezuela is not a danger, but rather an inconvenience,” policy started during the Administration of George W. Bush and adopted by Barack Obama.

The government of Venezuela, although chaotic and disorganized, is a danger to the security of the United States due to its connections with Islamic terrorists and because of its military links to Iran and Hezbollah. It doesn’t have nuclear warheads but it possesses other means of severely harming its archenemy.

It is a danger because of its association with drug traffickers and for assigning some of its generals to be involved in this murderous trade. It is a danger because of its militant “anti-Yankeeism” always on the lookout for new conquests, and because it is one of the most corrupt nations on the face of the planet.

How does it help the Treasury Department in Washington to prosecute corruption by the heads of FIFA, the international soccer association, or a dozen bankers for laundering capital from the drug trade, as the DEA has denounced, if Venezuela is a narco-state working with impunity in all these activities while additionally openly helping the Colombian narco-guerrillas too?

Lastly, the government of Venezuela is endangering its own population, deliberately starved, while the country approaches a terrible humanitarian catastrophe with a lethal combination of terrible government and corruption. Hadn’t we come to the conclusion that we “have the duty to protect” the victims of these political horrors?

The United States is the only nation in the Americas with the strategic vision, resources, material wherewithal and sense of responsibility necessary to defend itself from its enemies and to formulate a “roadmap” as it is called today, intended to change a regime which greatly harms it and poisons all of Latin America too.

Perhaps it is not wise for the United States to eliminate its purchases of oil from Venezuela –the only cash source of income for the country– but it would be feasible to deposit the revenue from these transactions into an escrow account until the National Assembly certifies that Maduro’s behavior comports with constitutional norms. It would be an irresponsibility to feed an illegitimate government which usurps functions not within its purview.

It is not true that the Cold War completely ended. The USSR disappeared and with it the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe disappeared too, but the United States continues to have persistent enemies dedicated to fighting this country by any and all means. If Washington wishes to continue to be the head of the free world it cannot evade the Venezuelan issue. It has to step forward to lead the Continent. Nobody else can, or knows how, to undertake this task.

Note: English version from Montaner’s website

Ecuadoreans Are Gambling With Their Freedom / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa and presidential candidate Guillermo Lasso (

14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, 11 March 2017 — They are five: Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador. That’s the main nucleus of the 21st-Century Socialism countries. They have different economic structures and their governments manage the productive apparatus in diverse ways, but their rulers coincide on an essential aspect: they attained power so they could keep it permanently. Alternation in the tasks of governance seems to them a bourgeois foolishness to which they’re not willing to submit, even if they have to twist the laws or commit some form of fraud.

The Cuban dictatorship, which 58 years ago seized the country at gunpoint, declared in its Constitution that the Communist Party is the only institution permanently authorized to organize society — period. There is nothing to debate. Any vestige of pluralism is illegal and those who express their disconformity with that unnatural uniformity are worms at the service of imperialism who can — and should — be extirpated. That’s why they murdered Oswaldo Payá. continue reading

The other four countries, obligated by the peaceful and electoral manner in which they acceded governance, pretend to be liberal democracies with freedoms, separation of powers and periodic elections. But they don’t believe in those elements either, and are willing to turn a blind eye to these minor “formalities” or to convert the institutions of democracy into instruments of tyranny.

That’s what just happened in Ecuador. The first unsavory trick was to set the majority at 40 percent of the vote. They did that to adapt the balloting to the ceiling of the party in power and not to take a chance on a second round or runoff. Unless Pythagoras was pulling our leg, a majority is one-half-plus-one of the votes cast. Anything that disagrees with that way of counting is a subterfuge counter to decency and common sense.

But, because resistance to Rafael Correa is in crescendo, because more than half of the country is tired of his bullying, and because Ecuador’s economic situation gets worse each passing day as a consequence of the corruption and the exponential increase in public spending, it became evident that the government would not garner 40 percent of the vote, which meant that there would be a second round.

It was at that point that Rafael Correa and his Defense minister, Ricardo Patiño (Cuba’s man), decided to alter the results to exceed the dishonest percentage of 40. To that end, they took best advantage of their revolutionary rhetoric. The value of the Revolution and the glorious destiny of the socialist motherland rose above the petty will of a temporary majority that, in the future, would be grateful to them. How important was to alter a few tenths of a percentage when the fate of the Revolution was at stake?

Fortunately, they could not perpetrate their plans thanks to the vigilance of Gen. Luis Castro Ayala, inasmuch as the Constitution makes the Armed Forces the guarantors of any election. When the so-called “chain of custody” was lost (the transfer of votes to the National Electoral Council), the general realized that fraud was in the making, refused to be complicit to that shameful act and stood up to the plotters.

Castro Ayala saved the people’s will and went into history as a man of honor, but lost his post. Correa — despite alleging his friendship with the general and proclaiming, with some cynicism, his “deep sorrow” over his action — called for his resignation and placed at the head of the Armed Forces some officers who responded to his ideological line, which is also Patiño’s.

The Ecuadoreans will return to the ballot boxes. To win, and to make sure the election is not taken from them, they must count on two basic factors. First is the unequivocal and enthusiastic support of all democrats to the candidacy of opposition candidate Guillermo Lasso. Second is their willingness to defend their votes tooth and nail because 21st-Century Socialism is capable of any foul trick to cling to power.

One final and melancholy observation. Those socialists — who are totally unlike European social-democrats — are willing to commit any abuse in order to prevail. If they do prevail by hook or crook, they will speed their race toward tyranny, as happened in Maduro’s Venezuela. The Ecuadoreans are not just betting on a change of government; they’re gambling on their very freedom. In that country, democracy has an expiration date: April 2. After that date, night might fall forever.

Note: English translation from Montaner’s blog.

Rafael Correa and the Populist Syndrome / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Rafael Correa, President of Ecuador (Archive image / EFE)

14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, 25 February 2017 — On May 24, Rafael Correa will leave the presidency of Ecuador. Not long now. Don’t despair. I understand; the wait has been long and painful. He has spent a decade in power. On that day, whoever wins the April 2 runoff will take over the government. If the opposition democrats remain united, Guillermo Lasso should succeed him in the post.

Who is Rafael Correa, this contradictory personage who calls himself a neo-developer, a 21st-Century socialist, a Catholic supporter of Liberation Theology, a left-wing nationalist and who, on top of all that, sings and plays the guitar? continue reading

Are we in the presence of a communist disguised, as Fidel Castro was until he confessed his true militancy in 1961 after denying it half a dozen times?

I don’t think that Correa was a communist. It’s something else. Although he is a mediocre economist without original thinking, he knows enough to realize that Marx’s ideas are harebrained.

Despite his speech before the Comandante’s ashes in November 2016, filled with admiration and radicalism, Correa is the quintessential Latin American populist. How do we know this? We know it by a study of his symptoms. Populism is a syndrome.

There’s not the slightest contradiction here. The Castros and Rafael Correa are brothers in populist devotion, authoritarianism and histrionics. Correa is a Fidelista by reason of being a populist. Perón also sympathized with Fidel and vice versa, as did Mussolini and Lenin. They loved each other in secret, like bolero lyrics used to say.

Naturally, you can be a populist and a communist or fascist. Makes no difference. There are populists to the right and left of the political spectrum. Populism consists of government measures to seize power and hold on to it. It’s related to the deep psychology of the man in charge. In addition, there’s no dearth of democratic leaders and parties that, lamentably, exhibit some populist elements.

It’s a question of parallel forms of governance that include several defining features:

Strongman-ism with all its defects, such as narcissism.

Exclusivism (the others are always a bunch of scoundrels.)

Patronage, through the abundant use of subsidies.

An exacerbated nationalism that is mistaken for chauvinism.

“Adamism” (they believe that the nation’s real history began with them.)

Statism, given that they mistrust private enterprise.

Excessive public spending to hold on to their political clients, which usually results in kickbacks and other forms of corruption in addition to total ruination.

A rejection of the market and international commerce (Correa — like Trump, although on the opposite end — was an enemy of the North American Free Trade Agreement).

Caustic language and a total absence of any vestige of civic cordiality.

No question about it. Rafael Correa is more akin to the fascists than to the Marxist-Leninists. He shares much with Perón and Velasco Alvarado, that ignorant Peruvian general who destroyed his country’s economy with populist measures.

Correa is a strongman convinced that he holds all the truths and that his adversaries are despicable people. Whosoever holds or expresses a different idea is a rascal who must be insulted and — if he doesn’t escape, like journalists Emilio Palacio and Fernando Villavicencio did — locked away.

A populist has not the slightest respect for institutions, the law or the adversary, but demands to be treated with reverence. When a ragamuffin once “gave the finger” to Correa from a sidewalk, the president stopped his motorcade and had him arrested.

The opposition has tallied several dozen insults and slanders spouted in Correa’s “Saturday chats,” radio programs that someday will be used as study readings in courses on the psychopathology of power.

Correa does not believe in tolerance or freedom of speech or in those who posit, as did Thomas Jefferson, that a society without an independent government but with a free press is preferable to the alternative.

He mocks or pursues those who criticize him and tries to ruin them, as he did with the owners of El Universo, a major newspaper in Guayaquil, because the rich — unless they’re on his side — are his natural enemies.

Anyway, in the first round of voting on February 19 the Ecuadoreans earned the right to be free. Bravo. They earned it in the days after the election, through their determination not to be cheated out of a victory. Now they’ll have to win in the April 2 runoff to finish the task. If they don’t, Correa will be back. He’s already threatening it.

English Translation from Carlos Alberto Montaner’s blog

Europe Is Terrified / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

UK Prime Minister Theresa May and US President Donald trump during their press conference in Washington DC (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Madrid, 29 January 2017  —  Europe is terrified by Donald Trump’s triumph. it fears the vision of the American friend, the primus inter pares.

That fact has just been revealed by a macrosurvey by the French pollster Ipsos, which conducted it in 24 nations through interviews with 18,000 people. Ipsos is the largest European research company and one of the most serious.

The most pessimistic country is Spain. Eighty-four percent of Spaniards believe that Trump will be everyone’s worst president.

Among other reasons, the better-informed respondents say, he coincides too much with the communists of “Podemos” [We Can] and “Izquierda Unida” [United Left]. Like them, he opposes free-trade international treaties, he criticizes NATO and the European Union. He’s a protectionist, an isolationist and an interventionist. He tells businessmen where and how they should invest. continue reading

Trump confirms the intuition that the extremes — the populists on the left and the right — meet.

Following the negative opinion of the Spaniards come the 80 percent of the Britons, the 78 percent of the Germans and the 77 percent of the French.

What worries many Europeans and especially their governments?

They’re concerned by Trump’s support for Brexit and his close friendship with Nigel Farage, leader of the dissolution of ties between the United Kingdom and the European Union. By Trump’s criticism of Angela Merkel and his corrosive intromission into the affairs of the Group of 28.

Simultaneously, they’re leery of Trump’s favorable opinion of Vladimir Putin, the man who invaded Crimea and is threatening the Balkans. The same Ipsos survey found that 74 percent of Russians applaud Trump’s triumph.

But Russia is not the only country with a cheerful perception of the new White House tenant. Sixty-five percent of people in India also see this with optimism. Even more than in the United States, where 52 percent have a positive opinion and 48 percent a negative one.

Angela Merkel and François Hollande have a legitimate concern over the fate of the European Union. The great diplomatic feat of the 20th Century has been the gradual union of Europe, forged by Germany and France, the rivals who bled the continent from 1870 to 1945 in horrid wars.

First they proceeded cautiously, creating the European Community of Coal and Steel (1951). Those were the early years of the second post-World-War. It was the work of French visionaries Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, of the Italian Alcide de Gasperi and the German chancellor Konrad Adenauer. They were joined by the Benelux countries (Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg).

The Germans and the French earnestly wanted to put an end to the habitual carnage in Europe. They would do so by creating common interests and legal institutions that would link the states and tie the hands of politicians.

Then came the European Economic Community (1958). The six original countries were eventually joined by another half dozen. And so they went, until in 1993 the EEC was replaced by the European Union, created in Maastricht after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the socialist bloc.

Because Germany and France are two reasonably efficient countries, albeit endowed with huge and intricate bureaucracies, they instilled that characteristic into the new body. Essentially, however, they achieved their purpose: to banish exclusionary nationalism, maintain the peace and bring prosperity to all nations together, even if at a slower pace.

Naturally, this has been possible thanks to the political stimulus and the military protection of the United States, through its bases and the existence of NATO. And this is exactly what many Europeans fear will be weakened by Trump’s rise to the presidency of the United States.

F.D. Roosevelt, Truman and the rest of the American presidents correctly understood that the U.S. would benefit from a strong, united and peaceful Europe, with which to transact business and share responsibilities, the same way that, some years ago, Americans understood that they would benefit from the existence of the euro, because nothing muddies the commercial waters than the existence of weak and erratic monetary signs.

So it was until Trump settled in the White House. He was a politician with a different, old-fashioned message that could spoil everything. That is why Europe is terrified. The world’s leading power has changed the signs and rules of the game. Europe fears the dissolution of a matrimony that has been extraordinarily fruitful for the past 72 years. It would be terrible if something like that happened.

The Second Cold War / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

The icy look with which Barack Obama demonstrated the state of bilateral relations to his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 25 December 2016 — Exactly one quarter of a century ago, the Soviet Union disappeared. The hecatomb occurred on Dec. 25, 1991, the direct consequence of the prior (and failed) coup in August of that year. Vladimir Putin believes that it was the worst disaster that has happened to his country, but at the time most of the Russians perceived it as something convenient.

I remember it clearly. Around that time, I visited Moscow rather frequently to take part in academic acts leading to discuss the convenience of ending the costly subsidy to the bellicose Cuban satellite. continue reading

I remember being considerably intrigued after repeatedly hearing a nationalist slogan that ended up as a political reality: “We have to liberate Russia from the weight of the Soviet Union.”

The USSR had been born in 1922, stimulated by Lenin in the midst of a hopeful All-Russian Congress of Soviets. He added Marxist ideas to the imperialist spasm that, in a few centuries, had turned the small Principality of Moscow — then animated by the superstition of being the “Third Rome,” the heir of Bizantium’s Christianity — into the world’s largest nation, roughly speaking twice the size of the United States or today’s China.

To Lenin and his communists, the USSR did not intend to abandon the Russian imperial momentum, of which they were secretly proud, but to refocus it on a new ideological project of world conquest based on the harebrained ideology of Karl Marx, a German philosopher who lived much of his existence in London, a city where he died in 1883.

Naturally, the newly created structure — Russia plus Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Byelorussia and later Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tadjikistan — served for that purpose and for another one, of a defensive nature. The USSR would protect communist Russia’s conquests and would be another obstacle to impede a hostile reaction from nations that opposed the bloody revolutionary experiment that emerged in 1917.

To that end, Lenin and later Stalin (after Lenin’s death in 1924) helped to create a worldwide federation of communist parties whose primary objective was to protect Moscow, the motherland of communism, even if their national interests were in conflict with those of the distant Russia. Beyond staging a revolution carbon-copied from the Bolshevik upheaval, the grand task of the local communist parties was to serve the Russian Big Brother.

As things stood, the national communist parties, Moscow’s shields, took on the task of persecuting Trotskyites and exterminating those who disobeyed the directives from the Comintern, as people called the Third International, the structure also created and financed by the Russian communists for their own benefit, as they had done with the USSR.

This was seen very clearly in Spain during the Civil War (1936-1939) and even before, when the Cuban communist leader Julio Antonio Mella, a dissenter from the official line, was murdered on a Mexican street in 1929, a prelude to what would happen to Trotsky himself in 1940. Trotsky was assassinated by Ramón Mercader, a Spaniard in the service of Stalin, son of a fanatical Cuban communist woman.

A quarter of a century after the USSR disappeared, Vladimir Putin is threatening to rearm Russia’s nuclear arsenal to foil the shield of protective missiles with which the United States has endowed the West’s defenses and its own. His words were not only those of a nostalgic former communist but also those of a Russian convinced of his homeland’s hegemonic fate.

According to the former KGB agent, now his country’s political leader, the U.S. and the European Union cannot prevent the total destruction of their defensive barriers (and the E.U.’s) by an attack by the so-called triad: the effect of land-based nuclear missiles, the action of submarines carrying atomic bombs, and bombs dropped from planes.

Oddly, Putin’s bullying will have a positive strategic effect on the West. To begin with, Trump will realize that Vladimir Putin is not his friend, to the extent that Putin repeats Russia’s old imperial habits. Likewise, he will realize that NATO continues to be the best instrument to keep the planet from being incinerated by Moscow and will refrain from weakening or demolishing it.

Evidently, we’re at the start of the Second Cold War.

Note: English text is directly from CA Montaner’s blog.

Raul Castro at the Crossroads / Carlos Alberto Montaner

Carlos Alberto Montaner, 10 December 2016 — Raúl Castro is on his own. Gone is his mentor, his paternal figure, the man who molded his life and led him at gunpoint — literally — from insignificance to the nation’s leadership. But he did so brusquely, reminding him every so often that he despised him for his intellectual limitations. That never ceased to hurt Raúl.

Many years ago, Raúl realized that Fidel was the revolution’s essential stumbling block — his arbitrary voluntarism, his stubborn foolishness, his improvisations, the odious way in which he wasted time in interminable conversations and perorations. But he also knew that without Fidel there would have been no revolution. On one hand, he admired him; on the other, he rejected him. There was something monstrous and fascinating in a person who talked for eight consecutive hours without the least concession to his bladder or that of the defenseless interlocutor. continue reading

Nevertheless, life had taught Raúl that a deeper problem existed: Marxism-Leninism, in which he believed blindly in his youth, and the reason he killed others without compunction, was a misguided doctrine that led to gradual impoverishment.

If Fidel had been different, or if relations with Washington had been a lot better, nothing essential would have changed. The unproductiveness of the system did not depend on the leader’s errors or character, or the economic embargo, but on the system’s lack of adaptation to human nature. It always fails.

The same had happened in the Soviet Union, in East Germany, in Czechoslovakia, in Poland. Whether the subjects were Slavs, Germans or Latins made no difference. Romania had been granted “most-favored nation” status by the United States.

It mattered not whether communism was being tested on societies with Christian, Islamic or Confucian roots; it inevitably failed. Nor did it depend on the leaders’ quality or formation. Their plumage could be varied: lawyers, union bosses, professors, teachers, even elevated labor activists. None was any good.

In addition, it was easy for Raúl to confirm that the market economy, with its simple way of rewarding the entrepreneurs and punishing the lazy, gave large though unequal fruit. His own father, Galician Ángel Castro Argiz, was a living example: he arrived in the Republic of Cuba at a young age without a penny, even without education, but at his death in 1956 he left a fortune consisting of $8 million and an organized agricultural business that employed dozens of people.

The issue now facing Raúl is how to dismantle the horrid contraption generated by his brother and himself almost 60 years ago without being buried in the rubble of that useless system. By now he knows that his “guidelines,” which is how his timid, sometimes puerile reforms are called in Cuba, are ill-placed Band-Aids stuck on a socialist system beyond salvation, a system made worse by military management in all its economic activities nationwide. But he has said, over and again, that he didn’t replace his brother to bury socialism but to save it.

I suppose he already knows that communism is beyond salvation. It has to be buried. That’s what Mikhail Gorbachev discovered when he tried to rescue it by applying drastic reforms: perestroika — giving it a transparent air of fearless discussion — and glasnost –convinced that it could be the best productive system created by human beings.

In a few years, Gorbachev’s salvage operation sank communism, not through the clumsiness of the rescue team but through the system’s insolvency and the poor theoretical formulation of Marxism-Leninism. Central planning was a bungle. Keeping the mechanisms of production from private hands was counterproductive. The committees for the assignation of prices were totally unaware of the people’s needs or reality. The constant presence of the political police destroyed coexistence and generated all kinds of psychological ills.

When Raúl Castro read “Perestroika,” Gorbachev’s book, he became so enthused that he ordered a special edition just for his officers. Fidel found out, scolded him in a humiliating manner and recalled all copies. Fidel was not interested in the people’s material well-being but in his own permanence in power. Gorbachevism, he said, would lead to the disappearance of communism.

He was right, but only half right. Raúl is at the same crossroads where Gorbachev stood, but with the added flaw that today almost no one — much less the profound idiots — thinks that communism can be saved. At least, none of the nations that have managed to abandon it has reversed that decision. They learned their bitter lesson. For now, the symptoms show that Raúl will maintain the same Stalinist course drawn by his brother, but there’s a difference: Fidel is no longer alive. He is buried in a huge rock at Santa Ifigenia cemetery. If Raúl doesn’t rectify that course, he is a coward.

Ed. note: English version is from Mr. Montaner’s own blog.

Questions After Burying Fidel Castro / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Funeral acts to say goodbye to Fidel Castro's ashes in Havana (EFE)
Funeral acts to say goodbye to Fidel Castro’s ashes in Havana (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Miami, 3 December 2016 — Almost no one knows how his final hours passed. Did he die suddenly of a cardiac arrest, did he agonize for several days, or did he suffocate because a throat obstruction, as rumors circulate sotto voce in Havana ?

Why the hurry to cremate him? Was it that they didn’t want his final image to be that of a fragile and shrunken old man with a deranged expression? Is that why they made the people file past a photograph of the heroic Comandante on the Sierra Maestra? There is an old tradition of revolutionary primness. One of Stalin’s last requests was that his mustache be well combed. continue reading

Why did they place the urn with the ashes in the Granma Hall of the Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, far from the presence of the multitudes? Did they fear the improbable scenario that passions might overflow?

Or did they only want for his old comrades-in-arms, like Ramiro Valdés, to bid farewell privately to the caudillo and chief who guided them to victory and turned them into important — though hated and feared — personages?

Is it true that the Comandante’s mortal remains did not travel in the precarious jeep that allegedly carried them to their final destination so as not to endanger them on a pothole-riddled road made hard to navigate by government neglect? Did the idea of giving Cubans a symbolic farewell prevail? What did it matter if the vehicle carried sand or the ashes of another dead man if the act was purely ritual? If Raúl swapped Hugo Chávez’s cadaver, why wouldn’t he do the same with his own brother’s?

Is it true that they planned to switch the ashes at dawn Sunday, shortly before the burial? Using a body double was a trick that Fidel Castro used frequently in life. Was the custom followed after his death? Is that an example of the revolutionary cunning Fidel boasted of so often when he inhabited this vale of tears?

Why did no one interview his official widow and the five sons he had with her? Why didn’t the journalists record the reactions of the other 10 (more or less) unofficial heirs known or presumed to be his? Or the reactions of the 10 other grieving and presumably desperate women who at one time loved the Maximum Leader and dared to give birth to his child?

Is it true that between Raúl’s and Fidel’s families there are barely any channels of communication? Is it true that Raúl’s heirs consider themselves devoted revolutionaries and see their cousins as contemptible bon vivants who mindlessly waste the resources given to them in the sins of the dolce vita, while they themselves aggrandize the legacy of their elders in patriotic endeavors?

Or is it perhaps the domestic and familial variant of the face-off between Fidelistas and Raulistas who, according to the well-informed, has existed deep in the ruling cupola ever since, precipitously in 2006, Raúl came to power hanging from Fidel’s bowels, severely damaged by diverticulitis?

How does Raúl Castro really feels after the disappearance of the older brother who gave him the ideas, the vital drive, the structure of values, who made him Comandante, then Minister, then President and handed him a country he could make or break at will, all the time reminding him that he was an intellectually inferior pygmy without imagination, learning or charisma?

Is Raúl a victim of the love-hate and admiration-rejection provoked by relationships where one party feels he is someone else’s caboose? Does he resent the humiliations received or does he thank Fidel for giving him a remarkable life? Gratitude is the most difficult emotion to handle by most human beings.

Is Raúl aware that the solid juvenile adherence aroused in him by his brother-hero turned to a critical evaluation of the brother-loony with more darkness than glow who lived in a universe of unhinged words or initiatives — dwarf cows, moringa plantations and a thousand other inanities — that gradually destroyed the material foundation of Cubans’ coexistence?

There remains, of course, the most important of all questions. What will happen in the future, now that Fidel Castro lies in Santa Ifigenia Cemetery under a heavy stone, near José Martí’s tomb? That will be the subject of a future article.

Ed. note: English translation comes from Mr. Montaner’s own blog.

Chile Returns To Its Old Populist Ways / 14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner

Protests in Chile against the AFP have been underway for several days throughout the country (Twitter/@mariseka)

14ymedio, Carlos Alberto Montaner, Santiago de Chile, 28 August 2016 – I have arrived in the country in the middle of a cacophony, fortunately peaceful and civilized. It is Sunday, and tens of thousands of people are protesting against the AFPs.

They complain about the “Pension Fund Administrators,” a retirement system founded on individual capital accounts, more or less like the 401(k) and the American IRA. One contributes a part of his salary to an account that belongs to him, and thus, after a certain age, he can dispose of his resources or leave them to his heirs when he dies. The money is his. It does not come from the benevolence of other workers. continue reading

The AFPs are private financial companies that invest the money that the workers entrust to them in reasonably safe instruments, so that the risks are minimal. They charge about 1.5% to manage these resources. There are a few so that competition exists in price and services.

Since the economist Jose Pinera created the AFPs at the beginning of the 1980’s, the average annual return has been 8.4%. The government merely establishes strict rules and carefully monitors the financial entities. So far, in 35 years, there has been no collapse or scandal.

Today the mass of savings generated by the AFPs is approximately 167 billion dollars. That is very convenient for the stability of the country. A third of these funds comes from workers’ direct deposits. Two-thirds, the rest, are interest generated by these deposits. Without doubt, it has been a great business for the prospective retirees.

Until the creation of the AFPs, the distributed funds model prevailed in Chile, as in almost the whole world. The worker’s investment went to a general fund that was used to pay the pensions of retirees or finance the fixed expenses of the growing public workforce. In many countries, often, the money of elderly retired people ends up in the pockets of devious politicians and officials or is dedicated to other purposes.

As happens in Europe and the United States, the relationship between the number of workers and retirees is more problematic with each passing year. Fewer people are born, especially in developed or developing countries, and they live many more years.

Hence the retirement systems based on the distribution model are in crisis or heading towards it. They tank just as “Ponzi Schemes” always end badly; named for Charles Ponzi, a creative scammer who paid good dividends to investors … as long as there were new investors to meet the commitments.

When the capitalization system began, there were seven workers in Chile for every retiree. Today there are fewer than five. By mid-21st Century there will be two. The individual capitalization system, rather than a maniacal predilection of liberals dictated by ideological convictions, is the only possible model of retirement in the medium term. It is much safer for a worker to have control of his savings than to leave that sensitive task to intergenerational solidarity or the decisions of politicians.

What has happened in Chile? Why are they complaining? Half of Chilean workers, especially women, do not regularly save, or they have not done so in a long time, and since they have not saved enough, the pensions they receive, consequently, are small, and they are not enough for them to survive. That is why they protest and want the state to assume responsibility for their old age and give them a “dignified” pension, without stopping to think that the supposed right that they are angrily soliciting consists of an obligation for others: those who work must give them part of their wealth.

At the same time, students passionately demand free university studies, while many Chileans demand the “decent” living promised by politicians in the electoral fracas, to which are added modern and effective medical services, also “free,” proper to a middle class country like Chile currently is. It is not well understood why, by the same reasoning, they do not seek free food, water, clothes, electricity, and telephones, all items of absolute necessity.

It is a shame. A few years ago it appeared that Chile, after a 20th Century of populism from the right and left, with a population dominated by an incompetent and greedy government that had bogged down in underdevelopment and poverty, finally had discovered the correct road of individual responsibility, the market, the opening up and the empowerment of civil society as a great entrepreneurial player and the only wealth creator.

There was enthusiastic talk of the “Chilean model” as the Latin American road to reaching the First World. With 23,500 dollars per capita GDP (measured in purchasing power), Chile has put itself at the head of Latin America and boasts a low crime rate, honest administration and respect for institutions. It would not take long to reach that development threshold that economists set at about 28 to 30 thousand dollars per capita GDP.

It may never happen. A recent survey shows the growing irresponsibility of many Chileans convinced that society is obliged to transfer to them the resources that they demand from the state, which means from other Chileans.

It is a pity. A substantial part of the population has returned to populist ways typified by claiming rights and evading responsibilities. If Chile again sinks into the populist quagmire, we Latin Americans all will lose a lot. Prosperity and, who knows, even liberty. We will be left without a model, aimless, and in some sense, without a destination.

Translated by Mary Lou Keel