Cuba and the Castro Constitution: To Vote ‘No’ or To Not Vote?

Ballot boxes in Cuba (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 10 January 2019 — We are less than two months away from the referendum that will be submitted to Cuban citizens to consider whether to “ratify” or not the constitutional reform already approved unanimously by the National Assembly. Social networks have been the scene of a bitter controversy among those who encourage the campaign for a massive vote against the “new” spurious constitution written by the scribes of the Castro regime and, at the opposite extreme, those who advocate a massive absence at the polls.

Each one of the proposals has its own arguments. Those who support not going to the polls (an option that in electoral terms equals abstention), consider the exercise of the vote as a “legitimation of the dictatorship,” assuming that both the newly drafted Constitution and the official electoral apparatus constitute a fraud in themselves — which does not cease tobe true — and that to vote in such conditions is to “play the game” of the government. At the same time, several of those who lead in the support for abstention state that the “legitimate” alternative would be to take to the streets and march against the Castro regime. continue reading

However, would the option of “street march abstention” be viable? It does not seem so. At least, past experience does not favor it. It is acknowledged that — beyond supposed political compromises with the “Revolution” — the overwhelming majority of voters in Cuba go to the polls for fear of “finger-pointing” and retaliation. For decades, the pressure of the authorities on the electorate has been felt both through the enormous and suffocating Castro propaganda and in the figure of minor “agitators,” be they elements of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or little pioneers (children) sent door to door to urge the more morose to vote.

Nor is it a secret to anyone that, if fraud is involved, the authorities may well use the ballots of those absent in their favor by marking them with a resounding “Yes,” which makes it clear that abstaining does not constitute a guarantee of success.

Not to mention achieving a chimeric popular mass march in rebellion against the elections or against the regime. It is unthinkable that an electorate fearful of the simple act of refusing to vote will have the courage to take to the streets to march and face the fury of the Castro repressive forces. Leaving aside other essential considerations such as the lack of sufficient convening power to mobilize a critical mass of Cubans, or the absence of leaderships adversarial to the regime that are recognized by the crowds, it could be affirmed that the option to abstain and/or march is (almost) absolutely unfeasible.

Meanwhile, the proposal to attend and cast a NO vote has some elements in its favor. In principle, the initial call was born from civil society through social networks, not from opposition political parties or organizations of any political tendency. It is an authentic citizen reaction that has been drawing more consensus than dissent among Cubans from all shores, whose campaign has been so fast and viral that it was even anticipated, and put the dictatorial regime on the defensive, forcing its powerful propaganda machinery to a hasty campaign for the YES vote.

As an additional benefit, the spontaneity and speed of the “YoVotoNo” (IVoteNo) campaign has prevented leaders or groups of any denomination from monopolizing its leadership and from “assuming” or taking credit for its course. This seemingly insignificant detail favors the participation of Cubans who do not feel identified with the opposition or who are suspicious of leaders they are not familiar with, but who also reject the dictatorship and aspire to changes within the country, without suggesting the rejection of opponents or the participation of dissidents.

The official discourse – that the YoVotoNo option is a “proposal of the enemy” – collapses with the mere fact that it does not require external financing or financing of any nature: it is the simple, voluntary and straightforward exercise of a citizen’s right, the right to vote, one of the few that we still have and that, judging by the virulence of the Castro regime’s discourse, now stands as a threat to its totalitarian reign, based on unanimity in obedience.

And that is another indisputable strategic advantage of the negative vote: it does not suppose risks of repression, since it is founded on citizens’ right to the secret vote recognized in the Electoral Law. It is impossible to prohibit or hinder the participation of every the Cuban voter on the Island in the referendum, contrary to what happens with street demonstrations that may end up dissolved or simply prevented from being carried out by the repressive forces of the dictatorship.

As for the alleged “legitimation of the tyranny” and of its Constitution, it is just the opposite in this case: the NO strategy is based on using the weapons of the system itself, not to legitimize it, but to empower the citizen vote. That is to say, that the citizen himself legitimizes his rejection of the aforementioned Constitution through his vote, not thanks to the Castro electoral law, but in spite of it.

A strategy whose closest antecedent was – saving the differences – the Varela Project, promoted from the end of the 1990s by Oswaldo Payá, who advocated political reforms based on the Constitution itself, and whose repercussions ultimately meant a political cost significant for the dictatorship, although by virtue of legal subterfuges the initial objective of its promoters was not achieved.

In the current case, however, we are facing a different scenario with very objective favorable circumstances to confront the regime in its own ballot boxes. First, because the referendum call is official, which would make each ballot a legitimate vote, and secondly because almost two decades of failures have accumulated in the system. The shortcomings, despair and frustrations of the population have multiplied, the historical leadership has disappeared, we are at the beginning of another economic schism, the failure of the system is evident after 60 years and the “Revolution” does not have the minimum capital of faith among the majority of Cubans.

Add to this the disenchantment of those who created some expectation around the so-called “popular consultation” and whose suggestions or dissatisfactions were not taken into account in the final result: the LGTBI groups that were literally mocked with the suppression of Article 68; the artists who have rebelled publicly against Decree 349 – now in moratorium but not abolished; and the private transporters who recently staged a sit-down strike in the Cuban capital.  An approximate idea of all the popular discontent that is growing within the island will be apparent.

This suggests that, although it is difficult (though not impossible) to impose the “no vote” at the polls, due to the oiled propaganda machinery and electoral Power fraud, the current conditions are propitious to reach a considerable number of negative ballots against the Castro regime, which means a triumph in itself, because not only would the authorities be forced to commit the most scandalous of frauds, but because the larger the quantity of negative votes the more it would make it virtually impossible to alter all the scrutiny processes, and they will have to at least accept a significant part of the votes opposing the proposal.

Some detractors of the YoVotoNo initiative have suggested that the Castro regime would only accept, at most, the existence of 20% of negative votes. If that is so, they forget that we would be talking about almost two million voters with adverse votes. Recognizing them officially would open the door to future steps and legitimate claims of that broad social sector that does not feel represented in the Constitution and that, consequently, would push for new spaces and freedoms. Almost two million adverse votes mean a deep fissure that would disprove the official discourse of the “unity of the people around their Revolution” and place the true Cuban civil society on stage. The social strength would be greater if the results were higher, in the case where a massive poll turnout to cast NO votes occurred.

It is worth noting, in addition, that contrary to all apparent logic, the Castro regime, in its infinite arrogance, has always relied on fear, apathy, indifference, the fatigue of ordinary Cubans, and also on the eternal internal divisions between the different dissident groups and the opposition. That is why capitalizing on that confidence of the power’s claque in the abject national inertia, and turning it against itself is even more feasible than trying to capitalize late popular discontent in terms of political interests of particular sectors or groups.

A force that multiplies with the support of many emigrated Cubans, who have been encouraging the campaign YoVotoNo from the outside, which indicates that it far exceeds the “legal” limits of the simple exercise of the vote – a right that emigrants lack – to become an axis of unity in rejection of the Castro regime. Probably no opposition proposal had managed to attract so much solidarity and cohesion among Cubans from such different sectors and thoughts as this simple citizen initiative, and that fact alone indicates that in Cuba a before and after may be possible, even from the ballot box.

 (Miriam Celaya, residing in Cuba, is currently visiting the U.S.)

Translated by Norma Whiting

Requiem for the Payret Theater / Miriam Celaya

Payret Theater (historiacuba.wordpress.com)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 14 December 2018 — The recent news about the possible transformation of the iconic Payret Theater into a five-star hotel has fallen like an icy shower over Havanan moviegoers, especially the residents of the municipality of Old Havana, where the building is located, as well as the residents of the adjoining municipality of Centro Habana, which for years had yearned for the restoration and reopening of this classic jewel, unique among the first-run movie theaters of the capital and all of Cuba.

Located in what was then known as “Barrio de las Murallas” (Neighborhood of Ramparts) the area with the greatest cultural and recreational activity of its time, the Payret was inaugurated in January 1877 by a wealthy Catalán who resided in Cuba, who gave it his surname. It was also one of the first theaters to become a cinema hall and one of the favorite places of the most select society of Havana at the time.

During the years after its inauguration, and the years of the Republic, the Payret Theatre had several owners and underwent a number of renovations. It was finally demolished and re-erected, and in 1951, it acquired the architectural image that turned it into today’s iconic structure: neoclassical lines of successive arches, pillars and awnings in its exteriors, combined with eclectic elements typical of the buildings in its surroundings.  Its refined interiors include the elegant lobby with the sculpture known as The Illusion, the work of the Cuban artist Rita Longa, and the famous high reliefs representing the nine muses – done by the same sculptor – on both sides of the stage of the once majestic hall of projections, where the intense red color of the curtains, the carpets, and the upholstery of its chairs stood out. continue reading

In short, the Payret shone among the best in luxury and comfort in a city that had more cinemas than New York in 1958 and was known as one of the capitals with the best equipped cinemas in the world. After 1959, with better and worse moments, the Payret was kept regularly elegant and went through a couple more restorations until the crisis of the 90’s arrived and this beloved icon of Cuban movie enthusiasts deteriorated by leaps and bounds because of material deficiencies and official neglect, until several years ago, when it finally closed to the public in order “to make repairs.”

Surprisingly the alarms are now sounding with rumors about this untimely hotel project, whose details were published on this page last Tuesday, December 11th, giving an account of the ambitious construction plan of the Business Group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), Gaviota SA, which would confiscate the whole block occupied by the old theatre, the “Kid Chocolate” room – a true architectural aberration, conceived and built in a hurry to function as a boxing chamber during the Pan-American Games held in Havana in 1991 – and several residential buildings in precarious conditions where more than a hundred families coexist.

The reports on this project and the final destination of the Payret have not yet been announced by the official press, but information is circulating informally among the group “in the know,” especially among neighbors close to the area and culture groups involved with the capital’s cinematic industry. There are many who feel “betrayed” by the turn of events because, until relatively recently, “what was known” was that the Payret was being subjected to a highly expensive capital restoration which, as has become customary, had been stopped for prolonged periods on several occasions, both for lack of materials and lack of financing, which explains, to some extent, the delay in the long-awaited reopening.

“They said that a budget had been earmarked for a complete restoration, then it was said that it fell short of the initial amount and that between the ICAIC and other entities committed to the work, new funds were being allocated to finish the work. It has even been said that the space will be transformed into a multiplex, when two smaller rooms in the old area are converted,” says Amelia González, an enthusiastic photographer and passionate Centro Habana filmmaker who lives very close to what she still calls “her favorite movie house.”

Like her, hundreds from several generations of Havana inhabitants who reside in the surrounding neighborhoods have the Payret as a reference of better bygone times, when visiting the dark room in this comfortable and beautiful cinema to enjoy a premiere was a pleasant and cultural experience all at once, an outing within easy reach of any pocket.

“I used to come here with my wife often, while it functioned as a movie house to show new movies and as one of the subsidiaries of the Latin American Film Festival, because on my income I can’t afford to go take her a date to a restaurant or to enjoy a show at a nightclub. So every time I passed the Payret, closed for so long, I would ask the custodians if they knew of a reopening date for the cinema, but none of them could tell me, nor was there a sign that indicating anything about it,” complains José Antonio, a fifty-something native of Old Havana who has kind memories of this place. And he adds: “Likewise, there was not even a notice indicating it was being restored, as they do with other works by (Eusebio) Leal (Havana City Historian)… We just chose to believe what the newspaper said”

Because it turns out that the new hotel project that would change so dramatically the function of the Payret is inserted in the construction plan promoted by the Office of the Historian with a view to celebrating the half-millennium of the Cuban capital in November 2019. When it comes to obtaining foreign exchange not even the Historian himself stops to reflect on such nonsense as the maintenance of the Patrimony. In any case, it has already been shown that the architecture of the facades can always be preserved, if the forms are kept. For its part, the plebs will be kept at a distance from the new spaces, because a luxury hotel does not count the proletarian rabble among its clientele.

So far it has not transpired that any official or personality of the world of cinema and national culture has issued an opinion for or against the projected cine-cide.

The proposal to turn the cinema into a hotel, however, is flagrantly contradicted by an article published more than three years ago in the official Granma newspaper “on the subject of the situation of cinemas and video rooms in the capital and other regions of the country.” (” Cuba: do you lose the magic of the movie houses?”, 11 June 2015), where it was stated: “The Payret case is separate (from the rest of the Havana cinemas) because, being an institution of high patrimonial value, it was decided it would be a target of investment, and its financing is much greater.”

The aforementioned article affirmed, citing words of Danae Moros, official at the head of the Provincial Film Directorate in Havana, that in 2015 “1,800,000 pesos in national currency and 700,000 convertible pesos for equipment purchase had been raised. That amount is already running out and we are going to request an increase because it is taking a lot more money.”

The same official assured that the restoration works of the Payret had begun the previous year (2014) with a “first stage” that included the roof, the hydro-sanitary network and the Alhambra room. The latter would be what he called “a polyvalent space” (?). The total reconstruction should be concluded before December of the same year, 2015, “because we want it to be ready for the Film Festival.”

However, three years and three film festivals later, not only has the Payret, which continues to be closed, not been restored, but there is no public information about where the funds allocated to that work ended up and, for greater uncertainty, now the death certificate is taking shape for a movie theater which, for over a century was the pride of Havana and certainly a space of great patrimonial value.

But the fact is that if the force that pulls the strings of this ambitious construction project – which is said to include other emblematic buildings of that strip of the capital – is the all-powerful Gaviota military company with the French company Bouygues Batiment International, and the romantics of nostalgia and inveterate capital film buffs can kiss their dreams of recovering a renewed Payret goodbye. The designs of the military consortium created by the power elite have two essential features: they are conceived in secret, like conspiracies, and they are – in keeping with the classic spirit of the cinema of yore – as definitive and unappealable as the thread of the Fates.

Thus, and probably in less time than we imagine, the Payret will disappear from Havana’s geography to give way to the overwhelming machinery of the state capitalism monopoly under the baton of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) leaders. Without further ceremonies there will be another decline in the narrow list of 42 cinemas that, according to official figures, still existed in 2015, in a capital that in its past glory days boasted of having more than 150 dark rooms.

Of those 42 spaces (not “cinemas” properly speaking) that miraculously survived in 2015, only 13 continued in precarious operation, 8 of which presented construction problems; while the 29 “closed ones” were going to be delivered to other “cultural institutions” because – always in the words of the official Danae Moros – “it is a policy of the Ministry of Culture to maintain in each municipality at least one or two rooms, but they must be comfortable and have good equipment.” It goes without saying that this policy has not been met either.

It remains only to point out such paradoxical and relevant detail in this requiem for the Payret cinema, pride and patrimony of Cubans, and that their loss occurs precisely as a result of the confrontation between artists and the officials in charge of high culture around the application of the controversial Decree 349, within the framework of which the latter publicly insisted in the media that the administration of national culture “is in good hands.”

The fate of Payret, in particular, and the depleted real estate of Cuban cinema in general, confirm the exact opposite.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Between Strikes and Demands: From Obedience to Rebelliousness / Miriam Celaya

Massive protest in Havana, September 13th, 2017 (Photo Liu Santiesteban / Facebook)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 9 December 2018 — Judging by the winds that are blowing through Cuba, those people who say that nothing changes on the Island should begin to reconsider such opinions. It is a fact that some changes have begun, and not precisely those from the seat of Power – which are the kind that skeptics expect – but the most important and authentic: those that occur from the autonomous sectors of society.

The outbreak of citizen rebelliousness started several weeks ago by independent artists with their campaign against Decree 349 that seeks to restrict the freedom of creation and dissemination of the various artistic manifestations. The private transportation workers strike has been added this December 7th, protesting grievances and against the smothering regulations that the government has imposed arbitrarily.

Despite the threats, the harassment and the detentions suffered by several of its main organizers, or perhaps strengthened by it, the strike has begun with British punctuality, and the capital is feeling it. On Friday morning, to spite the “reinforcement” buses which – according to unconfirmed information – were destined to mitigate the effects of “El Trancón” (The Huge Traffic Jam, the nickname given to the strike), the bus stops continued to be mobbed, while numerous “almendrones”* (i.e. taxis, Havana style) circulated empty, not making any stops along Havana’s main arteries. continue reading

Both in the case of artists and in the case of private carriers, the common denominator is the unprecedented nature of the challenge to a government that until now did not admit questions, and much less organized actions, against the designs of its power. Another shared feature is the spontaneous and open nature of their demands and strategies of resistance against the gigantic official institutions.

This time it is not about a small group of conspirators gathered within four walls while the repressive pack blocks accesses and exits. Nor are we facing a response to opposition calls or subversive programs plotted by political strategists from all sides. No. Both the announcements of the masterminds of the peaceful rebellions and their actions have been open public manifestations. Nor does there seem to be a competitive attitude among the strikers or protestors, but an evident coordinated and shared responsibility towards the common goal. Nothing could cause greater confusion and concern to the ruling elite.

Another peculiar fact is the setting in which the events are taking place: months after the retirement of Raúl Castro from his position as President and the assumption of the successor appointed by him, Miguel Díaz-Canel, the first president without generational or family ties with the so-called Historical Generation – therefore, without the legacy of “natural legitimacy” of the participants in the Revolution of ‘59 – in the midst of an insurmountable internal economic crisis, with the pressure of an asphyxiating external debt and of a growing social discontent.

Complicating the panorama, the suspension of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy, which allowed for permanent stay in the US of Cubans who managed to step foot in that country in an irregular manner if they were not intercepted at sea, and which functioned as an escape valve to the system, is having a harmful double effect on the regime. On the one hand, it has spewed the migratory tide from Cuba to other destinations in the region, causing conflicts at the borders of several countries of the area, and focusing on the reality of the supposed Cuban socialist paradise, while on the other hand, it is increasing the social pressure in Cuba.

And as if that were not enough, it coincides with the arrival of Internet service to Cubans’ cellular phones. That is, any incident or event can be reported in real time by any witness and disclosed to the world instantly. It is already known that “the wild colt of the Internet” is indomitable.

For the first time in 60 years, many Cubans are perceiving that emigration has ceased to be the most expeditious option to flee from perpetual poverty, and they finally seem to understand that if they want to change the state of affairs in Cuba, the change must be done by their own hand and within the national territory.

The peculiarity of a society marked by extreme politicization is reflected in that, although the artists’ movement against Decree 349 is not clearly political, essentially, it turns out to be because it establishes a vertical rejection of the government’s cultural policy. The same happens with “El Trancón“, which started this Friday, December 7th, with the private transportation workers’ strike, which does not identify itself as a political protest, but essentially it is challenging the omnipotence of a dictatorship that has governed the country by controlling even the smallest details for too long.

When days ago that same power was forced to retract the new arbitrary provisions that were going to be imposed on the “small business owners” – a reversal which, in its basketful of euphemisms is not called that, but rather a “rearrangement” of the allowed activities – the myth of the invincibility of the power was crushed, and showed that this new force, the private sector, which is more productive and efficient than the parasitic State, has been called to play a fundamental role in the changes that must take place in Cuba.

It most probably will not be a quick or easy process. In some ways, there may even be setbacks. The next step should be for these sectors to be grouped into independent trade unions or associations to strengthen themselves and increase their organization and reach.

However, the truth is that the government, and especially the President (not elected by those who demand rights today) is trapped in the absurdity of a system that he did not create, but agreed to represent. There is no way to get out of this test: if the government yields to pressure, it will be the signal to unleash a flood of demands that will begin to emerge from all corners of Cuba, of the millions of Cubans who have waited decades to voice grievances and the young generations that demand spaces for participation. A gesture of governmental capitulation would stir up a feeling as subversive as it is dangerous, which is hope, and that would precipitate the changes.

On the other hand, to quell the demands with greater repression, as has always been the case, would only serve to multiply the discontent, the rebelliousness and the audacity of the demands, provoking a spiral of violence where the government itself would end up losing the game.

It’s too early to predict an outcome, but a positive balance has already been won for the rebels of these journeys. Beyond the results of the demonstrations of the artists and the transportation workers’ strike, for the first time in six decades Cubans will have demonstrated their capacity and willingness to stand up to the power. Finally, the scab of fear has given way. Let’s see if, after all, it will turn out to be true that the Castro regime will not survive the Castros.

*Translator’s note: Almendrones is the name given to the classic American cars still circulating in Cuba, commonly in use as taxis. The word is a reference to their “almond” shape.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Havana: Return to the Bicycle Era? / Miriam Celaya

> Cubans on bicycles. Photo taken from the Internet

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 19 November 2018 — The eternal transportation problem in the Cuban capital and the intricacies of the ever-impossible solutions of the official agencies in charge of the matter have just led to a new proposal for Havana residents. According to Guadalupe Rodríguez, an official of the Cuban Ministry of Transportation, via the Havana TV channel, a new public bicycle rental transportation system will be inaugurated in Old Havana on November 24th.

The popular evening show Hola Habana, on the aforementioned channel, was the platform for launching an initiative that brings us back to the memory of the 90s, when pedaling on Chinese bicycles that were distributed at workplaces was practically the only means of transportation for ordinary Cubans.

As always, it happened under the then “undefeated” Chief’s baton, one ill-fated day when decided for us, almost by decree, was the option to ride bicycles. In fact, far from assuming it as an effect of the crisis, which it really was, the eternally hallucinated man declared, without ambiguity, that this would put us at the same high level of countries as developed as Holland and Belgium. Ergo, the imposition of the cycle was not a setback, but an extraordinary advance. continue reading

That is why those of us who lived through the terrible experience of those years and survived to tell the story, cannot help but feel a sort of scary deja vu and seeing it as a warning sign. Especially when the outlook around us promises (more) difficult times ahead for those of us who inhabit the battered island. It is almost impossible not to see in this “solution” an obvious sign of worse times ahead in the short term.

Returning to the referenced subjec, it is curious that the inauguration of this mode that is now returning with updated variations will be carried out at the Muelle de Luz, (Wharf of Light) point of embarkation/disembarkation of Havana’s very well-known icon, the little Regla motor launch, in proximity to the site where a private establishment known as “Cuba 8” existed until 1968, dedicated to the rental of bicycles and tricycles for recreational purposes that delighted kids, especially on Sunday mornings, when the flock of children happily crowded the nearby Amphitheater.

The details of the “new” system have not yet been disclosed and, as is usual in Cuba, it will be experimental in nature, with the intention of gradually extending it to other municipalities of the city according to its “acceptance” level. However, the aforementioned official reported that this service will be activated from a system of “associates”, which will allow access to it by prior contract arranged at a designated location in Old Havana proper. Also announced was the creation of several points located in the Historic Center, already selected, where associates can access a bicycle or return it once they have used it.

At first glance we must admit that the use of bicycles could be not only a partial solution to the acute crisis of traffic in the capital, but it could also provide recognized benefits to the health of those who take advantage of it. It is also true that it will benefit the environment of a city that is already sufficiently polluted by the emissions of an old, obsolete and inefficient vehicle fleet.

However, the stubborn reality is imposed on this initiative disguised as ecological intentions, preventing it from being feasible. In fact, the difficulties for the effective functioning of the cycling alternative in the capital are numerous and well known. Unlike many towns and cities in the interior of Cuba, Havana has never been characterized by an extensive use of bicycles as a means of transport, except in the bloody years of the “Special Period” when not only was it compulsory but also an inevitable imperative.

But Havana is essentially a city designed for cars and most of its residents have always dreamed of cars, not bicycles. The roads were never conceived for this type of vehicle, including the very poor state that they are in – emulating the craters and unevenness of the lunar surface — together with the scarcity of traffic signals and the proverbial disrespect for the rules of road by drivers of both cycles and motor vehicles. Havana cyclists are the most fragile element of urban geography. Not coincidentally, accident rates skyrocketed during the 90’s, when cyclists were the main victims of traffic-related fatalities.

To all of this, we could add the absence of a network of repair shops and bicycle parking to effectively sustain the development of cycling as a more general alternative than the current official proposal.  Other objective material limitations are also present, such as the scarce supply of cycles and replacement parts in commercial networks, high retail prices in stores and low personal income of the population that hinder the proper maintenance of bicycles, just to mention the most obvious obstacles.

But the difficulties do not end at this point. The accelerated aging of the population and food deficiencies are both factors to consider when designing strategies of this nature. This means that bicycle use would not only be limited to a minority segment of the population, but it would increase the dangers for the elderly when they move about on public streets.

For its part, the “experimental” municipality chosen, Old Havana, is characterized by its narrow streets, the frequent crowding of its also thin or crumbling sidewalks and the terrible state of disrepair of its many balconies and eaves.  Because of this, Old Havana’s residents have developed the habit of walking in the streets, rather than on the sidewalks, in order to avoid the dangers of a collapse and of broken sidewalks, but increasing the risks of traffic accidents.

It is assumed that those responsible for carrying out the new experimental plan have taken into account these risk factors, including an efficient control system that prevents the theft of bicycles or their parts at the different “stations”, an impossible mission in the Cuban social landscape. However, the “master plan” has already been born with an obvious flaw: the cyclists are hardly circumscribed to ride on the only two bike lanes enabled for this purpose. It is obvious to any person who knows the area in question that these will not be sufficient to allow the “associates” to access their multiple destinations without leaving the original layout.

There will be plenty of stubborn optimists willing to face these “small subjective details” who will believe in very good faith that they will be resolved in the course of the test. That is how forgetful Cubans can be after 60 years spent accumulating failed experiments without ever having worked out even one of them.

Or maybe it’s that, in the background, in the national spirit, the specter of the father of all the impossible nonsense continues to dwell, the one who was once photographed jumping from a war tank in simulated heroism, but never sweating and panting while pedaling on a Chinese bicycle, under the torrid sun and the dust of the merciless city. Perhaps that would explain why many of those who did not live through the hardships of the last century and other incurable enthusiasts — those who are so abundant among us in all occasions — today embrace this old novelty with the expectation and naïve illusion of children on the eve of the arrival of the three Wise Men.

As for me, I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but something tells me that the experiment is not going to work this time either.

Translated by Norma Whiting

From Minint Official To Political Prisoner Incarcerated For “Espionage” / Luis Cino Alvarez

Luis Cino Álvarez, Cubanet, Havana,  5 November 2018 —  The temper tantrum and bunkhouse scene put on recently by Castroism’s anti-diplomats, who grew indignant that the issue of political prisoners in Cuba was brought up at the United Nations, brought to mind a case of which I learned a few days ago via an inmate of Guanajay prison, of a young ex-officer of the Interior Ministry (MININT) who also is confined there, serving a 25-year sentence in terrible conditions.

His name is Jorge Frank Iglesias Fernández. He is 29 years old and was a lieutenant in State Security until February 2015, when he was detained and tried for “espionage.”

Iglesias Fernández refused to commit what he considered to be an injustice, giving warning of the imminent arrest of a Cuban American woman and a North American man who were visiting Cuba and whom State Security were investigating for presumed “counter-revolutionary activities.” continue reading

The authorities also linked to the case the ex-lieutenant’s brother, Víctor Eduardo Iglesias Fernández, 18, and sentenced him to five years in jail – which sentence was later commuted to “limited freedom,” with the added requirement to periodically appear before the enforcement judge.

After being detained for a year at Villa Marista, the head barracks of State Security, where he was subjected to continuous interrogations and enclosed in a cell measuring 3×2 meters, Jorge Frank Iglesias was sent to the maximum security area of Guanajay prison, in Artemisa. They have been holding him there in solitary confinement for almost the last two years. He has no phone privileges. His parents can visit him once a month, for two hours, and always in the presence of a guard.

My source tells me that in Iglesias Fernández’ cell, the guards have not turned off the lights for even one minute since his confinement. This continuous exposure to light has affected his eyesight and he suffers from frequent and intense headaches. When for such reasons they have had to transport him to the prison hospital at Combinado del Este, he has been taken in handcuffs and in the custody of an impressive team of armed guards.

I supposed that in any other country, a crime such as that committed by ex-lieutenant Iglesias Fernández – whom it would be a stretch to classify as a spy, being that he never was recruited by the North Americans – would be punished, as well, but not with such despicable and inhumane viciousness.

Could it be for cases such as this that the regime’s anti-diplomats refuse to speak about political prisoners?

The Cuban government refuses to admit that there are political prisoners in Cuba, and even less, prisoners of conscience. And don’t even mention the conditions of their confinement. The official spokespersons, when they deign to speak of the matter, provide assurances that these prisoners are convicted of crimes referred to in the Cuban criminal code – especially violent criminals, hijackers of planes and ships who had the good fortune to not serve as a lesson by being executed, or various ex-military personnel or intelligence agents convicted of espionage or revealing “state secrets” (which would be the case of  Jorge Iglesias Fernández).

This in a country where a state secret can be how many bushels of plantains were lost in Alquízar, or of tomatoes in Consolación del Sur, because of there being no trucks or fuel to collect the harvest in time.

It would be fitting, so as to evade international pressures, for the governmental cheerleaders to keep in mind the hundreds of peace-loving individuals who, in a country governed by moderately normal and just laws, would not be in prison but in Cuba are locked away, in terrifying conditions, for legal aberrations in the Cuban penal code that are frequently applied against dissidents, such as “contempt,” “disobedience,” and “pre-criminal dangerousness.”

Author contact: luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

What “Armaments” Can the Castro Regime Buy in Russia? / Miriam Celaya

Defense Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergei Shoigu, visits a tank unit in Havana, Cuba

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, West Palm Beach, 4 November 2018 — When, at the end of last October, it was learned through various media outlets that Russia would grant 50 million dollars to the Cuban government for the purchase of weapons, alarms went off.

Immediately, nervous headlines began to appear, stirring the old unburied ghosts of the Cold War: Russia was preparing to “rearm” the Havana regime, the credit would allow the dictatorship to buy from the Russian military industry “all kinds of weapons and military material”, and – of greater concern – the event is taking place in the context of increasing tensions in the relations between Cuba and the United States, and it is accompanied by the announced return of military units to the Cuban territory as part of the narrowing of “Russian-Cuban” collaboration relationship that has been taking place recently, which includes the signing of 60 Russian capital investment projects in Cuba.

Thus, the aforementioned loan credit contract for the alleged “re-armament” and military modernization of Cuba was signed in Havana at the bilateral meeting held on October 29th and 30th, in which the Deputy Prime Minister of Defense of Russia, Yuri Borisov, participated, and on the Cuban side the Vice President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba, Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz. continue reading

Now, beyond the suspicions and the resentments – not exactly unfounded – that the intermittent love affairs between the Kremlin and the Palace of the Revolution can awaken in us, a credit of $50 million is an absolutely ridiculous figure if it is a question of a “re-armament”. Suffice it to note the real costs of current military technology to conclude that the aforementioned figure would barely be sufficient to replace the exhaust pipes of some obsolete armored vehicles from the magnificent Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.

In other words, it is absurd to seriously believe that with such a meager loan Cuba could acquire modern military equipment and materiel, especially when the Russian side lists a fabulous list of potential purchases for its miserable Caribbean allies: tanks, armored vehicles, ships (we don’t know if aerial or marine) and maybe even helicopters. Technologies that, objectively, would be possible to buy for $50 million only if they were from World War II.

Although the Cuban-Russian flirtations are neither novel nor exceptional – remember that the military cooperation agreement signed between the two for the period 2016-2020 is in force, which was preceded by other agreements related to the “defense” of Cuba, including the granting of credits – the facts don’t need to be magnified.

Traditionally, the confrontational rhetoric of the US administration has had as its response these Havana warlike headlights, which – except for the distances – mimic the thorns that The Little Prince attempted to defend himself with, against a tiger that came close to attacking him. Because it is known that US troops have no intention of invading Cuba, that in the very unlikely case that it did the US firepower would overwhelmingly prevail against Cuba’s, and that, finally, Cuba is not anywhere near such an important element for Russia or the United States as to unleash a war between both giants.

So, is it wise to be alarmed? Maybe it is. But not because of the supposed risk of an international war confrontation that is not going to happen, but because of what the dictatorship would be able to acquire with $50 million and what it would mean for Cubans here if in fact that amount were invested in repressive equipment with a view to controlling possible outbreaks of discontent in the face of a worsening economic and social crisis in the interior of the country.

Because it is not a secret for the power elite that every day a collective feeling of frustration grows among Cubans of all sectors, in the face of a scenario that condemns the population of eleven million human beings to poverty and despair as they face the impossibility of building a better future, in particular because of the lack of political will on the part of a government that refuses to allow the development of their capabilities.

Paradoxically, the process of “popular debate” of the constitutional reform proposed by that same dictatorial power has exposed the fracture of the “unanimity” and the alleged “close connection of the people with the Revolution and its leaders”. For the first time in 60 years, there have been strong questions from all sectors about some of the proposals endorsed in the Constitution project, many of which directly attack what had been the “sacred” foundations of the system until now: the single party system and the supremacy of the Communist Party as “superior leadership force of society”.

When we are almost at the second anniversary of the definitive death of Fidel Castro and only seven months after the symbolic departure of his brother from his position as Head of State and Ministers, both the criticisms and disagreements, as well as the demands for participation in Cuba’s destiny cover all social strata, from retired people who live on miserable state pensions to workers, artists, entrepreneurs, LGTBI groups, the clergy, young journalists graduated from Cuban universities, doctors who have completed missions abroad and, more recently, the “revolutionary intellectuals”.

This time the demands don’t start from the opposition groups and other dissident voices that can be accused of being “mercenaries” or “sellers of the motherland” by the propaganda machinery of the official press monopoly. Ordinary Cubans want to know why they cannot directly elect their President, why they cannot invest in their own country, why they cannot acquire more than one license to work as self-proprietors, why they cannot import consumer goods and products from abroad, why freedoms are not recognized as citizens’ rights, such as those of association, free hiring and freedom to remain abroad for an indefinite period, among others.

The weariness seems to have spread throughout society along the whole Island, and the Power knows that better than anyone.

And this puts us back at the starting point. What if, as has happened in the protest demonstrations in Venezuela and Nicaragua, the Cuban regime decides to impose itself through blood and fury against the defenseless Cubans? How much anti-riot weaponry, gas, or other repressive devices against the crowds can be acquired with $50 million? Undoubtedly, in this case the figure would not be so negligible.

A reflection that does not aim to alarm, but to alert about a drift that can be extremely dangerous. We can only imagine how far the late stage Castro Regime is willing to go to preserve its power. It is more prudent to follow the signs in advance and drink from the experience of others. Venezuela and Nicaragua are there to show us the price of trust. Let us not be too trusting.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Migration Crisis: Authentic Caravan or Managed Maneuver?

Honduran immigrants charging the first security border gate by force and entering Mexican soil. Internet photo.

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 October 2018 — The new Central America migratory wave that has resulted these days in violent actions at the Mexican southern border, where the migrants forced the official fence and invaded that country’s territory by force, is monopolizing the media’s attention and threatens to become the new crisis point of the already complex relations between the US and its southern neighbors.

This Monday, October 22nd, the US President has considered the advance of the migratory caravan as a “national emergency” and has warned about the possible use of armed forces, if necessary, to prevent the passage of illegal immigrants into US soil.

Simultaneously, as a response to the passivity of the governments of the region, which have not stopped the migrant movement, the US president has also announced, through his Twitter account, a cut or substantial reduction of the aid that Washington allocates to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. continue reading

Meanwhile, social networks are a hotbed of debate these days, most of them moved by prevailing emotions. No one seems indifferent to the images of men, women and young children crossing vast distances, dragged into the uncertain adventure of a journey full of risks and hardships that is a hard experience even for any young adult. The fear reflected in the innocent faces, helpless victims of both the misery of their lives in their countries of origin and the manipulations of unscrupulous politicians and their parents’ irresponsibility, is truly moving.

And in the absence of coherent explanations or sufficiently verified information in the meantime, there has been growing speculation about the origin of this new migratory avalanche – organized and apparently led by certain characters in regional politics – which, like a stubborn herd, continues its march towards a destination, though it knows the doors will be closed. It is really hard to believe that so many people have spontaneously succumbed to what, by all accounts and beyond the real deprivations that afflict millions of the poor in Latin America, is revealed as a political maneuver.

As often happens behind each human drama, passions are polarized among those who ask to allow the caravan march to continue and be offered entry to the US, for humanitarian reasons, and those who are vertically opposed to the avalanche. The former invoke the human right to emigrate and find better living conditions, and appeal to their own experience as argument (“we were also immigrants, the US is a country built by immigrants”, etc.); while the latter point out the dangers of uncontrolled immigration, the overload that immigrants pose, as recipients of benefits that, in the long run, will affect taxpayers, etc. And, of course, there is no shortage of cries from xenophobes and racists, ready to put their poisonous note on the matter.

Bridge at the international frontier between Guatemala and Mexico. Internet photo

The worst part of the case, however, is that regardless of the reasons that everyone believes they have, there isn’t the slightest possibility of escaping this crisis. That is, there is no politically correct way to solve such a problem. Because allowing the passage of this migration wave not only creates a succession of crises in the economies of the host countries – where even without receiving this large a number of immigrants, numerous social ill exist for their nationals, such as unemployment and poverty – but it creates political tensions in the relations between these countries and in the relations between of all of them with the US.

On the other hand, if the US accepted such a situation and allowed entry to this (other) caravan, it would be setting a terrible precedent, since it would open the possibility that similar successive invasions would continue to become an unstoppable torrent.

Not even an economy as powerful as the one in the US could withstand such pressure or escape unharmed. This, without mentioning that it would open the doors to racial violence in the interior of the country, in a spiral of hatred from which nobody – neither nationals nor immigrants – would come out as winners, but quite the contrary.

The European experience with migrants from Syria and other nations involved in violent conflicts, which have entangled the political and social environment in that small continent, is a pattern that shows the economic as well as political consequences that such an uncontrolled and constant migratory flow that has ended up turning the borders into areas of tension can produce in the receiving countries. At the same time, they have been causes of social confrontations, of tensions in the relations between countries, and between the governed and governments.

Until now, the crisis arising from the heat of this migratory avalanche towards Europe shows no signs of ending, but continues to stir hatred and rejection in open confrontations with the most permissive and tolerant positions.

And it is also not possible to deny the impact that the clash of cultures produces when it happens massively and on a large geographical scale. Because, while we are in an era where everyone talks about “globalization” – on the basis of human solidarity, tolerance, respect for differences, etc. – the truth is that there is no ideal recipe that minimizes the adverse effects of what already seems more a phenomenon of continuous and infinite stampedes than a natural and gradual process of migrations, where cultural insertion and mutual enrichment takes place between those who emigrate and the society that welcomes them.

Hondurans on their way toward the United States in the migrant caravan. Internet photo

Without wishing to tilt the scales in favor to one or the other side, we must understand that the human right to emigrate cannot ignore the right of receiving nations to establish the rules of the game, to choose what immigrants and how many of them will be accepted in their country and how many will not, according to their own interests and the administration of their own economy and social order. No one allows the expedited entry into their home, or dispenses its resources to anyone who demands them just because of the decisions someone else makes.

And this brings us to another important point of the case in point: the current migration from Central America to the USA, the violence at the outposts of this human torrent, added to the demands that the US government be responsible for solving a problem they created, are elements that suggest the work of third parties, cleverly hidden behind the scenes.

There are those who say that it is a dirty maneuver plotted and managed by the villains of the region: the failed regimes of the Castro-Chávez alliance (Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba) with the intention of diverting the attention from public opinion and the forums of international organizations of the deep crisis in those countries, reflected in the growing migrations of millions of people who are fleeing, frightened by the trail of misery of “XXI Century Socialism”.

The truth is that these continuous avalanches from south to north – and always with only one final destination: the USA – are not plainly and simply explained as a result of the congenital poverty of our nations or as the always romantic dream of conquering the American dream; but as the sum total of the failure of the Castro regime experiment, expanded to the continent, and the manipulations of a defeated ideology that refuses to go away.

Because what all this convulsive and difficult scenario overlaps is the intention to create a crisis of great magnitude between North and South and not the vindication of the rights of the “exploited and dispossessed” peoples, which regional radical leftist ideologues so often proclaim. These are, in short, the dangerous throes of a twisted system that tried to conquer the continent and that now agonizes, victim of its own inefficiency. Possibly, the best thing for everyone would be to help it die.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Apples of Discord, Corruption and Selective Punishment / Miriam Celaya

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 September 2018 — For some unknown reason, apples have had an extraordinary role in the cultural imagination of the West. For better or for worse, this fruit has marked milestones that have transcended the passage of time and geographical borders.

For example, in Greek mythology, a golden apple sowed discord between the goddesses Pallas Athena and Aphrodite, a discrepancy that would dramatically influence the Trojan War. For its part, in biblical mythology, an apple was the temptation that drove Adam and Eve to the original sin, for which we have all been punished (blessed sin!).

An old Swiss legend tells that the national hero William Tell had to skewer with an arrow, accurately shot from his crossbow, an apple placed on the head of his son by the tyrant oppressor of his people; while another fable explains how the wise Isaac Newton discovered the law of universal gravity, one of the most important physical-natural phenomena, thanks to an apple that fell directly on his head. continue reading

The apple is a kind of cult object sown in our consciousness since earliest childhood. What child did not know Snow White’s apple? And, as adults, who has not dreamed of visiting that other “Big Apple”, New York, at least once in his life?

The surprising thing is that in XXI Century Cuba these fruits again have become not only central characters, but in the body of the sin of one of the many sagas of corruption that cross Cuba’s harsh daily reality. In recent days, the sweet apple, or to be more exact, 15 thousand apples, have evolved into a temptation much more dangerous than that in the Holy Scriptures.

The case has been sufficiently disseminated by the official press, but it is appropriate to briefly summarize the facts. It is about the allegedly illegal sale, in a retail market in Havana (La Puntilla market in Miramar), of a large number of apples (15 thousand) to “a group of tough youngsters” – according to an aggressive commissioner (allegedly “an exemplary revolutionary journalist”, in the words of the hand-picked President) which aroused the suspicion of the referred to writer, who, unfortunately for the offenders, personally witnessed the transaction.

For a greater sin, “a good part” of these young people were “uniformed” with the American flag. It would have been better if they wore fig leaves, like the primal sinners of the earthly paradise. The President’s favorite journalist was not going to stand for an insolent provocation, such as that of displaying a symbol of the Evil Empire.

That might explain, far from facing the youths to give them an educational talk and prevent the “hoarding” and “the misuse of state resources”— since the buyers bribed the driver of a state minivan to transport their merchandise – this intransigent revolutionary spied on their movements, followed them, carefully pointed the license plate number of the vehicle that transported the 150 boxes of apples “at 100 CUC (roughly $100 US) each box” (what grief this detail caused the combative reporter!), and demanded a copy of the receipt as proof of purchase from the store clerk. Both photographs, the minivan and the copy of the receipt, were published on his personal blog. (“The …something…pupil”), where “someone is watching” becomes evident).

As a result, sanctions proliferated. Two employees of the store were fired as an administrative measure. Their names were published in the press though they were not subject to criminal sanctions. Some were lectured, and all other members of the collective were warned and reprimanded. As far as some of the aforementioned young apple addicts, they have been accused of “illicit enrichment”, among other causes, have been arrested and must face court trials.

The case is not exactly a novel incident, and it’s not less true that corruption is a scourge which must be fought, has metastasized throughout Cuban society, and now covers all areas of daily life. Corruption has reached such colossal dimensions in Cuban society that it not only touches all of us in some way, but it’s an indispensable part of survival. Given that the system itself generates and replicates it, it’s not possible to eradicate it by attacking its effects, but by eliminating the cause: the system, which is essentially corrupt. Ergo, it’s a problem with no solution.

However, what is more alarming is that the scapegoats are always anonymous people, opportunistic peddlers, marginals of all sorts, mules, the self-employed, or any propitious victim of the social subsoil that the authorities deem handy to use to intimidate the population through a collective lesson.

What the official press does not publish is the most dangerous of the chains of corruption thriving under the protection of official institutions, in particular those responsible for ensuring compliance with the laws: the bodies of inspectors, the national police (including the “revolutionary” also, let it be known) and a bunch of officials available at various prices.

So it goes that, curiously, also around the days of the apples of discord there has been a case of police corruption that, despite the silence of the government press monopoly, is circulating informally through some neighborhoods of the Cuban capital. According to rumors, a policeman arrested one of the many Venezuelan bachaqueros*, who swarm with relative impunity, especially in Old Havana. The policeman seized his merchandise, a backpack loaded with flip-flops. It is worth remembering that in Cuba almost everything is marketable and profitable.

The “cheating” agent, like so many of his colleagues, decided not to report confiscation of the merchandise, appropriating it instead to profit from it himself. However, also like most, he did not have enough smarts to secure his booty. The Venezuelan, meanwhile, feeling injured – or perhaps appealing to the protection he enjoys in Cuba – decided to complain at the Calle Zanja police station, so that when the superiors ordered a review of the agent’s belongings, not only did they find all the seized merchandise in the backpack, but an additional unexpected find: a bundle of marijuana. That sealed the fate of the clueless agent.

According to an informal source and unconfirmed rumors, the Office of the Prosecutor is asking for 25 years in prison for the agent – it has not been made clear if for being an idiot or for being corrupt – and it has not transpired if the Venezuelan involved has received any punishment or if he has been deported to his country.

Very likely, these rumors may contain part truth and a lot of fantasy. But, in any case, the national experience of decades of fraud and corruption, and knowing the administrative mechanisms and government press monopoly’s lack of transparency, everything points to much more reality than fable in this matter.

I have been visiting the blog of the President’s zealous journalist, so combative, so revolutionary, to see what he thinks of such an audacity, but for some mysterious reason he has not published anything about the matter. It must be because the police are also supposed to be a body of “revolutionaries” and one does not air our dirty laundry among members of the brotherhood…

*bachaquero Venezuelan slang meaning hawker of goods bought at government-set prices

Translated by Norma Whiting

Interview With Díaz-Canel: Neither So Presidential Nor So Much “Media Appeal”

Interview with Miguel Díaz-Canel in Telesur. Photo Telesur / Rolando Segura

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 September 2018 — If something stands out in the interview recently granted to the transnational Telesur by the (not elected) president of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel, it is the way in which the poverty of his vocabulary is revealed, the inconsistency of his arguments , the triteness of a discourse as preposterous as the interviewee himself and especially the theoretical fragility of the supposed heir of the Marxist-Leninist-Martiano-Fidelista torch endorsed as the jewel in the crown in the “constitutionalist” project that is currently – ignominiously — circulating throughout the Island.

In fact, the president’s babble overflows with so much mediocrity that trying to dismantle it would be an exercise almost as vain and simplistic as his own arguments. It’s quite enough, as a matter of example, to highlight the worn-out defense of the single party in Cuba under the ridiculous assumption that José Martí – for greater absurdity, an obstinate liberal and antisocialist – founded a single party. Obviously, only if Martí had been bipolar or schizophrenic would he have founded more than one party. But of course, the President did not stop to consider such an insignificant detail. At the end of the day, the masters will say to themselves: the Cuban people have never questioned the political decisions of the Castro regime and its emissaries, why should they do it now? continue reading

Perhaps even more embarrassing was the gibberish he introduced to justify the elimination of the term “communism” as the goal of society in the new constitution. “If one goes to classical Marxism, the mode of production to which we aspire is communism. (…) Communism and socialism are closely related. If you want to build socialism, it is because you want to reach communism, “the President said, undaunted. Perhaps he was convinced that such an inference should settle the matter. So much dialectical genius can only be the result of a very personal and outdated interpretation of the classics of Marxism (God save us from all of them, especially their interpreters!).

In addition, the entire interview overflows with common places such as the “U.S. government Blockade” (“a brutal practice which seeks to condemn our people to die of necessities” and “constitutes the main obstacle to our development”), Imperialist “violence” against Venezuela and its “laborer president”, the defense of the entelechy called “Latin American integration”, and other similar invocations.

Those who expected that in this, his first official interview – given not to a national media but to a foreign one, a disdain to the guild of native scribes – would offer the public some glimpse of a government program, a strategy to promote the battered economy or some kind of master plan to (at least) stop and reduce, in a reasonable timeframe, the pressing and multiple problems of the daily existence suffered by the Cuban population; In short, those who aspired to listen to a president’s proposals were left wanting.

There were no surprises. It is clear that Diaz-Canel was not going to depart from the old script dictated by his tutor and patron from the concealing shadows of the General’s supposed “retirement,” even less so in such uncertain times for both rulers and “governed” and for the region’s allies.  In it are included the responsibility, the ever-conditioned benefits and perhaps something else.

Let’s not forget the sinister Article 3 of the new constitutional script that states that “Treason against the nation is a most serious crime, and he who commits it is subject to the most severe sanctions” (instead of nation, read “the Power”). And it is known that the closer you are to the cupola of an autocratic power, the more serious the “betrayal” considerations become, and punishment results in a greater warning lesson.

Miguel Díaz-Canel interview on Telesur. Photo Telesur/Rolando Segura

By the way, causes number 1 and 2 of 1989 are worth citing. They took place amid the “dismantling” of the USSR and the “socialist camp,” which ended with the execution of several conspicuous servants of the regime and with long prison terms – not exempt of fatal health “accidents” – for others. They are the most convincing demonstration of this statement.

However, and following the basic principle of reading between the lines, he points out that, this time, the president’s words did not show the overflowing triumphalism that usually saturates official discourses. In general, there was emphasis on tone but the message lacked conviction. Diaz-Canel hesitates even when he claims to affirm.

A clear example of this is when it refers to Cuban youth as “active and anti-annexationist” – an attention-grabber use of this second term, which is not part of the common lexicon of Cubans and rather seems to reflect an unspeakable concern for them. The Power Caste that a reality – and later expresses: “This generation is cultured and educated (…), I do not believe that its main desire is to be against the Party and the Revolution”.

The subtlety of this message may be invisible to those who are unaware of the Cuban reality; however, the official discourse has traditionally referred to the country’s youth, not from the point of view of what “it does not want” or what “is not,” but in unequivocal terms of what it is supposed to be: “revolutionary,” “politically committed,” “intransigent” and “combative.”

A detail that apparently does not say much, but constitutes a flagrant slip that would not have been committed with impunity in the days of Castro I … Or perhaps it was an involuntary (and untimely) betrayal of the subconscious.

Because if the President, in his privileged position, is allowed to have the widest and most accurate information about the social temperature of this Island, does not seem very convinced of the revolutionary militancy of the young people and (what seems more serious) considers that the wishes of the current young generations “are concentrated on development, more progress, wishing to be included, aspiring to have more participation and striving for technological development and also social communication” instead of the holy defense of the Socialist Motherland, which was the mission commissioned to the generations that preceded them.

What sense would the authentication in the Law of laws make of an ideology and a sociopolitical system with aspirations of eternity not considered a priority by the current youth, who are heirs by fate and not by choice of a failed legacy?

Without a doubt, the President is confused, and that should not have gone unnoticed by the zealous political commissaries. Pretending to have “media appeal” can be tempting, especially when one does not have enough prestige or an adequate political pedigree, but it also entails many risks. Especially when you are an interpreter of someone else’s libretto, which reduces the probability of interpretation and authenticity to the character.

It may be that at this point the designated successor has received the corresponding phone call from his tutor, whom he considers “a father,” who will have warned him that in successive public presentations he should concentrate only on what the manual dictates and be more revolutionarily convinced of what he says, in order not to hand the enemy excuses to distort things or imagine weaknesses.

In spite of everything, in the coming days the official media will disclose, ad nauseam, the original or edited version of the aforementioned interview. For this, they can count on, to start, the political apathy of a population that, as we know, does not usually consume this type of product.

Not coincidentally, in the television programming this Tuesday, September 18th, the telenovela schedule was shown earlier so then aforementioned interview would be aired… With all certainty, that will be the moment in which, in spontaneous unanimity, the great majority of Cubans, according to their possibilities, will tune in to other channels, they will go into “package mode*” or will dive into “subversive” antenna shows.

*El Paquete Semanal (“The Weekly Packet”) is a one terabyte collection of digital material distributed since around 2008 on the underground market in Cuba as a substitute for broadband Internet. In 2015 it was the primary source of entertainment for millions of Cubans.

Cuba: Without a Real Transition There Will Be No Winners / Miriam Celaya

Cuban on Havana’s Malecon (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 16 August 2018 –With its lights and its shadows, the virtual debates surrounding the constitutional reform undertaken by the Cuban government have created the benefit of uncovering a host of non-conformities and claims long repressed by Cubans from all corners of the globe, and at the same time, stirring the polarization around the issue that operates as a turning point: to participate or not in that which, from the outset, is perceived as the leadership’s farce.

So much reluctance is not by chance. Sixty years of scams by the dictatorial power has developed in Cubans a natural distrust of everything that flows from it. However, this has not been an impediment to breaking the silence. Demands are overflowing the virtual spaces of some websites and social networks, where they have been creating discussion groups on constitutional issues, and in which very interesting analyses and discussions are taking place.

However, the truth is that certain uprisings of civic rebellion are taking place in Cuba, either because of the uncertainties generated by a reform project clearly designed for the benefit and consecration of the top leadership or by the feeling of general frustration among a population that had pinned its hopes on improving its living conditions. The population also had its hopes pinned on true participation in the national economy and politics from the “transition” of power, from the hands of the historical generation to a new younger president, supposedly better linked to “the people.” They are not seeing such hopes expressed in the lapidary constitutional proposal that only reaffirms and prolongs the demise of citizen rights. continue reading

The motives may be apparently disconnected and disengaged from the strictly constitutional issues – such as Decree 349, which affects the artistic sector; marriage between LGTBI couples; the censorship of an art show or of one in a theatre scene; the arbitrary detention of a citizen; etc. – however, protests are focused on and related to the same basic problem: the boredom of a nation in which all individual rights have been violated for too long. The general feeling of malaise inside Cuba is palpable.

The trigger that would spark the delicate political and social balance could be both the enforcement of certain decrees and laws that further limit citizen rights and the arbitrary detention of an artist or a group, the censorship of a film or a play, the confiscation of the means of work of any business owner or independent professional, the shortages in the markets, the high prices of food, the eternal problems of transportation or any eventuality within the endless accumulation of setbacks and limitations that characterize the days of the common Cuban.

Authorities are aware of this. That’s the reason there has also been a rebound in the repression and surveillance against the “disaffected” sectors, that is, the dissidence, the opposition groups, the protest artists, the independent journalists and against any hint of demands, even within the “socialist” ranks themselves.

These demands are growing in their number and in their intensity, as reflected in the great variety and quantity of independent and “alternative” journalism that is currently taking place in Cuba despite the censors, and to the chagrin of the power elite, in hubs of disobedience of several young filmmakers; in the gradual but tangible process of loss of fear, especially among the younger intellectuals and artists sectors. It is the spirit of the generations that distance themselves from the “zombie effect” that still afflicts their parents and grandparents.

At the same time, this other sector of the dissatisfied is increasing. It is much larger and more dangerous, and is composed of the poorest individuals, those who depend on insufficient wages, who lack other means of making a living, a decent home; who see their children grow up among material shortages of all kinds and who, when the time comes, and in the absence of a leadership that will channel their demands peacefully, could become a violent and uncontrollable force, with unpredictable consequences and at an incalculable social and political cost.

And just as the rupture of the so-called “revolutionary social pact” between the un-government and dis-governed is becoming evident, also palpable is the leadership’s fear of things getting out of control if the usually meek flock turns into an ungovernable mass. The agents of the State (in)Security have threatened – not just by chance – a small group of popular artists after their arrest for protesting against an official decree, telling them that they would not allow another “Nicaragua” in Cuba. If there is something the Castro hound pack fears it is people without fear.

Without a doubt, “they will not allow it,” just as they are not allowing it in that Central American country where, according to witnesses, the repression is directed and monitored by Cuban troops. A “constancy” that has also been reported by numerous sources from Venezuela, where elite Castro troops have played an important role in the tenacious repression against the opponents of the dictator Nicolás Maduro.

Consequently, following the dictatorial logic, everything points to an eventual increase in the repression in Cuba, in direct proportion to the increase in citizen protest demonstrations or any spontaneous popular protest. Obviously, the so-called “debates” of the constitutional project that will only consecrate the rights of the power caste will also be jealously guarded by the agents of the political police, supported by the everlasting neighborhood snitches. The regime will try to keep everything on an even keel, but it knows that nothing is the same anymore. Especially when it does not even have the supreme resource: to release the pressure through a massive migratory wave.

Without the Mariel boatlift, without the “maleconazo“*, without fleets of rafters and without the land migrations toward the US borders of thousands of Cubans through South America, Central America and Mexico, the pressure stays in Cuba. It’s all about seeing who and how they will release it. If there is no economic reform and no real democratic transition in Cuba, this time there might be no winners

(Miriam Celaya, resident in Cuba, is visiting the United States)

*Translator’s Note: Uprising that took place in Havana August 1994, to protest government policies.

Translated by Norma Whiting

In the Face of the Cuban Dictatorship, No Victory is “Small” / Miriam Celaya

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 6 August 2018 — As expected, the Cuban government’s “invitation” for the “diaspora” to participate in the process of discussion of the constitutional reform project has unleashed a flood of diverse reactions, from the most absolute denial to the most ingenuous optimism through those who assume the proposal with caution without completely rejecting it.

In spite of the range of opinions, all these reactions are logical. After a 60-year schism in which the dictatorship has denied and discriminated against the diaspora — even more so than against the Cubans “inside” — depriving its members of their rights as nationals, making their visits to Cuba more expensive, and making use of them to squeeze the remittances that, through their work and their sacrifice, they send to their relatives and friends in Cuba, among other endless humiliations, their reluctance to respond to that same dictatorship’s invitation on the part of the emigrants is perfectly understandable. continue reading

From the other end of the spectrum, there are groups that consider it opportune to participate and let the government know their opinions about the reform, demanding participation as Cuban citizens — because they consider themselves to be independent of the will of the Castro regime — and, in passing, demanding the inclusion of the recognition of this and other rights that have been violated.

In the midst of both extremes, a sector of the diaspora doubts – and not without foundation — the intentions of such an unusual convocation, fearing that that this is another of the regime’s traps in order to legitimize itself, this time with the “support” of the exiles. However, it seems positive for them to be able to express their demands, though they wonder what guarantees they will have that their opinions will be considered.

Personally, in spite of the many reservations that any proposal that comes from the Cuban political power awakens in me, and the fact that I have flatly and publicly refused to participate in the “popular consultation” that will take place in Cuba around a project that I do not approve of, I will indeed go to the polls and stamp a NO on my ballot, because it is my right and the issue is of paramount importance. It is not about voting for a “delegate,” that sort of useful fool who fulfills the role of a wall of contention between the privileges of the political caste and the pressing material and spiritual needs of the “people.” Right now, it is about the Constitution that we are all subject to. That is why I will make an exception and go to the polls.

In accordance with that, I believe that the time is also opportune for the diaspora to respond to the official invitation and make their demands known, all their rejection of what they consider appropriate to reject and all their aspirations as Cubans. Not because of the conformism that “anything is better than nothing”, but because of how much their strength means for those who push for democracy from within.

On the other hand, it is still an achievement of that diaspora that the government has recognized its existence for the first time. Far from being a sign of strength of Cuba’s autocracy, it is a recognition of the power of these the three million Cubans abroad and a sign of weakness of a regime forced to give way due to the irreversible economic crisis, pressured by the accumulation of debts and overwhelmed by many other constraints. In Fidel Castro’s time, such a capitulation would not have been possible.

We know that by participating in the debate the exiles will not “knock down” the dictatorship, but fortifying us in denials will not make it happen, either. Let’s be realistic. Nobody is going to land in Cuba to wage a war to overthrow the government. Neither is it a desirable option for the vast majority of Cubans from any shore, I would dare say. What unites all of us who long for democracy is the end of that government, what differentiates us is the “how”. And needless to say, the leaders will not voluntarily give up their power. However, everything indicates that they have no alternative but to yield. These small fissures that develop do not show the Power’s willingness to establish dialogue, but they can be used by Cubans in the diaspora to pierce the wall that the Power has built between their nation and them.

Because, although neither the diaspora nor those of us who live in Cuba decide anything in Parliament — and in fact, not even Parliament decides, since everything is fixed from above by the autocracy — the diaspora can and should take the opportunity to legitimize itself, with an agenda of demands that, as Cubans, is their due.

For this the exiles have all the communication tools that the free world offers them and infinitely more opportunities than Cubans of the Island to publicly present their opinion about the juridical monstrocity that is a Constitutional project hatched behind the nation’s back in a council of 33 druids.

In contrast, “inside” Cubans do not have the ability to find out exactly what opinions prevailed between one community and another, between a block or study center or one workplace and another. The limited access to the web and the control over Internet networks hinder us from interacting properly, while the government press monopoly has the ability to manage and alterithe data to inform whatever reinforces their interests.

On the other hand, if a Cuban from the diaspora fills out the form of the Minrex (Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs website) with his demands, and then publishes that form on the networks just as he filled it out, the government will not be able to manipulate his opinion or ignore it without paying a political cost for it. There is no guarantee that the demands of the diaspora will be included in a supposed constitution that, in fact, any citizen with a minimum of democratic sense would reject; but it would be proof of the existence of a critical sector that would break the myth of the emigrants as an amorphous conglomeration of resentful, uprooted and hateful “non-Cubans”, which, for so many years the dictatorship has dedicated itself to divulge when it has considered it appropriate.

If the right to vote in the reform referendum from abroad were included among these demands, it would be a wonderful opportunity for all those of us who oppose the consecration of a single party and a failed political system to be united as endless destinies. That would indeed be a sign of political willpower and strength that the dictatorship will not allow, but, at the same time, to deny it would be evident.

It’s about having the plantation masters come for wool and to leave sheared, the only thing that needs to be done is to turn the trap they are setting against them. At least this is how a not-too-despicable sector of the diaspora and many of us who live inside island-prison see it.

At the end of the day there is nothing to lose and something to gain: a common resolve among Cubans from all over the world to break the silence and the gap. It seems too little, in view of how much they have taken and that we have allowed them to snatch from us. However, in the face of a regime like Cuba’s, no victory is small.

(Miriam Celaya, resident of Cuba, is currently on visit in the United States)

Translated by Norma Whiting

More Cuban Doctors to Venezuela: From Modern Slaves to “Strikebreakers”

Cuban doctors before leaving on an international mission (Reuters)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 24 July 2018 — In Venezuela, while hundreds of health workers have been out on the street on strike for a month in demand for decent wages and better working conditions, the official Cuban media have just announced the immediate delivery of 62 Cuban doctors, recently graduated from the University of Medical Sciences of Havana (UCMH), who will provide free services in popular areas of that South American country as part of the Barrio Adentro Mission.

The labor dispute taking place between health personnel and the government of Venezuela was initially promoted by the nurses’ guild, but doctors, lab technicians, service employees and administrative staff of several public hospitals have quickly joined, without receiving any satisfactory response from the president, Nicolás Maduro, despite the demonstrators’ requests for dialogue, and their current intention to join forces with workers of other public companies, also on strike for similar reasons. continue reading

In addition to the demands for wage increases, there are also complaints about the shortage of medicines, the poor state of hospital facilities and the collapse of the infrastructure that impedes adequate treatment for patients with serious and/or chronic diseases. It also prevents guaranteeing an adequate diet for patients who require admission and surgery. In fact, the capacity for hospitalization or surgical interventions is, at present, minimal, as various medical, humanitarian, religious and Human Rights institutions have been reporting for a long time.

Paradoxically, in a country where, according to Decree #8.938 of April 30, 2012, “with rank, value and force of Organic Labor Law, Male and Female Workers” (LOTTT) promulgated by the then President, Hugo Chávez, and published in the Extraordinary Official Gazette #6.076 of May 7, 2012, workers’ right to strike is acknowledged, and replacement by others to occupy their posts is expressly prohibited, so it is outrageous that the leader himself is allowed to royally violate his country’s legislation.

Thus, instead of facing the situation and responding to his own workers, the Executive simply replaces them, sub-hiring through his buddy the Cuban president, 62 inexperienced Cuban physicians who will perform as so many others of their countrymen’s shamans, modern slaves who have preceded them or who continue to serve as voluntary captives of both governments. It is highly unlikely that these new villains can solve any problem in the critical health picture in Venezuela, but at least they will help Mr. Maduro show his care for the poorer of those he governs, and for Mr. Díaz-Canel to justify the continuity of the already dwindling deliveries of oil to Cuba.

And all this despite the fact that just three months ago, on April 30, 2018, the official Telesur press monopoly published, at full speed, a triumphant headline that read: “Venezuelans have been protected by Labor Law for six years.” And then iy offered a laudatory text to celebrate the prodigious social advances achieved in a six-year period through LOTT, “a legal tool worthy of the revolutionary process of transition to socialism that Venezuela is experiencing,” as expressed in April 2012 by Hugo Chávez when he promulgated said Decree-Law, whose regulations were later signed by Nicolás Maduro as head of state to wash his… hands with him.

Thus, without any disguise or embarrassment, the Caracas-Havana conspiracy claimed the prerogative of desecrating, in a single haul, the Venezuelan labor law and the supposedly sacrosanct words and drive of one who considered himself Bolívar’s spiritual heir, a visionary who had hallucinations of “socialism, XXI Century style” and one who, once “planted” at the Cuartel de la Montaña and evidently no longer able to transmute into the little bird adviser* to his disadvantaged pupil, Nicolás Maduro, remains the same as the ashes of his master, Castro I, only for the permanent symbolic evocation that “legitimizes” the continuity of the chaos in their respective countries.

With the rampant shamelessness of those who feel immune, the duet Maduro-Díaz Canel has just set aside Article 489 of the LOTT, which stipulates “the protection of the exercise of the right to strike” and establishes the ban on the contracting of other workers “to carry out the work of those who participate in the strike.” For further derision, the same article adds that “Workers during the exercise of their right to strike shall be protected from trade union immunity under this Law …” And all this contempt to what has been legislated is done by invoking the medical assistance program in exchange for oil – euphemistically called “Mission Barrio Adentro” – promoted in 2003 by the then presidents Hugo Chávez and Fidel Castro.

It’s just a matter of time before we see how many of these new instant doctors, hastily trained in courses taken after mass registration, are more proficient in serving the interests of the regime and its allies than in conscientiously performing the altruistic work that would correspond to a profession destined to save lives and alleviate human suffering, and who will most likely end up “defecting” from the “mission” and reaching their true goal: escaping to freedom. At least such is the dream that many of them secretly cherish, while out loud, and before a flag so often defiled, they solemnly swear “to defend the revolution and the conquests of socialism” wherever duty calls.

And, if at the end of all the farce the very sacred “mission” ends in the Yuma*, that would be better still. For, after all, it seems that in many cases, the end does justify the means.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Translator’s notes:
* Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro has claimed that deceased president Hugo Chavez appears to him as a little bird and advises him. On announcing this he reproduced the tweeting noises he hears from Chavez .
**”La Yuma” is Cuban street lingo for the United States

Rights in Cuba: The Privilege of a Minority? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Conga against homophobia in Cuba, 2018. Banner: I am part of the Revoluion. Me too. I am Fidel (cubadebate.cu)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 18 July 2018 – With that sleight of hand that the Cuban authorities have always so skillfully displayed, currently they seem to have convinced a good part of national public opinion – and even more than a few foreign press agencies – of their supposed “will to change,” starting from the novelties that will be confirmed in the constitutional reform being planned behind closed doors by none other than Raul Castro himself.

The modifications that are part of those momentous developments that will soon adorn the Cuban Constitution include the recognition of private property, which already exists in practice; the limitation of the presidential term to a maximum of two periods of five years each, as had already been anticipated in the VIII Congress of the PCC; the concurrent establishment of the figures (hitherto unrecognized) of the President and Vice President of the Republic; as well as the prohibition of discrimination against people because of their gender identity, their ethnic origin or their disabilities.

The issue of “private property” has not generated much interest among the population, which is partly due to the fact that its recognition is restricted within the rigid governmental controls that demonize “the accumulation of wealth” (and therefore of property), and also because the majority of Cubans do not really have the patrimony or pecuniary capacity to acquire it. Thus, for this poor majority, this Law does not constitute a direct benefit or a significant change relative to their previous status. continue reading

The time limitation of the presidential mandate does not mean a real change as long as there is only one legally recognized political party in Cuba and no new electoral law is enacted that recognizes the right of all Cubans – rather than the insignificant 600 commissars – to decide at the polls who to elect to hold this position.

However, regarding the issue of gender identity, the response has been very different. Like a pack to which a bone has been thrown to tease its hunger while the masters reserve for themselves the juicy slices of meat, both those supposedly “benefitting” or “harmed” by this reform have been embroiled in a pithy speculation about the appropriateness or not of marriage between homosexuals, the rights to adopt, and other endless “pros” and “cons” that have not been explicitly reflected in the (unknown) official agenda, but that have exacerbated the prudishness of religious communities more retrograde and dogmatic than the old aspirations for equality of rights among the LGBTI communities.

That said, the matter would seem “normal” and even proper to a democratic society. Moreover, it suggests that Cubans on the Island are at the same level (or even at a higher level) of debate or recognition of social rights than the most democratic nations in the world.

And it is exactly here that the deception lies, because while religious leaders and LGTBI communities engage in a Byzantine battle that – we already know – will end up being resolved at the heights of power and at the convenience of the powerful, the essential issue that is being overlooked is the violation of the rights of all Cubans when it is reaffirmed that the constitution will maintain the “socialist character of the political and social system” and the role of the Cuban Communist Party as a “superior leadership force” that will continue to control, with its iron fist, the destinies of all, be they heterosexual, homosexual, white, black, mestizo, women, men, religious, atheists or agnostics.

The endeavor is so Manichean that it is hard to attribute naivety to those who succumb to the illusion of a “democratic” debate about their gender identity, their equal right to marriage and the creation of a family and even assisted reproduction, while no Cuban can even recognize such basic rights as the freedom of association, of expression, of information, of movement, of choosing what kind of education they want to give their children or who they want the president of their country to be.

It is not a matter of denying the just claims of particular rights of each group or community, particularly those that have been systematically relegated and discriminated against. But the truth is that under conditions of dictatorship no Cuban will have their rights guaranteed, especially because the recognition of those “rights” responds just to the political interests – and only to them – of the privileged class that holds absolute power over lives and haciendas.

If we believe that the “great battle” is the one that will be waged only by some social sectors more discriminated against than all Cubans, and if the “conquests” to which they aspire are confined to appearing finely dressed before notaries who will certify a sentimental union or the creation of a family whose members will remain in a thousand ways subjugated by an omnipotent dictatorial power legitimized in the constitution, then we can renounce all aspirations of freedom that belong to us as nationals.

In pursuit of the small crumbs of legality now offered by the autocrats, some useful fools – and with them also some carefully hidden servants of Castroism, because the “revolutionaries” are everywhere – continue to leave behind the larger interests that involve all of us. And this is, exactly, the government’s objective.

It is all a diversionary maneuver to fragment the aspirations of freedoms of common interest, create false sectarian expectations, and stimulate the attendance at the polls of an electorate that in the last “elections” has increasingly demonstrated clear signs of apathy and fatigue.

For the moment, the hoax is working for the government. If this is the case, we already know who will be the winners and who will be the losers in this endlessly announced saga.

(Miriam Celaya, resident in Cuba, is visiting the United States)

Plebiscites and Elections in Cuba: Between the Illusory and the Possible

(Photo taken from the internet)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 27 June 2018 — After more than a year since the death of Castro I, and just a few weeks after the symbolic withdrawal of Castro II from his post at the head of the Cuban government, the only verifiable changes within today’s Cuba are the accelerated and unstoppable deterioration of the living conditions of the population, the increase in material shortages, the growing scarcity of markets and the increase in repression.

All this, framed in an extremely confusing political and economic reality, where the highest authorities of the country announce at the same time, in a constitutional reform — under the assumption of adapting the legal framework to the “reforms” introduced by the government of General Raúl Castro — a “very, very tense” economic and financial situation for the second semester of the year 2018. More poverty on the Cuban horizon, while discontent and despair also grow in a society sunk in an eternal state of survival, suffocated by the accumulation of old and new problems, never overcome. continue reading

In the midst of such a scenario, it is perfectly understandable that political apathy should spread among a population that increasingly distances itself from the power elite. An epidemic apathy that continues to sow disbelief in the population, and that should be the appropriate breeding ground for the advance of proposals of the opposition, but that – unfortunately — is being projected, also to a large extent, towards the so-called opposition leaders and their projects.

Thus, paradoxically, the widening of the gap between government and the governed is not being interpreted at a sociopolitical level into a proportional approach of those governed to the different opposition projects.

It is true that all responsibility for this cannot be attributed to the opposition, at least not in an absolute way. The failure of numerous proposals over decades and the backlog of current opposition projects is associated, even more so than with the nature of the legitimate acceptance the opposition claims, with the repression and harassment suffered by activists, with the lack of spaces available to express themselves freely, with the helplessness and harassment suffered by those who disagree with the government in a country where there is no freedom of association (or any other civil liberty), and with the colossal campaign that is applied to them from the official press monopoly that defames and demonizes them, simultaneously sowing fear and social distrust towards everything that might mean confronting the totalitarian power of the Castro regime.

However, the opposition is not immune to the ills that afflict Cuban society, since it is the fruit of the same reality. This explains why dozens of proposals have been spoiled by the combination of the aforementioned adversities, but also by other evils not attributable to dictatorial power, such as the frequent internal fractures between parties and opposition movements that almost always involve confrontations and mutual disqualifications; the excessive self-interests of many leaders, the sectarian and often exclusive character of some projects, the lack of consensus and common strategies, as well as the inability to articulate truly realistic programs, among other limitations.

The sum of all these calamities and the unquestionable social base insufficiency make the Cuban opposition a marginal sector within Cuba, which moves in parallel direction without being able to penetrate the critical masses with viable and effective proposals which might eventually generate enough force to stand up to the government and begin — finally! — a democratic transition. This is, essentially, the biggest weakness of the opposition proposals.

Let’s view it from today’s perspective. It is enough to look at social networks to see a constant anti-Castro media boom, a flood of activists — almost exclusively from outside Cuba — and a permanent brawl between one project and another, one leadership and another, without absolutely any benefit for anyone.

This is how we see unrealizable plebiscites roaming only the virtual universe, fable “elections” and hallucinatory calls to demonstrations or street uprisings to “overthrow the dictatorship” which all who feel the daily rhythm within Cuba know very well will not happen, other than in the imaginations of some of today’s extremists.

Projects that, in principle, would be perfectly valid if they came together with an instruction manual that would indicate to “the masses” how to make them possible.

Because, in good faith, a plebiscite in Cuba would not solve anything except to “demonstrate” the dictatorship’s known bad nature, which will abort any attempt to carry it out. An “election” would not be possible without the existence of political parties, without freedom of expression, communication and the press, without the existence of institutions that certify the transparency and legitimacy of the process and without due legal guarantees. This, without taking into consideration the catastrophic results of a popular uprising in the streets.

Neither would any proposal be of help, whether in the form of a peaceful plebiscite or a violent assault on power from the streets without a master plan for “the day after.” How to establish changes from an event (and not a process), especially in a society so tense and so devoid of civic culture? How will the violent settling of accounts be avoided, how will justice be guaranteed, how will the excesses of a social polarization that has been fed from power for decades be controlled?

But let’s abstract from the reality we know so well and give these projects the benefit of the doubt. Imagine that a plebiscite can be held and that it will demonstrate (at a minimum) that there is an important segment of society that aspires to greater political participation and that demands a multiparty system and other freedoms such as freedom of expression, information, press, rights, economic, etc. How could we ensure that the dictatorship will respect the results of the polls and open the spaces claimed by that segment, when the reality of their actions proves otherwise?

If this is a challenge, we can imagine what it would be like to call for elections in a nation that has not had a government democratically elected at the ballot box since 1948 and where, for 60 years, the existence of a political party or a true public debate on any matter of common interest has not been permitted. Is the Cuban population (those living in Cuba and a good part of those living abroad) prepared to confront the responsibility of the most decisive exercise in civil law? I don’t think so.

As for taking power by force, it is scary to think of the human crisis that would bring unleashed violence in the streets, the social unrest, the consequences of unleashing the beast. Who would assume the consequences and how would we recover from such a long and definitive fracture? Who would be saved from this new Haitian Revolution?

Many readers will assume this analysis too pessimistic or defeatist. There will not be a lack of those who accuse me of promoting divisionism or even label me with worse epithets. However, the Cuban situation is so desperate and urgent that we should not continue to use time and bullets to confront one another, but to conceive answers for a possible solution. Such is the task of the opposition parties, in case they had not realized it: to propose alternatives and a route to attain them.

I must clarify, finally, that I do not consider the plebiscite proposals and (eventually) elections in Cuba totally misguided, but only incomplete. All efforts have the courage to break the inertia, promote action. But it is necessary to abandon, once and for all, the cravings for personal wishes to be in the limelight and find one or several feasible solutions in the shortest time to overcome the Castro nightmare. Right now, the “who” is not so important, rather the “what” and especially the “how” are. Cuba languishes while some walk around, thriving in its name and contemplating their belly-buttons.

Or, who knows? Maybe there is already a solution properly thought out and strategically realizable, as an old friend always tells me, “momentarily locked in a desk drawer of some good Cuban, who is waiting for the right moment to bring it to light.” Or maybe the miracle will finally take place and the wills of many Cubans from all over will come together to allow light to shine and open the way. Only this thought exposes me for what I am: an incurable optimist.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The “New” Cuban Constitution: Defeat or Opportunity? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

A billboard celebrating the 35th anniversary of the current Cuban constitution. “Party, People, Government, State, a Single Will”

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, West Palm Beach, 28 June 2018 — A recent inquiry by colleagues Ana León and Augusto César San Martín about the expectations of several citizens, in the face of the constitutional reform, arouses reflection on some of the numerous gaps in the field of civic culture and rights ailing the Cuban population.

Perhaps an illustrative example, which portrays the colossal work of citizen education that will have to be developed in an eventual transition scenario towards democracy, is the evidence of the almost absolute ignorance of the Law of laws by at least some of the Cubans questioned on the subject.

However, ignorance and even disdain regarding constitutional issues are not the only existing factors. In fact, illiteracy in legal and civil rights issues in Cuba is practically a congenital social disease, something perfectly understandable in a country governed for decades by autocratic voluntarism, through decrees and improvised regulations that commonly overcome — and even contradict — the letter, the spirit, the strength and the legal hierarchy of the Constitution itself. continue reading

Add to this that both the content of the Constitution and the laws, the courts that must enforce them and the institutions that must ensure order, exist in order to guarantee the privileges of Power, not the rights of citizenship, which determines that the subject (let’s call him the “citizen”) is constantly forced to commit crimes because of the imperatives of survival, and tends to alienate himself from a legal body that neither represents nor favors him.

Such legal confusion is also reflected in the opinions reaped by León and San Martín, where a segment of the participants, whom the authors define as “more radical,” believe that in the current constitutional reform process “everything must be changed, starting with the political vision from which the new document will be written,” while another imprecise number of testimonies show “modest aspirations,” of which only one is revealed: “increase in salaries and pensions.” A longing that would be related to a specific law in any case, but not to a Constitution.

Unfortunately, we do not know the number of subjects involved in the aforementioned journalistic survey, and we also lack other information about them, such as their ages, occupations and places of residence, which may be useful for venturing additional assessments. For this reason — scarce in testimonies and abounding above all in opinions issued by the authors — the text does not meet the expectations suggested by the title.

However, it is appreciated that León and San Martín bring up a topic as important as the preparation of a new constitution in Cuba. Especially if one takes into account the environment of conspiracy in which the new Statute is being cooked, the peculiar moment in which its drafting has been decided — marked by the transfer of the presidency of the country from the so-called “historical generation” to the “generational relay” — and the inexplicable fact that such a complex task is headed precisely by the ex-president, General Raúl Castro, who had the opportunity of convening a Constituent Assembly and amending the Constitution during the more than 10 years of his ill-fated mandate, but didn’t do it.

And since the corset that will truss the “new” Constitution from its inception was already announced — socialism’s irrevocable character and the role of the Cuban Communist Party as the leading force of society and of the State — it can be assumed that the novelties the new Statute brings are simple accommodations to disguise the subtle return to capitalism that has (illegally) been taking place before our eyes.

Clearly, the Constitution of Castro II will legitimize the highly vilified “exploitation of man by man,” which returned decades ago to successfully emulate the already previously sacramental (though never explicit) exploitation of man by the State; the privileged presence of foreign capital; the exclusion of Cubans and the perpetuation of power, all camouflaged under the innocent euphemism of “the Cuban model.”

So, if the official media have made reference to the debate by the National Assembly of Peoples Power of less conspicuous issues, such as equal marriage or revision of the Family Code, I do not think it intends to catapult Princess Mariela Castro towards future political stardom — in such a macho and homophobic country, much more is needed than the support of an army of gay revolutionaries to assume the presidency — but to create a smokescreen, a mere distraction that offers the world the image that, in effect, Cuba is changing and that it is more democratic and inclusive than many developed countries. From the UMAP* to the Palace of Marriages… Now that is the will to change, gentlemen!

As for the political and economic freedoms for Cubans, we already know that this option is vetoed. The olive-green mafia, now dressed in elegant suits and neat guayaberas, will move only the chips that certify their political interests, endorse their capital and maintain social control and “political balance.”

And in addition, they may astutely throw some legal crumbs that favor the minimal and undemanding private sector — a wholesale market, even if it is not stocked or offering better prices than the retailer, for example — in order to win their support and compliance. It is known that, as a general rule, the goals of long-term societies are not related to being freer, more prosperous and independent, but also to the petty aspiration of not belonging to the majority sector, the poorest members of the population.

And assuredly, the remnants of the Castro regime and its political heirs will make their legalistic move so well that they will be able to show the world how some eight million idiots will go docilely to the polls to consecrate with their vote the perpetuity of the dispossession of their rights. We have already seen it before.

Except that (who knows?), the “masses” should understand that, this time, only they have the possibility to surprise us, and to use the power of their vote to say “NO” to a Constitution that is born mutilated and spurious. Maybe we are facing an opportunity and not a defeat.

Perhaps some opposition leaders, so engrossed in defending their own little egos, are missing a golden opportunity to show the world that there are a large number of Cubans who deserve recognition and support in their democratic aspirations, and — in passing — to clarify to the autocracy that they can no longer count on a unanimous and monotonous herd.

A tiny step, yes, but a step forward. It’s true that it would be an arduous task for leaders and activists to mobilize this time to get people to go the polls – rather than to boycott them – and to cast NO votes to oppose the conspiracy of Power. It is also true that this would not produce money or allow for personality cults, but on the contrary: it would cost capital and blur the leadership into “all of us.” For the first time the common leader would be the electorate. But, if what it really is about is the future of Cuba and of all Cubans, it would be well worth the effort.

*The UMAP, Unidades Militares de Ayuda a la Producción, (Military Units for Aid to Production) were forced-work agricultural labor camps operated by the Cuban government during the mid-1960’s. Scant information available has characterized the camps solely as an instance of gender policing, though it was created for individuals who, for religious or other beliefs were not able to serve in the regular military units.

Miriam Celaya is a Cubanet journalist, resident in Cuba, who is visiting Florida

Translated by Norma Whiting