The Irreversible Failure of the Castro Regime / Miriam Celaya

Miguel Díaz-Canel and Raúl Castro (Reuters)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 14 June 2018 — The adversities of the lugubrious panorama of the political heirs of the latter Castro regime don’t seem to have an end. Everything seems to conspire against the confused performance of the recently inaugurated Cuban president, Miguel Díaz-Canel, including Mother Nature, who in recent days has been punishing the already suffering Island with torrential downpours, deepening the country’s economic drain in their aftermath.

According to the schematic official reports, the territories that suffered the heaviest rain were from the provinces from Pinar del Río (western end of Cuba) to Ciego de Ávila (central region), in which “the main damages were in agriculture, roads and housing,” although “progress is being made in the recovery process.”

The cold outline, however, conveniently overlaps with the drama of those Cuban families who have lost their homes and their few assets, whose misery is in addition to that of the countless affected by other meteorological events that have plagued the island in recent years, whose claims are far from being resolved. continue reading

During the substantial analysis of our distinguished leaders, convened last Monday, June 11th, they insisted that the greatest impact “was in the municipality of Ciénaga de Zapata, mainly in Cayo Ramona, where 205 houses were still flooded, because the water is receding very slowly.” For this reason, they pointed out, “more than 3,000 people who were evacuated are still not able to return, including 219 students who are missing school.”

Such a difficult situation provoked a brilliant revelation on the part of the very sagacious Cuban president, who indicated “a detailed study would be conducted of the terrain and the reasons that have caused the area to still be flooded more than 15 days after the rains ceased.”

Obviously, not one of the smarty pants assembled there saw fit to point out to the President that it would be pointless to waste time and resources in such a “study,” since Cayo Ramona is adequately charted on the maps, where it is shown as a slightly elevated land in the midst of one of the largest wetlands in this geographical region called the Caribbean, characterized by the presence of abundant springs or “waterholes,” which causes the soil drainage to slow down even more when its islets are flooded.

On the other hand, what would the specialists propose, then? Drying the bog? It would not be a novelty either. Already in the 1960’s and 1970’s his Majesty Castro I was caressing that idea, when he dreamed to turn the huge swamp into the largest producer of rice in the hemisphere, a project that he discarded perhaps when in one of his many epiphanies he also glimpsed the creation of the largest crocodile farm in the world … “Plan Crocodile,” he called it, although in reality that hallucination was so ephemeral that it was barely given press coverage. Or maybe he had a plan that included raising crocodiles in the paddy fields. We will never know exactly how many hallucinations went through that arcane brain.

But in reality, this flood of “Councils of Ministers” and analyses of the national situation among senior leaders not only reaffirms that what is involved is to deliberately follow the traditional strategy of the Cuban government, whose representatives of the so-called historical generation continue to throw their shadowy shadow, consisting of holding hundreds of meetings from which “commissions” and “detailed studies” are derived, with the sole purpose of lengthening, over time, the solutions to the problems until, finally, the people resign themselves to living with the problem.  It also evidences the uncertainty of a government, tied hand and foot, to an ideology that is no longer useful even for Power.

The current times, marked by the sociopolitical and economic crises of the allied governments of Latin America, the retreat of the left, the epidemic of widespread corruption — in Cuba and the rest of the region — the collapse of the Cuban economy, the failure of the socialist “Model,” national despair and an infinite number of reasons that encourage social discontent and the sense of fatality of a people plunged into dismay, constitute the greatest challenge for a fatigued dictatorship that seeks to perpetuate itself in spite of the reality that surpasses it.

That is why neither the fake elections, nor the “youth” of the stand-in replacement president, nor the useless Guidelines nor the projected new Constitution, weighed down by the same old precepts that led to the “revolutionary” shipwreck, will be able to stop the inevitability of the changes. Because if something is truly irreversible in Cuba today, it is the failure of the Castro regime.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban Festival in Washington: One More Victory for Castroism / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Omara Portuondo and Aymée Nuviola (Credit: Kennedy Center)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Álvarez, Havana, 15 May 2018 — Omara Portuondo, Ballet Nacional, Pablo Milanés, Haydée Milanés, Los Van Van, Teatro El Público, Aldo López Gavilán, Jorge Luis Pacheco, Orquesta Faílde, Teatro El Público, Orquesta del Liceo de La Habana… The top drawer talent went to Cuba, to the Kennedy Center, to the Artes de Cuba festival. The best and most reliable, the ones who can be trusted to not defect or say something inappropriate–because it would not be to their advantage to do so.

It matters not if Pablito Milanés, who has been whining lately, were to make some controversial statement, because this would only show that Cuba has changed, that we are completely transparent, and that dissent is allowed (of course it is!)—provided, that is, that the dissent is expressed as the Maximum Leader wanted: “within the Revolution.” * continue reading

As the journalist Yuri Nórido wrote, with utmost optimism, a few days ago in the Trabajadores newspaper: the Kennedy Center patrons will see for themselves that in Cuba, “questioning and committed” (we all know to what) art is made.

You will pardon my cynicism, but I do not trust the assurances given by Alicia Adams, the festival curator, that the Cuban government did not intervene into the selection of artists. With a regime like this one, I’m not buying that story…

What a coincidence that among the more than 250 performers selected by Adams—let’s say we believe that she alone made the selection—there are no independent artists (except the Mal Paso dance company, which, it is true, does not receive state subsidies)—and even less any of the writers, filmmakers, painters and other artists who are censored and condemned to be ostracized, such as those plastic artists who, at this very moment and while being harassed by State Security, are holding an alternative Bienal in Havana.

What a coincidence that among the artists in the Cuban diaspora—let’s not call it “exile,” that ugly word—who are fewer, were not included, for example, such virtuosos as saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and trumpeter Arturo Sandoval. Could it be because they are openly anti-Castro?

By the same token, just to allay any such suspicions, the quintet of New York-based saxophonist Yosvany Terry, and the singer Aymée Nuviola, who lives in Miami, were at the Kennedy Center. Neither of them have ever made a peep against the regime, which Adams must have taken into account when making her selections. Because we wouldn’t want the festival to be politicized…

It’s not that artists must spend their lives making political statements, but in the case of individuals who have been forced to leave their country for reasons that always, one way or another, can be traced back to politics, it would well be worthwhile if, occasionally, when it’s relevant, they would declare themselves, speak plainly and leave off the subterfuge. They should follow the example of Alicia Alonso and Omara Portuondo, who whenever they have the opportunity to do so, they give witness to their unbreakable loyalty to castroism.

Speaking of Omara Portuondo, her fan Aymée Nuviola appears to be trying with her what she was unable to do, no matter how hard she worked, with Celia Cruz: to prosper in her shadow. Maybe she’ll even get to cut a duo record with the Diva of the Buenavista Social Club. And continue taking trips to Havana, where, to some people who don’t care about put-downs, snubs and payoffs, applause sounds sweeter than in Miami.

For the moment, the Cuban regime is winning another propaganda battle. With so many good artists at the Kennedy Center—the majority of them “educated in the art schools created by the revolutionary government,” as they insist on pointing out—anyone would think that the official culture in Cuba is a marvel, another “achievement of the Revolution.” Perhaps this, and not so much the building of bridges between Cuba and the US, is the objective of this Cuban art festival, the largest celebrated outside the Island.

luicino2012@gmail.com

*Translator’s Note:  A reference to Fidel Castro’s “Words to the Intellectuals” speech of June 30, 1961, in which he set limits to the free expression of artists and writers: “Within the Revolution, everything; outside the Revolution, nothing.”

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

 

Latin America: Peace in the Abstract/ Miriam Celaya

Source: Reuters

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 May 2018 — Few words carry such an unmistakable meaning – and contradictorily – such dissimilar interpretations, as that brief 5-letter-word: Peace. Contrary to the destruction caused by wars and the crises arising from the numerous conflicts that affect Humanity, the lack of a universal concept of Peace has continually hindered attempts to measure the degree of pacifism of each country or region.

Finally, in May 2007, the British weekly The Economist published for the first time the Global Peace Index list, an instrument that established the numerical ordering of more than 140 countries according to the absence or presence of violence, as measured by indicators such as crime rate, the existence of internal or external wars, military spending, political stability, the number individuals serving time in jail, and respect for human rights, among others. continue reading

Despite certain inaccuracies arising from the exclusion of important parameters, such as gender and child violence, or the dubious reliability of data and sources in the case of some countries – for example, Cuba – the GPI has great referential value, not only for being the first to identify the elements that intervene in peace, but for constituting a permanent record that allows us to observe the mobility in the levels of peace of the different countries and regions that make up the list, where the lowest scores correspond to the most peaceful countries, and vice versa.

Collaterally, the GPI research establishes a clear correlation between levels of peace and levels of income, education, transparency, corruption and democracy in the countries analyzed.

Due to its methodological contribution and its systemic nature, which facilitates the evaluation of advances or setbacks in terms of peace over a period of time and in specific territories, the GPI established an inescapable precedent for any subsequent proposal and for the ability to trace political strategies in pursuit of the conquest and sustainment of peace.

Peace… in Latin America?

Seven years after the first report of the GPI, 33 member-countries of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), meeting at its Second Summit held in Havana (January 2014), unanimously declared this Region as a Peace Zone, allegedly “with the objective of promoting cooperation and maintaining peace and security in all orders among its member countries.”

The aforementioned Declaration was not accompanied by a strategic design that would explain the criteria or parameters followed by those 33 leaders in order to consider as a “Peace Zone” a region permanently crossed by the conflicts and violence imposed by guerrilla wars, drug and human trafficking, gang violence, disappearances and kidnappings, human displacement due to poverty and crime, constant migration, border crises, paramilitaries, assassinations, corruption reaching even the highest political strata, human rights violations, offenses against freedom of press and expression, repression against demonstrators, and an countless crimes that depict in somber tones a geographic and political scene diametrically opposed to what might be called Peace.

Neither did the CELAC establish in its Second Summit a program of proposals to overcome regional problems that threaten peace, methodology to measure improvements or retractions in each country, nor a special commission charged with supervising a joint project of the member countries to guarantee results that might turn Latin America into a true “Peace Zone.”

In fact, today’s stubborn reality indicates that violence and conflicts in our region, far from diminishing, have the propensity to increase. The political and social instability that already existed in Venezuela before 2014 has been joined by the political crisis in Brazil, and more recently in Nicaragua. Mexico continues to exhibit staggering crime rates linked to drug, arms, and human trafficking, gender crimes and targeted killings, amid a climate of insecurity augmented by swift impunity; criminal gangs continue to spread terror in Central America, while the Peace Accords – also signed in Havana – between the narco-guerrillas of the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the government of that country are very likely to end up in a complete failure.

And as if it were not sufficiently spurious that such a Peace in the abstract should be declared in a happy conspiracy of all the democratic governments of “our America” with this hemisphere’s longest dictatorship – responsible, directly or indirectly, for several regional conflicts and incapable of propitiating spaces of dialogue and harmony with its own people – these days Havana is, once again, the base and guarantor of another “sham peace process.” which this time will take place between the Colombian government and the National Liberation Army, the Communist guerrilla organization that persists in armed violence.

Now that we have heard the evidence, it is obvious that the dreams for regional peace are just another kind of Latin American myth, something like the legend of El Dorado or the Fountain of Eternal Youth: a promise full of frustrations that transcended into just a fantasy.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Transition, Cuban Style / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuba’s new president Miguel Díaz-Canel (center), with Bruno Rodríguez, Mercedes López Acea and Raul Castro (and his grandson/bodyguard in shadow) at the Plaza of the Revolution this May Day (cubadebate.cu)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, 7 March 2018, Havana – Since the transfer of the government from the hands of General Raúl Castro to Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez last April 19th, much has been speculated in the foreign media about the possible beginning of a political transition in Cuba. For some inexplicable reason certain colleagues – perhaps well-intentioned, though somewhat clueless – identify the new Cuban president as a sort of helmsman who will lead the sinking island of Cuba towards the fortunate port of democracy.

The defenders of this thesis base their arguments as much on objective questions as on more subjective reasons.  Among the objective questions is the pressing need to create openings within the Island that serve to oxygenate the agonizing national economy and improve the difficult living conditions of Cubans.

Among the more subjective reasons we can especially find the generational change of the political leadership of the country – which would eventually replace the positions still occupied by the rest of the diminished historical generation, with the additional benefit that the new leaders at the head of the Government, who, although they did not take part in the epics of the attack on the Moncada Barracks, the sailing of the yacht Granma from Mexico to Cuba with the Castro brothers, Che Guevara and other revolutionaries, and the guerrilla war in the Sierra Maestra on which the supposed legitimacy of the autocratic power of the Castro regime was based, neither do they carry the weight of the firing squads, the dispossession of property, the forced labor camps and all the atrocities committed by the Cuban dictatorship in the last six decades. continue reading

In defense of this purported transitional agenda – to date more desired than possible – to which some seduced foreign media refer, it could be mentioned that there are in today’s Cuba, in effect, socio-political similarities with countries that carried out processes of democratic transition after long dictatorships in the last third of the XX century, among them, Portugal and Spain, the longest-lived dictatorships in Europe, although not as long-lasting as the Cuban one.

In fact, the Castro regime’s almost sexagenarian autocracy is but a failed attempt at a transition that ended up being betrayed: the drift of the pro-democratic revolution came to power in January 1959 under the pretext of overthrowing the previous dictatorship, which was imposed by Fulgencio Batista’s coup d’état in March, 1952. This awards Cubans the dishonorable privilege of having lived uninterruptedly under conditions of two consecutive dictatorships for the past 66 years.

However, and except for the reasonable variations of nuances, among similarities of the current Cuban reality and the conditions of the aforementioned countries at the moment when their respective transitions took place, there is the presence of an autocratic power based on a unique and egocentric ideology, the intense and permanent propaganda of governmental thought, coupled with the most inflexible censorship on any alternative political opinion or current alternative politics, the official worship of the leader, which is intended to extend beyond his death in the Cuban case, the exaltation of a heroic historical past that supposedly justifies the ideology and leadership of the dictatorial Power and that, moreover, defines the national standard up to the present and towards the future, social control through the repressive political police and the pro-government organizations (selective repression to sow fear and silence in society), and the State’s economic corporate doctrine, which in Cuba is, all at the same time, Government and Single Party.

However, the differences, though fewer in their quantity, are more profound and decisive in explaining the delay, or rather, the non-existence, of the long-awaited process of democratic transition in Cuba.

In the case of Portugal, the overthrow of the Salazar dictatorship was the result of a military uprising that would become known as the Carnation Revolution (April 1974), led by the Movement of the Armed Forces (MFA), a rebel faction of the army led by a group of officers dissatisfied with the government, fundamentally due to the stalemates in the wars in the Portuguese colonies of Africa and East Timor.

Precisely because of the importance of the military elite in perpetuating ownership of the colonies, the army was an important political pillar for the Portuguese government, hence the possibility of a military conspiracy of great proportions in Portugal not only seemed contradictory or almost impossible for the regime, and thus was able to take by surprise the powerful political police, the most effective guardian of the Salazar regime. The capacity for organization, military discipline and the extension of the MFA, made it possible for the dictatorship to be overthrown in just a matter of hours, and after two years of political turbulence, democracy was established in the country.

The Spanish transition, meanwhile, started in 1975 after the death of dictator Francisco Franco, and was a complex civil process. In addition to the changes ordered by King Juan Carlos I as successor, previously appointed by the old head of the State as its leader, the broad support for the King played an essential role, both among a major sector of capitalists within Spain and among many Western countries, and led to the consensus reached by the political parties of the most dissimilar ideological tendencies – including elements of the old Franco regime – which eventually contributed to the creation of the new constitution, the referendum that approved it, and its enactment as the official precept of the government on December 1978, the rule of law being enshrined.

It is true that pitfalls were not lacking throughout the process, but the success of the Spanish transition also played a fundamental role in the support of sectors and personalities of the old Franco regime, who bet on the peaceful and gradual evolution towards democracy and worked towards its consolidation.

A glance is sufficient to discover that, while the similarities between the current Cuban reality and the scenarios that favored the democratic transitions of Portugal and Spain have been determined by their respective dictatorships, the departure of the autocrats from power and the processes of evolution to democracy in both European countries were made possible by social and political actors that do not exist in Cuba, or at least that have not been revealed to date. Namely: elite sectors of duly organized disgruntled military willing to change the political order, reformist elements within the political power itself that favor an orderly transition, national economic power groups capable of influencing pro-democracy changes, an opposition duly articulated and willing to generate political consensus in the interest of a common democratic destiny and, not least, an international community positively interested in supporting the emergence and consolidation of a true democracy in Cuba.

Faced with the lack of rights and the civic squalor of Cuban society, and given the lack of consensus among the opposition sectors, the Castro regime of late, now represented by a new generation of servants, holds all the trumps for a prolonged stretch in Power. To do this, it is ready to legitimize the new era of the dictatorship through a new constitution that must be submitted to a referendum in the future, and that – as expected – has already begun to notch another schism among the opposition: on the one hand, those who take on the challenge as an opportunity to say “NO” to the regime, to one party and to compulsory socialism; on the other, those who not only deny that possibility, but choose to wear themselves out in the disqualification of the former, accusing them of trying to “legitimize” the dictatorship.

It does not seem reasonable, in the midst of such a regrettable scenario, to speak of a Cuban transition. As far as many Cubans are concerned, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez is nothing more than the heir and follower of the dictatorial regime until he demonstrates otherwise. In any case, what is currently offered is a “transition, Cuban style,” a process equivalent to transition from a dictatorship of a life-long government to a government with handovers of power, but a dictatorship nonetheless.

Except that (who knows!) along the way, new actors and circumstances may appear, the miracle of a consensus among the Cuban democrats may take place and, surprisingly, the dreamed about transition to democracy might yet begin in Cuba

But those enthusiastic colleagues of the foreign press, as divorced from the aspirations of Cubans as they are ignorant of our reality, should note that until such a wonderful moment arrives – if it does – it is neither legal nor realistic to talk about a political transition in Cuba.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Millionaire Guerrillas and Angelic Drug Traffickers / Miriam Celaya

(Front, l to r) Juan Manuel Santos, Raúl Castro and Rodrigo “Timochenko” Londoño (prensa.com)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 April 2018 — Long before what the most skeptical anticipated, the failure of the new “Peace Accords” between the Colombian government and the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – today metamorphosed into a political party today – is a real possibility on the horizon of that South American nation.

The pacts were negotiated in Havana for four years before being signed in Colombia, with much fanfare, on September 26, 2016. A plebiscite held on October 2 of the same year received a resounding NO, but after making several modifications to the initial version, the pact was finally signed at the Colón theater in Bogotá. From the moment of its first steps, the pact has been on shaky ground, and it is now on the verge of tumbling. continue reading

The recent imprisonment of former FARC guerrilla leader Jesús Santrich, accused of having links to drug trafficking, and his possible extradition to the United States – a situation that, as the high commissioner for the Peace of Colombia has declared, should be clarified judicially and not through debates between the government and political actors – deepens the doubts about the seriousness and veracity of the commitment of the leaders of the now called Common Alternative Revolutionary Force (FARC) to leave behind a past of violence and war that marked half a century of national Colombian life.

However, this episode is just another nail in the coffin of a handful of Agreements that evidently lacked the broad popular support that was attributed to them from the beginning, as demonstrated by the results of the October 2016 plebiscite, and more recently, with the popular rejection that the FARC leader received in his political campaign tour related to the presidential elections, from which he chose to withdraw.

On the other hand, public opinion is not greatly surprised by the arrest and incarceration of Mr. Santrich. It was an open secret that, after losing the financial and logistical support of the former Soviet Union, the Marxist fighters of the Colombian jungles, once champions of the cause of the poor, had rapidly evolved into narco-guerrillas.

The trafficking of cocaine and the extraction of gold which, it is claimed, were always part of the fighters’ “self-financing”, thus became essential sources for the economic and material support of the war and, at its core, for the enrichment of the members of its power elite.

It is not surprising, then, that after the signing of the Havana Peace Accords, the FARC leaders – far from looking like the leaders of an army made up of peasants, workers and other poor and “oppressed” sectors of society – in truth were transformed into administrators of goods and assets of about $345 million, according to an estimate from a list delivered to the Government of Juan Manuel Santos by the UN Mission in Colombia in August of 2017.

However, it is baffling (at the very least) that instead of the gang of the needy one would expect from those who, in theory, have suffered the privations of war and jungle, the harshness of fighting and the persecution of the army, the cream of the crop of the former guerrilla force are in a position to fulfill the obligation to have gold, money, land, livestock, means of transportation and other assets to pay to the fund for reparations to the victims of the armed conflict, as settled in the Agreements.

In this way, due to these difficult paradoxes of reality, the fruits of systematic crime, kidnapping, extortion and terror which was planted in Colombian society for decades, is today part of the safe-conduct for impunity that, though not necessarily forced or required, leaves a bitter taste on the mouths of the victims.

That is why it is even the more brazen that the cynicism with which the FARC – and here I refer to the “political party” – pretends to pose as a victim of political persecution, when one of the members of its clique has been caught in flagrante delicto of drug trafficking, according to the Colombian authorities, breaking with what was agreed in the Peace negotiations.

These days, his colleagues in arms and misdeeds affirm that poor Santrich is in his 15th day of a hunger strike, which “has begun to wreak havoc on his health” and one we hope he is determined to continue to its ultimate consequences.

Since the accused does not have the one act-farce style, so often used by the regional left when defeat circles its wagons, this angelic image that’s being offered of a poor, unjustly incarcerated blind man (and two other companions (cronies?) locked up in the same prison), who is willing to sacrifice his life to prove his innocence, denied the assistance of his own doctors by the authorities, is almost tender. It would seem that those kidnapped and murdered until recently by FARC guerrillas had received a lot better treatment and considerations.

But perhaps such a plaintive stance only tries to mask, as far as possible, the ramifications that drug trafficking reaches among that dark amalgam of Marxist-drug-traffickers-guerrillas-politicians, for whom perhaps the failed Peace Accords – not coincidentally negotiated in Havana’s Palace of the Revolution by their historical allies, the Castros – are too much like a capitulation of their olive-green glory days, when they camped at will, kidnapping, extorting, trafficking and murdering in the jungles and towns of Colombia.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Preliminary Assessment of an Announced Succession / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro salutes Diaz-Canel (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2018 — The first question regarding the succession of power in Cuba, that is the one about who would be elected, was finally clarified on April 19th with the confirmation of the selection of Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez as the new president of the State Council of the Castro regime. He will assume the dubious privilege of inheriting the address of the hacienda in ruins.

Contrary to the announcements of the darkest of soothsayers proclaiming the eventuality of a dreaded dynastic succession by Raul’s son, Alejandro Castro Espín, who would have been designated by purely consanguineous motives, the election of Díaz-Canel, far from surprising anyone, coincides with signals from the cupola that marked him as a favorite for the position. Castro Espín, for his part, isn’t even among the members of the Council of State (CE). continue reading

If the fissures and struggles between two tendencies of the Power cupola – one “Raulista” and the other “Fidelista”— are true (and certain signs suggest that they are), it is certain that such discrepancies were not reflected in the results of the ballots voted by the 604 deputies who participated in the “election” of the CE. But by themselves, these results do not deny the existence of such a crack, rather they suggest the possibility of agreements between both tendencies in order to safeguard economic, political, and even personal interests and privileges which are common to them, since they are a class that has held power for six decades and that has direct responsibility in everything that happened during that time and in the deep socio-economic crisis that suffocates the nation.

The election process initiated in the month of October 2017 culminates in these two days of sessions of the Ninth Legislature of the National Assembly. However, they were not exempt from surprises, among which stands out – with differences – the strange and unexplained exclusion of Marino Murillo, a member of the Political Bureau and Head of the Implementation and Development Committee of the new CE.

His absence seems all the more confusing because in his inaugural speech the new Cuban president expressed the will and commitment to continue with the implementation of the Guidelines and the Economic and Social Development Plan until 2030, drawn up by his mentor and predecessor, Raúl Castro, to whom – by the way – he dedicated an exaggeratedly laudatory segment.

Murillo should be, at least in theory, an important player with regards to the “continuist” economic policy announced by the incoming president, so his elimination from the CE – without any announcement of his transfer to “other important functions,” as explained in the case of Mercedes López Acea, following the official jargon’s cryptic style – opens the door to speculation about this high official’s possible fall from grace.

Another curious fact in the composition of the new CE is the almost nonexistent presence of any active military. Beyond the symbolic olive-green uniforms of the historical old commanders Guillermo García and Ramiro Valdés – ratified among the five vice-presidents of the CE – General Leopoldo Cintra Frías has been the only minister of the Revolutionary Armed Forces who was ratified as a member.

No less notable was the postponement of the election of the Council of Ministers until the next ordinary session of the National Assembly, scheduled for July 2018 as proposed by the president himself, Díaz-Canel, taking into account the country’s complex current circumstances. The proposal was approved unanimously, in accordance with the tradition of the Assembly.

In general, and contrary to what one would expect from these momentous days, when after almost sixty years the departure of the Castro clan from the presidential armchair has finally happened, there are more unknowns left to unravel in times to come than there are certitudes that the new Cuban president had to offer.

His speech held no promises, certainties or proposals for a more promising course for the millions of the governed, who – for their part – lack hopes or expectations for the “new” government. Perhaps the only miniscule novelty of the presidential discourse was the mention, on two occasions, of the word “prosperity,” towards which, according to the “young” ruler, socialism must lead us.

Nevertheless, in spite the heir’s manifest orthodoxy, his language of the barricades and his frequent attacks against anything that differs from the path marked by the leaders of the “Revolution,” we will have to carefully watch his next steps. Rehashing old speeches is not the same as facing the reality of a country in urgent need of deep changes or refusing to take the necessary steps to reverse the calamitous legacy he has just been handed. Because changes in Cuba are not just an option, but a requirement, beyond the interests of the Power claque, its tendencies, its interests or the desires of the brand-new, freshly unveiled, president.

Going forward, what Raúl’s dauphin “says” will not be as important as what the Cuban president “does.” Without a doubt, the shadows of the two Castros – one a ghost, the other a phony reformer – will continue to perniciously influence his mandate for a time. Unfortunately, “time” is not what this new honcho has a lot of, and betting on continuity and pauses, he could end up as the scapegoat of the Castro regime. His only options are to leap forward or bear the entire responsibility for the bad works and ineptitude of his predecessors, while maintaining the balance between the factions of the old power. He won’t have it easy, but this is what he wished for. Meanwhile, for ordinary Cubans, the horizon continues to be as gloomy today as previously, but, at the end of the day, April 19th was the first day of a government without Castros. And only that minutest circumstance is, in itself, good news.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Corruption, the End of Impunity and the Latin American Political Street Gangs

Lula and ex-president Dilma Rousseff (AFP)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 April 2018 — With the recent imprisonment of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the regional left has just received another hard setback. In fact, it could almost be said that Lula’s fall from grace has been the most serious blow suffered by Latin American progressives in the midst of the relentless bashing that its leaders have been weathering in recent times.

Lula is, without a doubt, one of the few heads of state of the left under whose government (2003-2011) extraordinary economic and social improvement was seen, reflected in a high rate of GDP growth, increases in exports, anticipated liquidation of external debts, strengthening of the national markets, significant decreases in unemployment, increases in salaries and the creation and diversification of microcredits, among other important reforms. continue reading

If Brazil reached a relevant position in the world economy in just eight years, and if ever the developing countries looked with hope at what was known at the time as “the Brazilian miracle,” it is largely due to the political talent and the economic reforms promoted by Lula, which explains his enormous popularity in his country and the considerable political capital which he still has, even in the midst of the judicial process – a corruption plot not yet concluded – that has landed him in jail.

But, along with all of Lula’s merits listed above is that other essential component of the best exponents of political populism: a mixture of charisma and histrionics that the former President, now a defendant, has deployed astutely, in the purest style of the television soap operas produced by his country, to manipulate the exalted spirits of his followers in his favor. Staying in the political game, despite everything, is one of the most common tricks of populist leaders, regardless of their ideological alignment.

The hoax reached its climax precisely at the end of the 48 hours of the weekend in which he remained resistant – self imprisoned, it could be said – in the face of the order to surrender to the authorities to begin to serve a 12-year prison sentence, when, surrounded by militants of his own party (Partido de los Trabajadores, PT) and other allied parties – among which the everlasting scarlet shadow of the Communists could not be absent – Lula used popular sentimentality to invoke the memory of his late wife on the first anniversary of her death, with a Catholic mass that served to close a chapter in what promises to be an extensive and complicated saga.

Afterwards, before surrendering to the authorities, the beginning of messianism and megalomania surfaced in one who, now purified by his punishment, assumes himself as metamorphosed into the Illuminati of the poor, to harangue his enlightened discourse, with a mystical touch: “I will not stop because I am no longer a human being, I am an idea (…) mixed with your ideas.” And “in this town there are many Lulas.” Apotheosis of the peoples. The crowd cheered deliriously, tears flowed and hugs for the martyr abounded. Curtain down.

It is not personal. It is known that the defense of those who are condemned must be allowed, even from the guillotine, and that those who are hanged also kick about. However, as far as it has transpired, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was prosecuted with the corresponding guarantees under the Brazilian judicial system rules, and he is being convicted of corruption, not because of his political ideas.

Ergo, even though Lula’s downfall benefits his political adversaries, it was Lula himself who, in committing the crime, deeply harmed the PT and dirtied the “cause” of his followers. It is not, then, a “political trial,” as his regional leftist allies want others to believe, and some of them are beginning to fear they could also be splashed by this great mess of putrefaction.

Beyond all that Lula did well, no one is above the Law. After all, whoever is corrupt should be prosecuted and imprisoned, especially those who hold political office. It is true that, in good faith – and judging by the corruption scandals that are being uncovered in recent years among the political classes of any alignment – it would be said that, in order to imprison the dishonest public servants, prison capacities would have to be expanded rapidly, especially in Latin America.

In fact, the history of our region is so lavish in examples of political and administrative decay at all levels that this last uncorking, which continues to expose long chains of corruption and to implicate numerous high level politicians, should not surprise anyone. The novelty – and this, only to a certain extent – is that they are being judged, condemned and imprisoned.

We must not forget the case of the former Brazilian president Fernando Collor de Mello (who governed between March 1990 and October 1992) as the young politician who assumed the first presidency of a democratic Brazil. He won the elections in the second round – precisely against Lula da Silva – for the right-wing National Reconstruction Party, with the promise of ending the illicit enrichment of public officials.

Paradoxically, just over two years later, Collor de Mello was forced to resign because of investigations of corruption – acceptance of bribes in exchange for political favors – and influence peddling, followed by a Congress that officially requested his dismissal. A technicality in the court process prevented his being found guilty of political corruption, and that saved him from prison. However, Congress did consider him guilty and condemned him to eight years of suppression of his political rights. So far, Collor de Mello has not succeeded in his political career, although he has again attempted to venture into it.

Now, Collor de Mello’s asking his supporters back then to publicly demonstrate against what he called a “coup d’état”, seems to be part of a desperate recourse followed by presidents fallen into disgrace, beyond their political color. Years later, Dilma Rousseff took that same stance when facing her own destitution.

And these are only Brazilian references. We can also mention recent cases of fallen angels in other countries of the region, such as the left-wing Argentine president, Cristina Fernández – also said to be “persecuted politically,” the poor thing – or the right-wing Peruvian president, Pedro Pablo Kuczynski. It has been said that corruption is not an ideological disease, but a moral one.

And while the spiral of corruption continues to expand, dragging more and more prominent figures of regional politics in its dizzying cone, Latin Americans who are followers of one leader or another – or one party or trend or another – continue to show civic immaturity and the proverbial political infantilism.

So, instead of taking on the challenge of the moment and embracing the end of impunity as an essential principle that, without distinction or privileges, will reign over all public servants, they prefer to project themselves as if this were all a brawl between street gangs, where what really matters is not to prove one’s innocence but to accentuate the guilt of the adversary. It isn’t so much that “mine” is corrupt, but that “yours” is more so. And so it seems that we will continue to the end of time.

To paraphrase a well-known Cuban poet: It’s Latin America, don’t be surprised at anything.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Victorious Failure of the Castro Regime / Miriam Celaya

Cuba’s ‘leaders’

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 March 2018 – On April 19th, when the enigma is finally cleared up about who the new Cuban president (not elected by the people) will be, for the next 10 years, the members of his brotherhood won’t be able to figure out whether to congratulate him or to offer him their condolences.

The new leader will not only be inheriting that old unburied corpse that they stubbornly insist on calling “The Cuban Revolution,” but he will have the colossal task before him of prolonging – theoretically ad infinitum – the funeral of such a long-lived mummy, and in addition, he would also be doing it under the rigid rules (supposedly “Guidelines”) dictated by the outgoing president. continue reading

At least this is what translates from the minimal information published by the official press monopoly on the 5th Plenum of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), in whose framework – which covered two days of “intense work” – “important issues of the updating of the Cuban economic and social model were analyzed,” such as the project of the “Housing Policy in Cuba” and “a report approved by the Political Bureau on the studies that are being conducted for a future reform to the Constitution.” The latter will ratify “the irrevocable nature of our socialism and the leading role of the Party in Cuban society.”

That said, and until the next Congress of the PCC to be held in 2021, General Raúl Castro will continue to lead the “superior leadership force” of Cuban society, unless nature decides otherwise. Then it will be him in this last instance, and not the brand-new President, who makes the political decisions of the country, and who controls the fulfillment of what is ruled under his administration.

And as if all this straitjacket from internal politics were not enough, the incoming president will be the first in the saga of “Cuban socialism” that will face endemic economic ruin without counting on the juicy external subsidies – first, from the extinct Soviet power, then, from the Venezuelan “chavismo,” today ruined and wavering – which their predecessors, the Castros, enjoyed. How the economic crisis and the social discontent will be mitigated without external support and without implementing real reforms will be a challenge that will have to be followed with interest.

Add to this the marked retreat of the leftist regimes in the region, partly as a result of the bad policies that have made them lose the trust of their voters, who have punished them at the polls, but also due to the wave of corruption scandals related to the Brazilian transnational organization Odebrecht, which has involved numerous governments and whose spillovers have already reached Venezuela’s Miraflores Palace, the closest ally of the Castro regime. In this regard, it could be only a matter of time before some of the compromising ‘details’ begin to appear in relation to the Lula-Castro-Special Mariel Development Zone and the aforementioned company.

Thus, the the “new” Cuban government’s margin to maneuver in favor of “apertures” or “reforms” that would differentiate the before-Castro and after-Castro eras should wait at least three more years in the domestic policy order, unless the difficult circumstances of the country, together with the changing external conjunctures create an appropriate scenario for it. And all of this, taking into account the doubtful event that the president “elected” this April has sufficient political capacity, intelligence, and the inclination for change to take advantage of the moment and promote the necessary transformations that will bring Cubans their long-postponed prosperity.

But, in any case, this 5th Plenary Session of the PCC has been perhaps the outgoing president’s last wasted opportunity to demonstrate some capacity in his late leadership after 12 years of erratic hesitations, of tiny advances followed by resounding setbacks, and of so many unfulfilled promises.

Had he lived up to his own commitments, Castro II would have had to leave at least some essential formulas, such as the new draft Electoral Law, announced before the celebration of the Seventh Congress of the PCC; the proposal of a monetary unification plan – with its corresponding execution schedule; and the much-vaunted new rules for self-employment, including the re-establishment of granting of licenses, arbitrarily suspended since August 2017.

So, according to the progress report presented during this Fifth Congress, the evaluation of the implementing of policies authorized in the Guidelines yielded “unfavorable” results – a term which softens the disastrous truth – which is reflected, among other adverse factors, in the mistakes made, in the deficiency of the controls, in a “limited vision of the risks,” in the absence of adequate legal norms, in the information gaps, in the lack of a tax culture and in another string of stumbling blocks that – for a change – are attributable only to “the base.”

“There is a wasteful mentality,” the general-president lectured. But, despite such a catastrophic performance and the failure of what we could generously call his “government program” (the Guidelines, approved during the VI Congress of the PCC, on April 18, 2011), he assures us that “the situation today is more favorable.” He did not clarify how “favorable” or favorable for what.

And since we, the “governed,” have been making mistakes on our own without understanding the clear guidance of this leader through regulatory improvisation for seven years (more), now it is up to us to wait another indefinite amount of time until the wrongs can be straightened out. How will they do it? Well, as always, by bureaucracy and re-centralizing the economy.

To begin with, the new “legal norms” are being created that will ensure self-employment integrity. There will be a greater participation of the central organs in the controls of the fulfillment of each guideline and of each measure, and finally, a “work training” will be undertaken, not only of the leading cadres, inspectors and officials of the structures in charge of the control, but also of the 580,000 self-employed who – according to official figures – exist in Cuba, so that they learn, once and for all, how things should work.

Mind you, what has not appeared in the press to date, and we don’t know if it was discussed in the Fifth Plenary Session of the PCC, is when a training course will be held so that, after 60 years of experiments and “victorious” failures, the lords of the leadership and the rest of the cohort can learn to govern.

Translated by Norma Whiting

When You Invite the “Obnoxious One” to the Party / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 March 2018 — There is no doubt that with the Castro presence in international forums, the same thing happens as when they invite “an obnoxious one” to a party: he will always end up sabotaging everyone’s good time.

The examples of Castro’s “diplomatic” outbursts abound throughout the decades of the olive-green rule. Suffice it to recall the well-known diatribes and public tantrums of Castro I in dissimilar world conclaves against any government, official or just a journalist who was not to his liking, or who suggested the smallest slight toward his government. His anger was such that he seemed close to suffering a sudden stroke. continue reading

Such behavior, far from disappearing from the official practice, has become the style of the school of Cuban diplomacy. It consists essentially of exchanging the absence of arguments with verbal and at times even physical aggression, as was demonstrated during the VII Summit of the Americas, held in April 2015 in Panama, where the well-trained hosts of the “civil society “of the dictatorship violently attacked the representatives of Cuba’s independent civil society, who were invitees to the same forum.

The show was deplorable and will be engraved in the memory of those who had the questionable privilege of witnessing it. The worst thing, however, is that despite all this previous experience, the organizers of these forums continue to invite the “obnoxious one”.

Behold, the obvious inability of the Cuban Government to behave correctly in the democratic programs of the world was once again demonstrated by the rude behavior of the Cuban Ambassador to Peru, Juan Antonio Fernández, within the framework of the Hemispheric Dialogue held on March 21st in Lima, in preparation to the forthcoming Summit of the Americas.

This time the outburst of the Cuban amanuensis took place in the midst of a comment from José Luis Vallejo, the Peruvian representative of the Latin American Youth Network for Democracy (RLJD). Vallejo’s “sin” was to make reference in his speech to the ceremony to grant the Oswaldo Payá Awards in Havana, remarking that the prize winners have not been able to attend two of the ceremonies in a row by the express prohibition of the Cuban authorities. Vallejo also expressed his enthusiasm to attend the third award granting ceremony in Havana.

“Don’t even dare mention that name in my presence” the “diplomat” shouted to Castro Vallejo, in an intimidating manner. “I’ll ask you not to stick your nose in Cuban matters. Stop hassling us and stick to whatever you need to discuss.”

And representatives of the regional left claque, fulfilling its traditional mission, immediately applauded enthusiastically from their seats.

Because of his language and his attitude, it seems as if the faunal pawn of the insular dictatorship, instead of participating in respectful dialogue on foreign soil like the rest of the delegates, and in the presence of numerous representatives of various civil organizations in the region, was behaving as if he were on– any Centro Habana street corner, facing some troublemaker trying to sneak in the line to get his coveted quota of rationed potatoes.

The picture is more Kafkaesque because minutes before, during an intervention by the uncompromising official — as had previously been done by his compatriot and associate, Yamila González Ferrer, vice president of the ruling Union of Jurists of Cuba — he had launched a fierce attack against the RLJD, without having been interrupted by the representative of said organization.

However, this unfortunate event is just the prelude to what will be the presence of Castro’s groups at the VIII Summit of the Americas. Only, unlike the previous Summit, where after half a century of isolation, the “new” president of Cuba was given the opportunity to demonstrate that he was at the height of this important regional democratic forum — to which the General responded by blasting the alternative spaces of the Summit to encourage his pack of faithful servants to lash out against other Cubans — this time the Peruvian hosts do know, or at least they should know, what to expect.

In light of today, for many commonsensical people, the presence of the longest dictatorship in this Hemisphere is incomprehensible in a conclave that the Venezuelan government was excluded from, precisely because it did not respect the rights of its people. Without a doubt, the proselytizing work developed by the Castros through their doctor/slaves and other vassals has penetrated the political interests sufficiently strong – though not in democratic feelings – of more than one government in this region.

So, when this coming April we witness once again the shameful Panama experience and the loud troops of the Castro regime’s mob sabotage the VIII Summit of the Americas, let the hosts not complain, and let the rest of the representatives of the democratic governments and civil society organizations not be surprised, because an old Arab proverb will be fulfilled.  It goes like this: “The first time they deceive you, it will be their fault. The second time, the fault will be yours”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Transportation In Cuba: Multiple Problems For One Solution / Miriam Celaya

Archive

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 March 2018 — One of the most pressing and old problems never solved in the Cuban capital has been that of public transportation. There are countless causes, beginning with the extreme centralization that placed in the hands of the State the transportation administration and “control” for decades – with the disastrous consequences that this policy has brought in all spheres of the economy and services – to which could be added a long list of adversities inherent to the system, such as the aging of the vehicle fleet, the lack of spare parts to repair the buses’ constant breakdowns, the incongruence between the price of the (subsidized) fares and the cost of keeping the service running, and the chronic lack of cash that hinders the purchase of new and more modern effective buses, among other limitations.

As if such difficulties were not enough, in recent times, Havana residents have habitually used the most economical mode of transportation, the articulated “P” buses (40 cents CUP per passenger), which cover routes in high-demand and have the greatest passenger capacity. They have recently noticed longer waiting times between buses, which causes the corresponding crowding at the bus stops, the chaos at boarding time and all the inconveniences associated with it. continue reading

This time, however, it is not a problem of shortage of equipment, but of drivers. The truth about a growing popular rumor about this new fatality has just been confirmed by the director of the Provincial Transportation Company of Havana (EPTH), according to the official press. The aforementioned director said that, currently, the EPTH deficit is 86 drivers, which means – always in their own words – that, on a daily basis, 700,000 passengers cannot be transported in Havana, which represents about 60,000 pesos less in revenues and an average of 500 fewer trips.

The matter is not trivial. Among the four terminals most affected by the exodus of drivers are two with the highest demand: the ones at Alamar and San Agustín.

So, following “the vision of the directors of this company,” the (new) problem in the capital’s public transportation service, that is, the shortage of drivers, is due to “more tempting offers of salaries and hours at other work centers, as well as the increase in inspectors’ demands and actions so what is established in the sector is fulfilled.” (The underlined section contains the author’s views).

There wasn’t the slightest reference to fundamental issues that affect the transportation sector, and in particular, public transportation drivers, such as the salary incompatibile with the always ungrateful task of driving a heavy vehicle, loaded with irritated passengers, circulating through obsolete, insecure roads, full of potholes; the constant harassment of state inspectors, and the obligation to follow to the letter the sacrosanct commandments written by bureaucrats far removed from the actual work from the comfort of their air-conditioned offices.

However, the brainy directors of the EPTH have conceived a solution to “alleviate” the crisis: “in the coming weeks, a contingent of drivers from several provinces will arrive from the provinces, and the call for all those who wish to join the workforce will continue.”

All of which demonstrates the infinite capacity of the leading cadres of the socialist state enterprise to create several problems for each solution instead of one solution for each problem. Because one doesn’t need to be a genius to see that – except for the possible existence of inflated records – if drivers from the interior provinces are the solution to the transportation crisis in the capital, wouldn’t that be creating conditions for a transportation crisis in those provinces?

Another vital point of the matter: in Havana, aren’t there enough housing problems and insufficient shelters for thousands of victims who have lost their homes due to building collapses or evictions? How is the State going to guarantee accommodation and living conditions for those provincial drivers who will come to “save” the passengers of the capital for an undetermined period of time?

The experience of decades of massive “contingents” mobilized towards the capital – for example, policemen and builders from the eastern provinces, mainly during the 1970’s, though the practice has not completely disappeared – shows that this is a boomerang strategy: it not only increases the problem that is being solved but also generates new ones, mainly in the area of housing.

Although we must recognize that the topic of contingents in Cuba is all a State policy: in any crisis situation – which is the norm, not the exception – the creation of a contingent is always proposed. A contingent can serve the government (and only it) in all cases. Thus, there have also been contingents of teachers, doctors, sports coaches, cultural instructors, etc., whose common denominator is not having solved any problem, but the complete opposite.

And it could not be otherwise because, as is known, the word contingent defines something eventual, not definitive; which is why you cannot face a crisis – be it public order, housing, transport or any other – with a “contingent.” It is necessary to deeply reform the roots of the system that generates the evil, otherwise the contingent will end up being the one that takes root.

But, returning to the issue at hand, it would be interesting to know how the EPTH managers suppose that keeping an open call to increase the workforce of the company will resolve the deficit of drivers. Isn’t that the same type of negotiation that called for drivers to work at other locations that provided better wages and more manageable hours? So, what makes them suppose that the next influx of drivers will remain faithful before the helm, and facing the ferocious harassment (supposedly “demands”) of the inspectors, for the same salary and with the same schedule that determined the stampede of the previous drivers?

Paradoxically, in this case, as in many of the complex problems that overwhelm Cubans today, the solution is very simple and not at all new: allow the creation of autonomous cooperatives of transportation workers, give the fleet to these cooperatives, allow for those cooperative members to purchase fuel at reasonable prices and import cars and spare parts and apply a fair tax burden that encourages work for the sector. In summary, allow the freedoms and rights of workers in the sector. Only then will the eternal transportation crisis disappear, not in the capital, but in all of Cuba.

Because we Cubans have only one problem: an obtuse and failed sixty-year-old political system, which threatens to become eternal.

And in Cuba everything, even a humble bus driver’s employment post, is a reflection of the general crisis of the political system, and as such, constitutes a potential threat that must be “solved” deep down from the structures at the service of the regime. And while we’re waiting around, we can only exclaim what our grandparents used to say: “what a mess!”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Censorship, El Estornudo and Fung’s “Liberation T-Shirts” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

(Image: definicion.mx)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 March 2018 – Recently, several media have reported the consummation of another attack by Cuban authorities on the freedom of expression. This time the jealous guardians of political correctness blocked access to the digital magazine El Estornudo (The Sneeze) – an entertaining and well-written journalism project – in what constitutes another demonstration of the totalitarian vocation of the island’s government.

Thus, El Estornudo, is added to the censored list by the commissars of the Palace of the Revolution. A list, by the way, that is extensive, old and of varied tones, qualities and styles, but with one common denominator: narrating a reality that does not reflect the apologists – that is the “journalists” – of the Castro press. continue reading

For their part, the promoters of the magazine have responded with an editorial that does them honor: not only do they openly refuse to bow to the pressure of the Censor, but they declare that such arbitrariness “is not going to modify one iota the editorial line of our magazine nor is it going to make El Estornudo dialogue with the political power on the terms that the political power expects.”

This has been another chapter in the sad repressive repertoire that has been marking the general-president’s departure from the scene, a man who a decade ago was emerging as a possible reformer who would open a path towards relatively favorable changes for Cuba and Cubans.

However, far from making the promises of his initial speeches a reality, Raúl Castro’s last days at the head of the Government have been a clear step backwards that has been reflected particularly on two fronts: the unjustifiable crusade against the small and active private sector – where some minimal advances were being made in terms of the internal economy – and the new onslaught against the sectors of dissent or critics of the political system.

Faced with this reality and after almost 60 years of totalitarianism, it could be assumed that even the most optimistic Cuban would seriously question the health of human rights in Cuba. Especially of economic rights and the freedom of expression and information, so systematically and openly violated. But this is not the case, as evidenced by the interview recently granted by a young Cuban businessman, an emigrant named Juan Pablo Fung, to the news agency EFE.

Fung, great-grandson of a Cantonese Chinese who arrived in Cuba a century ago and settled permanently on the island, emigrated to China seven years ago thanks to a student scholarship. After finishing his studies he decided to stay in that country working for a better future which, obviously, he could not aspire to in Cuba.

Now Fung is about to realize a project dreamed up by him and for which he has been saving and working for the last three years: the production of “smart and free t-shirts” under the Dirstuff brand – carriers of “infinite and interchangeable messages” – soon to be on the market.

What is provocative about the case, however, are not the T-shirts themselves or the fact that they incorporate a personalized QR as a novelty – a technological resource that has already been used on the Island by independent activists – but the (very legitimate) aspiration of Fung to produce these “liberty T-shirts” in his native homeland in a future that, judging by his words, would seem close.

Fung also believes that this would be “the first private company in Cuba,” because “Cuba is changing” starting from an opening that began a few years ago and that will eventually lead to “the legalization of private companies” on the island.

What Fung evidently ignores, is that several years ago there were private capital companies on the island, not only those of foreign and “mixed” capital legalized by the State’s interests since the 1990s, but also those managed by Cubans “from inside.” It is just that the government does not define them as private companies but as “non-state forms” of economic management.

As for the promising “opening” that was announced precisely at the time that Fung left Cuba, currently it is in clear decline.

Nor is it clear whether Fung would invest as a Cuban “from within” or as a resident or Chinese citizen, that is, as a “Cuban émigré,” which for the purposes of the current socio-political and economic model “is neither the same nor is it equal.” In the second case – that is, as an exiled Cuban – the young man would find it impossible to invest on the Island, at least under current laws. Unfortunately, Cuba has not changed as much as Fung supposes.

But perhaps the most interesting thing about the theme of the shirts is the conflict they would spark in a political context as confrontational as that of Cuba. Fung declares that, although his product “advocates freedom of expression,” he does not want it to be politicized, because many people have been meditating on the Cuba issue “using the problems of politics as an argument and justification.” He does not want his T-shirts to become a political platform for these ends so that some profiteers can make money at his expense, which is also his legitimate right as creator and producer.

Being an expert in T-shirts is one thing, but in matters of politics, rights and freedoms the picture is different. Especially if we are talking about Cuba. It is enough to understand that if the Cuban authorities unleash such rage against independent and alternative digital spaces, to the point of censoring them and persecuting their animators – despite the insignificant Internet connectivity suffered by Cubans on the Island and the limited social reach of these media within the country – to know that the suspicions that the production and on-site commercialization of T-shirts carrying “free” messages which the explicitly apolitical Fung dreams of, are incalculable.

We can almost imagine the Central Committee’s Department of Political Guidance assuming the reins of production of “the first private company in Cuba” – Fung’s, of course – to flood the foreign tourism market with clothes, which would carry slogans such as “Commander in Chief, At Your Service!” or ” Fatherland or Death, We Will Conquer!” Or that other pearl that has been incorporated more recently into the official propaganda repertoire: “I am Fidel.” Dantesque. Even for such an optimist as Fung.

Because it turns out that Juan Pablo Fung does not believe that in Cuba “there is no freedom of expression.” For him it is only a problem of definitions around “a complicated issue.” A point on which the young man seems to agree with the censors in the service of Power, and another confusion for which we will have to forgive Fung.

In the end, settling in China can mean a discreet advance for a common Cuban in matters of financial prosperity, but it does not mean an advantageous change in terms of freedoms and rights. Perhaps that is why for Fung in Cuba “there is freedom of expression.” Yes, of course Fung, and “neither” in China.

The King Is Dead, Long Live the King / Angel Santiesteban

Eusebio Leal (Cuba Literaria) 

cubanet square logoCubanet, Angel Santiesteban, Havana, February 20, 2018 — The first stage of the Havana’s “International” Book Fair, which this year was dedicated to Chinese culture, has ended. Perhaps it would be better to say it was dedicated to the three or four Chinese individuals who have been tasked with traveling the world, extolling the dictators who govern the “Asian giant” and exalting its tyrants.

The Havana Book Fair long ago lost what little sparkle it once had. It used to be an event at which, for a few days, people pretended the work of the country’s authors mattered. More than a few writers actually believed the forum was about them. For a few days each year colleagues from every corner of the island embraced each other and talked about their projects, a few days when the crafty military convinced them it respected their space and were keeping their hands off the event. continue reading

But the day came when the real writers disappeared and it became clear that it was the Army that controlled the fair, that it was Raúl’s forces who decided who got the best exhibition booths and the most desirable time slots. The regime has shamelessly turned the fair, and of course its books, into a joke. Political rhetoric dominates, along with green-clad buffoons sporting epaulettes and stars. The fair has become a circus in which the military presents books carefully scripted by its servants.

Today the release of any work by a real writer is conditional. Now, more than in years past, editors must juggle whatever money is left over after the publication of all the titles those in power demand. Only then will they know how many authors might be able to have a slim volume showcased at the fair. And almost always the writers will be those who comply with the state and its military.

One of the fair’s greatest absurdities was the presentation of the book Raúl Castro and Our America Nuestra América, a collection of eighty-six speeches by the Cuban head of state. The book was compiled by a certain Abel Enrique González Santamaría and presented by Eusebio Leal — Havana’s official historian and a man of great notoriety within the halls of power for his exalted language — who acclaimed the work and recounted its history. As expected, he praised the brothers Castro left and right, earning him the applause of a room filled of soldiers and government loyalists.

Among those present was Alejandro Castro Espín, the most powerful of Raúl’s children. It was clear how proud he was of what Eusebio said about his father, that he felt like a prince who, through blood connections, will at some point determine the fate of the country. This was perhaps the most significant of all the presentations, the one that required the skills of the entire security apparatus, the one in which Eusebio — the man who undoubtedly saved Havana’s historic city center — got the key role by being the most loyal of the Castros’ “brown nosers.”

In a country where battlefield rhetoric is prevalent, Eusebio stood out. Those who heard him were as ecstatic as rats at the sound of the Pied Piper’s flute. Eusebio spoke of Raúl as if he were God. However, this should not be surprising for a man who was educated in the Church but who later became loyal to the communists, though not without sometimes ridiculing them of course. But it is not just words that matter; one also has to prove oneself on the battlefield, especially in the area of sexual conquest, of which the macho men of the armed forces are so fond.

It was not long ago that Eusebio was doing the same thing with the late Fidel. But then, without missing a beat, he understood the moment had come to do it for Raúl too. I suppose Leal, like everyone else, knows Raúl has an inferiority complex and perhaps, along with Colonel Alejandro, he decided to raise the general’s self-esteem. So here was the historian, playing his greatest role, with a speech that grew, that rose, as though he were flying a kite. Leal, a man who very much likes history, wanted to make it very clear to us: “The king is dead; long live the king.”

Everyone understood and was grateful that his words reaffirmed the authority of the boss. Then came the hugs. First those of Alejandro, the general’s son, who has more power than any of the army chiefs scattered around the island. Culture minister Abel Prieto joined the waltz, all too ready to embrace. But Eusebio thought that this tall guy with his mundane hair style was not what he needed right then. So with cameras rolling, he left Prieto standing there, his arms outstretched. Rather than embracing, he patted the minister’s raised shoulder a few times, as if to say: “Boy, behave yourself and let me work.”

Another “crucial” event was the appearance of Fidel Castro’s grandson, who recently lost his father, Fidel Castro Díaz Balart. The latter’s mysterious death* has triggered a number of suspicions, including a possible murder carried out by that part of the Castro clan that now holds the real power.

Thus ends the latest Havana Book Fair, which will now travel to the provinces in the exact same form. It is unlikely to change in the coming years until it is turned over, as it should be, to the writers, especially to those who express themselves freely, regardless of the consequences.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro Díaz Balart, the eldest son of Fidel Castro, is reported to have committed suicide on February 1, 2018. He had previously been treated for depression. The report of his suicide by the Cuban government was described as “unusually public.”

Gentlemen Politicians, Don’t Give Sustenance to the Deception / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raúl Castro receives Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy and other American legislators. 2013 (acn.cu)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 February 2018 — Without much fanfare, the visit to Havana of an American congressional delegation ended last Wednesday. The delegation included Democratic lawmakers led by Senator Patrick Leahy.  During the visit, almost nothing was accomplished: the “talks” between politicians and officials from both sides of the Strait continue to run in the style of conspiracies.

Judging by the soothing notes appearing in the official press and by the insubstantial statements made by the visitors at the press conference held at the US Embassy at the end of the visit, it is evident that the usual secrecy that has surrounded these meetings from the very beginning of the Obama-Castro confabulations persists, and the idea of the impossibility of a Cuba-US understanding in the current scenario is reinforced. continue reading

As has also become common practice, US politicians sympathetic to the policy of rapprochement with Cuba – as is the case of the aforementioned visitors – have strongly criticized the setback in diplomatic relations under the Donald Trump administration, after the toughening of the embargo and of the crisis unleashed by the enigmatic and yet to be clarified “sonic attacks”, which, according to US authorities, affected more than two dozen of their diplomats while they were carrying out their missions in Havana.

However, the common denominator of Cuba-US supporters and detractors for the existence of ties between the two countries is the defense of their respective positions at all costs, and in the case of the congressional delegation headed by Senator Leahy – a true activist in the defense of this line, whose efforts can only be assumed to be proportional to the interests he represents – is manifested in the repetition of a script based on a few basic elements, without going into much detail, and which is roughly summarized in the following points: retreat is detrimental to both Americans and Cubans, retorting to the “paranoia and suspicion” that has characterized US policy toward Cuba over 50 years, paralyzing cooperation projects between the two countries and preventing the US from “getting drawn into” the upcoming generational leadership relay process that will take place with the departure of the Cuban general-president this coming April.

The weakness of this position – which is not necessarily inferior to the opposite position, defended by those in favor of breaking off relations and maintaining the Embargo – consists in pretending to ignore the political immobility of their Cuban counterpart and their absolute lack of political resolve to effectively benefit the Cuban people by taking advantage of the breakthrough measures dictated by the former president, Barack Obama, in the heat of the brief period of thaw between the White House and the Plaza of the Revolution.

To this we would have to add the return to the barricade speeches and the deadlock in the ideological “anti-imperialist” trenches that have been imposed from Havana before the arrival of the Trump administration, just since then President Obama finalized his visit to the Cuban capital, in the course of which – and to his chagrin – the Cuban government noted both the overwhelming sympathy of Cubans for the “enemy Empire” and the real possibility that a true rapprochement among Cubans and a real application of the flexibilization, as conceived by Obama, constituted sources of citizen freedoms in Cuba that endangered the survival of the Castro dictatorship. No more, no less.

Therefore, although the current White House policy constitutes a return to strategies that have been proven unsuccessful for half a century, it is no less true that the reversal was not initiated by Trump, but by the Cuban government. Only that the Cuban setback consisted in an attack against those sectors of private entrepreneurs in Cuba, whose small businesses had begun to prosper in the shadow of the reestablishment of the links with the USA that favored a greater influx of American visitors and, with it, the increase of the benefits for a growing number of industrious Cubans who depended less and less on tutelage and government “protection”.

It is fair to remember that the systematic asphyxia of the tiny private sector in Cuba is a State policy to prevent true changes from taking place within the Island.

Thus, set in context, it is appropriate to mention another assertion that is becoming dangerously recurrent: “Cuba is changing”. This monotonous ritornello has become a kind of mantra among some foreign visitors – supposedly well-intentioned – who seem to confuse reality with wishes.

The damaging portion of this erroneous misperception is that, at the international level, it tends to create favorable opinion positions to the fraudulent change that has been brewing on the Island since the departure of Castro I from the public scene, and at the same time discourages millions of Cubans to their aspirations for democracy, in particular those inside and outside of Cuba who have been fighting in singular disparity against the longest dictatorship in the history of this hemisphere.

In truth, the “generational change” in the political power that looms over Cuba does not imply a political change or respond to the existence of a young emerging political class, full of new ideas and proposals. Quite the opposite. It is simply a consequence of the natural course of biology that imposes the retreat of the olive-green gerontocracy from visible government – not from real power – and the imposition of a faithful puppet, just a fresher face that guarantees permanence of the caste system established in 1959 and the privileges of their anointed ones. This is why it is very unlikely that the generational transfer implies a significant change or an evolution towards authentic transformations of the Cuban reality.

Moreover, to suppose that the diplomatic relations with the US government would allow its “involvement” in the Cuban political scenario is not only illusory but also arrogant by implicitly ignoring the ability of Cubans to, in a propitious scenario, decide the political future of the Island without “essential” intrusions of the White House.

That, in terms of politics. With regard to the social scenario, what “changes” have been taking place in Cuba from governmental actions or from the existence of US relations or the lack thereof? Neither necessary nor sufficient ones.

It must be recognized that in recent years certain modifications have been introduced into Cuban legislation (often referred to as breakthroughs by some stubborn optimists), but in good faith, these do no more than recognize rights that for decades have been denied us, such as the purchase and sale of housing and automobiles, the pseudo immigration reform, the (limited and expensive) access to the Internet and mobile telephone networks, the appearance of computers in state stores, the expansion of private sector activities and the granting of licenses for the same (although these are currently “frozen”), among others. Such “reforms” have not had an effective social reach nor have they meant an improvement in the life of ordinary Cubans.

In fact, material shortages have increased in recent years, the cost of living has risen, health services and the quality of education have worsened, corruption has deepened and crime has increased, and the general crisis in values is notorious, all of which intensify the uncertainty, despair and apathy of the population.

So, gentlemen politicians, do not be deceived… Or, rather, do not give sustenance to the deception. Cuba really needs a miracle but it will not come from the hands of a servile amanuensis of the dictatorship or from those who rule the US; be it a charismatic and wise mestizo of friendly disposition or a blond-haired rabid and belligerent radical.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Opposition March in Havana in Remembrance of Orlando Zapata Tamayo

The group of activists walking the streets of Havana (Photo: Enrique Díaz)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Enrique Díaz Rodríguez, Havana, 19 February 2018 – Nearly eight years after the physical disappearance of Orlando Zapata Tamayo, nineteen human rights activists staged a march in Havana streets in remembrance of the Cuban opposition martyr.

The group of activists, made up of women dressed in white and members of the Orlando Zapata Tamayo Civic Action Front (FACOZT), gathered in the early hours of this Sunday, February 18, in a park located in the El Palenque neighborhood of La Lisa municipality.

Carrying posters that read “Freedom for Cuba,” “Freedom for Political Prisoners,” “Zapata Vive,” “Long Live Human Rights,” exclaiming anti-government slogans and remembering the names of Laura Pollán, Pedro Luis Boitel and Orlando Zapata, the activists marched peacefully for several blocks. continue reading

The group gathered in a park they themselves have done in recognition of Zapata Tamayo (Photo: Enrique Díaz)

In 2012, when the FACOZT was known as the Hard Line and Boycott Front, the movement baptized the aforementioned park with the name of the martyr, placing a metal tag that was later torn off by agents of the State Security.

At the end of the march it was learned that the home of the opposition couple consisting of Hugo Damián Prieto Blanco, leader of the FACOZT, and Lazara Bárbara Sendiña Recalde, was being watched by agents of the State Security and the National Revolutionary Police.

Some 25 Years After the "Special Period" the Bikes Keep Rolling / Orlando Gonzalez

cubanet square logoCubanet, Orlando Gonzalez, Havana, 20 February 2018 – “I won my bicycle in 1993 for being a ’vanguard’ worker. I’m a Physics teacher and I remember all the requirements that had to be met to be rewarded with one of these.

“In those days the only thing that mattered to me was not having absences, participating in all political activities and volunteer work and being an excellent worker. They made us compete with our own coworkers and friends to win the bike.

“At that time the ’Special Period’ was very hard, for me it was a great relief when I won it, it was like winning the lottery because it solved my transport problem, pedaling was the best [way to travel],” recalls Ángel González, who, like many Cubans, found a bicycle changed his life in the 90s. continue reading

“I remember that first day taking my son to sit on the Malecon. It was almost 20 miles of pedaling but I didn’t feel it because the need was so great and the transport system was so bad that it was my only option; the happiness on the face of my 11-year-old boy that day I will never forget it,” added Ángel, who 25 years later still has the same “Flying Pigeon,” although he no longer uses it to travel long distances because the transport system “has improved” and, in addition, he’s no longer young enough to pedal the 20 miles.

Bicycles from that time and even some that go back to the 50s still roll on Cuban streets, having come to be more valuable than current models because they are “tougher.”

“Now there are a few parts that are Chinese, the chain ring has an adaptation where the original parts are removed and mounted in a ball box. The front and rear hubs and nuts are made by turners with thick sprockets, and the tires and inner tubes are also manufactured by hand. The pedals are made of wood and last longer than the original ones. The seats are also made by hand. In short, only the frame, the handlebars and the fork are the ones that originally came with the bicycle,” Ángel explains.

A whole industry and its market revolve around spare parts for bicycles. The tires, manufactured by hand using old tires, are sold for a price of 8 CUC; the innertubes are also handmade and have a value of 4 CUC.

The “poncheros,” — the self-employed workers who are dedicated to repairing tire punctures — almost always market all these products made by craftsmen. Adrián González, owner of a private workshop, explained to CubaNet how his business works: “When I first set up the repair shop, I had workers who were dedicated only to fixing punctures; then I realized that the spare parts were a good business and I set up a workshop for repairs and the sale of accessories.”

“Some parts, like the front and rear axles, hubs and nuts, are made by turners using old rods and irons; others, like the tires and innertubes, I also get from private factories. I only resell these pieces and I have the manpower to change them in case the client asks, and with that I have enough to live on,” he adds before concluding: “The bicycles are rolling in Cuba today because of all these inventions, because the original pieces are almost impossible to find in the State stores, and when the resellers come in, they hoard them immediately, the demand is so great.”

Felipe has been a turner for more than 30 years and has found a source of income by manufacturing spare parts for bicycles. The great demand caught his attention.

“I am a turner, several years ago I realized the great demand for spare parts for bikes (and) then I began to manufacture nuts, hubs and axles for all the models that exist in Cuba,” he explains. “Although most are Chinese bikes that entered the country in the 1990s, I also manufacture pieces for Russian bikes that are older but more sturdy, those have been rolling since the 70s.”

In the network of state stores, the price of a bicycle exceeds 120 CUC, the equivalent of several months wages for an average Cuban.

However, bicycles were recently removed from almost all state stores. Jorge Medina, the manager of one of them located in Boyeros, explains: “We had several models at different prices that ranged between 110 and 240 CUC; last month they took them all and did not give us an explanation, they came in a truck belonging to TRD [the state chain of hard currency stores] and they were taken away.”

At the same time, “throughout the network of hard-currency stores in Havana today there are very few bicycles for sale and prices have risen considerably,” Medina added.

Even today, more than 20 years after the start of the so-called “Special Period,” cycling is still a key transportation mode in Cuba.