Irma and the “Hollocastro,” Two Hurricanes Over Cuba / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro (Cubanet)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 16 September 2017, Havana – In these post-hurricane days, rumors are circulating through the streets of the Cuban capital: where is Raúl Castro? Why has he not made an appearance in the areas most affected by the ravages of Hurricane Irma or before the television cameras to deliver some message of hope and support to the victims? Isn’t it true that the person that holds by force the highest leadership of the Government and the single Party should go directly to the people and be more at hand, the greater the calamity that’s devastating the country?

A week after of the hurricane’s destructive passage deployment of leaders has been taking place throughout the devastated countryside and towns. The entire olive-green aging caste seems to have mobilized. Except for the general-president, whose invisibility is, at least, scandalous. He was barely seen in the official media this Friday, September 15th, presiding over a meeting of the National Defense Council that took place last Wednesday the 13th, where, according to the same media, “damages caused by Hurricane Irma and the actions to be developed during the recovery phase were evaluated, as were actions to be taken during the recuperation phase.” On that occasion, the head of government also maintained a very low profile. continue reading

As usual, speculations and rumors have been rampant in trying to explain the head of state’s unlikely behavior: “He must be very ill”, say some people; “They did not have a contingency plan for this disaster,” conjecture the more malicious. However, the most widespread impression is that the country’s situation is so complex and its solutions so difficult that it is too big a task for the old ruler. In fact, Raúl Castro doesn’t time to live, or good health, or political will, or courage, or sufficient talent not just to solve the deep national crisis, but to lead the destinies of Cuba to a good port.

To make matters worse, the Cuban president’s only message was the “appeal to our dynamic people,” published in the media on Tuesday, September 12th, where – in the absence of a more realistic proposal – he appealed to “the legacy” of the Specter in Chief “with his “permanent faith in the victory” to face the country’s recovery. Nothing seems as absurd and desperate as to invoke the ghostly guidance of the main maker of the national ruin in this horrible hour.

But the icing on the cake was the unfortunate clumsiness of stating in the same text that “we have the human and material resources required” to repair and put into operation before the high season (beginning in November) the main tourist destinations that suffered severe damages in the hurricane. In a country where a large number of families have lost their homes and their meager assets, such an impudent statement, which transcends the greed of the top for monopolizing hard currency is not only untimely and cynical in the present circumstances, but it constitutes an irrefutable demonstration of the Government’s insensitivity to the human drama that tens of thousands of Cubans on the Island are experiencing.

For many, the distance that the general-president of his troubled people has taken is multiplied by contrast, compared to the extreme populism of his predecessor. Everyone remembers that Castro I – whether out of his proverbial thirst for the limelight, his egocentrism, or his colossal narcissism – took advantage of the opportunities offered by hurricanes to descend from his high green Olympus to take a dip in town and appear as protector and generous patron, especially in those places where the poorest sectors lived and where the worst damage had occurred.

There, in the midst of the rubble, the rubbish and the mud, the egregious autocrat pressed some hands, clumsily patted some children’s heads, dictated the patterns of an imaginary recovery, provided for the free distribution of some odds and ends, flung impossible promises that ended up in oblivion, and pronounced inspired speeches. He looked as if he were sincerely concerned about his endowment of slaves. Because Castro I knew that it was not enough to be the maximum leader: he also – and perhaps this was the most important thing – had to look like one.

And the trick always worked because, at the end of the day, warped politicians (forgive the redundancy) know that people simply just need to believe that, in reality, despite losses, calamities and wreckages “they will not be left helpless” by their leaders. And they certainly believe it, if only for a while.

But it happens that “time” is what neither the general-president nor the millions of Cubans who await improvements that never arrive have. So, even admitting that his age, his declining health or his justified fears of the unpredictable reactions that the impatient multitudes may exhibit, could have prevented Raúl Castro from mixing with the people, what is true is that, as sitting “president,” he may not evade his responsibility at the head of the nation.

So, Hurricane Irma could turn out to be one of two options for Castro II: the opportunity to correct the course and remove the restrictions and obstacles that impede the development of the nation’s private sector, recognizing its important role in moving the internal economy; or – otherwise – the nail that seals the coffin of the so-called “updating of the model” with all its failed plans. The General’s insoluble dilemma is to try to improve the national economy without liberating its productive forces; but his personal tragedy is that he can only save the country if he betrays the so-called “socialist” legacy, inherited from his brother and mentor.

The signals of government weariness and the popular discontent are already clear, as has been shown in recent outbreaks of protest, in the looting of state businesses, in the obvious fear of the government that seeks to exacerbate popular discontent with “exemplary” measures and repress the heated minds with an unprecedented deployment of power of the Special Forces that only spur a climate of tension and of a plaza besieged, especially in the country’s capital. And to aggravate the scene, there is no longer a “wet foot/dry foot” policy in the United States, offering an outlet for Cubans’ expectations of prosperity. Now only frustration and powerlessness are left.

Meanwhile, Irma has been a fatal unforeseen event for the Government, which, at first glance, creates serious disturbances in different levels of national life.

At the economic level, it shatters the official plans of increasing the gross domestic product by 2% by the end of 2017 from an announced tourism growth that would see the arrivals of foreign vacationers surge to a number of 4 million visitors or more.

At the political level, it also alters the plans for the electoral farce that had just begun with the nomination process of base candidates, which now must be hastily reprogrammed, with all the flaws and unforeseen implications that this might entail.

At the social level, Irma’s saga has increased the tension between the fragile social power balance and the governed; which is the same as saying between the beneficiaries and the eternally sacrificed.

The reasons the General does not offer his face to the storm is understandable from all this. He does not give answers because he does not have them. He is old, tired and fearful. Perhaps the months, weeks and days that remain before giving the presidential chair are counted, and with it, all the problems and tensions that it arouses. Except that Hurricane Irma has also stamped an unthought-of turn in those plans. It is already known that in an uncontrolled Cuba everything that is harmful is possible.

Translated by Norma Whiting

 

Díaz-Canel: Killer of Illusions / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Miguel Díaz-Canel and Raúl Castro (Reuters)

Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, 24 August 2017 — In his hardline speech to Cuban Communist Party (PCC) cadres, Vice President Miguel Díaz-Canel killed any illusions some may have harbored that a future government headed by him, following Raúl Castro’s retirement,* would tend towards reforms and be less authoritarian and repressive.

Assuming the stance of a prison warden and speaking in a more commanding voice than usual, Díaz-Canel came across as considerably menacing–and not only with respect to the open opposition. Into the same bag of what he called “subversive projects” and “counterrevolution” Díaz-Canel also tossed the loyal oppositionists of Cuba Posible, the pro-government journalists who collaborate on non-state media, centrists and other ideologically diverse actors–no matter if they declare themselves to be within the Revolution.** As if this were not enough, he also warned that there would be no consolidations of a private sector that could break away from the State and turn into an agent of change. continue reading

All of this in a tone that more reminiscent of a State Security official than of a technocrat of the party bureaucracy. So intransigent and backward did Díaz-Canel come across, that in his place could have stood the uncouth Ramiro Valdés, or Machado Ventura himself were he not so busy cleaning up agricultural disasters.

If a medium as mild in its treatment of the regime as OnCuba Magazine irritates Díaz-Canel, we can only imagine what he thinks of Cubanet and Martí Noticias, among others, and what he has in store for independent journalists.

Could it be that the heir apparent, if he wants to make it to February 2018, could not spare any harshness in his lecture? How could he disappoint the little old commie fanatics who keep the fuse lit, even at the risk of it all exploding in their hands?

There is no need to dig deep and expect surprises from Díaz-Canel. For now, he called the play and it truly sets my teeth on edge. It is more of the same. Without much variation in the score.

There was no reason to expect otherwise–why insist on sniffing out a Gorbachev or Deng Xiao Ping in Díaz-Canel? He must have learned in cadre school that this type of system does not allow reforms that do not come apart at the seams; that rats, regardless of how they might beg for it, cannot be fed cheese, because then they will want water, and then more cheese, and will continue begging for it until the pantry runs out.

Actually, it was only the usual naifs, those given to wishful thinking, the extreme optimists, who harbored illusions about Díaz-Canel. He might have been able to appear liberal with the gays and rock fans of the Club Mejunje in his native Santa Clara, back when he had not yet put on weight, would ride his bicycle, and looked like Richard Gere. But once he got to Holguín as first provincial secretary of the PCC, he did not hesitate to order evacuations of marginal neighborhoods: apparently he preferred the invasive marabú* weed to squatters.

Starting now, he is giving advance notice, as if he were just another general–and of the praetorian kind–that he wants a calm and orderly classroom, and that he will not balk at ordering State Security (after seeing to the extinction of the dissident movement) to take care of the insubordinate, lackadaisical and diversionist elements. And it could be that later on, given his inclination to social media, he will tweet–cock of the walk that he is–that “there is no reason to make the least concession to the Yankee imperialists.”

Díaz-Canel is of a younger generation, but as in his school days, he remains disciplined, a follower of orders. And very attentive to what his preservation instinct dictates. Apparently it has not failed him yet. It is no accident that he has gotten to where he is today.

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translator’s Notes:

*In 2013, Raúl Castro told the Assembly of People’s Power (the Cuban Parliament), that he will retire from the presidency of the Council of State and the Council of Ministers on Feb. 24, 2018. At the time of that announcement, Díaz-Canel was promoted to first vice-president of both councils.

**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

Señor General “Going-Backwards” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raúl Castro next to Vice-President Miguel Díaz-Canel (Reuters)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 August 2017 – In line with the last meeting of the Council of Ministers, held at the end of June, where – according to what the General-President said in his closing speech of the Ninth Ordinary Session of the National Assembly – many deficiencies and problems were analyzed in the self-employment sector (TCP). The Official Gazette, in an extraordinary edition (No. 31) dated Tuesday, August 1, 2017, has decreed the suspension, supposedly temporary, of the delivery of licenses for at least 27 activities of the private sector (“self-employed”), “until the perfection of this sector is concluded.”

In addition, the decree states that in the future – and permanently – no new licenses will be granted to work in the areas of: wholesale of agricultural products; retailers of agricultural products; cart vendors or sellers of agricultural products on an ambulatory basis; buyer and seller of music records; and and operator of recreational equipment.

Despite this, according to what the First Vice Minister of Labor and Social Security told the official press, the provisions of the decree “do not constitute a setback in the development of (self-employed) activity,” but will “consolidate the organization and control of self-employment work so that it continues to advance in an orderly and efficient manner.” But this official did not explain how a process that has been stopped by a government decree could “advance.”
continue reading

And while such a strategy of advancing by going backwards may be paradoxical, more impudent still are the pretexts that were used to justify the retraction of what was announced years ago as a process of reforms that would oxygenate the internal economy and allow the potential for employment for a portion of the labor force let go from government jobs.

It turns out that the fickle old ruler has discovered “deviations in the implementation of the approved policy” for the TCP, ranging from the use of raw materials and equipment “illicit in their origins” to the “breach of tax obligations,” including under-reporting of sales/income, by members in the sector.

The truth is that, although the authorities have frequently expressed that the TCP has reported benefits in “lightening the burden of the State,” in the reordering of labor, as well as in the supply of goods and services – which, by the way, is not, nor should it be the natural aspiration of private labor anywhere in the world – in practice, this sector has become the most propitious villain (after the “criminal imperialist blockade”) to justify the causes of the failures inherent in the Cuban sociopolitical system.

The aforementioned “deviations” include “lack of answerability and timely solution to problems,” “imprecisions and inadequacies in control” and “deficiencies in economic contracting for the provision of services or supply of production between legal entities and lay persons,” among others.

These latter deficiencies, however, are not attributable to those who engaged in the TCP, but to the representatives and government officials responsible for correct compliance, who did not adequately fulfill their obligations, so that – if tabula rasa is used in the application of the law – the posts of state inspectors, officials of the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT), police officers, and a whole host of bureaucrats related to the implementation and control of TPC should also be suspended and constitute a dense layer of parasites that only tax the increased corruption, which is spread throughout the country in epidemic proportions.

But the new decree of “General Rupert Going-Backwards” also suffers from numerous intrinsic contradictions, such as, that among the activities in this species of temporary “hibernation” are included, first, those who rent housing, rooms and spaces, as well as coffee shops and restaurants (paladares), which is a real folly in a country that – it is said – expects that the number of visitors will reach 4 million this year, and does not have the hotel and food service infrastructure capable of satisfying such demand.

Seen from a more objective perspective, it is obvious that the Cuban government prefers that the foreign tour operators installed throughout Cuba benefit from the influx of foreign visitors, and not the native entrepreneurs themselves. This is not explained as a simple perversion of the system – which it also is – but is making Power panic, in the face of the demonstrated ability, in just a few years, of the private sector to achieve prosperity and autonomy. These entrepreneurs are much more successful and competitive than the State sector, and thus are a potential social force relatively independent from strong government subjection. And it is well-known that the power of autocracies is based on the most absolute social control.

There’s nothing so threatening for the autocratic regime as the possibility of consolidating an autonomous – and therefore potentially free – segment within Cuban society. Hence, the demonization of what they call “accumulation of wealth” and the questioning of the ability of some entrepreneurs to travel abroad and import raw materials and supplies, openly expressed in the aforementioned speech by the General before Parliament.

Equally paradoxical is that during the most recent session of Parliament the existence of a deficit of 883,000 thousand homes in Cuba was officially acknowledged – a figure that should actually be much higher – but at the same time a Decree published today in the Gazette has prohibited the granting of new licenses for private contractors, in direct contradiction to the fact that it has been precisely private construction activity that has marked a slight growth in the manufacture and repair of houses. In contrast, State dependent construction has been accumulating colossal defaults for decades, in a country whose housing is in a calamitous state an whered the majority of the population lacks the resources to attain housing.

Analyzing all the weaknesses and inconsistencies of the new Decree would require dozens of pages, but it is not worth the effort. We are simply facing the latest development of the unrealistic project of “updating the model,” which has been the chimera of Castro II since his arrival to the olive-green throne. There’s nothing so grotesque as trying to implement from the proven imperfection of Power the “perfection of self-employment,” the only segment of the national economy that works with some efficiency.

The General and his claque know it, so this new limitation on the private sector is actually the legal expression of the government’s terror of losing social control in a country where discontent, dissatisfaction and shortages continue to grow. At the moment, everything indicates that the general-president’s reformist disguise will continue to unravel at the seams.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“American-Philia” Conquers Cuba / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

The regime is unable to counteract the growing “Uncle Sam” effect on Cuban society

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 June 2017 — Ten days have passed since Donald Trump announced his “new” political strategy toward Cuba, and while the official Cuban press monopoly has wasted gallons of ink on newspapers and on dozens of reports, interviews and TV programs to show the world the indignation and rejection of the Cuban people at the gross interference of US imperialism, which attempts to undermine the portentous social and economic achievements reached in almost 60 years of Castro rule, national life continues its boring course at ground level, far from the rhetorical battles.

If the US president’s speech has had any palpable effect in Cuba, it is in the possibility of clearly confirming, on a daily basis, the enormous gap that exists between the olive-green power elite, as an eternalized political class, and common Cubans. Oblivious to the political and mass organizations at the service of the gerontocracy, which these days have shown discipline through the obligatory task of drafting their declarations of repudiation of the Empire of Evil, the people remain as alienated from the old “revolutionary” epic, and from its ideological disputes as is possible. Particularly when the enemy they are fighting is none other than the endearing monster in whose entrails so many thousands and thousands of Cubans yearn to live. continue reading

A breach that has become all the more visible because the majority of Cubans today increasingly identify less with the official discourse and is more irreverent in relation to the State-Party-Government and with everything it represents.

If anyone were to doubt this, all he would need to do is to walk the streets of the Cuban capital and check the number of American flags that proliferate every day, either as articles of clothing worn by numerous passers-by, such as caps, sandals, head scarves, etc. or decorating the interior of private transportation. It is like a contest in social irreverence towards everything that stems from the government and its colossal propagandistic and repressive apparatus, a phenomenon that was unthinkable only a few years ago.

Thus, the more the official voice shouts itself hoarse calling for the union of national sovereignty and the reaffirmation of socialism, not only does American-philia expand among the population of the island – with even greater strength, although not exclusively, among the younger generation – but it also adopts multiple variants of expression. It is not limited to the open display of the US flag, but also has well-known trademarks originating in that country, signs of official US institutions on textiles (including t-shirts labeled: USA, DEA, or FBI, for example), as well as images and names of famous US cities.

It is like an effect of funny magic, by virtue of which everything having to do with that country draws me near. Or, to put it another way, to think intensely about a thing is a superstitious way (like “I hope it becomes true” while crossing one’s fingers) of preparing the ground for the pleasure of enjoying it.

But if, in the daily routine of the city, the American symbols continue to mark the pace, as if mocking that dreaded label of “ideological diversion,” presumably fallen into disuse, on the beaches the phenomenon constitutes a quasi-apotheosis. This can easily be seen at the beaches east of Havana, where coastline areas from El Megano to Guanabo in the extensive sandy stretches where – despite Trump’s bitter declarations and the strong patriotic protests of the Cuban government – the stars and stripes constantly parade in the shape of towels, men’s shorts and lightweight children’s swimwear, caps, umbrellas and even inflatable rafts or infant’s lifejackets.

It must be torture for the Castro clan and its claque that no regulations are in effect, (especially not now, when diplomatic relations exist between the two countries), that prohibit the use of the US flag in clothing or in any object created by the human imagination. Would it be justifiable to quell those who wear a symbol that represents a friendly people entirely, and not just their political powers?

But this is not about a new phenomenon either. It turns out that this epidemic of a taste for everything American and its symbols had been manifesting itself in a more or less contained but constant way for several years, and was unleashed with marked emphasis at the time of the reestablishment of relations between the governments of Cuba and the US, especially during and after President Barack Obama’s visit to a Havana, until turning into an unstoppable cult to the chagrin of the hierarchy of the geriatric elite and its ideologic commissaries, who try in vain to tackle a hare that is like the mythological hydra, spouting seven heads for each one they cut off.

And while all this intense American mania continues to be sharpened in Cuba – the historical bastion of the continent’s radical left – the nationalist affectation of the regime recently chose to prohibit the use of the Cuban national symbol in a similar way. In fact, Cuban laws expressly prohibit it.

Consequently, not even the fiercest prospects of their pack of repudiators or other similarly-minded halberdiers can counteract the growing “Uncle Sam” effect on Cuban society, since they are barred from wearing the Cuban national flag as a way to counteract those involuntary “traitorous” ones, who, without hiding it, continue to publicly display their admiration for the crème de la crème of evil capitalism, which, it was taken for granted, had been banished definitively from Cuba since 1959.

Personally, and begging the pardon of the more ardent and sincere patriots of fetishistic spirit, I am not tempted to worship symbols, whether from my own country or from others. Even less would I think to wear a flag, although those who do sowith the vocation of flagpolesdoes not affect me. It is their right. But, strictly speaking, the flag is nothing more than a rag that many years ago someone designed and chose to represent us all and that, ultimately, has been used with the same zeal and passion for the best as for the worst causes, also supposedly “of everyone.” Ergo, I’m not excited about the flags, but nor do I feel myself to be any less Cuban than anybody else.

Nevertheless, a flag, as a symbol of something, evidences the feelings of the individuals who carry it towards that “something.” That, in the case of the American flag in Cuba, symbolizes exactly the paradigm of life of the Cubans who exhibit it. An aspiration on a national scale. So, for those who want to know what Cubans really think about the US, do not look for the statements published in the official press or the boring speeches at events: go to the beach. There, relaxing by the sea, sheltered by a good umbrella and perhaps savoring a cold beer that protects them from the strong tropical heat, they will see, parading before their eyes, the mute response of the Cuban people to the Empire that attacks them.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Thanks for Nothing, Trump

Donald Trump (Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 21 June 2017 — After much media frenzy, Trump’s “new policy” toward Cuba has not gone beyond the rhetoric expected by most political analysts. His act was more a symbolic gesture towards his faithful than any practical novelty. In short, those who expected an announcement of truly transcendental changes in the policy toward Cuba by the US president during his speech in Miami on Friday June 16, were left wanting. As we say in Cuba, the show turned out to be more rigmarole than movie reel.

The long-awaited changes, far from being novel, are actually quite limited. In fact, the highlight of his announced “punishment” for the Castro dictatorship is enveloped in an inconsistent magic trick where the essential cards seem to be a ban on US businessmen to negotiate with Cuban military companies, the suppression of non-group tours visits by US citizens to Cuba and the auditing of group visits. The rest is garbage. continue reading

The whole of the Palace of the Revolution must be shaking in terror. The dictatorship can already be considered as having failed: judging by the enthusiasm of its fans gathered in the Manuel Artime Theatre in Little Havana, with Trump in power, the Castro regime’s hours are numbered. Those who know about such things say that the Castros and Miami’s “Dialogue Mafia” “have run out of bread,” that “the political actors (?) are now where they should be” And that Trump’s speech was “friendly towards the Cuban people.” If the matter were not so serious, it would probably be laughable.

The sad thing is that there are those who believed the sham, or at least they pretend to believe what he said. At the end of the day, everyone should stick to the role of the character he represents in the script of this eternal Cuban tragicomedy.

It would be another thing if all this elaborate anti-Castro theory (!) could be successfully implemented, which is at least as dubious as the construction of socialism that the extremists continue to proclaim from opposite points on the globe.

And it is doubtful, not only for the intricacy of the long process that each proposal of the US Executive branch must follow before being put into practice — as detailed in a White House fact sheet — but because its sole conception demonstrates absolute ignorance of the Cuban reality in trying to “channel economic activities outside the Cuban military monopoly, GAESA.”

It would seem that there is a division of powers and an autonomy of institutions in Cuba that clearly distinguishes “military” from “civil,” defines its functions and establishes to what extent the economic structure of companies, cooperatives and other sectors are or are not related to the military entrepreneurship, or with the State-Party-Government monopoly itself, which is one and the same, with which, nevertheless, relations will be maintained. Just that would be a challenge for Cubans here, let alone for those who emigrated 50 years ago or for the very Anglo-Saxon Trump administration.

On the other hand, Mr. Trump’s proposals carry another capricious paradox, since limiting individual visits would directly damage the fragile private sector — especially lodging and catering, not to mention independent transportation providers, and artisans who make their living from selling souvenirs and other trinkets, a market that is sustained precisely by individual tourism.

Tour group visits, which remain in effect, are those that favor the State-owned and run hotels, where these groups of visitors usually stay because they have a larger number of rooms and more amenities than privately-owned facilities.

This would be the practical aspect of the matter. Another point is the one relating to the merely political. It’s shocking to see the rejoicing of some sectors of the Cuban-American exile and the so-called “hardline opposition” inside Cuba, after the (supposedly) “successful” speech by the US president, and his pronouncements about benefits that the new-old politics of confrontation will bring “to the Cuban people” in the field of human rights.

In fact, such joy is hard to explain, because it is obvious that Trump’s speech fell far short of the expectations these groups had previously manifested. One of the most supported claims of this segment has been the break in relations between both countries, and, more recently, the reinstatement of the policy of “wet foot/dry foot,” repealed in the final days of the previous administration. Far from that, the unpredictable Trump not only reaffirmed the continuation of diplomatic relations, but omitted the subject of the Cuban migratory crisis and even the suppression of aid funds for democracy, which he had proposed a few weeks before.

Curiously, no member of the media present at the press conference held after the very conspicuous speech asked uncomfortable questions about any of these three points, which do constitute true pivots of change in US policy towards Cuba which affect both the fate of the Cubans stranded in different parts of Latin America on their interrupted trip to the US, and the financing (and consequently, the survival) of various opposition projects both inside and outside Cuba.

The truth is that, so far, the great winner of Trump’s proposals is none other than the Castro regime, since the rhetoric of confrontation is the natural field of its ideological discourse inside and outside Cuba. Thus, has rushed to evidence the official declaration blaringly published in all its press monopoly media last Saturday, June 17th, with plenty of slogans and so-called nationalists for the defense of sovereignty and against “the rude American interference”, which that gray scribe, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuban chancellor by the grace of the divine green finger, repeated two days later in his apathetic press conference from Vienna.

Meanwhile, the “Cuban people” – with no voice or vote in this whole saga — remains the losing party, barely a hostage of very alien policies and interests, whose representation is disputed by both the dictatorship and the US government, plus a good part of the opposition.

We must thank Mr. Trump for nothing. Once again, the true cause of the Cuban crisis — that is, the dictatorial and repressive nature of its government — is hidden behind a mask, and the “solution” of Cuba’s ills is again placed in the decisions of the US government. At this rate, we can expect at least 50 additional years of burlesque theater, for the benefit of the same actors who, apparently and against the odds, have the

Translated by Norma Whiting

Between the Official Utopia and Generational Realism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban youth at the Major Lazer concert in Havana, 2016 (Photo file)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 June 2017. – A characteristic feature of ineffective and outdated political regimes is the constant appeal to the historical past as a mechanism for legitimizing the present, and as a resource for survival. In the case of Cuba, this principle has been the rector of official discourse and its means of diffusion, and it has been applied with particular force in the teaching of History.

As a consequence, several generations of Cubans born shortly before or after 1959 have grown up indoctrinated in the assumption that all events from the “discovery” of the Island by Christopher Columbus through Spanish colonization, the Taking of Havana by the British, the Wars of Independence, and the brief Republic were nothing more than the flagstones that paved the long road that would lead to this (even longer) path -with airs of eternity- known as the “Cuban Revolution”, our nation’s only and final destination. continue reading

The preaching took almost religious tones. Just as Noah saved all of Earth’s living species, the boat “Granma”, with its young crew, was the Cuban people’s “salvation”. Thus, judging from history textbooks at all levels of “revolutionary” teaching, the founding fathers, the illustrious pro-independence, the brightest Cuban-born intellectuals, and all decent Cubans for the last 525 years had their hopes set, though they didn’t know it, in today’s “socialist” Cuba and, above all, in the pre-eminent guidance of an undisputed leader of world stature who would continue to lead the ship even beyond material life: Fidel Castro.

War Vocation in the “Peace Zone”

Raúl Castro during a CELAC summit (AFP)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 31 May 2017 — A brief note published by the official Cuban press reports the meeting held by “General of the Army Raúl Castro Ruz” with “the Chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army, Timoleón Jiménez” (FARC-EP), where the former “ratified the willingness of the Cuban government to continue supporting the Colombian peace process.”

For an untrained reader, the aforementioned comment was just a note as insubstantial as so many others that are so abundant in the Castro media monopoly. However, the maculae are evident, even though their deeper meaning remains hidden. continue reading

In fact, some aspects are provocative and some are incongruous. Let’s say, if the FARC is the “People’s Army,” who does the Colombian constitutional army belong to? Isn’t it the true and legitimate army of all the citizens of that country?

Another interesting matter would be to understand why the Cuban leader, who in this case presents himself with all his warlike attributes of “Army General,” despite having diplomatic relations with the democratically elected government of Colombia, hosts, in the company of his brand-new chancellor, Bruno Rodríguez, the individual who still qualifies as “Head of the FARC,” that is to say, the “Chief” of an illegal “armed force” that supposedly is currently in the process of disarmament under the Peace Accords signed in Havana specifically with the legitimate government of Colombia.

As is often the case when scoundrels meet, something is afoot… and it smells bad. Especially when Latin America is experiencing a period marked by the loss of political power of the radical left in various countries, allies of the Castro regime, and when the most irrational (and important) pupil of the Castro regime, Nicolás Maduro, tries to stay afloat on a piece of wood in a violent sea in the middle of the biggest socioeconomic and political crisis that Venezuela has ever suffered.

All this leads us directly to question the usefulness of this regional fiction called CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), one of whose most proclaimed “achievements” during its Second Summit, held in Havana in January 2014, was declaring this a Peace Zone, in order to promote cooperation and maintain peace and security at all levels among its member countries.

Beyond the political intentions and the (always sterile) desire to consolidate a regional alliance that confronts economic crises and promotes development, CELAC has been characterized, since its creation in February 2010, by a large package of intentions and declarations in the face of a scant list of results.

In that sense, the declaration of “Peace Zone” is one of the most illustrative examples of this organism’s alienation, first because it was a peace invoked in a conclave whose host country not only envelops longest dictatorship in the hemisphere, which systematically violates the human rights of its own people and applies violence against any sign of political dissent or social discontent, but for decades has been dedicated to sustaining and spurring numerous armed conflicts in the region, through the training of guerrillas, and through logistical support and the mobilization of armed troops in conflict zones.

The intrusion of the Palace of the Revolution into the internal problems of several countries in the hemisphere is so common that it could be said that the hand of the Castro regime has intervened to some extent in each and every one of them, whether as a puppet of the Soviet Union and as the spreader of the germs of that disease called “Marxism-Leninism” that it futilely attempted to impose in Latin America and the Caribbean, or more recently, as a survival strategy in the face of the failure of the experiments of left-wing governments, allies of the Castro and Chávez regimes.

A brief and incomplete account of the Cuban presence (interference) in internal crises of this region’s other nations shows that it covers an immensely greater geographical extension of the territory in the archipelago under the dominion of Castro, and includes ideologies of the most diverse hues.

Suffice it to recall the Castro regime’s imprint on the guerrillas in Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, or Nicaragua; its participation in the Chilean crisis that ended with the fall of President Salvador Allende; the unusual support for the military junta headed by Leopoldo Galtieri during the Las Malvinas Crisis (1982), settled with an overwhelming defeat for Argentina and a high human and moral cost to that nation; Grenada’s brief and unsuccessful adventure under the Government of Maurice Bishop; the close and suspicious relations with the former Panamanian President Manuel Antonio Noriega, confessed drug trafficker and great “friend of Cuba,” whose name was not mentioned again in the official Cuban media after his fall from grace, except to announce his death this Tuesday, May 30. And, more recently, from the beginning of the 21st century, the icing on the cake: Venezuela, where the Castros’ penetration has truly metastasized and today monitors and protects the bloody repression of the regime of Nicolás Maduro against his people.

But, ignoring historical examples, the convulsive Latin American reality is far from the much vaunted regional “peace.” The ongoing conflict between Bolivia and Chile, the endless Brazilian corruption scandal that has sprinkled dozens of politicians in the region, the violence of drug and human trafficking that sows uncertainty and crime at the borders and among the population, tensions Between Venezuela and Colombia, the persistence of the paramilitary in Colombia against the controversial Peace Agreements between the government and the FARC, and the tensions in Venezuela, where government repression against street demonstrations provokes a decisive scenario where the survival of democracy or the final consolidation of a dictatorship supported from Havana is resolved.

And, while this vertiginous whirlwind continues to spin in the “Peace Zone,” the Cuban General-President moves gently in his tropical oasis while he manages the diplomatic lobbies that allow him to recognize the civilized world and the secret warrior intrigues. The strategy of Raul’s regime now consists in wearing the chic suit of a democrat. Under it, however, the green stitches of his old suit as heir-dictator of war continue to tenaciously peek out.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Miami Has It All, Even Russian Meat / Cubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez

Some of the Russian foods, toys and perfumes for sale at Marky’s in North Miami (Photo: El Nuevo Herald)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Luis Cino Alvarez, Havana, 18 May 2017—A neighbor of mine in Arroyo Naranjo recently had to ask an old friend of his who lives Miami to help him obtain some amitriptyline. A psychiatrist had recommended this medication for my neighbor’s wife to treat a nervous condition that would worsen without it.

This drug, among many others on a very long list, has been off the shelves of Havana pharmacies for months. The official excuse, aside from usual ones such as “the criminal blockade [U.S. embargo],” is that the cash-strapped Cuban state has been unable to square its debts with foreign pharmaceutical companies. continue reading

For the very astute customs officials at Cuban airports, ever on the hunt for drug trafficking and other illegal activities, it is a headache to conduct their painstaking inspections of the troves of medicines and vitamins that are brought in by travelers from the U.S.

Thus, it is no surprise that in Havana at this time, it is easier to find Tylenol than aspirin, and Centrum or Kirkland brand vitamins than the yellow multivitamin powder produced by the state, which some prefer not to use because it “whets their appetite too much.”

Cubans on the Island are evermore dependent on the remittances and packages they receive from their relatives and friends abroad, primarily those in the U.S., whom the regime demonized for decades, called traitors, and tried to cut their emotional ties to Cuba.

Many Cubans depend on the emigres and exiles not only for medicine, sustenance and clothing, and the monthly recharging of their mobile phones. They also request and obtain from them the most varied and sundry goods: from santería necklaces and white garments for the iyabó to school uniforms, and even parts for Russian-made automobiles.

That’s right. You heard it. In various Miami establishments one can find parts for Soviet-era automobile makes such as Lada and Mokvich, and for Ural and Berjomina motorcycles. In today’s Russia it is probably difficult to find these parts, they may not even be produced anymore, but in Miami, I know not how, there is an abundance of them. And obviously they are aimed at Cuba, where Russian cars compete for longevity with the Fords and Chevrolets more than 60 years old that are still circulating.

But do not be surprised by the availability of Russian products in Miami (let us hope this is not a plot by Czar Putin and his intelligence service). When I visited that city last year, I spotted on the shelves of a well-stocked bodega (it being so Cuban I hesitate to call it a supermarket), located on Southwest 27th Avenue near Coconut Grove, nothing less than Russian canned meat. Those very same cans that we would refuse back in the day, the ones we said contained bear flesh or god-knows what other greasy Siberian beast, and that today, after so many years of enforced vegetarianism, cause our mouths to water as though they were the most exquisite delicacy. It appears that in Miami, while hunger is not their motivation, there are Cubans who are nostalgic for Russian canned meat, because I doubt very seriously that the only customers for this product would be the wealthy Russians who reside in Hallandale and Sunny Isles.

In Hialeah, which is like a piece of Cuba transplanted to South Florida (but without the ration books and the CDR) it probably is not very difficult to find those damned cans of Russian meat.

Also there, and in any other part of Miami, one can hear reggaeton and watch the pigswill of Cuban TV. And don’t be surprised if the generation of Bolek and Lolek manage to get their hands on those cartoons they had to watch as children in Cuba, when Pluto, Porky Pig and Donald Duck were considered agents of the imperialist ideological penetration.

Those who cannot resign themselves to watery coffee and bland cigarettes—if they wish to smoke (to the horror of the nonsmokers, always such scolds) stronger cigarettes than American Spirit and the Wranglers sold by the Indians in Kendall—can find in Hialeah, and not too expensive, cigarettes directly from Cuba: H. Upmann, Populares and even the unsmokeable Criollos and Titanes, a.k.a. “chestbusters.”

It seems to be true what I heard from a Cuban American who, as a sort of savior-magus bearing gifts, was visiting his impoverished relatives in Mantilla: “You can find everything in Miami, anything, whatever it is.”

luicino2012@gmail.com

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

Police Block Activist Lia Villares From Traveling to the United States / Cubanet

cubanet square logoCubanet, 2 May 2017 — Independent activist Lía Villares missed a flight that would have taken her to the New Orleans Jazz Festival after being “abducted” by police on Monday morning.

Speaking to CubaNet, Villares describes that two patrol cars under the command of State Security Agent “Jordan” were waiting for her near her home this morning when she was left to go to José Martí Airport. Villares had taken a taxi to go to the air terminal, but the vehicle was intercepted and the activist arrested.

The young woman describes how she was taken by the agents to Tarará, at the other end of the Cuban capital. The delay caused her to miss her flight, apparently the primary objective of the operation against her. Villares has a passport to travel, and permission to enter the United States.

Hours later, Villares was released without charges. She said he would try to buy a ticket and travel again because the authorities did not give a legitimate reason for her arrest.

The Dangers of Hatred / Miriam Celaya

Venezuelan demonstrators burn the Cuban flag, March 2014 (CNN)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Norma Whiting, West Palm Beach, U.S., 29 April 2017 – The news, later refuted, of a supposed Cuban flag burning in recent days by Venezuelan demonstrators who oppose the government of Nicolás Maduro provoked diverse reactions on social networks and some Cuban websites. Many Cubans, mostly residing overseas, immediately expressed their indignation against Venezuelans at what they interpret as an affront to a national symbol they consider sacred, which does not represent in the least the dictatorial power that has ruled Cuba for almost sixty years, ultimately co-responsible for the deep political, social and economic crisis that Venezuela is currently experiencing.

The misconception, however, was not completely unfounded, considering that a few years ago Cuban flags burned in connection with student protests in Venezuela. continue reading

However, leaving aside anything smacking of nationalism, justified or not, the Venezuelans’ apocryphal pyromantic message against the Cuban flag in several important cities of their country would have made clear the rejection of the gross Cuban interference in Venezuela by Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, since it is not just the perverse tabernacle where the devastation of their nation has been cooked for years, but, to date, it’s the arena from where the strings of the Chávez-Maduro regime are manipulated, now decadent but, because of this, more dangerous.

Thus, in any case, it should have been that evil power and not the Cuban national emblem that Venezuelans burned in their riots of recent days. In fact, the images from 2014 that caused the confusion leave no room for doubt when we see that several of the flags burned then carry Fidel Castro’s image on a bundle of dollars displayed under his face, and other pictures where the signs “Out with the Castros” and “Out of Venezuela” can be seen. At that time, they also set on fire mannequins that mimicked the now deceased creator of the longest dictatorship that has existed in this region.

But it is also true that one of the dangers now is that, in the midst of the violence applied by the repressive bodies and the gangs incited by the central government against the demonstrators, their response will turn more violent. The Venezuelan crisis offers a much more convulsive and highly volatile and unstable scenario as a result of widespread hunger, the shortages and the needs of the population, social frustration, and the regime’s misrule, so that any situation can lead to uncontrollable chaos for any of the parties.

In this context, popular indignation would not be able to discriminate between Cuba and Cubans on the one hand, and the Castro regime on the other, bypassing the irrefutable fact that the misfortune of living under autocratic regimes is something that nationals of both countries share.

In this sense, and not wishing to be apocalyptic, it cannot be denied that the thousands of Cuban civilians who currently collaborate in the populist programs (called “missions”) of the Castro-Chávez alliance are very fragile links in the midst of the Venezuelan confusion, not only because they could easily become victims of the hatred, accumulated over many years, against a political project led by a gang of thieves and crooks which turned out to be a swindle, but because the perverse nature of the alliance between the hierarchs of Havana and Caracas would not hesitate for a second to sacrifice them motu proprio, and to attribute to the opposition the loss of life and the violence against Cuban civilians.

The Cuban gerontocracy knows that the loss of Cuban lives would allow them to unleash a whole Witches’ Sabbath through their monopoly of the press, and would be a golden opportunity to stir the patriotic spirits of the masses in the hacienda in ruins, especially now, when the defunct revolution doesn’t have any credibility among Cubans, and when the final fall of ” twenty-first century socialism” also heralds (more) difficult times for the Cuban population.

The fact that it would involve Cuban professionals, mostly in the health industry, who carry out a humanitarian mission of medical care to very poor populations, would add a dramatic touch that is extremely conducive to the propaganda effects of the Palace of the Revolution. Who could resist the tragedy of perhaps dozens of Cuban families?

For now, the official Cuban press is keeping a suspicious, almost sepulchral, silence about what is taking place in Venezuela. Or it has lied cynically, as is evident in the printed version of the main official newspaper, Granma, which contained a brief note this past Monday, April 24, stating that “normalcy reigns” in Venezuela, despite the opposition to Maduro calling for demonstrations, the massive mobilizations that have flooded the streets of many cities in Venezuela since the beginning of April, and the dozens of deaths, mainly protesters’, that have taken place at the hands of the delinquents grouped in the sinister “collectives”, that variety of motorized terrorists at the service of the government who assassinate their compatriots with impunity, just for exercising their right to protest.

Let us hope that the best children of Venezuela do not allow the just aspirations of freedom, justice and democracy of her people to be contaminated with criminal acts against Cuban civilian collaborators. They need to not give in to the hatred sown by officials in power. But, in any case, the evils that might take place in Venezuela will be the direct responsibility of the Cuban leadership and its puppets at the head of the Venezuelan government.

(Miriam Celaya, a Havana resident, is currently visiting the U.S.)

Translated by Norma Whiting

Castro Conquers Miami With Cannon Blasts / Luis Cino Alvarez

cubanet square logoCubanet, 4 April 2017, Havana, Luis Cino Álvarez — A friend was telling me, horrified, that last Friday at the Hard Rock Café in Hollywood Beach, Florida, Cuban reggaetoneros [musicians who perform the musical genre of Reggaeton]–from the Island and from ‘over there’, no way to tell anymore what with all the going and coming–put on a show. The lineup consisted of El Chacal, El Taiger (spelled just that way, not “Tiger”), Diván, Chocolate, Harrison, and Descemer Bueno (the only one of them whom I would classify as a musician).

This Cubatón (Cuban-style reggaeton, guachineo included) spectacle was aptly titled The Cannon Blast, as it was an explosion of “Made in Cuba” vulgarity and bad taste.  And there will be other such events, many more, in Florida. continue reading

To my friend it was all a joke (or a nightmare): The crème de la crème of the reggaetonero set–who would have to include also Yakarta, Baby Lores, Misha, Insurrecto, the detestable Osmany García, and Gente de Zona–profanely performing their low-class crudities, with their sinister appearance and annoying taca-taca beat, on a stage that has recently featured artists such as Don Henley, War, America, ZZ Top and Daryl Hall and John Oates.

No need to be surprised. This particular cannon blast and those yet to come are part of the none-too-slow colonization by the Castro regime of Miami and indeed all of South Florida.  They want to turn it into a type of Hong Kong, to exploit and emotionally blackmail it with nostalgia for fatherland and family. Not satisfied with maintaining their failed regime at the expense of remittances from emigrés and exiles, the Castroites also–in an effort to stir up problems, debase the milieu, and collect even more dollars–send over infiltrators from the G-2, scam artists, provocateurs, short-fused jokers, propagandizing academics, know-nothing cameleons del tíbiri tábara (from the back of beyond and staying out of trouble),TV shows, and…reggaetoneros.

For the record, it’s not that the head honchos of the regime are aware of the damage they do with the reggaetoneros, thus employing them in a macabre plan to penetrate the exile community and turn Miami into one big Hialeah, full of homeboys and every day becoming more like Marianao or Arroyo Naranjo. Save for the minister Abel Prieto, he of such exquisite taste, the top bosses don’t seem to mind the proliferation of reggaeton. On the contrary, their children and grandchildren, as lacking in good taste and class as their parents and grandparents, go crazy to the beat and enjoy it to the max.

Pertaining to music, the bosses export what they have. This is what there is.

My friend would ask himself what became of Cuban music. Little of worth is left in a country that produced Ernesto Lecuona, Sindo Garay, Rita Montaner, Celia Cruz, Benny Moré, and, post-catastrophe, Silvio Rodríguez, Pablo Milanés, Chucho Valdés, Polo Montañéz and Juan Formell. Regarding the few good musicians and singers who remain on the Ilsand, the big guns–with their shopkeeper mentality and proverbial bad taste, and their (anti)artistic promoters–believe it not worthwhile to send them to Miami because they wouldn’t sell enough tickets and, worse, might even get away and defect. It’s better that they remain home, making do as best they can (even though they are rarely featured on radio and TV), making music for “the most cultured people on the planet”–even though these people only want to tie one on and hear reggaeton.

Reggaeton is the perfect soundtrack to accompany the breakdown of a dictatorial system that has lasted too long and which, if not finally dissolving, is coagulating.

Vulgarity, bad taste and social alienation were imposed on Cuba. And this is reflected in the music that is broadcast the most. Reggaeton, the apotheosis of low class and degradation, came about at just the right time in the right place. It is the perfect music for the national chaos.

How was Miami to ward off reggaeton, what with so many recently-arrived homeboys who the only things they left behind were their ration books?

If, in the final analysis, we are all Cubans, whether here or there, we bear a common karma, and we must share our misfortune: portion it out, and see if we can reduce it.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison 

When Your Ally’s Beards are on Fire*… / Miriam Celaya

From left to right, Raúl Castro, Bruno Rodríguez and Nicolás Maduro, at an ALBA meeting (EFE/Archive)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 April 2017 — According to an old adage, when you see you neighbor’s beard on fire, go soak your own*. The maxim should be applied to the elderly Cuban dictator, especially if we take into account that the erratic performance of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is largely attributed to the bad advice he received from the founders of the Castro dynasty, in addition to the deficient or lacking mental capacity of the absurd southern leader.

It is disastrous that, while Venezuela is experiencing the worst political crisis of the last 20 years, most Cubans on the Island are not only lacking in information but – even worse — are being subjected to a real bombardment of misinformation by the government’s press monopoly. continue reading

As a result of decades of lies and “secrecy” — which journalist Reinaldo Escobar has defined as “the euphemism that disguises what is in reality a policy of censorship of the press” — and the requirements of the struggle for daily survival in a country marked by shortages and poverty in perpetuity, common Cubans live alienated from reality and are apathetic to any political scenario, whether inside or outside Cuba.

In fact, the shortage of information in the official Cuban media about what is happening in Venezuela is truly extraordinary, even though its government is the closest ally to the Palace of the Revolution. The presence of tens of thousands of Cuban professionals delivering their services to Venezuela should be sufficient reason for relatives and the population as a whole to be duly warned about the growing political tensions and clashes that are taking place between the government of Nicolás Maduro and his Chávez phalanges, on the one hand, and the opposition sectors supported by thousands of Venezuelans who are fed up with the regime on the other.

But if most Cubans may care very little about the fate of Venezuelans, for which the lengthy meddling of the Cuban dictatorship has so much responsibility, they should, at least, worry about the fate of their countrymen, volunteer slaves in Venezuela, where violence, growing poverty and political polarization make them potential victims of circumstances that, after all, are alien to them.

Who doubts that a possible situation of social unrest and chaos would constitute a colossal danger for the Cuban “missionaries” of health and other fronts of the Castro-Chávez alliance who remain in Venezuela? Does the Cuban General-President have any contingency plans to protect them? Or will he launch them as cannon fodder to defend the autocratic system with totalitarian aspirations that the Castro regime has sown in Venezuela? Will we be witness to a second Grenada, like that of the late Maurice Bishop, where in 1983 Castro the First ordered unassuming Cuban construction workers to offer themselves up against US marines in a sacrifice as irrational as it was absolutely useless?

Venezuela is now a time bomb where the population is satiated with more gloom and the outrages of government than even opposition parties and leaders, a place where the citizens are playing all their cards in street demonstrations. And, while tensions and violence of the “collectives” and police forces are increasing, and the government’s repression against the demonstrators, torture against detainees and arrests against journalists attempting to cover the truth of events are also on the increase, the Castro regime, accessory to Venezuelan suffering and perverse to the marrow, remains silent.

Word is that the immediate future of Venezuela will be defined next Wednesday, April 19th. No one can predict if that day, when the streets will be taken over by supporters and opponents of the Chávez-Maduro government will end in a bloodbath, only to perpetuate another dictatorship in Latin America or to end the most ambitious extraterritorial plan of the Castro Clan. For now, Mr. Nicolás Maduro has already made clear that his path is one of repression, while thousands of Venezuelans remain determined to regain freedom and democracy.

In such a scenario, the Venezuelan Armed Forces could be the key factor to support its own people or to sell its soul to the merchants of the Miraflores Palace or to the infiltrated Cuban officials in the high command of the army of that country, but in any case, XXI Century socialism, which in its heyday proclaimed itself to be “the peoples’ alternative,” has lost the match prematurely, for no decent government or respected international organization will support a government that is imposed by blood and fire.

It is precisely for this reason that the old fraudsters at Havana’s Palace of the Revolution continue to keep discrete silence. They are waiting to see how this hand ends. They count on the proverbial meekness of Cubans, lacking in Venezuelans’ will and courage, but knowing that with Maduro deposed they would lose their last strong political ally in the region and one of their main sources of oil and capital that still sustains them in power, in return for which they lease out their slaves in the form of doctors, teachers, sports coaches, etc.

It is impossible to imagine what new tricks the General-President and his clique may be plotting in order to find a non-“Bolivarian” alternative to the crisis ahead. They have their work cut out for them. It’s not always possible to find allies with the features of the Venezuelan government — brutality, corruption and compromise – all in a neat package, that has enabled the Castro regime for almost 20 years to fully manipulate, for Cuba’s benefit, the riches of Venezuela, and thus extend its own power. They will no doubt think of something, but it is likely that, in order to stay in the game, they will have to satisfy certain conditions to even minimally fulfill their role as “a democratic dictatorship” for the world. For now, in the midst of all the storms, presumably they are soaking their beards*.

*Translator’s note: Akin to the expression in English that begins: “When your neighbor’s house is on fire…”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Oil in Cuba: Dream or Nightmare?

Cuban-Venenzuelan refinery in Cienfuegos (Photo: barometropolitico.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 April 2017 — HAVANA, Cuba. – “Thank goodness oil is something we don’t have in Cuba.” So said the lyrics of a popular song by Cuban musical group Habana Abierta. However, now Cuba’s official media insist the opposite is true: “The enterprise Cuba-Petroleum Union (CUPET), which promotes prospecting projects with the participation of foreign capital, reveals that, “In four wells located in the Economic Zone Exclusive to Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico (ZEEC-GOM) there have been indications of crude.”

Lately, when the disappearance of “high test” and the shortage of “regular” gas in Havana have caused real congestion in the few service stations where some fuel could be found, the news of the alleged presence of large Cuban oil reserves sounds like a bad joke: who cares that there are several billion of barrels of oil of dubious quality, deeply buried in the depths of the Gulf, if there is not a drop of gas at service stations? And, if it were true, how would Cubans benefit from it? Our idiosyncrasy has a special mocking phrase to illustrate the case: “It’s here but not for you.” continue reading

In fact, such fanfare by the press about the dubious and inaccessible discovery that lies submerged in ultra-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico is highly notorious, while the official press has been evasive in informing us about the fuel crisis taking place in the nation, before our very eyes, which is fueling popular uncertainty with the alarming signs of the return to the days when the Soviet subsidy program ended with a stroke of the pen. Many Cubans point out that the unburied ghost of the so-called “Special Period,” with its aftermath of blackouts and famine, is, once again, stalking the nation.

Therefore, the topic of “crude” with which the masters of the hacienda are trying to shake the hopes of the masses, smells like a sting, as long as the cataclysms in the house of the allies cause the Mafiosi of the Palace of the Revolution to play any card palmed in their sleeve to emerge and to continue, unharmed, to place their bet: to conserve power at all costs and at any price.

That is why some suspicious individuals consider that the news is only a beam of light to attract unsuspecting investors, and that it collaterally pursues the immediate effect of reassuring the mood of a population sufficiently shaken by the gradual — although apparently inexorable — return to another cycle of great material hardships, this time with the aggravating issue that has been the end of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy, which has been, for the longest time, the most expeditious solution to escape the condemnation of perpetual misery.

Filling up at a gas station in Cuba

Thus, while the economic and political crisis in Venezuela — whose true causes and magnitude are carefully silenced in the official media — keeps deepening, common sense and the experience of nearly six decades of cons suggest to Cubans the existence of a direct relationship between the current gas shortage and the spasms of agony of the Chávez-Maduro regime, incapable of continuing to maintain any longer the already depleted subsidies that have artificially prolonged the life of the Cuban dictatorship.

So now, if we hypothetically assume the possibility that the olive green kleptocracy would soon dispose of another source of hydrocarbons — this time, alas, its absolute property — what would that mean for Cuba’s destiny? Well, nothing less than a sentence to live under conditions of dictatorship in perpetuity, with the acquiescent tolerance of the powers that rule the planet. In fact, many of the staunchest critics of Castro’s “socialism” would become its partners. This would not be a novelty, because it is axiomatic that wealth often grants immunity to dictators.

So if, for once, Cubans decided to climb down the ridge and assume the true position we occupy in the world, which equals that of plankton in the biological chain, we would find that similar plots have already taken place.

A classic example is Equatorial Guinea, that diminutive West African island, formerly known as Fernando Poo, with less than 100 thousand inhabitants, that has been a Portuguese, French, English and finally a Spanish colony until in October of 1968, when it obtained its independence, only to pass onto the hands of dictator Francisco Macías, who imposed a single compulsory party and a repressive regime (1968-1979), until he was deposed by a coup led by Teodoro Obiang. The latter, after having executed the defeated tyrant, promised to end the island’s political repression.

However, far from improving the lives of the Equatoguineans, under Obiang’s control, repression and poverty increased, as did the country’s underdevelopment. Meanwhile, Amnesty International, the UN and numerous world figures have repeatedly accused Mr. Obiang of arresting political opponents, as well as of torture and human rights violations. These accusations have not influenced a process of democratization or, at the very least, improvement in conditions and in the standard of living of three quarters of the population, which continues to be plunged in the most absolute misery.

It can be said that the misfortune of the Equatorial Guineans is due to the utter indifference of the inhabitants of this planet, the majority of whom do not even know of its existence. Additionally, the kleptocrat Obiang is often amicably received by leaders, politicians of high rank, and personalities of renowned prestige from the Western world, who, however, otherwise tear their garments and throw spears for democracy in all international forums.

It turns out that, years ago, in that small spot in the African geography, enormous oil reserves were discovered, whose rights of exploitation belong to foreign companies, mainly Americans, who don’t seem to have any scruples in negotiating with the flaming President who was described at one time as “the most murderous thieving ruler in the world” by a former US ambassador to that nation. Beneficiaries of such massive dividends might be saying among themselves, “To Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”

Obiang, meanwhile, not only retains absolute power in Equatorial Guinea, but is the founder of a dynasty that has amassed, with impunity, colossal wealth by appropriating the revenues from oil exploitation and safeguarding them in European bank accounts, and perhaps in banks in other continents too. To ensure the continuation of the plunder of the national wealth for the benefit of his caste, his son occupies a relevant political position in the country and has numerous properties inside and outside the little island.

Aren’t there certain suspicious similarities? We Cubans should be warned. It isn’t prudent to be so arrogant as to think that kind of thing happens in Equatorial Guinea “because they are Africans” and that the same thing will never take place in Cuba because we are “westerners.” Sixty years ago nobody would have believed that prosperous Cuba would become a nation almost as poor as Haiti … and we continue our descent.

Personally, far from feeling encouraged by them, the Cuban oil reserves announcements set off every possible alarm in me. Sufficient time has elapsed and dissimilar circumstances have taken place to verify that the precariousness of the rights and freedoms of Cubans do not concern any of the great centers of world power and politics.

In fact, the destiny of the inhabitants of this island is so uncertain and our dreams for democracy still so chimerical that it would suffice for a gambling foreigner to appear, reckless enough to invest huge amounts of venture capital into the oil adventure and that – in fact — such precious hydrocarbons might appear, for the Castro kleptocracy to sprout anew “with that added force,” crushing any hint of hope for Cuban freedom. I don’t have religious beliefs, but, just in case, I will keep my fingers crossed.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba and Venezuela: And God Created Them… / Cubanet, René Gómez Manzano

Venezulean President Nicolas Maduro and Cuban President Raul Castro

cubanet square logoCubanet, René Gómez Manzano, Havana, 5 Abril 2017 — In recent days, the absence of a true rule of law has become evident in the two countries of “Socialism of the 21st Century,” an absence that reached the highest levels of arbitrariness and injustice: Cuba and Venezuela. In the second of these the iniquity took place at the highest level, the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court.

The brand new Chavista magistrates ruled: “As long as the contempt and invalidity of the proceedings of the National Assembly persist, this Chamber will ensure that the parliamentary powers are exercised directly by this Chamber or by the body that it designates.” In short, the court replaced the parliament with itself. continue reading

And in passing, the High Court also withdrew immunity from the country’s parliamentary deputies. It was a coup d’etat pure and simple; only not one undertaken by the military or the congressional branch, but by the judicial. Of course, it didn’t happen on the judges’ own initiatve, but because Maduro ordered it, because it is already known that the supposed independence of that power is now a fiction in the homeland of the “Liberator,” Simon Bolivar.

The voices of protest did not hold back: in Venezuela, National Assembly President Julio Borges called the shameful ruling “trash” and ripped it up in front of the television cameras. The protests of students and others who disagree began. At the international level, the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States was convened, and Peru withdrew its ambassador from Caracas. Even complacent the mediators Torrijos, Fernandez and Rodríguez Zapatero rejected the gross maneuver.

But not only democracy supporters weighed in. A character as little suspected of being anti-Chavez as the Venezuelan Attorney General Luisa Ortega (yes, the same person labeled the “Eternal Commander” as “the most humanist man that has ever existed on the planet” and totally supported the unjust imprisonment of Leopoldo López) described what happened in his country as a “rupture of the constitutional order.”

Urgently convened, the Venezuelan Defense Council called on the Supreme Court to “review” the statements that left Parliament without functions. The obedient magistrates, in a fulminating manner, applied “what I meant to say was…”

In Cuba, on the other hand, recent illegality had a lower level, in both directions of the word. Lady in White Lismerys Quintana Ávila, also urgently, was subjected to a spurious trial and sentenced to six months in prison — the maximum allowed penalty — by a docile Municipal Court.

As a precedent for this injustice, we must remember the new trick that the political police use against these admirable women: At the outset, they impose a fine for a misdemeanor that does not exist. After the refusal to pay the illegally imposed penalty, the defendant (in this case, Lismerys) is taken to a Municipal Court to be tried.

Now the offense charged is “breach of obligations arising from the commission of misdemeanor,” and is provided for in article 170 of the current Penal Code.Under this provision, “anyone who fails to comply with the obligations arising from a resolution that has exhausted its legal process, issued by a competent authority or official, relating to contraventions” may be punished.

According to the final sentence of that rule, “if before the sentence is pronounced, the accused meets the obligations derived from that resolution, the proceedings will be archived.” The purpose of this, obviously, was not to establish a mechanism to send one more person to prison, but to dissuade her from not paying the imposed pecuniary penalty.

But it is already known that, in Cuba, “whoever made the law, set the trap.” In the case of someone who disagrees and says so, any misrepresentation of the correct sense of the rules is valid for the Castro regime’s authorities. What real chance to pay the fine had Lismerys or her loved ones if she were detained and the latter did not know what her situation was?

We know that the repressor who “cared for her” (who calls himself “Luisito”, but whose real name is known (unusual in itself) — Ariel Arnau Grillette) was truthful in the text messages with which he harassed this Cuban mother. We know what they said thanks to the inventiveness of the brave fighter Angel Moya Acosta: “the desicion to send you to prision is in my hands,” he wrote. A phrase in which we do not know what to admire more: his creative spelling or the confidence with which he says what everyone knows, but usually shuts up about …

However, what is decisive in this case is not what the murky State Security intended, but the submission of a court to the design of that repressive body. This is how the “organs of justice” of Cuba and Venezuela, once again, have become brothers in ignominy.

 Translated by Jim

The Thousand Faces of “Journalism” / Miriam Celaya

A tourist walks along Calle Monserrate, in Old Havana (File)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 March 2017 – An opinion piece published in recent days by El Nuevo Herald gives me a disturbing feeling of déjà vu. It is not the subject – overflowing with a number of articles by different authors – but its focal point, which presents as adequate a number of superficial and highly subjective assessments to validate conclusions that in no way reflect the reality it alleges to illustrate.

With other hues and nuances, it has the same effect in me as the experience of participating as a guest at a meeting of journalists, politicians and academics – primarily Americans – held October, 2014 at Columbia University, just two months before the announcement of the restoration of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, where the wish to support rapprochement and to substantiate the need to eliminate the embargo was essentially based on colossal lies.

For example, I heard how the “Raúl changes” that were taking place in Cuba favored the Cuban people and a process of openness, and I learned of the incredible hardships that Cubans had to endure as a result of the direct (and exclusive) responsibility of the embargo, of the fabulous access to education and health services (which were, in addition to being easily accessible, wonderful) enjoyed by Cubans, and even the zeal of the authorities to protect the environment. continue reading

To illustrate this last point, an American academic presented the extraordinary conservation state of the Jardines de la Reina archipelago and its adjacent waters, including the coralline formations, as an achievement of the Revolutionary Government. She just forgot to point out that this natural paradise has never been within reach of the common Cuban, but is a private preserve of the ruling caste and wealthy tourists, a fact that explains its favorable degree of conservation.

The Cuba that many American speakers described on that occasion was so foreign to a Cuban resident on the Island, as I was, that I wondered at times if we were all really speaking about the same country.

In my view, the question was as contradictory as it was dangerous. Contradictory, because there is certainly sufficient foundation, based on realities, to consider the (conditional) suspension of the embargo or to show partiality for dialogue between governments after half a century of sterile confrontations, without the need to resort to such gross falsehoods, especially – and I say this without xenophobic animosity or without a smack of nationalism – when they are brandished by foreigners who don’t even have a ludicrous idea of the reality the Cuban common population lives under or what its aspirations are. Dangerous, because the enormous power of the press to move public opinion for or against a proposal is well known, and to misrepresent or distort a reality unknown to that public, can have dire consequences.

But it seems that such an irresponsible attitude threatens to become a common practice, at least in the case of Cuba. This is what happens when overly enthusiastic professionals confuse two concepts as different as “information” and “opinion” in the same theoretical body.

It is also the case of the article referred to above, that its essence is the answer to a question that is asked and answered by the author, using the faint topic of the first anniversary of Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba and some conjectures about the continuity of the relations between both governments with the new occupant of the White House.

“What repercussions have the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba had on the Cuban people?” the writer of the article asks, and she immediately answers herself by assuming several suppositions, not totally exempt from logic, but regrettably inaccurate.

“Greater openness to Cuba has undoubtedly meant greater interaction with the Cuban people through the exchange of information from the thousands of Americans who now visit the island”, she says. And this is partially true, but this “exchange of information” about a society as complex and mimetic, and as long closed off as Cuba’s, is full of mirages and subjectivities, so it ends up being a biased and exotic vision of a reality that no casual foreign visitor can manage to grasp.

A diffuse assertion of the article is one that reassures: “Tourism represents the main economic source for the country, and at the same time it leverages other sectors related to textiles, construction and transportation.” Let’s see: It may be that tourism has gained an economic preponderance for Cuba, but that it has boosted the textile, construction and transportation sectors is, at the most, a mere objective, fundamentally dependent on foreign capital investment, which has just not materialized.

In fact, the notable increase in tourist accommodations and restaurants, bars and cafes in the private sector is the result not of the tourist boom itself but of the inadequacy of the hotel and gastronomic infrastructure of the State. If the author of the article has had privileged access to sources and information that support such statements, she does not make it clear.

But if the colleague at El Nuevo Herald came away with a relevant discovery during her trip to Havana –job related? for pleasure? – it is that many young people “believe in the socialist model.” Which leads us directly to the question, where did these young people learn what a “socialist model” is? Because, in fact, the only thing that Cubans born during the last decade of the last century have experienced in Cuba is the consolidation of a State capitalism, led by the same regime with kleptomaniacal tendencies that hijacked the power and the Nation almost 60 years ago.

About the young people she says that “many are self-employed and generate enough resources to live well.” There are currently more than 500 thousand people In Cuba with their own businesses, about 5% of the population, according to ECLAC” [U.N.’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean]. This is another slip, almost childish. The source that originally reports the figure of half a million self-employed workers belongs to the very official National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), a Cuban Government institution, and not to ECLAC. This number has remained unchanged for at least the last two years, as if the enormous migration abroad and the numerous returns of licenses on the part of the entrepreneurs who fail in their efforts or who are stifled by the system’s own circumstances, among other factors, did not make a dent.

But even assuming as true the immutable number of “self-employed” that the authorities refer to, on what does the writer base her assumptions that the self-employed generate sufficient recourses to live well? Could it be that she ignores that that half a million Cubans includes individuals who fill cigarette lighters, sharpen scissors, recycle trash (“the garbage divers”), are owners of shit-hole kiosks, repair household appliances, are roving shaved-ice, peanut, trinket and other knickknack vendors, and work at dozens of low-income occupations that barely produce enough to support themselves and their families? Doesn’t the journalist know about the additional losses most of them suffer from harassment by inspectors and the police, the arbitrary tax burdens and the legal defenselessness? What, in the end, are the standards of prosperity and well-being that allow her to assert that these Cubans “live well”?

I would not doubt the good intentions of the author of this unfortunate article, except that empathy should not be confused with journalism. The veracity of the sampling and the seriousness of the data used is an essential feature of journalistic ethics, even for an opinion column, as in this case. We were never told what data or samples were used as a basis for the article, the number of interviewees, their occupations, ages, social backgrounds and other details that would have lent at least some value to her work.

And to top it off, the trite issue of Cuba’s supposedly high educational levels could not be left out. She says: “While it is true that education in Cuba is one of the best in the continent, the level of education is not proportional to income, much less a good quality of life.” Obviously, she couldn’t be bothered going into the subject of education in Cuba in depth, and she is not aware of our strong pedagogical tradition of the past, destroyed by decades of demagoguery and indoctrination. She also does not seem to know the poor quality of teaching, the corruption that prevails in the teaching centers and the deterioration of pedagogy. We are not aware of what comparative patterns allow her to repeat the mantra of the official discourse with its myth about the superior education of Cubans, but her references might presumably have been Haiti, the Amazonian forest communities or villages in the Patagonian solitudes. If so, I’ll accept that Cubans have some advantage, at least in terms of education levels.

There are still other controversial points in the text, but the most relevant ones are sufficient to calculate the confusion the narration of a reality that is clearly unknown can cause to an unaware reader. It is obvious that the writer was not up to the task, or is simply not aware of the responsibility that comes from a simplistic observation. And she still pretends to have discovered not one, but two different Cubas. Perhaps there are even many more Cubas, but, my dear colleague: you were definitely never in any of them.

Translated by Norma Whiting