“I Always Did What My Conscience Dictated” / Dimas Castellano, Oscar Espinosa Chepe

Oscar Espinosa Chepe in his house in Havana

One of the central figures of the Cuban opposition, who participated in the revolution before its ultimate victory but ended up being sentenced to 20 years in Castro’s prisons, was the independent economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, who died in Madrid. He recounts his life and ideas in this interview.

Born in Cienfuegos on November 29, 1940, Chepe joined the revolutionary movement while studying at the Instituto de Segunda Enseñanza in that city. After 1959 he held various positions in the Socialist Youth (JS) and in the Association of Young Rebels (AJR), in the National Institute of Agrarian Reform (INRA), in the Central Planning Group (JUCEPLAN) and in the office of Prime Minister Fidel Castro.

He was punished for his opinions by being made to collect bat guano from caves and to work in agriculture. While on the State Committee for Economic Collaboration he was in charge of economic and technical and scientific relations with Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. He served as economic adviser at the Cuban Embassy in Belgrade and as a specialist at the National Bank of Cuba, from which he was fired for his beliefs in 1992.

Thereafter, Chepe worked as an economist and independent journalist, for which he was sentenced to 20 years in prison in March 2003. He was released on parole in November 2004 due to ill health.

The following interview of Chepe was conducted by Dimas Castellanos in Havana in 2009.

DC: You are described as an economist or an independent journalist, but we know little about the other aspects of your life. What were your early years like, your family environment?

OEC: I was born in Cienfuegos. My parents were from humble origins. They had business dealings with a string of pharmacies. My mother was also involved in the real estate business and together with my father came to own a drugstore in partnership with other people. I had a happy childhood but I was always interested in history, politics and social justice. My father encouraged these interests. He was a member of the old Communist Party and participated in the struggle against the dictatorship of Gerardo Machado, a cause for which he spent time in prison. During my undergraduate studies, I established contacts with members of the Socialist Youth (Juventud Socialista, or JS). Continue reading

Wages in Mariel: One Good Thing and a Lot of Bad Things / Dimas Castellanos

From cubacontemporanea.com

In accordance  with the new Foreign Investment Law*, workers will be engaged by an State-run employing organisation. When you factor in the fact that the only union permitted is the one representing the interests of the State, we are looking at a capitalist-style relationship in which the workers have no-one to defend them. Although we already knew about this, the information provided by the Director General of the regulating office of the Mariel Special Development Zone (ZEDM) is surprising just the same. Let’s see: Continue reading

One Night: A Critical View of Cuban Social Reality / Dimas Castellano


Una Noche
(One Night) is the film which best reflects why it is that young people leave Cuba. That’s how a female friend of mine, who is a lover of the seventh art, laconically replied to my question, after visiting the film exhibition in the 34th Festival of New Latin-American Cinema, which took place in Havana from 4th to 14th December 2012.

Because of the social theme it deals with, because of the magnificent photography of Trevor Forrest and Shlimo Godder, Roland Vajs’ and Alla Zaleski’s sound quality, and also director Lucy Mulloy’s script, the British-Cuban-North American co-production Una Noche constitutes an important cinematographic work, which, with its truthful narrative, gets close to documentary cinema; and, due to the authenticity of the people and social events it focuses on, it gets close to naturalism. Shot in Havana, with local actors, dealing with a national theme, the film can be considered to be part of the filmography of the island.

una-nocheShot between the years 2007 and 2011, the 89 minute film received international resonance with the news that the three principal protagonists, Javier Núñez, Anailín de la Rúa and Daniel Arrechada, deserted the artistic delegation going to the XI Tribeca Film Festival in New York, in the month of April 2012.

The first two did it as soon as they touched down on North American soil in Miami, the third, after receiving the prize in Tribeca. The event, something quite ordinary for Cubans, attracted international attention to the film and served to confirm the film’s story.

Continue reading

No Rush… and No Results

In 1953, in his self defense statement [as he appeared at his trial for the Moncada Barracks attack] History will absolve me, Fidel Castro addressed some key issues pending in our country: land reform for instance. He announced on that opportunity, as a priority in his program, giving productive land to those in possession of five or less acres; a nationalistic and democratic project that had its first episode in October, 1958, when, in the middle of the guerrilla war a bill of law was issued from La Sierra Maestra. Once he took power, actual laws were passed–on May 1959 and October 1963–in which property titles were issued to 100 thousand farmers, but 70% of productive land remained in government hands.

The new monopoly of the land and the elimination of the institutions of the civil society related to the agricultural (farming) activity generated a progressive decrease of the agricultural efficiency, while about 40% of the productive land of the country became idle; a regression that was continued until Cuba lost the subsidies from the former Soviet Union. Since then, the government had spent millions of dollars to buy food supplies that otherwise could had been produced locally.

With such an obvious deficiency of the agricultural production, just five months after taking over the presidency of the State council and of the Cabinet, General Raúl Castro, conscious of the deplorable condition of economy, expressed emphatically: We have to focus on the land! We have to get it to produce! And he added, that sooner than later laws and regulations will be passed to (once again) lease idle lands to farmers on the condition they make them productive as soon as possible.

One week after his speech, the Official Gazette of Cuba published the Decree Law 259 on that regard. This measure, could not solve such a serious problem on its own, might have been valid if this law had been conceived as the first step in a long way to go, for which a strong political will is need to face the historical problem of private property in Cuba, worsened during the Revolutionary government which promoted large state farms (collectivism). Continue reading

Cuba and the European Union: A Change of Tone and a New Dynamic / Dimas Castellano

cuba eu flagsindexIn a statement issued on Tuesday, February 11th, Rogelio Sierra Diaz, Cuba’s deputy foreign minister, reported that the Council of Foreign Ministers of the European Union (EU) had authorized the European Commission and the EU’s senior representative for foreign affairs and security policy, Catherine Ashton, to begin negotiations on a political dialogue and cooperation agreement with the Republic of Cuba. He added that “Cuba will consider the invitation from the Europeans in a respectful and constructive way and within the context of Cuba’s sovereignty and national interests.”

This represents the possible start of negotiations on a bilateral agreement, which depends on the Cuban authorities’ willingness to accept the invitation. In this regard Catherine Ashton said, “I hope Cuba will take up this offer and that we can work towards a stronger relationship,” but added “the decision is not a policy change from the past,” which can be interpreted as a change of tone, not of substance. Meanwhile the EU ambassador to Cuba said that the policy is the same but there is “a new dynamic” and called the decision a “big step forward for a possible agreement,” adding that the agreement would “formalize cooperation at all levels on a firmer legal and policy basis.”

Transitions towards democracy are dependent on both internal and external factors, with the latter assuming greater or lesser importance in relation to the strength or weakness of the former. In retrospect we can see that this has been exactly the case with Cuba.

When revolutionary forces came to power in 1959, they became the source of all laws and led the country towards totalitarianism. The constitution of 1940 was replaced with the Fundamental Law of the Cuban State, which allowed the designated prime minister to assume the role of head of government and the recently created Council of Ministers to take over the functions of Congress. Subsequently, power became concentrated in the hands of the strongman and property in the hands of the state. Civil society was dismantled, and civil liberties and human rights were restricted. As a result Cubans were relieved of vital tools and opportunities for civil discourse, which meant losing their status as citizens.

In 1996 the countries of the then European Community, which maintained bilateral relations with Cuba, established the Common Position in order to “encourage a process of transition to pluralist democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms as well as a sustainable recovery and improvement of the living conditions of the Cuban people.” That decision, which provided moral support to the island’s opposition, sharpened differences between the EU and the Cuban government. When the European Commission delegation took up residence in Havana in 2002, it  welcomed Cuba’s request to sign on to the Cotonou Agreement (1), opening a new stage in bilateral relations. However, the imprisonment of 75 peaceful dissidents in 2003 and the execution of three young men who attempted to commandeer a boat to escape the country led the European Union Council (2) to reaffirm that its Common Position remained valid and in force.

In 2008, when hurricanes deepened the country’s internal crisis, the government signed an accord restoring relations with the EU and agreed to restart a political dialogue. The European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid and the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cuba issued a statement announcing the decision, with the Spanish government playing a key role, repealing the Common Position. However, just as Spain assumed the EU presidency in 2010, two events dashed the arrangement: Cuba refused entry to Spanish EU deputy Luis Yanez and the Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo died the following month of a prolonged hunger strike.

If the Cuban government were now to accept the EU’s offer, it would have to agree to a dialogue on the subject of human rights and proceed to reestablish what it should never have abolished in the first place. Interestingly, we are not operating under the same conditions as in the past, when then Minister of Foreign Affairs, Felipe Pérez Roque, said in reference to the Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, “If the EU were to drop its insistence on a sterile and confrontational voting procedure, then Cuba would be inclined to sit down with the EU to work out a plan.” He added that Cuba “would feel a moral responsibility to abide by the European decision and would sign the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights the next day, indicating that we had entered a new stage in our relationship.”

Judging from the words of Catherine Ashton, certain demands would have to be on the table for EU countries to agree to negotiations.

She noted that, first, Cuban statutes would have to be brought into compliance with the United Nations Charter and all its instruments of international law such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 30 of this document states, “Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as conferring any rights to a state, group or person to engage in any activity or perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.” It is a provision that for Cuba has special significance, as it was one of the sponsors of and signatories to this important document. Secondly, it would  also have to ratify human rights conventions it signed 2008, which form the legal basis for the principle of personal dignity and guarantee that the planned changes will have a positive effect on Cuban society.

To meet the first requirement, the Cuban government would have to halt political repression and summary imprisonment. EU countries would encourage exchanges with civil society so that Cubans might gradually emerge from the political margins to recover their status as citizens. This would help promote popular sovereignty so that Cubans might become the protagonists of their history and destiny.

In addition to other issues on the table there should be a requirement that the soon-to-be drafted Labor Code once again include the right to form free trade unions and the right to freely hire workers, two things that were part of the Labor Legislation of 1938 and the Constitution of 1940. Similarly, the new Investment Law should allow participation by Cuban nationals since the programs in which foreign investors are being invited to participate will be worthwhile only if Cubans benefit from these changes by having their rights restored. In the case of the Mariel Special Development Zone, the project will be of enormous benefit to the Cuban economy provided it helps lead to the country’s democratization. Otherwise, these steps will only strengthen the current economic and political model and condemn Cubans to continued civic, political and economic poverty.

(1) A comprehensive partnership agreement between the EU and 79 countries from Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific. Article 9, paragraph 2 states: “The Parties undertake to promote and protect all fundamental freedoms and human rights, whether civil and political or economic rights.”

(2) Name for the European Community’s heads-of-state and heads-of-government summit, which takes place regularly, at least every six months.

From Diario de Cuba

14 February 2014

Cuban Baseball: Declining Slowly but Surely / Dimas Castellano

Alfredo Despaigne in the Caribbean Series2014.

Alfredo Despaigne in the Caribbean Series2014.

By Dimas Castellano

As if what happened during the first three days of competition on Margarita Island was an exception and not a manifestation of the stagnation experienced in all spheres of Cuban society, a sports commentator on the television show Morning Journal said that “the team from Villa Clara did not meet expectations.”

In baseball, which is the topic before us, what happened could not be a surprise. The avowed superiority of “free” versus “slave” ball was not confirmed in practice. The challenge launched against professionalism in 1960 did not stand the test of time. But the acceptance of this fact by the Cuban authorities—though without public acknowledgement and coming too late—is still good news, because this decision requires them to banish the ideological slogan and return to the path that they never should have left.

In 1948, at the meeting of the Caribbean Baseball Confederation held in Miami, representatives of the professional leagues of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Panama and Venezuela formed the Caribbean Series. From the inaugural event in February 1949, when the Almendares team went undefeated to take victory in Havana until the close of participation in 1960 with the victory of Cienfuegos in Panama, Cuban teams won seven out of twelve championships: irrefutable proof of the quality of “slave” ball during those years. Continue reading

Currency Unification: Causes and Limits / Dimas Castellano

The road to exit the crisis is clear; what is lacking is the political will to travel it. Among the partial reforms the government of Raul Castro announced was the enforcement of a timeframe for measures to eliminate the dual currency, implemented following the loss of Soviet subsidies.  A look back at the topic helps to identify some of the causes and limitations of the announced timeframe.

In the period between the two great wars of independence that took place in the second half of the Cuban 19th century, the Island became the first country to exceed a million tons of sugar, of which more than 90% was exported to the United States.  That permitted the neighboring country to impose on Spain the reciprocal trade agreement known as the McKinley Bill, through which was established the free entry of Cuban sugar into that nation.

At the same time there was a high concentration of land ownership, especially in American companies.  In that condition of economic dependence, at the end of Spanish domination, the occupation government introduced the dollar as the basic monetary standard, which was imposed until the disappearance of the other currencies (French, Spanish, Mexican), which explains the presence of the dollar in the first years of the Republic born in 1902. Continue reading

Current Ideas / Dimas Castellanos

One hundred and twenty-five years after his death on August 11, 1888, the scientific results that the eminent chemist, physiologist, agronomist, industrial technologist and science writer Alvaro Reynoso y Valdez bequeathed us are still on the waiting list.  While the official Cuban press pays exaggerated attention to events and people linked to politics and wars, it limits mention of Reynoso as part of the celebrated anniversaries without investigating his work or pressing for his contributions to become productive results.

Alvaro Reynoso, one of the Cubans who collaborated through science for the progress and formation of the basis of the Cuban nation, studied at San Cristobal (Carraguao) college, graduated with a Bachelor of Science from the Havana Royal and Literary University, continued his studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, where he graduated in 1856 and obtained a doctorate, becoming one of the best chemists of his era.

From the earliest years of study he began to publish his scientific results: a new procedure for the recognition of Iodine and Bromine; diverse new combinations of ammonia in ferrocyanides; action of the bases on salts and in particular on arsenides; separation of phosphoric acid from its combinations with metallic oxides; the presence of sugar in the urine of sick hysterics, epileptics and its relationship to respiration; the effect of bromide on poisoning by curare (a poison used by Indians to poison their arrows); studies about the artificial breeding of freshwater fish, and others.

On graduating in 1856 some twenty of his works had been presented in specialist publications in France and Spain.  He was elected a Corresponding Member of the Academy of Exact, Physical and Natural Sciences of Madrid and the Royal Academy of the History of Spain, he received the Royal Order “Professor of Chemistry Applied to Agriculture and Botany” from the Havana General Preparatory School and the “Professor of Enlarged Organic Chemistry” at the Central University of Madrid, among many honors.

On returning to Cuba in 1858 with a laboratory endowed with the most modern equipment and instruments, an excellent mineralogical collection and a valuable scientific library, he took possession of the Chemistry Chair and in 1859 replaced Jose Luis Casaseca as the director of the Havana Institute of Chemical Investigations, an institution that he converted into one of the world’s first agronomic stations.

Parallel with his investigative work he dedicated himself to writing.  In 1868 he began to collaborate as scientific writer for the Marina Daily, where he had a column in which he published articles about drinking water; he reviewed the first trial carried out in Cuba in April 1863 of the Fowler steam-powered plow, with which he began the mechanization of sugar cane in Cuba; he was a writer of the Annals and Memories of the Royal Development Board and the Royal Economic Society; he published in the Magazine of Agriculture of the Ranchers Circle on the island of Cuba and in other press organs.

Among his published works are: Details About Various Cuban Crops, where he compiled his contributions about non-sugar cane agriculture such as corn, coffee, cotton, tobacco; Progressive Studies on Various Scientific, Agricultural, and Industrial Subjects, a collection of articles published in the press about the cultivation of sugar cane in all its phases, as well as experimentation plans by the Institute of Chemical Investigations and the planting of sweet potatoes, yams, corn and rice destined for human and animal consumption.

In the middle of the 19th century, when Cuba was first in the world in production of sugar and the last in productivity, supporting his thesis that the true making of sugar is in the reeds, he devoted himself to resolving this contradiction. The results were gathered in his crowning work Study of the Culture of Sugarcane where he integrated all the related operations with the culture and harvest of the grass, from the negative effect of the logging of virgin forests to fresh grinding for avoiding alteration of the juices.  This work published in 1862 was re-published in Madrid in 1865, in Paris in 1878 and in Cuba in 1925 where it was re-printed in 1954 and 1959 in addition to being published in Holland.

An aspect of his ideas which is barely mentioned, is that Reynoso considered the autonomous participation of the Cubans in the political estate reform of the colony as a legitimate demand.  That’s why, in his systematic analysis he never avoided the topic of agricultural property.  He considered, just the same as Francisco de Frias and Jose Antonio Saco, the need to establish a sugar cane agriculture with native small farmers and immigrants, where the incentive of ownership, much different from the slave system, was a basic component to push forward the modernization of the agricultural economy.

However, in the year 2001, when due to the continuous decrease in sugar production, less than 3.5 million tons, the then Sugar Industry Minister, General Ulises Rosales del Toro announced two projects to reverse the situation: one, to restructure the sugar industry aimed at achieving industrial performance of 11% or extracting from each 100 tons of sugar cane, 11 tons of sugar; and the other one baptized with the name of the distinguished scientist with the objective of reaching 54 tons of sugar cane per hectare.  With both projects, as announced then, Cuba could produce 6 million tons of sugar (the amount produced in Cuba in 1948).

Towards that end, instead of taking into account all the elements which participated in the production process as taught by Reynoso, some 100 sugar factories were closed, with the land distributed for the use of other crops and sidestepping the damaging state monopoly on land ownership.  The amount of 2002-2003 harvest – the first after the implementation of the “novel task and one of the worse of all times” – was 2.1 million tons, barely half of the production in 1919.

From there and until the present time the industry inefficiency, the unavailability of sugar cane, the low results of land usage and the high cost of production per ton has repeated year after year.  In the last harvest, 2012-2013, the plan of 1.7 million tons was not reached for many reasons, but especially because of the unresolved problem of the land tenancy was attempted to be resolved through the leasing approach known as usufruct, maintaining the inefficient State as owner and the economy subordinated to politics and ideology; which shows not only in the sugar production but in the agricultural production and all facets of the economy.

Taken from: Diario de Cuba

14 August 2013

Free Baseball vs. Slave Baseball / Dimas Castellanos

The facts and news about the sport of balls and strikes, learned during the recently concluded month of July, settle the dispute between amateur and professional baseball in favor of the latter.

It started with the debut of Yovani Aragón in the World Port Tournament of  Rotterdam, a less demanding event than the Olympic Games and the World Classic, where the spiritual mentor captured the ninth title for Cuba.

It was followed by the series between the U.S. collegiate national team and the Cuban team, in which the Antillean team displayed the weakest performance in recent international matches: weak hitting, a high number of strikeouts, failure of the first batters, flawed tactics, errors in fielding and throwing to bases, and they stole 15 bases in 16 tries. For its part, the American squad also had a weak offense, but had 12 pitchers throwing between 93 and 98 miles per hour.

The Cubans, who had defeated the student selections in 8 of 10 tries, with more experience and with an average age of 26.6 years, were defeated by a team whose ages ranged between 19 and 23. The Cuban mentor, Victor Mesa, who hoped to win three or more games, had to settle for a crushing defeat. Something similar to what happened in the third World Baseball Classic, when he said “We will win the Classic. That’s why we came, not for anything else”; but he failed to improve on the fifth place finish in the second Classic.

To these two facts the following news was added:

1 – The Granma native Alfredo Despaigne, hired by the Campeche Pirates of the Mexican League, hit 6 for 6 on July 24, equaling the record set in 1936 by the “Immortal”, Martin Dihigo.

2 – Yasiel Puig, from Cienfuegos, was awarded the Best Player and Rookie of the Month for June, after his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers. In 26 games he led in batting, was the leader in on-base percentage, hit seven home runs and drove in 16 runs. With 44 hits he was second on the all-time list of rookies in their first month, four behind the mark set by Joe DiMaggio in 1936.

3 – Jose Iglesias, infielder for the Boston Red Sox, was selected Rookie of the Month in the American League. In 25 games he batted .395 with four doubles, two triples, one homer, six RBIs, 17 runs and eight walks, had 11 games with two hits or more and a streak of 18 straight games with base hits.

4 – Jose Fernandez, pitcher for the Miami Marlins, with little more than three months in the major leagues, was named to the All-Star Game along with Aroldis Chapman of Holguin, closer for the Cincinnati Reds, while Yoenis Cespedes from Granma, of the Oakland Athletics, won the home-run competition during All-Star Week.

5 – Veterans of the Industriales team played several games during the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the club in Miami, where the Industriales players from the island faced off against Industriales players living in the U.S.

JORGE EBRO el Nuevo Herald

The facts and news take us back to the time when professional baseball was abolished. Until then Cuba had a large presence in international events. After the First World Amateur Baseball Series, held in London in 1938, the following five were held at La Tropical Stadium in Havana, of which the island won four. Meanwhile the Caribbean Series was created at the request of Cuba, when in 1948 it proposed to delegates from Puerto Rico, Panama and Venezuela, to hold an annual series among the champion teams to decide the best of the region. Havana was host to the first in 1949. From there, until 1960, Cuba won 7 of the 12 series, the last five in a row.

In keeping with a longstanding relationship between politics and sport, the leader of the Revolution made a long speech about baseball. On January 2, 1967, he said: professional sport was eradicated, and above all, it was eradicated in that sport, which was one of the most popular: baseball… But more interesting is that never did any professional athlete whose business is the sport, play with such enthusiasm, so bravely, with such courage, as do our athletes, who are not professionals.

Certainly the Revolution took baseball to all the people in the country, constructed several stadiums, renamed the Grand Stadium the Latino-American Stadium of del Cerro, and added new bleachers. In exchange, it prevented Cuban players, with the qualities of stardom, from measuring themselves against the best players in the world and deprived the Island’s fans of the enjoyment of professional baseball which, live or on the radio and television, they had enjoyed from anywhere the country.However, professionalism was not eradicated, rather it was hidden. If a professional is someone who is paid by salary for the work performed, the players of the National Series, who received their salaries for that work, have been professionals from then until today.

With that “free” baseball Cuba established supremacy for decades in the Central American amateur, Pan American and global competitions. It proclaimed the great victory over “slave” baseball. Brimming with pride, in October 1975 it said: if in other Latin American countries there is no social revolution, there is no development of the social revolution; regardless of technique, regardless of how many trainers they hire, regardless of how many new things they devise, they can’t match Cuba’s successes in the sport.

The illusion vanished. Cuba had been beating the amateurs with a professional team. When the match-ups with the presence of professionals began, “slave” baseball proved superior to “free” baseball, as in the Classics. The results started to disappoint. But the worst has been the hundreds of players who have defected in search of “slavery,” which has affected especially pitchers. Almost all of the best pitchers of the last 20 years left the Island: From René Arocha to Odrisamer Despaigne and Misael Siverio and with them hundreds of players from all categories.

After a long and brilliant baseball history, measured against the best in the world and having triumphed, countries with no tradition in this sport beat us, or we win by scaring them. The climax has been, not the loss against other professionals, but against college students, true amateurs who faced the “amateurs” of the greatest of the Antilles and swept them in five games.

Cuba is in decline relative to the rest of the world. The dispute between amateur and professional baseball is decided in favor of the latter. The strategy outlined in 1961 needs to be abandoned. Although not publicly acknowledged, which is too much to ask, the most important thing is to accelerate the steps being taken to return to the road we should never have abandoned. For now Cuba will attend the upcoming Caribbean Series to be held in Margarita Island, Venezuela, but the dream of many fans and many of those who now shine in Professional Baseball, is to represent Cuba in the next Classic. It is not a big demand, it is simply to allow Cuban players residing abroad to defend the colors of their flag, as do players from the rest of the 15 countries participating.

Taken from: http://www.diariodecuba.com/deportes/1375365754_4465.html

6 August 2013

Political Opposition and Negotiations in Today’s Cuba / Dimas Castellanos

Interview of Dimas Castellanos by Ernesto Santana Zaldivar, published on April 26 and 29, 2013 in Cubanet.

Although still uttered timidly, recently you have begun to hear the word “negotiation” in some statements by the Cuban political opposition. Despite having diverse opinions about it, a negotiation is, in general, a process in which two or more parties try to find a mutually satisfactory solution to their problem, be it labor union, financial, military, commercial, political, etc.

The American expert on the subject, Herb Cohen, believes that “everything is negotiable” and defines negotiation as “a field of knowledge and action whose objective is to win the consent or the favor of the people from whom you want to get something.” He also says that the three main factors of a negotiation are power, information, and time.

In order to approach, from a Cuban historical perspective, an issue so complex, but which has had such importance for determining fundamental political changes in many countries and eras, we talked with sociologist and historian Dimas Castellanos, also known for his independent journalism in the digital magazine Consensus, in Diario de Cuba, and in other media.

Cubanet: Do you think there is still no pressure in Cuba that requires the government to negotiate?

Dimas Castellanos: First, this is not the case of an armed movement that occupied a region of the country over which the government now has no control, as in Colombia. Another thing that may force a government to negotiate is that the opposition has such influence over a sector of the population that it can create difficulties for the authorities.

In Cuba there is great discontent, manifested for example in the elections: almost fifteen percent of the voters did not go to the polls or annulled their ballots. But they did so spontaneously, by an individual act of conscience. No one should believe that this was in response to some opposition party that has that kind of drawing power.

So the government has no reason, nor anyone with whom, to negotiate. And on the other hand the opposition is not strong enough to prevent the government from doing what it wants.

Cubanet: What, in your opinion, is the reason for this situation?

Dimas Castellanos: In Cuba, there were always forces that at some point could compel those in power to do certain things. These forces do not exist today. When the revolutionary government took power, the first thing it did was to dismantle the whole network of institutions that existed, mainly civic institutions. So all the citizen organizations, which had been here since the end of the Ten-Year War, disappeared.

Civil society, which erupted with force in the Republic, achieved admirable results, as the strike by apprentices and masons demonstrated in 1901 and 1902, which spread to other sectors.

By 1910, the government was forced to enact several legislative measures favorable to the working class, such as the eight-hour day for government workers, payment in cash and not in tokens and vouchers (as before), and paid holidays.

The labor movement accomplished all that because it had real strength and could, for example, paralyze sugar mills or transportation. Cubans now are not as poor as they were, but we do not have unions and other civil society organizations able to play that role.

Cubanet: So is it essential, first of all, to set up the network again?

Dimas Castellanos: It’s hard to understand that this is a long-term battle. And you have to pace yourself and take advantage of all the gaps and openings to help the civic formation of citizens. Many dissidents want change for Cuba, just as I do, who am also part of the opposition, but I try to be as realistic as possible.

The government is sometimes forced to take some step, more for external reasons than from pressure from within Cuba. After more than fifty years, it has the luxury of making reforms from the same position of power, and therefore can determine the pace and direction they take. They can make a change in one direction, then take back a little, then shift it forward again, and play with it, but there is no internal force able to avoid it.

The government will negotiate when there is a force that compels it to negotiate, and that force has to be formed over the long term.

Cubanet: Do you share the opinion of many Cuban historians that the Protest of Baraguá represents a milestone in our history as a method of negotiating without compromising dignity?

Dimas Castellanos: I regret that the Zanjón Compact has not received the historical recognition that it should have, and that only the Protest of Baraguá has been glorified, because it demobilized the rebel troops in exchange for Spain allowing in Cuba a regime very similar to that which existed in Spain itself or in Puerto Rico.

The laws of the metropolis governed here starting from the Zanjón Compact, and from it came freedoms of expression, association, and assembly, among other benefits.

Despite all the limitations that it kept, there Cuban civil society was born and the first political parties were created. The union movement grew, newspapers spread, there were organizations of all kinds – political, fraternal, labor – that began to take on an enormous burden within society.

The burden was such that you cannot understand the beginning of the war in 1895 without the work that civil society did in the whole colony. That was a time, in terms of freedoms, very superior to what currently exists.

Due to the shortness of time that this form of communication offers and at the same time, due to the interest and to the meaty responses from Dimas Castellanos, we have divided this interview in two parts which will be available to the readers in a coming edition.

Cubanet: In his first responses for this two-part interview, Dimas Castellanos explained the reasons why, in his view, the peaceful opposition movement in Cuba is not yet in a position to force the government to sit at a negotiating table. He also set out his criterion from examples of notable negotiated events that took place throughout our history. Just for this aspect we return to the theme.

Cubanet: How do you assess the role played by civil society in Cuba, as far as negotiation is concerned, in the Republican era, from its beginnings to 1958?

Dimas Castellanos: Negotiation played a role of obvious importance. The Constitution of 1901 is an example. The interventionist U.S. government allowed the formation of a Constituent Assembly and created the conditions for it, but, as it had the force of the occupation, it made sure that the Platt Amendment was incorporated to secure their power over the country.

More progressive Cuban forces strongly opposed the amendment and even traveled to the United States, but failed except for a few small changes. Although during the revolution those who signed the Platt Amendment were condemned, the truth is that there were only two options: either sign the addendum to the Constitution or the United States maintained its military control over the country.

And there were no longer mambises nor the Cuban Revolutionary Party, nor an economy; and a people, moreover, tired of wars. The best minds saw that they could lose everything and accepted the Amendment – although it was an insult, a humiliation – as a tactic, to then gradually remove it, as they did.

In 1934 the Platt Amendment was finally abrogated. And it was all through negotiation.

Cubanet: And in terms of the Constitution of 1940?

Dimas Castellanos: It was a master class in negotiating in which the participants ranged from communists to the extreme right. They arrived at a Constitution that provided balance, though perhaps, in my opinion, it was above the civic potential of the Cuban people. That is why afterward our military tradition manages to prevail.

There was not a strong civic tradition, but rather a dictatorship tradition, which is demonstrated in the governments from 1902 until the fall of Machado in 1933. Between that year and 1940 was very turbulent. After 1937 they managed to calm the situation a little and finally return to a democratic exercise that culminated with the Constitution of 1940.

Batista cleanly won the presidential election. Then Grau defeated him in 1944 with the Aunténticos, winning again in ’48 with Prío, and in 1952 he looked certain to defeat the Orthodox Party, which was nothing more than an offshoot of the Authentic Party, whose main argument was the prevailing political and administrative corruption.

Curiously, this corruption did not affect society, because, even though we were not very advanced in public spirit, the morality of the Cuban people was very high. After the 1952 coup, those who wanted to overthrow Batista were divided into two camps: on one side,  the civic forces (the Law Society, the Medical Association, the Lions Club, Rotary Club, etc..), and on the other, those who opted for armed struggle.

Cubanet: We now know which was the winning side. What is not well understood, especially by the Cuban population, is what later happened with the negotiating capacity of our civil society.

Dimas Castellanos: The Revolution became the source of power, without any compromise with what existed before and swept it all away.

Actually, the Revolution had the support of only one part of the population (the fighting was carried out by a few thousand men in a population of six million), mainly peasant farmers, but the massive support occurred afterward and the Revolutionary government acted with skill. The result: it disarmed Cuban civil society, all the autonomous movements disappeared (of peasants, students, women, workers, etc.).

The unions were taken over in January 1959. Many who disagreed with that course thought that if Fidel Castro had taken power by force, he could also be overthrown by arms, but all violent resistance was defeated.

Cubanet: When can you say that Cuban civil society finally woke up, after the long slumber imposed by the Revolution?

Dimas Castellanos: In the late 80s and early 90s opposition organizations and political parties began to emerge, but very weakly, because of government repression first of all, and because many of the people continued to identify with the power, despite its failure, because the mindset does not change very quickly. Also because of the monopoly the government maintains over the media. It can say whatever it wants about the opposition and it is hard to deny internally. So it is isolated and marginalized.

From my point of view, the political parties that were created in the 90s are now worn out. That hurts a lot and no one likes to be told that, but I personally come from one of those parties, the Socialist Democratic, which has disappeared.

But a kind of proto civil society began to develop and there are movements with a very stable work, although they are not talked about much, such as Dagoberto Valdés, in Pinar del Rio, who has a method of advancing step by step and for years has insisted on the power of the small, with a theoretical basis for change, an accumulated political thought that should be used at some point.

But the problem of dictatorship continues, which we have always suffered with.

Cubanet: And what about the current conditions for strengthening the bargaining power of the opposition?

Dimas Castellanos: Now the government is exhausted and the model has proved unworkable.

With lack of freedoms there can be no development of anything, from the economy to sports. Everything is damaged, and the rulers do not want to engage in the suicide of promoting reforms that bring them to the end of the road, and result in their criminal prosecution.

To advance the economy and get out of the disaster, the government knows it has to connect back to the developed world, especially Western Europe and the United States, which conditions the relationship on respect for human rights, so it has begun to make small concessions.

In any event, the developed world believes that these reforms are still insufficient. That’s why the government is going to have to make more changes.

Cubanet: Do you think then that the new circumstances and the new waves of opponents are creating the conditions for a possible negotiator?

Dimas Castellanos: Whatever happens, the time for negotiation will come, though not in a situation like now exists.
The example is in the release of political prisoners, where there was no negotiation between the government and the opposition. Although many criticized the Church, I find that there was no other way and that civil society, which the Church is part of, was strengthened. Although the Church was able to meet some of its own demands, I don’t really think it was because it has common interests with the government, except for momentary tactical considerations. Strategically, the government and the Church are not going in the same direction.
There are now 400,000 self-employed workers who do not depend on the state. But what work has the opposition done among these workers? They do not think about human rights, but about their most basic needs. What they want is greater economic liberalization.
These 400,000 self-employed are a field in which we must work. We ought to create many more spaces, small schools about Cuban history, political courses, lessons about what a constitution is, about rights, because people will gradually come around.
The opposition has not given the importance that it should to the formation of civic society. You cannot fight for change if people do not even know where they have come from or where they are going.
The day that the opposition can say that the fifteen percent of the population that does not attend the elections is on its side, it will be a minority against the remaining eighty-five percent, but it will represent a great force because then it would be structured, and then it would be realistic to see the possibility of negotiations.

That’s what we have to work for. If we look at the history of Cuba, we see that we have always been changing, and yet we are now more backward in human rights than in 1878, because we backtracked on civil liberties. The Revolution of 1959 seemed like the greatest thing, but we fell into a trap and ended up worse than before. So our work has to be from the ground up and with patience.

Translated by Tomás A.

10 May 2013

The Morality of the Survivor / Dimas Castellanos

At an extended meeting of the Council of Ministers held last Friday, May 13, the head of Foreign Commerce and Overseas Investments reported finding irregularities in business operations involving foreign capital and international contracts. Likewise, the minister of Finance and Planning spoke of irregularities and evidence of criminal activity related to fuel sales. Meanwhile, the Comptroller General of the Republic acknowledged that, though recent audits have shown the situation is improving, serious problems and vulnerabilities persist.

Any objective analysis of this issue must begin by banishing euphemisms that just serve to sugarcoat reality. It is not an issue of irregularities but of marked ethical deterioration, of corruption, that while it did not begin in 1959, it was only after that date that it moved from the arena of political administration to all aspects of society, becoming not only part of the culture but an impediment to the government’s own efforts. This phenomenon which began with the economy and later seeped into Cubans’ spiritual consciousness is one of the factors pointing to the structural nature of the current crisis and the failure of attempts to overcome it through limited changes to the economy.

Among the factors contributing to this situation were the disappearance of tens of thousands of business owners and their replacement by “bosses,”[1] making absolute the “property of all the people,” and inadequate salaries and pensions, a combination of noxious factors that has led to theft, bribes and deceit in order to survive. It happens this way because morality is an amalgam of socially accepted standards of conduct which evolve in response to changes in goals, interests and social conditions; therefore, survival has become part of our morality stemming from the profound structural crisis in which we find ourselves.

The changes being implemented in Cuba under the title of Political, Economic and Social Guidelines of the Communist Party are stymied by the worst decline in moral conduct ever seen in our history. The struggle to survive, which stems from multiple frustrations, has led to apathy, hopelessness and escapism as reflected in a morality that employs various forms of patriotic vocabulary. The struggle now is not about abolishing slavery, achieving independence or overthrowing tyranny; it is simply about surviving. Nor is it a matter of “Freedom or Death” or “Fatherland or Death” but rather “Life or Death,” the slogan of the survivor.

The explanation for all this is that the primary moral and human imperative is the preservation of life. When social conditions preclude any hope of fulfillment, people are left with only two options: to renounce life or to survive. This is why Cubans, faced with inadequate salaries, turned to illegal activities; faced with the impossibility of being entrepreneurs, to the “Estaticular[2]” way, in other words, expenses for the State and dividends for the individual[3]; faced with shortages, to theft from the State whose property actually belongs to “all the people.” To the absence of opportunity, they respond by escaping into exile. To ideological entreaties, they respond with apathy. Certain verbs — to escape, to struggle, to resolve — have come to mean acquiring that vital “something extra,” in other words, to survive.

Faced with this obstinate reality, the State’s only option is repression: more police, more surveillance, more restrictions, and inspectors — actions which only address the symptoms without taking into account their causes, among which was the turn toward totalitarianism, that erased the citizen from the Cuban political scene. But what is most striking, as we can see from the examples below, is the stubborn focus on effects and the disregard for causality.

On May 22, 2001 the newspaper Juventud Rebelde published an article, “The Hunter of Deceptions” about a popular inspector in charge of rooting out instances of fraud in the quality, weight, price and sale of unauthorized goods in State stores. According to this inspector, when a violator was presented with evidence of his crime, customers became upset and actually came to the the man’s defense. In other words the victims stood up for their victimizer, demonstrable proof that the morality of the survivor enjoys popular acceptance.

On Saturday, November 28, 2003 Granma published “Price Violations and the Never-Ending Battle.” In it an official with the Ministry of Finance’s Office of Price Supervision reported that in the first eight months of this year there were irregularities found in 36% of the establishments inspected. In the case of farmers’ markets, festivals, outdoor food stalls and other points of sale for produce, the figure was 47%. In the food-service sector it was over 50%.

Granma reported that on Saturday, December 24, 2005, in an address to the National Assembly of People’s Power, Pedro Ross — then Secretary General of the Workers’ Central Union of Cuba (CTC) — said, “There are workers who respond but there are others who don’t and who continue to justify theft and other wrongful conduct.”

On February 16, 2007 Granma reported in the article “Cannibals on the Towers” on the theft of the metal braces that support the transmission towers for high voltage electricity. In 2004, 1,648 pieces of bracing disappeared from a 220,000 volt power grid and 545 from a 100,000 volt grid. In 2005, 532 and 544, respectively, were stolen from these two power grids. In 2006 — after stepping up surveillance, applying technical solutions and imposing sanctions — 267 and 1827 disappeared. There was a decrease in thefts from the 200,000 volt network only because screws and bracing up to a six-meter height were welded together, but the tenacious “fighters” climbed higher. Similarly, electrical transmission cables were stolen from the power grid for their aluminum and copper.

On Friday, October 26, 2010, Granma published an article called “The Price of Indolence” which reported that in the Villa Clara’s municipality of Corralillo 300 homes were built using stolen materials and resources. Some 9,631 meters of roadway material had been used in 240 of the inspected homes; 82% of them had train tracks taken from the Ministry of Sugar, disrupting 25 kilometers of rail lines; and 59 pieces of steel bracing from high-voltage electrical towers were used.

Even more recently, February 19 and 26, 2012, Juventud Rebelde, published an article containing an interview of the Comptroller of the Republic where she said: “According to our findings, the causes of corruption range from the fact of not having contracts overseen because the person who was supposed to do it didn’t do it,  and the person that had to ensure they had reviewed it didn’t review it, or didn’t review it properly.

To that you have to add the constant pocketing of resources, the endless legal processes even to to the level of high ranking officials.

What the newspapers (i.e. Granma, Juventud Rebelde) have failed to show from the journalistic point of view, is the relationship that exists between, on the one side, corruption, and on the other the absolute State ownership of resources, the low salaries and the impossibility to be entrepreneurs.  If they had addressed this, they  would have shown the uselessness of repression if is not accompanied by measures that tackle the causes, because the police, the informers, the simple inspectors, integral inspectors or the inspector of the inspectors are all Cubans with the same needs as the rest of the population and thus they practice the same prevailing morality.

To change the course of the events, the economic changes will have to be extended to the rest of the social spheres, even if quite late; which means that they will have to look again to the civil liberties without which the formation and predominance of the civil morality required by the present and the future of Cuba will be impossible.


[1] That is, administrators, managers, directors.

[2] This is a play on words:  It combines the words Estado (State) and particular (private individual in this context).

[3] Through theft of State property

UPEC and the Freedom of the Press / Dimas Castellanos

The few expectations generated by the Ninth Congress of the Union of Journalists and Writers of Cuba ( UPEC ), held last weekend, ended in frustration. The changes that demand journalism plays an effective role in social transformations were conspicuous by their absence. The conclave ignored the issue of press freedom, a vital issue to delve into the causes of the current crisis and suggest possible solutions, although Cuba has a rich history in this area.

The Camaguey national hero Ignacio Agramonte, in defending his thesis in law said: The right to think freely corresponds to the freedom of discussion, of doubt, of opinion, as phases or directions of that.

The press in Cuba was inaugurated with Papel Periodico (Newsprint) in Havana in 1790; it disseminated the accord reached with the Pact of Zanjón of 1878, thanks to which Juan Gualberto Gomez won the legal process against the colonial authorities which allowed the public disclosure of the ideas of those supporting independence. It was multiplied during the Republic: Diario de La Marina, Bohemia, El País, El Mundo, Alerta, Noticias de Hoy, La Calle, Prensa Libre, Carteles and Vanidades, to cite just ten. In 1930 there were 61 radio stations, a number that placed Cuba 4th worldwide; and as for television, in 1950, almost immediately after the United States, Television Radio Union Channel 4, the third television station in Latin America, followed the same year by Channel 6.

Thanks to the media, from the colony to the Republic , the debate of ideas reached such importance that it is impossible to explain any event in our history without considering the role of press freedom. The best evidence was the allegation of Dr. Fidel Castro, known as History Will Absolve Me, in which he said: Let me tell you a story: Once upon a time there was a Republic. It had its Constitution, its laws, its freedoms, a President, a Congress and Courts of Law. Everyone could assemble, associate, speak and write with complete freedom. The people were not satisfied with the government, but the people could change it… Public opinion was respected and heeded and all problems of common interest were freely discussed. There were political parties, hours of doctrine on radio, debate programs on television, public meetings…”

The Russian historian, sociologist and politician Pavel Milyukov, in an article entitled In defense of the word, defined the press as the finest and most perfect expression of socio-psychological forms of interaction; he explained that the rules of relationship between man and society constitute the core of human rights and freedom of the press is the only civil liberty can guarantee all the others. Continue reading