Institutional Crisis / 14ymedio, Fernando Damaso

Meeting of the National Assembly (Neo Club Press)

Meeting of the National Assembly (Neo Club Press)

14ymedio, FERNANDO DAMASO, Havana, 22 January 2015 — Among so many crises that affect us, little is said about that related to institutions. In the Republican era, there existed institutions that, without being perfect, worked. If it had not been so, the country would not have developed in the way that it did. When the new regime was put in place in 1959, instead of being perfected, most of the existing institutions were liquidated or their spheres of influence were reduced for the purpose of initiating other new ones on bare ground. Even the family, considered a principal and primary institution, did not escape, being dismembered and atomized to respond to political and ideological interests.

An institution can be many things. There exist formal and informal institutions and, in both cases, they are always social constructions. They must be efficient, that is to say, capable of functioning well, having legitimacy, being able to adapt to changes in the environment and anticipate changes besides demonstrating stability. These components must act together if they want to get results. In the Cuban case, stability has turned into a kind of brake that impedes the necessary changes, giving rise to ossified institutions. The majority of institutions established in the last fifty years suffer this infirmity, mainly the economic, legal and political ones. Continue reading

Mutual Respect / Fernando Damaso

The reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States has been well received by the majority of Cubans both within and outside the island. Although it represents only the first step in solving the dispute between the two governments, it provides the basis for achieving a normal coexistence between close neighbors, both geographically and historically.

During the process of resolving this dispute, it is hoped that steps will also be taken to resolve another dispute: that between Cubans and their government

As expected, there are those who do not agree with this first step, who reject it and will do everything possible to make it fail. These people are found within the governments of both countries, as well as among the internal and external opposition. Some have lived too long under this dispute, and it is too difficult for them to give up what has become a way of life.

I am referring to government figures, who have made careers for themselves taking advantage of the dispute, enjoying the perks, experiencing neither shortages, scarcities, nor the “Special Period,” and also some opponents who, although it has cost them a great deal of work, have benefited from it, through media attention, economic assistance, and the occasional trip abroad.

This is also happened with some Cuban-American politicians, Both Democrats and Republicans. It is a well-known reality and cannot be ignored.

Those of us who are committed to change and have as our main objective the well-being of Cuba and all Cubans, without any kinds of differences or exclusions, I call on to fight to overcome the obstacles that undoubtedly will appear, and to advance this process.

It is noteworthy that, in recent days, in the press and in the Government-supported blogosphere, there have appeared some articles which, instead of promoting understanding and good relations, try to fan the flames of discord, recalling difficult times in recent history, where the only culprit, with or without evidence, continues to be the American government, while Cuba continues to play the role of innocent victim: they appear to be stuck in the story of Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf

If we really want to have good relations with our neighbor, and so the language of the barricade and of the ignorant, used for so many years, should begin to vary: respect, to be effective, must be mutual.

18 January 2015

New Year Desires / Fernando Damaso

For the five-year period 2011-2016, the Cuban authorities planned for a 5.1% growth in the economy. It was later reduced to 4.4%. However the average growth has been 2.7%, with this year, 2014, being the worst with a growth of only 1.3%. This has displaced 2009, when growth was 1.4%, as the year with the worst numbers since the beginning of the so-called updating of the economic model.

We now have more than 20 years of sustained economic stagnation, which demonstrates that despite all the efforts undertaken so far to overcome it, the model does not work. It has brought a great deterioration in social services, which can clearly be felt among citizens, regardless of the official propaganda that tries to convince them of the contrary.

There has been a demonstrated inability to recover the industrial indices and agricultural production, and in addition all of the infrastructure has suffered considerable deterioration. Real salaries today represent 35% of the level of 1989. All of this taken together has affected the government’s credibility.

Despite systematic declarations to the contrary, it is necessary to increase the speed of reforms and to reduce the number of experiments that are undertaken prior to transformations. The time lost worsens the economic situation of the citizens.

8 January 2015

Some Questions / Fernando Damaso

(29 July 2013) Although the Cuban government, since the beginning of the scandal of the North Korean ship carrying obsolete weapons for repair from Cuba, has been extremely careful, making no public statements, trying to lower its profile and keep it simple, which would adversely affect its relations in the region and internationally, the appearance yesterday, the 28th, in the official press of a letter from the historical leader, dated 27 July 2013 at 6:30 in the morning, where he refers to the matter indirectly (“Recently they tried to slander our Revolution, trying to present the Chief of State and the Cuban Government, deceiving the United Nations and other heads of state accusing it of underhanded conduct”) raises some questions. Continue reading

Different Disputes / Fernando Damaso

The initiation of changes in the historical dispute between the Cuban government and the different government administrations of the United States that has begun with the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, should address, as has been pointed out by both leaders, other issues that may not be so easy to resolve.

Despite this first step and the others to come influenced from within Cuba, this does not mean that the other important dispute will be solved: that between the Cuban government and its citizens.

This dispute has become more complex because for too many years power has been exercised by only two people, supported by their closest generational followers, who have committed multiple and costly political, economic and social errors, which were never addressed in time and which have affected the entire country, precipitating a too prolonged crisis, due to which they have lost credibility with the citizens. Continue reading

Hip-Hop in the Spotlight / Fernando Damaso

I love information / I need an airplane / I need information / I love information

Allegations continue in the Cuban official press about the subversion organized by USAID against the ruling regime in the country. Now it touches the hip-hop musical movement. I will not devote time to whether or not it is true or a fictional plot released by the Associated Press news agency, because I prefer the episodes of “Homeland.” I will address some unpublished questions which I consider more important and which constitute the genesis of the problem.

It is no secret that in the Cuban musical world there are groups and performers cheered on by the authorities who enjoy economic privileges and dissemination, those popularly called “officialistic.” These participated in a repudiation rally organized by the Pineapple Festival in Ciego de Avila, to offer just one example. They are abundant and we see and hear them in many Government political activities. Continue reading

Latent Concern / Fernando Damaso

Whenever the Cuban authorities, meet to discuss new laws, decrees, dispositions, or regulations, we citizens find ourselves overcome with worry and uncertainty. It happens that, after the legislation is approved, the only thing they have done is to restore rights arbitrarily violated for years (for example, to possess hard currency, to buy or sell homes or cars, to travel abroad, to enter and to stay at a hotel, etc.), and soon new adaptations which limit or hinder their application appear.

This situation creates a climate of instability, which does not help the measures adopted to take root and become a part of national life, because they lack what is commonly called “a fixative”: at any moment they can be changed and, for the most part, rarely for the better. Continue reading

Change of Scenery / Fernando Damaso

Clearly, though we have not been aware of it until its recent announcement, there has been a change of scenery in Cuban policy, at least in regards to differences between the two governments.

This shift requires a repositioning of the forces in play as well as a tactical and strategic revision. To simply accept or reject it based on preconceived notions is not enough, nor does it demonstrate intelligence or responsibility. A serious and profound evaluation of what this represents and of the possibilities it offers or precludes is necessary. All human actions — especially those involving politics — present both positives and negatives. Taking advantage of and advancing the former while minimizing the latter is not easy but it is certainly possible.

After more than fifty years of maintaining intransigent positions, a major hurdle has been overcome through the will of the governments of Cuba and the United States. This is good for both the Cuban and American people.

It it is now the turn of  Cuban civil society, both on the island and overseas, to help consolidate this initial change and advance other political, economic and social policies. Therefore, the government and civil society must set aside years of confrontation and rejection, and put Cuba first.

What has been achieved externally must be repeated internally. This constitutes the best path towards achieving a peaceful transition to a democratic, inclusive and peaceful regime in which there is equal opportunity for all Cubans with all their differences.

The repetitive, triumphalist rhetoric — exemplified just a few days after the announcement of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries in the phrase, “With a people like the Cubans, the Revolution can last for 570 years” — should not be a cause for concern; it is simply more of the same.

Incidentally, it reminds me of Hitler’s claim that the Third Reich would endure for 1,000 years. Fortunately, history does not take verbal overstatements seriously. Nevertheless, one should be cautious; the best-laid plans are sometimes destroyed on the ground. Let us hope that is not the case here.

One truly worrisome aspect is the suggestion that only a few Cubans are opposed to the system — and this because they receive material and moral support from outside Cuba.

In reality, there are hundreds of thousands who disagree with the regime, although only a few hundred say it out loud. It would be a terrible error for the authorities to believe their own myth about the unity of all Cubans with regard to the Revolution.

23 December 2014

Winning as a Political Obsession / Fernando Damaso

 File photo

The odd relationship between bread and circuses has been with us since the days of the Roman Empire. When the former is in short supply, the latter is in abundance. Cuban government officials have been putting it to use for years, with a strong emphasis on the latter. Sporting events, among other diversions, have always served as a convenient circus. The recently concluded Veracruz 2014, also known as the XXII Central American and Caribbean Games, have been no exception.

A delegation of top athletes was assembled — one capable of obtaining the most gold medals — with the goal of placing ahead of all the other participating countries. No thought was given to allowing younger athletes to compete with a view to future sporting events more important than Veracruz 2014 — something that other countries took into account, by not sending their principal figures, saving them for higher-level events. Continue reading

An Intelligent Accord / Fernando Damaso

Finally, after more than fifty years of tensions, contradictions, offenses and mutual aggressions, the governments of Cuba and the United States have reached agreements that demonstrate intelligence and a sense of responsibility on both sides, the primary accord being the reestablishment of diplomatic relations.

This first step has required the efforts of various personalities and governments, strikingly among them the work of Pope Francis and the government of Canada, as well as others which have not been mentioned specifically.

The freeing of prisoners here and there, which was a minor obstacle (although for years it has been inflated and used for propaganda in the national circus) became a springboard for what was truly important. Now today, in spite of the outdated revolutionary rhetoric to which our authorities are addicted, they have faded to the background, outshone by the truly transcendent news. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we will be free of seeing them on our TV screens, like test patterns, for the next few days. This seems to be a necessary evil. Continue reading

An Epidemic of Editorials / Fernando Damaso

Archive photo

A few days ago the sixth editorial by the New York Times appeared regarding relations between the Cuban and North American governments. I believe that never has a country so small and relatively unimportant merited so much – and such sustained – attention. This smells of strange interests on both shores.

The editorial writer who undoubtedly pulls down an annual salary in the five figures, must feel fulfilled. It is said, although I cannot confirm it, that he was over here seeking official information for his writings. This would not be surprising.

To cast blame on the embargo for all of Cuba’s problems — even for the exodus of our professionals lured by United States government policies — lacks originality. It is merely repeating the same worn arguments made by the Cuban government during almost 56 years in order to sweep under the rug its own errors, economic failures, misguided adventures, blunders, etc., which have resulted in the prolonged political, economic and social crisis that Cuba endures.

It is true that artists, sports figures, doctors and many other professionals seize the slightest opportunity to leave the country in search of better living conditions. The majority of our youth do this, too. But this does not occur only because North American government policies offers them incentives them do do so.

Rather, it is the terrible situation in their country: no housing, miserable salaries — even after raises — and, what’s worse, no real opportunities for bettering their circumstances.  Every human being has but one life to live, and it cannot be squandered believing in outdated lectures about the future — always about the future — when what is truly important is the present. This is a concept that apparently eludes the editorial writer.

What’s more, if we truly look at reality, only a portion of Cuba’s medical missions abroad are provided freely. The majority are paid-for by the governments of countries that benefit — a juicy business for the Cuban authorities, who even describe them as better revenue-generators than sugar harvests because they provide greater sums of foreign currency. Between 60 and 75 per cent of the total salary payments made by these governments for the services of Cuban doctors remain in the hands of the State, which then apportions the remainder as wages — and even that comes not entirely as hard cash, but rather as rights for obtaining housing or consumer goods, at the artificially high prices set by the State. Something similar happens with artists and sports figures working abroad.

In any event, although many of these professionals leave the country, the Cuban authorities never lose. This is because after the emigres settle in other countries, they begin sending monetary remittances to their relatives, who then spend them primarily in government establishments where the prices are set high, the stated objective being to maximize the collection of foreign currency.

The editorials will continue and the official Cuban press will go on reprinting them in their entirety, down to the last comma and period. It would be helpful if those who influence public policy and public opinion, whether from the inside or the outside, would not allow themselves to be misled.

Nobody is against change, and even less so if such change were to lead to the restoration of normal relations between the governments. However, this cannot be achieved on the backs of the Cuban people without their true and complete participation.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

21 November 2014

Where There’s Smoke / Fernando Damaso

For months Cuban authorities have been waging an intense campaign to end the blockade (or embargo) imposed by the US government against the Cuban government. Among Cuba’s demands are the release of three spies now serving time in US jails and removal of the country from the list of states that sponsor terrorism.

All this is in the context of an “invitation to the government of the United States to a mutually respectful relationship based on reciprocity, sovereign equality, the principles of international law and the United Nations Charter,” in the wording of a speech by the Cuban foreign minister at the sixty-ninth session of the UN General Assembly in New York on October 28, 2014.

Moreover, in recent weeks the New York Times has published several editorials in support of the same position, which have been reproduced verbatim by Cuba’s government-run press — something never seen before — which has added its own severe criticism of civil society, accusing it among other things of corruption.

The convergence of opinion among Cuban authorities, the New York Times and some political, business and social figures of the United States is striking. It is no secret, though the parties involved refrain from confirming it, that something has long been cooking behind the backs or with the participation of only some members of Cuba’s civil society.

At the end of the 19th century the governments of the United States and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris, which ended hostilities in Cuba as well as Spanish control over the island. Neither the Cubans who had launched the initial revolt nor their political representatives took part in the treaty negotiations. This weighed heavily on Cuban-American relations during the era of the Cuban Republic and was considered by many responsible Cubans to be a politic mistake on the part of our neighbor to the north.

Trying to resolve the dispute between the governments of the United States and Cuba today, well into the 21st century, without the participation of Cubans who are neither part of the government nor in agreement with it would be making the same mistake twice.

The desires of Cuba’s current leaders to prolong the life of their failed system — albeit with surface embellishments and new faces — and the interests of certain American political figures cannot take precedence over the interests of the majority of the Cuban people who, unable to truly exercise their democratic rights, are hoping and fighting for real change.

12 November 2014