The Absurd "Surnames" / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, Havana, 29 June 2020 — I have always been struck by some state agencies and institutions that add the “surname” “revolutionary” to their functional name. I am currently referring to the National Revolutionary Police, the Revolutionary Armed Forces and, sometimes, when in a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Revolutionary Government is improperly written.

In 1959, the letter “R” was added to the organizations and institutions inherited from the Republic, meaning “revolutionary,” to identify them with the new times. Thus we had CTC-R, FNTA-R, SNTC-C and many others. With the passage of time, the “R” disappeared, as only unique organisms and institutions remained, without competition, under the absolute control of the State. It was only maintained in the cases indicated above.

These “surnames,” valid between 1959 and 1976, corresponded to the so-called “stage of revolutionary precariousness,” but, from 1976, with the “approval” of the Constitution and other Laws, the country began to institutionalize itself as a Socialist State, therefore, the “surname” should have disappeared, because the entities who continued to use it, it is assumed, do not respond only to the interests of the “revolutionaries,” but also to all others, including the “non-revolutionaries.” In short, all citizens, with our work and the payment of taxes, are the ones who finance them, since the armed organizations do not produce wealth. continue reading

If this is so, the police should be called the National Police and the military the Armed Forces, without the need for any ideological “surname.” Ultimately, as I have already stated, both serve the Republic and its citizens in general, regardless of their political, economic, social, religious, sexual differences, etc.

My concern goes beyond whether or not to maintain a simple, absurd and unnecessary denomination. It happens that, in the popular imagination, the “surname” in question has always been understood as a “privateering patent,” which has sometimes been used to disregard the provisions regarding citizen rights.

This has influenced some members of the police who, when acting, consider themselves above the Laws, sometimes due to natural arrogance and other times due to ignorance of their rights and those of the citizens, due to their low level of legal training and lack of professionalism.

It would be healthy to amend these absurdities, if we want some of the articles of the New Constitution to be something more than a dead letter and, even more so, if, as is intended, we want to talk about the existence of a Rule of Law.

Cuban Agriculture: A Chain of Inefficiency, Bureaucracy and Corruption / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 4 June 2020 — After the 1959 “accident” occurred, Cuban agricultural production, which had been prosperous and efficient, ensuring the population with an adequate food supply, began to plummet.

Two agrarian reform laws — the second one took away what the first had provided — were carbon copies of the failed Soviet system of cooperative farms, agricultural conglomerates and machinery depots.

Large estates were broken up, creating one large state-owned estate spanning the entire country, and private property was eliminated. These and other absurd measures were the coup de grace from which Cuban agriculture never recovered.

Multiple initiatives — different types cooperative farms, agricultural conglomerates and production units, all controlled by government authorities with no autonomy — led to failure after failure. Today, almost 90% of everything consumed on the island must be imported. in 1958 only 28% was imported and 72% was produced domestically. The numbers speak for themselves. continue reading

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, there are four million hectares (58% of the country’s land mass) of farmland, though only 23.2% of it is considered very productive or productive. 76.8% is deemed to be underproductive or very unproductive. Three million hectares require treatment due to problems such as invasive marabou weed. In recent years 2,225,000 hectares were set aside for private farming though 350,000 of these have yet to be handed over to farmers. All of them are on land with unproductive to very unproductive soils, many covered with marabou and rocks, forcing their tenants to do a lot of arduous work before they can be farmed.

Of the 887,049 people working in agriculture, 23% are women. Only 7.4% of farmland is irrigated. Due to shortages, there is only enough fuel, pesticide, fertilizer and seeds in 2020 for 28% of crops (tobacco, rice, potatoes, tomatoes for processing). Though the state owns most of the country’s arable land — 77% is publicly owned, 23% is privately owned — it produces only 10% to 12% of the nation’s food. 88% to 90% is produced by privately owned farms or by the 242,000 farmers who lease land from the state. But there’s more to the story. No farmer, whether a private landowner or a member of an agricultural production entity, is really independent. Ultimately, the state is always in control.

Given all this, let us assume that farmers form the basis of Cuban agriculture. They could be the landowners before the “experiment” (a few), landowners after the experiment (a handful) and the tenant farmers of recent times. What they all have in common is that they depend on and are controlled by state-run “production bases” operating under the Ministry of Agriculture in conjunction with a some type of cooperative or other organizaiton. Without this connection farmers can neither plant nor sell their crops.

These entities decide what will be planted and what price the state will pay to farmers. In high-priority crops such as rice, corn, beans, soybeans and sugar, farmers receive (buy) “technological packages,” which include seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and fuel. The packages do not always arrive before the scheduled start of planting or in the necessary quantities, forcing farmers to choose between trying to find these supplies on their own or loosing their crops.

When the inefficiency and bureaucracy that characterize these state-run systems causes them to fail, opportunities for corruption arise. Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, the National Association of Small Farmers, production bases and cooperatives — mainly the top executives appointed by the ministry itself — prioritize and allocate resources to those whom they favor or who will pay them off.

The harvested crops are supposed to be delivered to Acopio — a conglomerate of thirteen state-run food procurement and distribution companies — whose transport and storage facilities, known as collection centers, are located throughout the country. Though Acopio is technically in charge of distribution, in practice this is handled by agents from the production bases, who deliver it to collection centers.

In addition to delays in paying farmers for their crops, which are common throughout the agricultural sector, adequate packaging and transportation for crops are often not provided. The state also often refuses to purchase quantities of certain products, claiming there is no market for them.

In general, the prices farmers receive for their crops are based on three classes of quality: first, second and third. When making purchases, Acopio almost always rates products second or third class, rarely first. However, when it sells these products, which are purchased primarily by the tourism industry, it rates them first class, reaping profits that producers never see.

The collection centers are usually where the greatest corruption occurs. These are where products are diverted to the so-called illegal market, where surcharge payments are made and false sale and transfer documents are prepared.

In 2018, 549,512 tons of sweet potatoes were produced. However, in all the retail produce markets supplied by Acopio, only 34,622 tons (6% of the entire crop) were sold. It is unclear where the remaining 514,890 tons (94% of the crop) went. Was is consumed by farmers themselves. Did it go to social service centers, hotels or public dining halls? Or did it simply go to waste?

For decades Acopio has been responsible for the loss of crops due to its failure to pick them up on time and its terrible distribution system. In spite of having such a poor track record, it remains in operation, with plans to keep it going indefinitely.

Although allowed to set aside a portion of their harvests for self-consumption, these discrepancies are an indication that farmers are not reporting all their projected production figures. They retain some of their crops for sale through intermediaries, even though the practice is illegal and they risk being penalized.

To get away with this, they must bribe a link — a go-between — in the chain of control. Intermediaries must transport the goods using their own or rented vehicles, bribing authorities at control points along the way so that the goods are allowed to pass without being confiscated.

In the past a bribe would cost five convertible pesos (CUC). Now the price is at least 20 CUC. As previously indicated, Acopio is part of this corruption scheme, providing false invoices and transit permits. Once a transfer is successfully completed, the paperwork is destroyed, both by the person to whom it was issued and by the issuer.

At the produce market, the final transfer point for the products, the situation is not much more transparent. The courier must present the legal documentation showing that the merchandise has been received. Sometimes the documents are fake since, in general, more merchandise is delivered than an invoice indicates.

The idea is to sell the extra produce to those willing to pay a higher price. These buyers are typically the produce market’s own vendors or pushcart vendors, who get there early in the morning.

A current practice is to transfer the goods in vintage 1950s cars or some other type of vehicle to previously determined locations such as garages or patios. Not surprisingly, all these products are of better quality and more expensive than those for sale at the various produce markets.

Because of the complexities and risks involved in harvesting and storing them, onions, garlic and some other products are no interest to the state. Their production is entirely in private hands and, therefore, they command high prices. Potatoes, by contrast, are entirely in the hands of the state. The production and sale of them by private producers is prohibited. These are some incomprehensible absurdities of Cuban agriculture.

This unproductive, bureaucratic and corrupt chain ultimately impacts the consumer, who is forced to suffer the consequences of shortages and high prices, even when the product is not of the best quality or presented under the most sanitary conditions.

Hoarding Versus Scarcity / Fernando Dámaso

Cuba “back then” — before the Revolution.

Fernando Dámaso, 12 May 2020 — Hoarding happens when there is scarcity. When the latter is eliminated, the former disappears. It cannot be eliminated by persecution, repression, or confiscation.

In Cuba, during the Republican era, I remember the hoarding of certain products such as lard imported from Chicago, Castile soap, and fuels, during World War II. At war’s end, scarcity ended too, and, consequently, so did the practice of hoarding.

Cubans had the custom of shopping for the freshest products needed on a given day — hoarding was not habitual. Hoarding was institutionalized by the “accident” of January 1959 and has continued, more or less, for the last six decades. Now, because of the economic crisis plus the Coronavirus, it is at a high. continue reading

If you are the proprietor of a cafeteria or paladar, and you wish to keep them functioning in the face of market instability and lack of wholesale outlets, you must resort to hoarding — which does not mean, as is claimed, that all hoarded items are illegal.

What is truly illegitimate is not keeping the population properly provisioned, for which the total responsibility lies with the monopolistic State. There is also hoarding by those who intend to re-sell the items at a higher price. In either case, the cause is the same: scarcity.

The persecution of so-called hoarders (almost always self-employed workers) is nothing more than a smokescreen to distract the attention of the citizens from the grave problems the country faces and of the causes behind the shortages, which are provoked not by the supposed hoarding, but by the unproductivity of a failed system that is incapable of producing resources. As long as in Cuba personal wealth is condemned and poverty promoted, we will continue being a nation of have-nots. Of course, this is not a universal condition! There are authorized rich people.

There are many “pantries full of products” here belonging to the powerful “untouchables of the regime” — to whose residences law enforcement officials have no access — and therefore although these higher-ups also engage in hoarding, they are not taken to court or featured on those TV shows that are produced more to instill fear than to solve the problem. The thing is, they create the problem themselves, those who constitute the actual problem. The branches of the “corruption” tree are pruned, but the roots are left in place, due to the many vested interests that impede their removal.

This gross manipulation is supported by many Cubans, who think that these so-called hoarders are the cause of their difficulties. The decades of ideological brutalization have done their dirty work, and this is the result: the slaves attack each other, with the consent of the slaveholder. Collective mediocrity has replaced the traditional civic-mindedness of Cubans.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

The Tenaciousness of the Obsolete / Fernando Damaso

Cars in Havana.

Fernando Damaso, 8 May 2020 — Cuba’s extreme left, made up of members of the regime’s most conservative wing, has decided to hunker down in defense of its obsolete, failed policies. They are determined to hold onto of every iota of absolute power, which they have held for more than six decades of ever increasing poverty and underdevelopment.

Faced with the current crisis — a prolongation of the systemic crisis of the system — the regime has refused to support widely recommended and essential economic reforms needed to alleviate it; reforms which would have avoided famine and relieved the suffering and deprivation of its citizens. Instead, they “strictly” rejected the proposed changes, invoking a string of fallacies which gave them the results of the past but which are no longer convincing to anyone with a brain in his head.

They cited the alleged “uniqueness of the Cuban model,” its “unreplicable originality,” the cultural, ideological, political, geopolitical and historical forces affecting the economy as well as Cuba’s willingness to stand up to the the United States’ imperial ambitions in Latin America. Cuba was the island of liberty, the beacon of the Americas, the bastion of socialism and other such nonsense, repeated ad nauseum by the authorities and their spokespersons from generation to generation. continue reading

All this hollow rhetoric collides with the reality of an impoverished people without agriculture or industry, of a country where two million of its citizens have fled and almost 20% of the population is over the age of sixty, where more people die than are born.

There is also the reality of a regime that is unable to generate wealth, to provide food for its people or to adequately meet any other of their needs; of a nation in debt to its international creditors, without capital of its own or the ability to attract serious investments; of a population without a sense of civic engagement, demoralized and prone to violence, which has lost many of the values that once characterized it.

As in other countries, Cuban socialism has failed and needs to be replaced with a better system, one that generates wealth and allows average Cubans to emancipate themselves and set out on the path of development, with jobs for all without regard to politics or ideology, as has happened in other countries which once had similar systems but now serve as examples.

For this to happen, bold economic changes are now necessary, which in due course will also lead to the necessary political and social changes. This is the reality which will prevail in the end despite the obstacles and obstructionist actions by the old, extremist left and its presumed heirs.

Reducing state control of economic activity, eliminating rigid, highly centralized state planning, freeing up domestic and foreign trade, expanding the private sector by allowing it to play an important role in creating wealth and generating jobs, giving real independence and autonomy to cooperatives of all kinds, allowing the creation of small and medium-sized businesses, turning over land to peasants, and reorganizing the tax, banking and financial systems are among the indispensable economic measures required if we are to begin emerging from the current crisis, which has been aggravated by the corona virus.

To cling to failed methodologies and formulas, which have proven to be ineffective in Cuba and other countries for more than sixty years, is to sink even deeper into the abyss of slogans, anthems and obsolete speeches which most Cubans do not believe even if they do not have the courage to publicly express it.

If we continue to disqualify anyone whose standards do not conform to the official dogma, to conveniently manipulate history and historical figures, to impose the regime’s policy’s and ideology, and to believe it is “our obligation to save the world” without finding serious solutions to our own problems, we wil continue on a downhill slide.

Before 1959, Cuba never lived on gifts, subsidies or patronage from any country in exchange for political and ideological loyalty. It relied on the creative and honest work of its citizens. I hope it will be like that again, in spite of the wails, insults and screams by those in mourning for a dying socialism.

Causes and Effects of the Embargo / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, Havana — On the 4th of January, 1959, the Constitution of 1940 was modified without the knowledge of the Cuban people. On the 10th of January, the death penalty and seizure of property was established for “political misdemeanors,” leaving the interpretation of which open to the executors.

On the 7th of February the Basic Law was published, abolishing in actuality the Constitution of 1940, articulated in a completely vengeful and repressive manner. On the 5th of April the CTC (Workers Central Union of Cuba) declared the right to strike “unnecessary,” even though the workers had not been consulted.

On the 19th of April, with Cuban participation, military intervention was undertaken in Panama. On the 13th of June and the 14th of August the same occurred in Santo Domingo and Haiti, respectively. All were failures. On the 23rd of December “post-scripts” began to appear in newspapers, the first limits on the freedom of press. continue reading

Between the 4th and the 13th of February of 1960 Anastas Mikoyan, the Prime Minister of the USSR, visited Havana and signed the first Cuba-USSR agreement. On the 17th of February BANFIAC (Bank of Agricultural and Industrial Promotion), BANDES (Bank of Economic and Social Development), and the FNC (National Financier of Cuba), institutions of the Bank System created under the Constitution of 1940 by the government of Dr. Carlos Prio Socarras and developed under the government of Fulgencio Batista, disappeared. In that same month of February, newspapers, journals, the radio and the television were “nationalized,” totally eliminating the freedom of press.

On the 1st of May “Elections for what?” was set up, approved by the population present during the act of the Civil Square. Between June and the 6th of August, 36 central sugar companies, the Electricity Company, the Telephone Company and 17 banks, all North American property, were nationalized without compensation or with unacceptable offers of compensation (not to be paid before a period of 30 years, through bonuses, with a fund created by 25% of the value of sugar that the United States would buy at a fixed annual quota of over 3 million tons, at a price not lower than 5.75 American cents per English pound).

On the 13th of September the government of the United States announced that, if the program of “nationalization” were to continue, they would place an embargo on Cuba. On the 13th of October, by Law 890, 105 central sugar companies, important industrial businesses (Crusellas, Sabates, Hatuey, La Tropical, La Polar, Sarra, Taquechel, Johnson, large department stores, the railroads, 18 distilleries, among them Bacardi and Arechabala) as well as 376 other Cuban companies and industries, were expropriated.

By Law 891 the Cuban and foreign bank systems and, by another law, 273 more companies, were nationalized, and the Urban Reform Law was passed, lowering rents and, in continuation, eliminating private property beyond housing. On the 19th of October the government of the United States established the embargo, with exception of certain medicines and foodstuffs.

On the 24th of October the Cuban government expropriated the remaining 166 North American businesses. On the 16th of December, the USA cancelled the Cuban sugar quota. On the 31st of December a Cuban military insurgence began in Algeria in relation with its border war with Morocco.

On the 8th of January 1961, relations between Cuba and the USA broke off. Between the 15th and the 19th of April the military action at the Bay of Pigs occurred, ending in failure for the government of the United States of America. On the 25th of April, a total embargo on Cuba was established.

On the 1st of May private education was nationalized, later carried out on the 6th of June. On the 5th of August national monetary reform was undertaken, freezing bank accounts and reducing them to a maximum of 10 000 pesos, handing over only 200 pesos per person. On the 17th of September the priests were deported and placed on the ship “Covadonga.”

On the 25th of January, 1962 Cuba was expelled from the OAS. From the 22nd to the 28th of October the so-called “Missle Crisis” occured, ending with an agreement between the USA and the USSR that excluded Cuba.

On the 13th of August 1968 the so-called “Revolutionary Offensive” was declared, “nationalizing” more than 50,000 micro-businesses, totally eliminating private property.

Between the 2nd of January, 1969 and the 20th of May, 1970, the “Ten Million Ton Sugar Harvest” failed, dealing a mortal blow to the sugar industry.

On the 23rd of April 1971, cultural repression and intolerance was instigated by the First Congress of Education and Culture. On the 30th of July they restricted access to universities to “revolutionaries” only.

In August 1972 “parametración” was established, resulting in the expulsion of around 300 actors and directors for theater, radio, and television from their posts. On the 22nd of November the State reorganized itself along Soviet lines (instead of Ministries there were Committees).

On July 29th, 1975, the OAS revoked the sanctions against Cuba and, in August, President Gerald Ford realized a partial lift of the embargo. Cuba’s military intervention in Angola began on the 12th of October, putting an end to the brief thaw between Cuba and the United States.

On the 18th of March 1977, President James Carter authorized travel to Cuba and established the US Interest Section, giving way to a new opening in relations. In November Cuba sent troops to Ethiopia to participate in the Ogaden War against Somalia, further frustrating this opening.

On the 14th of December 1984, the United States and Cuba signed an agreement awarding 20,000 American visas annually to Cubans.

On the 9th of November 1989 the Berlin Wall fell.

On the 7th of May Cuba announced its withdrawal from Angola and Ethiopia. With the disappearance of the Eastern European Socialist Camp, and the ending of huge subsidies to the Island, a Special Period in Times of Peace was declared, establishing 14 restrictive measures making life even more difficult for Cubans.

On the 8th of December, 1991, the USSR collapsed and on the 9th of December Soviet troops withdrew from Cuba.

On the 12th of March, 1996, the Helms-Burton act was enacted in response to the demolition of planes belonging to “Brothers to the Rescue,” ending the brief thaw in relations during the Clinton administration.

On the 18th of October 2001 the retiring of the spy base “Lourdes” is announced.

On the 12th of January 2002 the liquidation of the sugar industry began, by means of work ironically named “Alvaro Reynoso,” who was defender of the same industry.

On the 18th of December 2014 relations between Cuba and the US are reestablished. During the Obama administration a number of cooperative agreements are reached, despite “Cuban immobility.”

On the first of January, 2016, with the advent of the Trump administration, relations chilled, a process that continues to this day.

 Translated by Geoffrey Ballinger

Our Annual Summer Dengue / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 22 October 2019 — By the end of Cuba’s colonial period, the country was suffering from a high mortality rate. Malaria, smallpox, childhood tetanus, typhoid, yellow fever and other diseases were decimating the population.

An interventionist government in the United States first assigned General Brooke, then General Wood, the task of quickly improving the country’s sanitary conditions and its overall state of health.

To this end it created the Department of Health, the precursor of the government agency established later under the same name. It was given broad responsibilities and, with the participation of prominent Cuban and American doctors, gradually managed to rid the country of endemic diseases, whose frequent outbreaks were a serious problem. continue reading

The process continued during the Republican era, with major sanitation projects and the organization of an efficient health care system made up of medical offices, relief homes and hospitals, augmented by private medical practices, located in the island’s main cities and towns. In cooperation with the Pan American Health Fund, task forces were set up to provide vector control and prevent epidemics.

Work brigades cleaned out streams, ditches, lagoons, wastelands and sewers. Residents were enlisted to sanitize their own homes. Insecticides such as the well-known DDT and the Yokel-brand mosquito repellant coils were also used along with anti-mosquito screens on doors and windows, and mosquito netting on beds.

Dengue fever was unknown in Cuba until it appeared in 1978 as a result of widespread, unsanitary conditions in urban areas and misguided eradication efforts by work brigades at the time. Once it became an epidemic, authorities were forced to train new teams and equip them with fumigation equipment purchased from Japan and brought in on aircraft owned by the Cuban national airline.

Officials made direct purchases of Malathion, considered the most effective insecticide at the time. They circumvented the U.S. embargo by enlisting Colombian drug runners, operating between Caribbean countries and the United States, to deliver it on their trips home.

Cash payments were made once personnel from the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) confirmed the quality of the product. The drug runners were resupplied with fuel to complete their journeys back to their countries of origin and, when necessary, were provided with lodgings and a place to rest in a marina.

Daily press reports described how Cuba was being sprayed with massive amounts of smoke. Even eggshells were being crushed because it was feared they could become breeding grounds for the dreaded aedes aegypti, the mosquito whose bites transmit the disease.

Fumigations took place around the clock, first with Malathion, then later with smoke from burning petrol. Hoping to contribute to the effort, Soviet military units stationed in Cuba provided authorities with equipment that produced clouds of smoke, which proved to be effective.

There was even an “invading caravan” which began in the west of the country and moved east along the Central Highway, fumigating cities and towns along the way. Epidemiologists leading the effort, however, doubted its effectiveness, suggesting its impact was more psychological than practical.

Then one fine day, sometime after the latest death, the epidemic was officially declared over. Among a few intimates a MINSAP official confided, “Rest assured that, as of today, no one else will die from dengue fever. If there is a subsequent death, it will be attributed to another illness.” In spite of all the measures taken, the epidemic took more than a hundred lives.

Nevertheless, dengue returns every summer. This has been going on for decades. It has unquestionably become endemic. And given the unremittingly poor state of environmental hygiene, it seems the illness is winning its war with MINSAP.

See also: In-depth reporting on Dengue Fever

Self-Employment Under Scrutiny / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 26 August 2019 — The statements made years ago by the first secretary of the Cuban Communist Party in defense of self-employment now seem inconsequential considering how Cuba’s president, his administration, the National Assembly, provincial and municipal assemblies, and public officials at all levels now ignore them.

In real life, self-employment is subject to a wide variety of pressures and arbitrary actions with the goal of preventing its development, and even encouraging its demise, under the ruse that everything is being done to “impose order and prevent illegality.”

Why then, I ask, have officials not concerned themselves with imposing order and preventing illegality in the public sector, where such oversight has been sorely needed for the last six decades? continue reading

The private sector already operates in a precarious enviroment. The absence of wholesale markets, excessive fines, corrupt inspectors and officials who live off blackmail and arbitrary inspections are just some of the problems.

Recent measures enacted against private transport workers — for example, an increase in monthly license fees to operate in some sections of the capital, at a time when tourism is in decline, for the benefit the state-owned hotel chain and its accomplices — are examples of a discriminatory policy against an emerging economic sector that now makes up 12% of GDP.

It seems that socialism, a failed system incapable of competing honestly with the private sector, has condemned private initiative to life behind bars while hope has received the death sentence.

In interviews, many state media officials express support for various absurd laws, decrees and regulations when in reality and in private they reject them and wish everything would change, a reflection of the national sentiment at large. Everything else is just blah, blah, blah.

The Doctor of Cubanness / Fernando Damaso

Ramón Grau San Martín. Source: Wikipedia

Fernando Dámaso, 15 April 2019 — Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín was the seventh President of the Republic. He governed from 10 October 1944 to 10 October 1948. During the very month he took office, a fierce hurricane struck the Island, causing great destruction. For many citizens, this natural phenomenon constituted an important omen: the Grau government was kicking off with stormy winds — and a stormy government it would be, despite being established amidst the prosperity produced by World War II, when sugar came to achieve a high price on the world market.

Grau, who promised to achieve a “government of Cubanness,” and who liked to say, “Cubanness is love” — and that, besides, in his administration, women were “in charge” — promulgated the Law of the Sugar Differential to benefit the industry’s  workers, fixing the producers’ share of the final molasses (a statute of indisputable social utility).

He also launched a vast Public Works Plan that notably improved many neighborhoods in the city of Havana — despite some projects being so poorly constructed that they eventually had to be demolished and rebuilt. He established the compulsory licensure of degreed and non-degreed professions, a summer schedule for businesses, a lawyers’ pension, and retirement funds for workers in the textile, sisal and tobacco industries, among others. continue reading

From the start of his administration, Grau tried to associate it with the “hundred days” (9/10/1933-1/15/1934) and lend it continuity via social measures — although many contained a high dosage of demagoguery, so much that he became popularly known as “the Divine Gallimaufry.”

At the same time, in a moment of weakness, he allowed certain armed groups (remnants of the 1933 Revolution’s action groups who had been unable to insert themselves normally in the subsequent political process, and who practiced violence and carried out shady dealings) to roam the streets, primarily, of Havana.

This infinite tolerance for gangsterism revived the anarchic episodes of that prior period — which, during the previous administration, had seemed a thing of the past — thereby demonstrating the terrible current state of relations between the Executive and Legislative powers, which had suffered a great decline.

Grau abandoned the semi-parliamentarism instituted by the previous adminisration and went back to a presidentialist style of government, ignoring what had been established by the Constitution of the Republic in this regard.

In addition, his presidency was characterized by some picturesque, even extravagant, successes that reduced his credibility and respectability — such as the strange disappearence of the diamond embedded in the floor of the Capitol (which, some time later, one fine day, with no coherent explanation, appeared on the table in his office, and which he nonchalantly returned to its rightful place as if nothing had happened, without revealing who had masterminded such a misdeed).

Among the tragic events occurring in those years, one that merits pointing out is the so-called “Battle of Orfila,” more like a slaughter, wherein the two most important action groups that operated in the city of Havana vented their personal and business rivalries with bullets, resulting in a great number of dead and injured.

On the international plane, Grau allowed the formation of a clandestine army – the so-called Legion of the Caribbean — which established its base of operations in Cayo Confites and was aimed at overthrowing dictatorships in the region, in frank violation of international laws in force then.

Notwithstanding all these errors, which discredited the government as well as the President himself (turning him into a cartoon-like figure), there was always an absolute respect for civic liberties and freedom of expression — and, as he liked to say, in his government, all Cubans “had five pesos in their pockets.”

Grau was a President subjected to great opposition — not just the traditional kind, but also that of Dr. Eduardo R. Chibás, dissident leader of the Partido Revolucionario Cubano-Auténtico (PRCA), who went on to head it when he was not selected by Grau as the party’s candidate for the upcoming presidential election.

Chibás, a charismatic and populist politician who had directed Grau’s campaign during the so-called “glory days” that had swept him to power in 1944, felt discriminated against, and he became Grau’s most fierce critic and impugner — with and without cause.

On 6 January 1948, general elections were held in which the following candidates participated: for the PRCA, Drs. Carlos Prío Socarrás and Guillermo Alonso Pujol; for the Coalición Socialista Democrática, Drs. Emilio Núñez Portuondo and Gustavo Cuervo Rubio; for the Partido del Pueblo Cubano-Ortodoxo, Drs. Eduardo R. Chibás and Emilio Ochoa; and for the Partido Socialista Popular, Dr. Juan Marinello.  The winning ticket was that of the PRCA.

President Ramón Grau San Martín, a popular figure who aroused great hopes in the citizenry (as much for his support of culture as for his performance during the government of the “hundred days” following the overthrow of Gerardo Machado’s dictatorship), who assumed the presidency with a great majority of the population in his favor — little by little, due to his political weaknesses, began to lose prestige and turn into more of a folk character than a head of state.

As a result, even with the prevailing economic boom during his six years of governing and the many constructive works accomplished with the objective of improving our towns and cities, the people did not feel totally satisfied. A monument or bust was never erected in his memory.

Translated by: Alicia Barraqué Ellison

Patriotic Clamor / Fernando Damaso

Various uses of the image of the flag from times past.

Fernando Dámaso, 29 April 2019 — The uproar continues between those who reject and those who accept the use of patriotic symbols, mainly the flag, in utilitarian objects. With this in mind I would like to clarify a few things and offer some personal thoughts.

“Patriotic puritans,” who mainly come from the intellectual community, want to sanctify the flag and turn it into an object of religious devotion.

“Patriotic populists” use it excessively, and often inappropriately, as a decorative object in shops, farmers markets, public offices, companies and vehicles. Also included in this group are political leaders, entrepreneurs and business executives who use it at any number of events and activities, no matter how insignificant, at which the flag’s size is in direct proportion to the magnitude of the failures they want to cover up. continue reading

“Jingoistic opportunists,” mainly musicians and athletes, use it to varying degrees in unoriginal and inartistic clothing designs.

I believe that, when the flag is used (in whole or in part) in everyday objects such as clothing, towels, bedsheets, curtains and upholstery, it should display some artistic quality and originality.

Examples of good design can be found in multiple utilitarian objects which feature various elements of the American and British flags. These are popular throughout the world, including in this country.

Rather than attacks or insults to a patriotic symbol, citizens view these examples, which they have known since infancy, with affection, not as inaccessible objects to be placed on an altar.

To celebrate the anniversary of the founding of the republic, Cubans have followed the yearly tradition of wearing the colors of the flag, and even the flag itself, on May 20 as a healthy sign of patriotic pride, with the blessing of all the country’s war veterans.

Instead of debating the flag’s use or non-use on everyday items, it would be better to educate citizens from an early age on its proper use while not allowing it to be used indiscriminately in bodegas, farmers markets, business settings or street demonstrations.

If a flag is made of cloth, it should not be left outside, exposed to sun, wind and rain to the point of disintegration. If it is applied to some other backing (paper, cardboard, poster board), it should not be left in streets, plazas and sidewalks to be mindlessly trampled on, like trash, by passers-by.

For those who do not remember or do not know, during the Republican era the flag could only remain outdoors from dawn, when it was hoisted, to dusk, when it was taken down, correctly folded into a triangular shape with the star on top, and kept in a designated place until the following morning, when the process was repeated.

When it became worn out, it was incinerated. The same held true for flags printed on paper products. All this was taught in school, and was common knowledge and required practice.

Furthermore, printing images, landscapes, text and signatures of any kind on flags was prohibited. In other words, its use was subject to regulations, which were respected and adhered to by officials and citizens alike. There were also established standards governing where it was to placed and when it was to be displayed alongside other flags.

Today, almost of this has been lost, along with many other things. Government officials and citizens alike are ignorant of these practices. I believe rescuing them is more important than wasting time squabbling over whether the flag should be used on everyday objects.

Requiem for Havana / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 19 March 2019 — That Havana is falling apart stopped being news a long time ago. The institutional abandonment, the widespread apathy and irresponsibility, during the six decades that the city has been affected by the “tornado” that hit down in January 1959, have totally destroyed it.

In November will be Havana’s 500th anniversary of its foundation and, for this reason, the authorities have foreseen to beautify it a little, that is, to give it some rouge, so that it looks a little better and is somewhat more presentable, at least for the foreign guests who will surely attend the celebration.

As usual, this involves many more words than actions and, everywhere, the date is announced with the slogan “For Havana the Greatest.”

However, the work that is being done, except in a few cases, is quite sloppy, of low quality and over it by those responsible. Examples of bad work can be seen on Línea Calle in Havana’s El Vedado neighborhood, full of cuts that hinder vehicular and pedestrian traffic, which has been going on for months and, most of the time, without anyone working on it.

Meanwhile, in Nuevo Vedado’s Acapulco Park they have demolished some of its areas, rebuilt and demolished then again, thanks to the bad quality of the work undertaken, also for months. If this is the case in these two examples, I think that very little can be done for the celebration.

We all know that, a situation that represents the deterioration accumulated over decades can not be solved in a few months, but, at least, what is done should be done with quality.

The Man of the White Suit / Fernando Damaso

Batista lunching with his wife in the Presidential Palace, 8 months before fleeing Cuba. (Wikicommons)

Fernando Dámaso, 28 February 2019 — As a result of the Constituent Assembly and the elaboration and implementation of a new Constitution of the Republic, in an electoral process characterized by legality and tranquility, Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar became the sixth president, a man who had left the army with the rank of colonel (in February 1942, the new Organic Law of the Army grants him the rank of general retroactively), and fused into this same person the two antagonistic currents during the seven prior years, with losses for both sides and for the Republic: the military and the civilian.

Although he was a military caudillo, and had acted as such in previous years, exerting his influence in the rise and fall of several presidents, his personality also projected on the political plane. His rise to the presidency gave continuity to the Generals-Presidents of the Republic. Perhaps, because of this, he was able to easily defeat the military coup of the Chief of Police, General Jose Eleuterio Pedraza, at the beginning of his term. He exercised power from October 10, 1940 until October 10, 1944. continue reading

The main objective of his government, formed by the so-called Socialist Democratic Coalition, was to consolidate the state of peaceful coexistence that had been achieved during the Constitutional Convention, where parties, organizations and political and social groups of different stripes had managed to debate their proposals with civility and reached important results for the good of the Republic. In spite of this, from the beginning of his mandate, he had to face the opposition of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Authentic), his main opponents and losers of the elections.

Unlike prior presidential terms, which began in 1902, he set in motion the semi-parliamentary regime established by the 1940 Constitution, appointing as its Prime Minister Dr. Carlos Saladrigas, a relevant personality, who managed to establish and maintain correct relations between the Executive and the Legislative branches.

During his exercise of the presidency,  Batista created the National Development Commission, with the objective of coordinating and promoting the development of the country, set a gold standard for the issuance of monetary certificates and achieved important advances in labor policy, establishing the Sugar Workers Retirement plan.

In addition, he  approved the creation of the National Council of Education and Culture, which achieved good results in the improvement and development of these two important activities, turned over the Calixto García General Hospital and the Limones Central (a sugar mill) to the University of Havana, for their use as learning centers, built the National Archive building, as well as that of the Economic Society of Friends of the Country and established the Order “José María Heredia”, to reward Cuban and foreign personalities in the world of science, letters and the arts.

Upon entering Cuba into the Second World War, he called for national unity, the ABC Party, an ally until that point of the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Authentic), responded favorably and came to collaborate with the government. In the context of the war, important measures were taken, with the aim of avoiding the scarcity of supplies and making the lives of citizens too expensive.

Although the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Authentic) continued in the opposition, it collaborated from the Congress with every act of national defense and with the belligerent attitude that Cuba had assumed. In response to this, the government appointed Engineer Carlos Hevia, an important figure of this party, as President of the ORPA, the Office of Regulating Prices and Supplies.

The President, during the years of his mandate, was able to summon and surround himself with people prepared to successfully carry out his government projects, allowing the country to live a stage of social tranquility and progress, experience that, unfortunately, has been forgotten by the others who suceeded him.

On June 1, 1944, general elections were held, including the candidacies of the Socialist Democratic Coalition, composed of Carlos Saladrigas-Ramón Zaydín, and the Cuban Revolutionary Party (Authentic) by Ramón Grau San Martín-Raúl de Cárdenas.

In an orderly process, honest and with all the guarantees, Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín obtained the victory, as the Republican Party of Dr. Guillermo Alonso Pujol joined his ranks, with the goal of, at the last minute, softening the excessive radicalism of some authentic leaders, among them, mainly, Dr. Eduardo R. Chibás, that affected the intention of voters. The transfer of powers was carried out in the most perfect democratic order.

Fulgencio Batista Zaldívar was the first President elected in democratic general elections, in accordance with the new Constitution of the Republic, after the fall of the government of General Gerardo Machado. His presidential term was characterized by the achievement of peaceful coexistence among Cubans, and the realization of important works, both material and social, which helped the country’s development after the impasse of seven years of political and economic instability. By restoring the democratic order, he created the base for its continuity.

The facts show that Batista was not the illiterate politician that they tried to make us believe, but someone intelligent who made good government during this presidential period. No monument or bust was erected that would honor him, although during his presidential termt the 4th of September flag fluttered next to the Cuban flag in the military camps and institutions.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria

Between Heaven and Hell / Fernando Damaso

Damage from the tornado that struck parts of Havana earlier this year. (14ymedio)

Fernando Dámaso, 4 March 2019 —  As had been predetermined, the monstrosity of a constitution was ratified in a referendum last Sunday, February 24, in spite of the clumsy manipulation of polling data by the regime.

The reasons vary: government induced fear and an insane level of propaganda; political pressure exerted on workers, intellectuals, artists, athletes, professionals and students, who are elegible to vote, and and even on infants, who are not; all clamoring “I Vote Yes!”

Though no figures have been released, the amount of money and resources spent on the campaign must have far outstripped those of any presidential election held in the United States, which Cuban leaders and their front men never fail to criticize. In addition, the “Don’t Vote” and “Vote NO” campaigns, which left the opposition ridiculously divided, were suppressed. continue reading

With state monopoly of all media, including social networks, citizens were bombarded with constant sermonizing, leaving opponents with no legal public platforms to express themselves.

As of the 24th, Cuba has a new constitution, though it will require an additional twenty-four months for its articles to be formulated before it can be put into practice. Given the circumstances, it is likely to be the shortest-lived Constitution in the history of Cuba, surpassed only perhaps by the ephemeral Baraguá constitution, which lasted only a few days, during which time Antonio Maceo tried in vain to prolong a war that had already ended. It was an attempt to extend the life, at least on paper, of a failed revolution.

Shortly after Dr. Ramón Grau San Martín became President of the Republic in 1944, the island was hit by a devastating hurricane, which led the press to predict, “The new government threatens to be stormy.” And that’s was happened.

Since the current “designate” assumed the presidency, there has been a terrible airline crash in which there was only one survivor, intense rains and floods have washed away crops, homes, roads and bridges in central Cuba, and a tornado has destroyed parts of the already heavily damaged areas of Santos Suárez, Regla, Guanabacoa, and San Miguel near Havana. As if that were not enough, a meteorite has even broken up over Pinar del Río.

If we had a free press, it would predict that “the new government threatens to be disastrous.” On top of repeated economic failures, industrial decline, lack of investment and the deterioration of social services, we must now add the fall — sooner of later — of the Maduro regime in Venezuela, our main sponsor.

As a result, alarm bells have gone off and Cuban officials now spend hours flying around the world, looking for new partners who might be willing to “throw a rope,” as the local saying goes. But times have changed.

I doubt that Europe, which is having serious problems with some of its major member countries, is inclined to provide new credits knowing they might not be repaid. Russia is now capitalist, as are all the republics which made up the former Soviet Union.

Similarly, China and Vietnam have adopted market economies. In all of them, things cost money and nothing is free. If they extend credit, it must be repaid with corresponding interest. Even isolated North Korea, which has nothing to give, is in talks with the United States, its historic adversary.

In Latin America they have shut the door, with the exception of the indigenous Aymaran*, who spends his time ranting about the empire, blaming poultry consumption for causing homosexuality and worshiping the goddess Pachamama through dance.

Lacking resources, few can help their “brother president.” Mexico — a country immersed in serious problems on its northern and southern borders, as well as others such as drug trafficking, a violent crime wave, and longstanding, widespread corruption — does not have time to deal with its complicated Caribbean neighbor.

The little surrounding islands are of no use since, by necessity, they take more than they give. That leaves only Canada and the United States, and the former has always coordinated its policy in the region with the latter. In short, to escape the quagmire and save Cuba, dialogue with the latter is essential, but that does not necessarily mean also saving its government.

Dialogue, however, will require abandoning the brusque swagger, the childish arrogance, the antiquated dogmas, the rampant and cocky stupidity, and the outlandish demands. A dialogue requires two suitcases: a full one from which to give and an empty one in which to receive.

May God and the Orishas open our leaders’ eyes to the prevailing bleak reality so that they might think of Cuba and the Cubans, and set aside their addiction to absolute power. Otherwise, they will be consumed by the fire of Lucifer and Shangó.

 *Translator’s note: A reference to President Evo Morales of Bolivia.

Requiem for Havana / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 19 March 2019 — That Havana is falling to pieces is hardly news. The institutional neglect, apathy and general irresponsibility, which has affected the city, over the six decades since the “tornado” hit in January 1959, has totally destroyed it. November will be the 500th anniversary of its foundation and it is expected that the authorities will do it up a little, that’s to say, apply a bit of makeup, so that it looks a bit better and more presentable, at least for the foreigners who have been invited to attend the celebration.

As usual, there is more talk than action, and everywhere you look they are announcing the date with the slogan “Havana is the greatest”.

Nevertheless, what they are doing, with one or two exceptions, is slapdash, poor quality, with the worst productivity and even worse control. As an example of poor work, just look at  Calle Línea in El Vedado, with power cuts which hold up the traffic and pedestrians, and which has been going on for months, without anybody doing anything about it. And also Parque Acapulco in Nuevo Vedado, with bits demolished, rebuilt, and torn down again because of poor workmanship, and which has also been going on for months.  If that’s how it is in just two examples, it seems to me they won’t get much done in time for the celebration.

We all know that you can’t sort out a situation which has deteriorated over decades in a few months, but, at least whatever they do should be done properly.

Translated by GH

“Peter Pan” in the Air / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 19 February 2019 — Lately I’ve been hearing the phrase “the horrendous Operation Peter Pan” and I ask myself: Was it really horrendous?

“Operation Peter Pan” consisted of many parents sending their children to the United States through religious organizations, to avoid losing “parental authority,” which was a broadly-held concern among the members of the middle and upper classes in the year 1959.

It was a decision made within families and no one was forced to do so. In addition, nobody expected that the political process just started — the triumph of Fidel Castro’s Revolution — would last. Most people believed the separation would be temporary. continue reading

But it didn’t happen that way and many of the separations continued for years. Some children grew up and thrived in their new surroundings and others didn’t manage to do so, as is normal. Some, as the years passed, expressed their gratitude to the program, and others condemned it.

Did Cuban parents lose “parental authority” over their children or not?

Well, in reality, yes. They lost the right to educate them according to their wishes, principles and beliefs, be they secular or religious, in public or private schools. When all the schools in Cuba become public, that is, belonged to the State, it instituted atheism and the teaching of its ideology.

Cuban children were under duress, from their earliest childhood, to declare themselves “pioneers for communism” and, later, to swear “to be like Che,” as they repeated in their daily oaths during the morning assemblies at school. Although this extemporaneous militancy, with colored “neckerchiefs” and all, was said to be voluntary, in practice it became mandatory. Because any child who did not follow it, immediately suffered the induced repudiation of his or her classmates, creating the breeding ground for the “double standard” where I say one thing (what everyone wants to hear) and I think something else.

Also, in Cuba, young people were separated from their parents and the family environment for long periods of time in mobilizations, the Literacy Campaign, schools in the countryside, sent to study in what are now the  former socialist countries, compulsory military service and other forms.

Among the last was sending them to fight and die in other people’s wars, under the excuse of strengthening them physically and ideologically as men of socialism. There was also the constant exodus of family members, dismantling and vaporizing this important institution of the social fabric, and prohibiting their reunifications for years, under the absurd concept that “whomever left the country was a traitor and could never return.”

Remembering all these barbarities, in reality parents in Cuba lost “parental authority” over their children, without the need of any law to that effect.

I do not think that “Operation Peter Pan” was horrific: it was, simply, a response to a danger that was coming and that, unfortunately for many generations of Cubans, became real.

Current assessments may be different, even when they are colored by political and ideological interests, not always fair, nor worried about true human feelings.

Under Dogma and Stubbornness / Fernando Damaso

José Martí statue in Havana. (The Straights Times)

Fernando Dámaso,29 January 2019 — On Sunday, January 27th, Havana was affected by a strong tornado that caused considerable destruction, mainly in the October 10, Luyanó, San Miguel del Padrón and Regla neighborhoods.

It is striking that the “March of the Torches”, scheduled for that evening and then moved to the 28th, nonetheless was held instead of using the resources and the young people from the march to help the many victims who, as is habitual, despite speeches and promises of opportunity, will swell the lists of those who wait for solutions to similar phenomena, which extend for more than two decades without visible results. continue reading

Recall that, according to official data, on June 7, 2018 there were 1,703,926 homes in poor condition and, of them, 61,051 in total collapse. The current victims, as is logical, will be placed at the end of the list.

Dogma and stubbornness are some of the actions of the partisan and governmental authorities, who always prioritize “idiotology” rather than the most elementary reasoning.

As a result, they have molded the history of this country in their image and likeness and as a function of their political interests, always prioritized, in spite of natural catastrophes.

January 1st is “the day of the triumph of the experiment”, the 8th is “the entrance to Havana of the” supreme maker” (Fidel Castro) and the evening of the 27th “the march of the torches” in honor of the 28th, the birthday of José Martí.

In February, the 24th is the day of the “Grito de Baire” (Proclamation of Baire in 1895 that began the War of Cuban Independence), usually poorly remembered, although this year it has been linked to the spawn of a Constitutional referendum, as if it the two were related.

March is adorned with the “Assault on the Presidential Palace” on the 13th (1957), the bravest action of the whole insurrection, and with the “Protest of Baraguá” (rejection in 1878 of Treaty with Spain ending Ten Years’ War) on the 15th that, although it was a powerful event, was actually an act of stubbornness that did not lead to anything, because it was impossible to continue the war for independence.

April is Girón (Bay of Pigs) and the supposed “first defeat of imperialism in America”.

May begins with the “Day of the Workers”, on the 1st, where they happily parade without making demands, giving thanks for the crumbs given to them, forgetting that Martí died on the 19th and that the Republic was founded on the 20th.

June is for Maceo (2nd in command of Cuban War for Independence) and Ché, artificially joined on the 13th by their birthdays, although in totally different eras.

July is the month of the “supreme maker”, with the “Day of Kings” and the Carnival of Havana, moved absurdly to this month (traditionally it was held in February), and the Assault on the Moncada Barracks, which they unsuccessfully try to make more important than the Proclamation of Baire.

August 13th is the day of the birth of the “supreme maker” with displays of banners and music.

September is the month of the CDR (Committees for the Defense of the Revolution), a government organization for monitoring and controlling its citizens.

November is for the medical students shot in the 19th century by Spanish forces and December is for the “Landing of Granma”, relegating Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, as inconsequential dates.

This imposed “shrine”, where not everything presented deserve honors, crushingly repeats itself annually, trying to dilute in time our true patriotic dates and commemorations, forgetting that history is not a blur and new account, but a chained continuity, where all the links are important.

Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria