Customer Care / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Damaso, 14 October 2020 — In the official press, they published: “In view of the  multiplicity of legislation and the increasing incidence of infringement of consumer rights, the Ministry of Internal Commerce (Mincin) approved Resolution No. 54, of 2018, published today in the Official Gazette, known as Directions for the organisation and effecting of consumer protection in domestic commerce, whose implementation will show the way for future Consumer Protection Law”.

Twenty two months have passed and nothing has changed. If anyone thinks that resolutions and laws will resolve the long-established mistreatment of customers, he is living in a dream world. Bits of paper are bits of paper, and no-one takes any notice of them, starting off with the people who write them.

In the Republic, this phenomenon didn’t exist, and there were no resolutions or laws, and none were needed, because there was a fundamental principle: “The customer is always right”.  Anyone who did not respect that could not function in commerce or services, and had to find work which had no direct contact with the public. Employers and employees knew that. continue reading

There was the “customer”, and they hadn’t invented the “user”, a worn-out import from socialism. More than that, employees generally got supplements to their basic salaries and rewards for the sales they made: if you sold more, you got more — apart from working in businesses and agencies which were agreeable, clean, mostly air-conditioned and even with background music.

A long time ago, all this changed for the worse: today, generally, people get miserable pay, whether they sell, or they don’t sell, work conditions aren’t that good, and, as if that weren’t bad enough, their bosses are great at being absent during working hours, not worrying themselves about what was happening under their supposed administration.

All of this was, and is, a breeding ground for the ill-treatment of people in general, and, even worse, for generalised corruption.

With Coronavirus and the control measures and regulation of sales, the way the public is treated has got even worse: buying an essential product has turned into a total chore, which starts off with waiting in a line for hours in the early morning, and ends up, if the product actually is forthcoming, very  late in the day. And this repeats day after day, as products appear drop by drop in the market. And if you’re talking in terms of customer crae, and regulations, and a supposed law, forget it. In reality, it’s devil take the hindmost.

Translated by GH

Tales Along the Way / Fernando Damaso

Cubans spend a huge part of their lives standing in line to meet their everyday needs. (14ymedio)

Fernando Damaso, 16 September 2020 — It has become commonplace for the authorities, starting with the present and ending with the last of his minister, when speaking about why there is lack of products that are only exported, and about the high taxes and the high prices in state stores, to justify it saying that this is done to ensure free education and healthcare, and even to buy powdered milk for children.

I do not question that this is a part of the truth in it, but not the whole truth.

These resources are also used to maintain the voluminous and bureaucratic state apparatus, a useless Armed Forces, which for a long time now has been more dedicated to engaging in business and obtaining foreign exchange through the Grupo de Administración Empresarial SA (GAESA), than to the tasks of defense, knowing that no one is going to waste time invading a destroyed country. continue reading

And along with this goes a huge national repressive apparatus and the entire scaffoling of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and the Young Communist League (UJC), and all the subordinate organizations (CTC, CDR, FMC, ANAP, FEU, FEEM, UNEAC, UPEC, etc.), dedicated to the manipulation of information and political indoctrination.

I am sure that much more is spent on them than on public education and healthcare, although these are used as cover to hide the expenses.

Moreover, during the Republic, between 22-23% of the National Budget was dedicated to Education and Culture and the same for Public Health (Health and Social Assistance). In total, the annual allocation was between 44-46%. I doubt that today, despite the propaganda, these high percentages are maintained, although here it is difficult to verify it, because the statistical data, in addition to being manipulated, is kept as a”State Secret,” due to the paranoia that “the enemy is listening.”

Taking into account what has been said, it would be desirable for the authorities to respect us a little more and not consider us to be fools or imbeciles, when addressing us, thinking that they may confuse us with their worn-out tales along the way.

Six decades of failed socialism and misery have opened our eyes and our understanding!

Something to Think About / Fernando Damaso

Fernando Dámaso, 29 August 2020 — During the 19th century, while socialist ideas struggled on the theoretical level, the capitalist ones did so on the theoretical and practical levels, since capitalism already existed in most countries and, in others, it was about to be established. In that era, socialist ideas, like capitalist ones, were defended by different theorists, with a diversity of proposals.

In the 20th century, with the establishment of Soviet power in ancient Russia, this situation totally changed: while capitalist ideas and practice continued to develop, with their particular characteristics in different countries, socialist ideas were subordinated to the practice that was just recently developed beginning in the USSR, acquiring the category of a dogma, which had to be rigidly applied, on pain of being accused of being a reformist, bourgeois, deviationist, etc., by the Soviet Communist Party.

It began with Lenin, continued with Stalin and continued with Khrushchev, Breshnev and others, who imposed it on all the so-called socialist countries of Eastern Europe, after the Second World War, and it reached Cuba in 1959. The exception was Yugoslavia, accused of being revisionist. continue reading

In China the ideas of Mao Tse Tung prevailed, in North Korea those of Kim Il Sung and in Vietnam those of Ho Chi Minh. From a certain moment, and continuing for a long time, there was an ideological confrontation between the communist parties of the USSR and China, which even led to armed violence along portions of their borders.

While they argued, supported by this one or that one, capitalism continued to develop and adapt to the new times, respecting the characteristics in each country. The result was the fall of socialism and the consolidation of capitalism. The USSR and the socialist countries of Eastern Europe disappeared. Even those who still defend socialism (China and Vietnam), have adopted capitalist approaches in their economies and North Korea, one of the last of the Mohicans, also begins, slowly, to flirt with them.

Only Cuba remains, backward, frozen in time, in perpetual crisis, clinging to dogma and with no real possibilities for development, despite the primitive rhetoric of its historical and current leaders. The change is imposed.

Jose Marti, from Apostle to ‘Pret-A-Porter’ / Fernando Damaso

One of the many many José Martí statues in Cuba.

Fernando Damaso, 1 August 2020 — The preaching and thought of José Martí had their greatest diffusion in the United States, among the emigrants and the participants in the War of 1868, which they knew and shared with him. It was logical: joining forces for the new war, he tried to convince them, with his words, to join the crusade. The Cuban Revolutionary Party and the newspaper Patria were instruments that reflected his ideology.

Once the new war began and, when Martí fell in combat at its beginning, his ideas about war, independence and the Republic to be created, remained in the power of his closest collaborators, without becoming part of the ideology of most of the combatants, both officers and simple soldiers.

Thus, in the Mambi camps and in the heat of the fighting, the opinions and positions of the military leaders to whom they were subordinated prevailed, such as Gómez, the Maceo, Masó, Calixto García and others. continue reading

With the advent of the Republic in 1902, the principal protagonists disappeared, leaving only as main figures Máximo Gómez and Calixto García. Within a very short time, the Martí ideology is lost, as an active element in the political work. With the disappearance of the Cuban Revolutionary Party, by will expressed in its statutes, politics is settled between liberals and conservatives, with figures of the second and third rank.

Martí remained practically forgotten until 1920, when he began to be taken up by those born with the Republic, who began to reach adulthood, the so-called “generation of 25”, moving from culture to politics.

His ideas, mixed with the nationalism of the Mexican Revolution, the nascent anti-imperialism and socialist concepts, imported from the Russian Revolution, are present in the fight against Gerardo Machado and in the discussions of the first moments, after 1933.

Helping this was the appearance of books on his ideology and his life, which make him a respectable figure among young people, plus the opinion of Martí faithful who, with their preaching, show the differences between the real Republic and the ideal Republic.

In 1922, Congress decreed January 28, the date of his birth, as a national holiday, and it establishes that each Cuban school has his bust. Each municipality on the island was also required to designate “one of its main streets with the name of José Martí”, as well as to dedicate “a statue, a bust, an obelisk, a commemorative column, a plaque to the memory of the Apostle of bronze or marble in the most prominent public place.” In other words, Martí began to be vindicated in marble and bronze, in addition to spreading his ideas.

After 1933, the Cuban Revolutionary Party was created, adding the word “Authentic” to its name, pretending to be a continuation of the one organized by Martí in the 19th century. Nothing was more alien to reality, in its later practice.

Martí, at this time, begins to be used by both politicians, according to their interests, taking his thoughts out of context, depending on their mobilizing effectiveness. This brings about their demagogic manipulation. However, his ideology, as an unfinished task, remains in the minds and hearts of many Cubans. It makes an appearance, as a protective shadow, in the constituents of 1939 and during the drafting of the important Constitution of 1940.

Governments, from 1940 to 1958, remembered Martí on national dates, for editions of banknotes, stamps and by erecting new and greater monuments to him.

From the side of the opposition, he was increasingly brought in and incorporated into the struggle, as the main endorsement of those who used it. Thus did those who fought Batista between 1940-44, Grau between 1944-48, Prío between 1948-52 and Batista, again, between 1952-58.

It is in this last stage, where Martí acquires an unusual presence: he “participates” in the march of the torches, a fascist imitation transplanted to Havana on January 28, 1953, he is the apostle of the so-called “Centennial Generation” (1953 ), the “mastermind” of the assault on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba, “is present” in the subsequent trial, and he is the inspirer of the armed and clandestine struggle and much more.

Martí becomes the raison d’être of everything that is done, as if the acting subjects lacked ideas for it, or tried to justify all their actions, as an “implementation of Marti’s preaching.”

After January 1959, Martí was divided into two halves: one part in exile along with the Cubans who emigrated, and the other stayed here. The use of Martí occurs on both shores.

Here it becomes overwhelming and becomes something out of the ordinary, breaking the limits of sanity, producing its most rude manipulation. An example: the questioned Schools in the Countryside, according to the new authorities, “constitute the application of Marti’s conception of study and work”, something totally false, since his approach in one of his writings, was taken from his experience in the United States.

 He was referring to a city he visited, where the main source of work was the railroad, and he drew the conclusion that, in this case, it would be convenient for schools, in addition to teaching academic subjects, should teach classes on railway trades. He also referred to a rural area, with schools teaching classes that had to do with agriculture, and so on. He never raised the absurdity that all urban schools had to move to the countryside and vice versa!

As of April 1961, with the declaration of the socialist character of the process, the ideology of Martí is replaced by that of Marx, Engels and Lenin, establishing massive indoctrination from kindergarten to university, as well as of the entire population. Red flags with hammer and sickle, the International and the old slogans of the world’s left fill the days of Cubans, like a circus show, in the absence of the bread that was already beginning to run out.

Sometimes more, sometimes less, according to convenience, Martí has been manipulated, disfigured, accommodated and overused, creating in many young people, and the not so young, a rejection of this alienating and absurd preaching.

The climax came with the phrase: “Martí promised what he promised and Fidel kept it for you,” and with the assertion that, the character of yore, “was his best disciple and the most faithful interpreter of his ideas.” Then Fidel went even further, placing his ashes near his grave.

A detoxification process for this false Martí is necessary, to take back his ideology and his real figure in its proper measure, without pretending to deify him or consider him the possessor of all the truths and solutions for all times. Martí must be the one to advance and stumble upon us, but he cannot replace us.

More Restrictions on Citizens? / Fernando Damaso

Ed note: This post is from May but was not translated until August.

Fernando Damaso, 22 May 2020 — Before the Coronavirus, the Cuban economy was already in a tailspin and the shortages was doing its thing. Products such as meat, oil, milk, wheat flour, detergent, soap, toiletries and fuel were in short supply. Long lines adorned the shops whenever these goods appeared.

With the Coronavirus, this situation worsened. No longer lines, but mobs, appeared in the places of sale.

The authorities began to dictate measures to prevent the spread of the epidemic, including the use of the facemask and the distancing between people, in addition to the suspension of national, provincial and urban transport, and the closure of shops of all kinds. continue reading

As epidemiological measures, citizens accepted them. Later they have been made more drastic, incorporating the forces of order and auxiliaries, fines and sanctions, to achieve compliance.

However, it has not been possible to control the riots or for people to comply with the rules. The lack of real solutions contributes, with no way to avoid the massive crowds of people around the shops, not even with the requirement of an identity card, so that everyone can buy in the municipality where they live.

Parallel to all this, every day the health authorities report fewer cases, and it seems that the epidemic is under control.

If so, why are some of the restrictive measures imposed not beginning to be dismantled? I am referring to travel within the national territory, to the reactivation of national, provincial and urban transport and others.

I have the feeling that, at the moment, the restrictive measures, rather than the epidemic, are in response to the shortages and the lack of short-term solutions.

The authorities, addicted to control and repression, seem to have found a formula, taking refuge in the epidemic, to maintain strict control over each citizen, as never before in the history of Cuba.

The danger is that the authorities decide to maintain it according to their convenience and, as citizens, we get used to accepting it as something natural. I don’t want to think of a setting like the one in George Orwell’s novel “1984”.

More Restrictions on Citizens? / Fernando Damaso

Ed. Note: This article is from May of 2020, and has just been translated in August.

Fernando Damaso, 22 May 2020 — Before the Coronavirus, the Cuban economy was already in a tailspin and the shortages was doing its thing. Products such as meat, oil, milk, wheat flour, detergent, soap, toiletries and fuel were in short supply. Long lines adorned the shops whenever these goods appeared.

With the Coronavirus, this situation worsened. No longer lines, but mobs, appeared in the places of sale.

The authorities began to dictate measures to prevent the spread of the epidemic, including the use of the facemask and the distancing between people, in addition to the suspension of national, provincial and urban transport, and the closure of shops of all kinds.

As epidemiological measures, citizens accepted them. Later they have been made more drastic, incorporating the forces of order and auxiliaries, fines and sanctions, to achieve compliance.

However, it has not been possible to control the riots or for people to comply with the rules. The lack of real solutions contributes, with no way to avoid the massive crowds of people around the shops, not even with the requirement of an identity card, so that everyone can buy in the municipality where they live.

Parallel to all this, every day the health authorities report fewer cases, and it seems that the epidemic is under control.

If so, why are some of the restrictive measures imposed not beginning to be dismantled? I am referring to travel within the national territory, to the reactivation of national, provincial and urban transport and others.

I have the feeling that, at the moment, the restrictive measures, rather than the epidemic, are in response to the shortages and the lack of short-term solutions.

The authorities, addicted to control and repression, seem to have found a formula, taking refuge in the epidemic, to maintain strict control over each citizen, as never before in the history of Cuba.

The danger is that the authorities decide to maintain it according to their convenience and, as citizens, we get used to accepting it as something natural. I don’t want to think of a setting like the one in George Orwell’s novel “1984”.

Dollarization with a Face Mask / Fernando Damaso

José Martí and George Washington. Top: In hard currency. Bottom: It had to be.

Fernando Dámaso, 15 July 2020 — Though authorities are trying to hide it, the dollarization of the Cuban economy is moving ahead at a frantic pace. But the formula fully complies with the accepted dogma of government institutions.

Instead of allowing free flow of the dollar and other hard currencies, commercial transactions now require debit cards linked to bank accounts holding foreign currencies. In other words, all hard currency remittances from Cubans living abroad to family and friends living in Cuba. Before anyone can use them to make retail purchases, these funds must first pass through a funnel which allows the state to collect and use them as it sees fit, even before Cuban recipients can make purchases in stores set up for this purpose.

Initially, the stores were intended to sell only “large and medium size” items such as televisions, washing machines, kitchen appliances, electric motorcycles, splits and air conditioners. Now, in a desperate struggle for foreign exchange, they also sell food, toiletries and personal hygiene items. continue reading

This means that, if Cubans want to eat and bathe, they must acquire foreign currency (mainly dollars), open a bank account in which to deposit it and use the bank’s debit card in order to make purchases. It is a kind of economic face mask to disguise the dollarization of the economy.

The need for this is perhaps due to some outdated ideological mindset that still persists. In short, the enemy’s currency has been imposed, displacing the convertible peso (CUC) and Cuban peso (CUP), currencies not unlike those used in the well known game of Monopoly and now worth much less value than before. We have gone from two currencies to three: one with value and the other two devalued.

But there’s more: If you open an account, handing over your dollars in cash, you lose 10% of your deposits to an absurd, exploitative tax, whose justification is the economic “blockade” and other nonsense.

As things now stand, any Cuban who does not receive dollars or other hard currency, or who does not have it in the form of cash, cannot open a bank account or get a debit card. Nor will he or she be able to shop in these stores, which are sure to be much better stocked than those which accept payment in CUC or CUP.

This measure was conceived for the sole purpose of allowing the state to collect dollars which it is incapable of acquiring through production or export. Meanwhile, the average Cuban, who does not earn dollars or get remittances from overseas, will grow poorer by the day. This from a “government of the people, for the people” that long ago went from one promising a better life to one of “socialist equality through poverty.”

We’ll have to tighten our belts if we want to survive the pandemic and, even worse, the prolonged death throes of socialism and its failures.

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