Transition to Dictatorship Rhythm / Jorge Olivera Castillo

Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, Spanish Foreign Minister, believes that the European Common Position towards Cuba is correct, but can be more flexible

HAVANA, Cuba, March — Latin America and now the European Union approach the Cuban dictatorship without great demands. Respect for fundamental rights, as a requisite for closer relations with Havana passes to a more distant plane than previously.

The priority is to guarantee the survival of the regime as an assurance of political stability within the Island, and maybe to manage a soft landing towards some form of less authoritarian government. It is risky, at the very least, to say that the end point of this journey that is barely beginning is democracy with all its attributes.

Single-party socialism is not going to disappear from Cuba because of a civilian-military revolution. Neither does it appear that its end is associated with a negotiating table formed by people of the current regime, the Catholic Church and the opposition groups. If history grants the possibility of such a scenario, it would settle for when the heirs of the gerontocracy assume control at a time impossible to determine.

Whoever says to the contrary is, as they say, lost in the weeds. The weakness of the opposition, in a social climate where anarchy stopped being exceptional some time ago, is a reality that counts when the time comes to define policies. Of course they are not the only motivations, but there is no doubt that they have contributed to things flowing in favor of conservative pragmatism. Continue reading

To Dream in Cuba is to Dream of Escape / Jorge Olivera Castillo

balsero-solo-en-goma-1er-plano“If I die from drowning, I don’t care, if here I’m dead in life.”

HAVANA, Cuba — Although it is increasingly risky, crossing 90 miles on a raft continues to be the dream of the young people. My neighbor Alfredo confessed to me his determination to undertake a journey that could cost him his life. He already has the exact measurements of a raft, the paddles and a sail, parts with which, this summer, he will try his luck against the waters of the Straits of Florida.

“If I die from drowning, I don’t care,” he said, “completely, if here I’m dead in life. There are no changes or anything close to it. I live overcome by anxiety.”

As someone who is self-employed — at first — he had the illusion of achieving some goals, that he dreamed of for more than 20 years, but the reality was stronger than his dreams. The harassment from the State inspectors, being forced to engage in more than one illegality in order to make a profit, and the rising prices of raw materials on the black market, made it impossible for him to make and sell pizzas. Continue reading

“Getting Drunk is the Only Way You Can Resist the Problems” / Jorge Olivera Castillo

HAVANA, CUBA – In Cuba, every year hundreds of people die from alcoholism. A recently published study on the issue of alcoholism in the Americas, in the magazine “Addiction,” says that the mortality indices affect mainly Cubans between 50 and 69 years of age.

The information, gathered by the Pan American Health Organization and the World Health Organization, is hugely useful in looking at a phenomenon that affects every social strata. The issue could be more dramatic and shown in the study, and also affect youth. It’s well known that alcohol consumption among young people is increasing.

A tour around any area of the capital, especially the neighborhoods in the outskirts, is sufficient to feel discouraged about a solution to the problem.

In addition to the ever increasing amount of alcohol consumed, there is also the constant decline in the quality of the product. There are many clandestine factories where adulterated alcoholic drinks are produced. Whatever drink comes out of these places is full of dirt and rust and it sells like hotcakes.

A good part of the market is supplied by these producers. Even the dollar stores take advantage of the illegal supply of rums and liquors, made with raw materials stolen from the state companies. Continue reading

Independent Forum Parallel to CELAC is Being Blocked by State Security / Jorge Olivera Castillo

violencia-cuba-300x200HAVANA, Cuba – Around 9:00 last night two officials from State Security’s Department 21 presented themselves at my house to warn me that the Second Democratic Forum on International Relations and Human Rights (independent) would not be allowed to be held in Havana this coming 28 January.

The opposition forum is scheduled parallel to the Second Summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), to be held in the Cuban capital on the 28th and 29th, with the presence of heads of state and governments, as well as high level officials from the 33 member countries.

The meeting that the political police are trying to block has among its objectives to put into perspective the incompatibility of the one-party political system in Cuba with CELAC’S Special Statement for the Defense of Democracy.

One of the agreements made at the founding meeting of that organization, held in Caracas on December 3, 2011, says, and I quote:

“We agreed on a clause committing to promote, defend and protect the Rule of Law, democratic order, sovereignty of the people, Human Rights and fundamental freedoms, including among others the right to life, liberty and the security of the person, not subjecting them to torture or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment, arbitrary arrest, detention or exile, or to make them objects of summary and arbitrary executions or forced disappearances, and [to respect] freedom of opinion and expression.”

A brief review of what is stated here is enough to question the regime serving as a host for the summit. Continue reading

Bastion 2013, A Little Game in a Make-Believe War / Jorge Olivera Castillo

HAVANA, Cuba, December, — The Bastion 2013 Strategic Exercises recently concluded with the so-called National Days of Defense. Headlines such as “The Heart of the Country Is Invulnerable,” “The Enemy Will Have No Peace,” “An Unbreakable Coastline” and others equally ridiculous could be read in the November 25 edition of the weekly Trabajadores.

They have once again taken the military paraphernalia out of storage to inflict an imaginary defeat on the enemy, which occasionally lands in the country with its phantom divisions.

As well as being something outside the bounds of common sense, fabricating external aggression at this point is increasingly useless. There have been so many combat preparations and invasion warnings that have proved pointless that almost no Cuban believes in the demagoguery that sustains them anymore.

Indifference and mockery are the routine reactions to these expenditures of human and material resources, which are not even successful at diverting attention from the serious social and economic problems that affect a wide segment of the population.

“They are shameless. Instead of investing money in important things, they waste it knowing full well that we will never see American troops in Cuba. It is a cliche they use for the sake of convenience. Essentially, it stems from a need to present an image of unity and strength. They know that the probability of a military confrontation between the two countries is very low, practically impossible,” says a former military official.

Very few citizens spend time on this sort of news. The most widely read items in the official press continue to be the television schedule and the sports page.

“I don’t waste my time on this nonsense. We have had enough of this war for subsistence. If the Americans ever come, I would be happy if they brought food and other stuff. With that they would win two out of three. The country is already in ruins, even without a missile having been fired from overseas,” says a retiree living in the capital.

After a series of virtual military battles throughout the country, Cubans are still confronting challenges brought on by difficult circumstances. Dealing with the bureaucracy, finding their way through the maze of the black market and struggling with high prices for essential consumer goods are some of their primary concerns. According to the vox popoli, however, efforts to keep us mired in poverty will be even more intense in 2014.

There is no shortage of reasons for such assumptions. The just completed Bastion 2013 is a bagatelle, a children’s game compared to the battles we have to face every day in the farmers’ market, with their heart-rending prices, or in the hard-currency stores, which are fully capable of destroying anyone’s patience.

Cubanet, 2 December 2013

The Opposition Needs Something More Than Courage / Jorge Olivera Castillo

HAVANA, Cuba , October, – I have heard more than once that the opposition is nothing more than a symbolic “testimonial,” which will fail to turn itself into an important political reference in the short and medium term.

Most significant are not so much the affirmations, as the people (Cubans and foreigners) who make them, many of them on the condition of anonymity and without knowledge of the subject .

It has not been easy to resist in the midst of so many difficulties, and even to advance agendas that would seem impossible in such adverse circumstances. However, despite the many mistakes committed in tactics and strategies, the government repression and the unending flow of leaders into exile, the Cuban opposition has a moderate margin of credibility.

To say that all the effort of more than three decades has been a failure, would be false. Along with the many setbacks, there are successes; not many, but they represent the moral fortitude and resilience of opposition groups.

Unfortunately, many of our initiatives attest to the courage and determination of the opponents, but failed to extend our struggle to a substantial part of the people. Nor is there unity among opponents. The egotism of some and their persistence in undertaking unrealistic and overly ambitious plans continue to damage our struggle.

The regime, despite its talent for repression, is recognized in international forums. The denunciations of flagrant violations of human rights, in addition to being ignored by the mainstream press, don’t receive attention from other governments or these forums.

The hundreds of arbitrary arrests every month, the increase in the numbers of political prisoners and the beatings of peaceful opponents in the public streets, pass before the eyes of the world without consequences for the dictatorship.

To move forward we must “professionalize” our struggle. We need the humility to recognize what we are lacking and our potential. If we don’t correct our tactics we will not achieve legitimacy for our aspirations.

With our divisions, our ambitious goals, and the discourse that clamors for external corrective measures, including military intervention, the opposition grows the vicious circle.

We must maintain our fundamental principles, but readjust our strategies, and look for new, more effective, methods.

Jorge Olivera Castillo,

From Cubanet, 23 October 2013

Facebook: Unknown to Most Cubans / Jorge Olivera Castillo

facemierdHAVANA, Cuba , October, – In the program “Passage to the Unknown” — Sunday nights on Cubavision — they aired a documentary that showed that young Cubans are last in line in the digital world.

Among surprised and crazy faces, the segment showed a young woman on the street gathering opinions about Facebook, a topic addressed in the program by the journalist Reinaldo Taladrid, and “specialists,” among whom appeared the defender of official censorship: Iroel Sánchez.

To the question: Do you know what Facebook is? The few successes came from tourists and foreign students studying on the island.

In my neighborhood, he threw out the the question: What is Twitter?

For Alexander, a young high school student, Facebook could be a character in an adventure film. Rolando, however, a forest engineer with 20 years experience, is convinced that it is something related to auto racing.

What a horror! It makes you want to cry, or something worse.With the delay in using such a tool as essential as Facebook, who’s going to believe in the development of Cuba.

That young Cubans don’t know the social network that brings together a billion people, in 70 languages, shows the digital and technological backwardness of our country.

Emerging countries such as Brazil, India, Indonesia and Mexico are among the biggest users of Facebook, which forces us to recognize that we are lagging behind the digital world. We are at the back of the line of modernity.

We are an island frozen in time! Meanwhile the government remains committed to the internal blockade to maintain its absolute power.

The regime is not only leaving us as its legacy a country in ruins. In addition to the collapse of ethical and moral values, they are leaving us mired in digital illiteracy, with the goal of keeping themselves in power.

Jorge Olivera Castillo

From Cubanet 10 October 2013

Farewell, My Friend / Jorge Olivera Castillo

Oscar Espinosa Chepe and his wife, Miriam Leyva

Oscar Espinosa Chepe and his wife, Miriam Leyva

HAVANA, Cuba , September, – Independent economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, according to the latest information received, has just died in Madrid.

A former liver disease was the trigger for his vital signs to irreversibly decline.

The trip to the Spanish capital in search of better medical care would not alter the outcome marked by fate. There, far from his homeland and in the company of his wife he has had to say goodbye to an increasingly unsettled world.

Points of views critical of the government that he expressed in hundreds of articles and pithy economic analyses, earned him harassment, smear campaigns, detentions, acts of repudiation and a stint in jail as part of the Group of 75.

Together we remember Cuba’s Guantanamo prison* in late April 2003 after being sentenced to long prison terms for our activities in favor of democracy. He had been sentenced to two decades in prison, and I to 18 years.

From the moment that, handcuffed and under heavy guard, we boarded the bus heading to Guantanamo, more than 900 kilometers east of the capital, His serious health problems were visible. Several times during the trip he required medical assistance. So much so that on arrival at the prison he had to be admitted to hospital ward for provincial inmates.

In the passageway we were barely able to exchange a few words. The Interior Ministry agents forbade us from speaking, but the difficulties in communicating with Chepe were notorious. His ill health made me think that he might come to a fatal ending before reaching the destination fixed by our executioners.

In the solitude of the isolation cell I was able to learn of his transfer to a hospital in the city of Santiago de Cuba a few days of arriving in Guantanamo. I learned later that, because of the severity of his ill health, the political police had decided to take him to a prison in the capital.

Even so,before they granted him parole for health reasons, he had to endure nearly 19 months in prison.

His recovery after returning home was short-lived. The serious impact of his incarceration left traces that contributed over time to accelerate his decline.

Unexpectedly I was also released for health reasons weeks after he left the hospital in Combinado del Este, Cuba ‘s largest prison located on the outskirts of Havana.

Remaining in my memory are sporadic conversations we had on various issues of our national reality.

I was privileged to enjoy his qualities as a host, I can also attest to his ability to take on, with responsibility and integrity, the challenges imposed by the circumstances, and his unwavering virtue in making no concession in what he believed was best for the future the country.

Among his best political qualities I should mention his moderation, his support for gradual changes, and his clarity in dismantling the fallacies of the regime which continues to articulate false statistics and empty rhetoric.

I do not want to fix in my neurons that he will return to Cuba as ashes. The image I have chosen to remember that that of the whole man who did not shy away from debate and who never waned in his convictions, those of that languid but undaunted old man who accompanied me on the bus that distributed us among various prisons in the Spring of 2003.

By Jorge Olivera Castillo —

*Translator’s note: Olivera Castillo is referring to the Cuban prison in Guantanamo province, not the one run by the United States.

From Cubanet, 23 September 2013

Sacrilege at the Protestdrome / Jorge Olivera Castillo

690075345_03af765542_z-300x215HAVANA, Cuba , September – The musician Robertico Carcassés crossed the line. According to his detractors, he chose the least appropriate time and place to ask for — in addition the release of the four Cuban spies and the end of the “blockade,” as dictated by the script of the show — free access to information, the ability to elect the country’s president by direct vote, the end of the internal blockade imposed by the Communists, and freedom for… “Maria.”*

He asked for all this while singing at a televised concert held a few days ago at the Anti-imperialist Bandstand — which people call the “Protestdrome” — the usual site of the anti-Yankee dance parties organized by the government. This time, the goal of the spectacle was to mark the fifteenth anniversary of the imprisonment of the spies-heroes and, of course, to once again demand that the Yankees release them.

Robertico immediately became an outcast. He was banned indefinitely from performing on  stages and in the media owned by the government; that is, all of them. The incident should be enough to shut the mouths of those who talk about a relaxation of censorship in Cuba. The spaces for self-expression, the topics discussed and what can or cannot be said, continue to be dictated by the official agenda.

Crossing the line when it comes time to criticize is still dangerous. The “new airs of freedom” are only symbolic; part of a plan of image improvement to create the illusion of an opening. Pure marketing.

Except for some intellectuals, writers, artists and academics, who now and again speak critically about the country’s problems, the majority prefers to entrench itself in silence.

Unfortunately, the criticisms of the few who dare never make it to television, radio or the printed newspapers, they remain only in books and specialized magazines that very few people read. They don’t circulate.

The other ways to disseminate these ephemeral ripples is the blogosphere, in a country where less the five percent of the population can access the Internet. Given the prevailing apathy and the impediments mentioned, the few critiques pass without pain or glory, without any major social impact.

For this and other reasons, it’s not coincidence that demands, in addition to being few, are timid, ambiguous, and generally accompanied by a petition against the “blockade” and do not mention the origin of our problems, nor those to blame, despite the fact that everyone knows who that is. They “play with the chain, but not with the monkey.”

Robertico Carcassés began his Via Crucis. Some members of Interactive, the group he directs with great success, immediately distanced themselves from what he said at the Anti-Imperialist Bandstand.

In an open letter he reaffirmed what he said in the concert. An undoubtedly brave gesture that puts his victimizers in an uncomfortable position.

With the exception of his request for the release of the five (four), I make public my support for the musician whom I already admired for his swing and piano playing, and whom I now admire even more for asking, on television, for the inalienable rights of all Cubans.


After writing this text, I learned that this Tuesday, after a meeting with functionaries from the Ministry of Culture, the punishment of Carcassés was lifted.

It seems that one of the craftsmen of the pardon was the influential Silvio Rodriguez, one of the artists most committed to the regime, who occasionally posts in his blog points of view contrary to the official line. The intervention in the matter of Violeta, daughter of that famous troubadour, due to the official reprimand received by her husband, Oliver Valdés, Interactive’s drummer, for mentioning in a program the punishment against Carcassés, may have been a catalyst for the unexpected outcome.

Has Carcassés privately recanted? Committed not to repeat the mistake? Who knows.

Now surely the perks-as-deterrent will come. Almost certainly he will get, without delay, permission to buy that car he’s been after for a long time. Perhaps even the usual, “What’s that you heard? I didn’t say a thing.”

Regardless of the speculation surrounding the incident and his motivations, the symbolic value of the event itself should be noted, the importance of the direct demands of the young, made for the first time on national television, in front of the cream of the communist hierarchy and, what’s more, on the most sacred of stages.

*Translator’s note: Robertico asked for the release of the “heroes… and Maria…” whose identity remains a mystery.

By Jorge Olivera Castillo:

From Cubanet

19 September 2013

We Are Fewer But With More Problems / Jorge Olivera Castillo

HAVANA, Cuba , September, – Raul Castro and those accompanying him in the exercise of power don’t give a damn about the unstoppable population decrease in Cuba. Faced with this unfortunate prediction, revealed by National Bureau of Statistics and Information (ONEI), we confirm once again that the government has no sense of the nation which, without a hint of modesty, it continues to call revolutionary.

The reluctance of the women to bring children into the world, clear from the high rate of abortions, has its foundation in the socio-economic problems. In addition to the depressed wages we have rising unemployment and the inability to choose a house or apartment with the minimum standards of livability. Currently, the deficit amounts to more than a million homes.

The current environment favors  alienation and marginalization, especially among young people, who tend to see their future away from the land of their birth. The preference for emigrating abroad is also another cause underlying the predictions of a marked decline in the population.

According to the government agency that brought to light details of the issues, By 2030 Cuba will have 10,904,985 inhabitants. Comparing this number to the current population, the decrease exceeds a quarter million people since the most recent census conducted last year, which counted 11,163,934 Cubans.

The consequences of such a reduction in a depopulated country, given that Cuba has a land area of 42,400 square miles, will be unpredictable. Extreme poverty , increase in prostitution and trafficking of drugs, decay of social services, among other high-impact phenomena in the lives of the majority of the people. Of course the heaviest part of the burden will fall on the shoulders of Cuba’s elderly. Many will not be able to endure the stifling conditions.

The symptoms of Social Darwinism are accelerated to the extent that the foundations of real socialism are dismantled. The extreme nationalization, characterized by arbitrary prohibitions, voluntarism and enlarging the bureaucracy to a scale never before seen, have been the main triggers for a series of anomalies that have ruined the economy and social fabric.

The worst news is the fact that there are no reasonable methods to reverse the situation. The circle of power is still committed to delaying a transition to facilitate the rearrangements necessary so that the country will not to fall into chaos. The economic changes implemented lack vision that is viable and pragmatic rather than obstructionist.

While the end for Raul Castro and his entourage is their conservation as a political class, nothing can be expected beyond the news compels them to take refuge in the most remote areas of pessimism.

In 2030 we will be fewer people with many more dilemmas to solve. The culprits of the disaster set back the clock of history at their convenience. So far, unfortunately, they have been lucky in their maneuvers.

Jorge Olivera Castillo –

From Cubanet

9 September 2013