At Repression’s Ground Zero / Lilianne Ruiz

The first time I set foot in that scary place called Villa Marista, similar to Lubyanka Prison in the now fortunately disappeared Soviet Union, it was by my own will. I accompanied Manuel Cuesta Morúa to see Investigator Yurisan Almenares, in charge of Case No. 5, 2014, against Cuesta Morúa, after he was arbitrarily arrested on 26 January of this year to keep him from participating as an organizer of the 2nd Alternative Forum to the CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States) Forum, held in Havana.

His detention ended 4 days later with the notification of a precautionary measure that was never delivered, but that obliged him to go to a Police Station every Tuesday and sign the document, for the supposed crime of Diffusion of False News Against International Peace.

But the precautionary measure was only shown to the eyes of the person it concerned once: on 30 January when he was released. In practice, Cuesta Morua was signing an unofficial paper. Imprecision characterized the situation from the beginning. The reasons for the arrest and the case they sought to bring against him had no direct relationship, which shows that the old school mafia of the Castro regime still rules in Cuba: studying the penal code in order to destroy their adversaries, manipulating the law until the punishment proves your guilt.

In Villa Marista I wanted to see the face of someone working there inflicting pain on other human beings. Punishing them, not for violating universal law, which could not exceed the measure of punishment, but for not expressing loyalty to the Castro regime.

For some reason I connected with the mother of Pedro Luis Boitel, who I saw in a documentary titled “No One Listens.” She said that her son, having been persecuted in the Batista era, always found a door to knock on, an opportunity to save himself from death. But in the times of Fidel Castro is wasn’t like that, and Boitel died after a hunger strike, imprisoned in the cruelest and most degrading conditions, in La Cabaña Prison.

Those were the times when the International Left granted the Cuban government impunity so that it could improvise a vast record of human rights violations. And Cuban society, terrorized, also looked the other way: escaping to the United States, while “going crazy” to step foot on the land of liberty. It’s not very different today.

Villa Marista is a closed facility. It can’t be visited by an inspector from the Human Rights Council, nor from representatives of civil society organizations–dissident and persecuted–to ensure that they are not practicing any kind of torture against the prisoners and are respecting all their rights. The government has signed some protocols and declares itself against torture, but we don’t believe in the government and those who have passed through Villa Marista’s cells bear witness that they do torture them there to the point of madness in order to destroy the internal dissidence.

And if someone accuses me of not having evidence, I tell them that’s the point, that it is precisely for this that the Cuban government opens its jails to the press, not controlled by them, and to the international inspectors and Independent Civil Society, because what the Castros present is fabricated by the regime itself.

Not only the dissidents are tortured. Nor do we know if it’s only with “soft torture” which is still torture. Also there are workers who make a mistake and are accused of sabotage, without being able to demand their inalienable rights or defend themselves against such accusations.

It made me want to open doors, to be very strong and kick them all down. To find a legal resource for the Cuban people to investigate–and the right to presumption of innocence–all those who work there. Even the cooks, responsible for having served cabbage with pieces of cockroach to a friend’s relative, a simple worker, who was kept there for long unforgettable days, who was interrogated like in the inquisition to extract a false confession from him. They didn’t even let him sleep.

But I have gone only into the reception area: polished floors, plastic flowers, kitsch expression to hide the sordidness of the jailers instructed by the Interior Ministry; the misery reaching into the bones of the prisoners down those shiny floors. Villa Marista is one thing outside and another inside, as the common refrain says.

Investigator Yurisan Almenares didn’t show his face. Perhaps he wasn’t ready for the persecuted to find him. He had no answers because those guys can’t improvise. They have to consult their superiors, not the law or their own conscience.

A smiling captain took us into a little room and explained, almost embarrassed, that the Investigator wasn’t there and she would make a note of what Manuel was demanding. So I watched as she carefully traced the words he was pronouncing.

We wanted to get notification of the dismissal of the case. There was no precautionary measure; ergo there should be no case pending. This not to say that the presumed case was unsustainable without the precautionary measure. Living in Cuba it’s impossible to escape the reality of power, however absurd and Kafkaesque it may be, like kicking the locked cell doors of Villa Marista.

Remember, the crime has a name as bizarre as Diffusion of False News Against International Peace. And the supposed false news deals with the issue of racism in Cuba, where the government teaches discrimination for political reasons in the schools, and talks about the issue of racial rights, not inborn rights, but as a concession emanating from the State dictatorship; and administered so that it can later be used for revolutionary propaganda.

But racism is still here, rooted in society like a database error that manifests itself in daily phenomena that shock the whole world. Growing, along with other forms of discrimination and masked under the cynical grin of power.

Manuel Cuesta Morua knows this because he has dedicated his life to record this phenomenon in Cuba, historically and in the present. Thus, he has written about it on countless occasions and takes responsibility for every one of his words.

We went there without getting answers. My mind filled with the memory of these people I don’t know who are imprisoned there, half forgotten by the whole world, their own attorneys in a panic.

One thing we can promise Villa Marista’s gendarmes and its top leaders, wherever they hide themselves: some day we will open all those doors, and after judging, with guarantees of due process, those who oppress us, the place will become a part of the popular proverbs turning Cuba into a nation jealous of the freedom of its citizens.

Lilianne Ruiz and Manuel Cuesta Morua

22 April 2014

Declaration of Cuban Civil Society Activists Joining Forces in Madrid

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Cuban activists meeting in Spain

Madrid, February 26, 2014

For recognition of the legitimacy of Cuba’s independent civil society

We, activists of independent civil society, have agreed to promote a representative group to act as a channel of dialogue with international institutions and other potential partners.

Since the ratification of our commitment to peaceful methods to achieve the Rule of Law, we demand from the government of Cuba and before the international community:

1.  The unconditional release of all political prisoners , including those under extra-penal license (on parole).
2.  The end of political repression, often violent, against the peaceful movement  for human rights and pro- democracy.
3.  Respect for the international commitments already entered into by the government of Cuba, the ratification – without reservations – of the International Covenants on Human Rights and compliance with ILO conventions on labor and trade union rights.
4.  Recognition of the legitimacy of independent Cuban civil society.

Subscribed:

Yoani Sánchez – Blogger

Berta Soler – Spokesperson of the Ladies in White

Elizardo Sanchez – President of the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and Cuban National Reconciliation

Juan Felipe Diaz Medina – Christian Liberation Movement (MCL )

Guillermo Fariñas – UNPACU

Manuel Cuesta Morúa – Progressive Arc

Reinaldo Escobar – Journalist

Antonio Guedes – President of Ibero American Association for Freedom (AIL)

Guillermo Gortázar – President of the Cuban Hispanic Foundation

Javier Larrondo – UNPACU Representative in Spain and EU

Virgilio Toledo – President of Coexistence Spain

Frisia Batista – President of Roots of Hope Spain

Elena Larrinaga – FECU

Alejandro González Raga – Cuban Observatory for Human Rights

Blanca Reyes – Ladies in White

Eduardo Pérez Bengoechea – Coordinator of International Human Rights Platform of Cuba

Tomás Muñoz and Oribe – Cuban Liberal Union

The “Murderous Law” Which Allows Many Cubans to Eat / Manuel Cuesta Morua

Havana, Cuba,November 2013, www.cubanet.org.– The Cuban Adjustment Act generates a lively controversy on both sides of the Straits of Florida. For the government it is the cause of indiscriminate exodus by Cubans to wherever, and for some of the exiles it constitutes the best escape valve which the regime utilizes to ease its tensions. Another sector inside as much as outside of Cuba considers it a means directed at protecting Cubans from a double abandonment: territorial and by the State.

Curiously this last sector is the only one that demonstrates a nationalist sense when defending the measure. In effect, protecting its nationals in any circumstance shows a vision and foundation that is appropriate for nationalism over ideology and that deserves to be applauded.

This regardless of abuses of the law.  It is true that we Cubans have been taking advantage of this law in two ways: as political refugees, which is not true in a great number of cases, and as a source of economic sustenance for our families, which explains why many Cubans avail themselves of the law to search for an economy that the Cuban regime does not permit to be built. And the effects, it is clear, have been debilitating. Continue reading

Manuel Cuesta Commits to a “Common Strategy” for Change in Cuba / Manuel Cuesta

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Manuel Cuesta Morúa

On Monday, Cuban dissident Manuel Cuesta Morúa, spokesman for Progressive Arc of Cuba, and a Cubanet journalist, committed to a “common strategy” of the opposition to bring about political change in the island, and he denounced the repression exercised by the Government over private initiative in the economy.

Cuesta Morúa, on a visit to Spain, said in a press conference that “Cuba is changing, it is a fact… but not as result of a citizen strategy to move towards democracy,” but as “a kind of social mutation.”

“The people,” said this social democratic leader, “have been seeking their own paths… to confront that difficult reality we’ve been living for more than fifty years.”

According the the Cuban opponent, the Government, “has no national project to resolve the serious accumulated problems and the reality of daily life for Cubans… it’s mission is to remain in power,” he concluded.

In this situation, the strategy of civil society is “to connect citizens with a new strategy of consensus, with the end of seeking a new constituent assembly.”

Failure of economic returns

He denounced the failure of economic reforms the Executive tried to make in 2008 and said that there is a “profound social fragmentation” on the island, along with signs of “racism, poverty, extreme poverty.”

He said that Raul Castro’s government exercises repression over private initiatives through “taxes, lack of incentives, or outright repression,” because “he is not interested in generation a middle class.”

However, he said that “the only coherence for a national project in Cuba is a political opening accompanied by an economic opening.”

As an example of the failure of the Cuban economy, he said that the remittances coming in the country from Cubans abroad reach $5.1 billion dollars, versus $4.1 billion from tourism, the sale of drugs and sugar.

“We rely more on the support of our families than on the production of Cuba, “ he said.

According to the opponent, the reforms announced by the Castro Government, such as the elimination of the dual currency, is due to pressure from potential foreign investors that require improvements to develop their projects on the island.

With regard to the travel and immigration reform that allows Cubans to leave the island, Costa Morúa affirmed that it is “collateral damage” that they had to accept on the request of some “partners” of Cuba who asked for “gestures” to support them in the international community.

He also said he is in favor of lifting the U.S. Embargo of Cub, which “doesn’t help society nor the democratization of the country,” and provides “the best alibi” for the Government, “nationalism.”

Asked about the possible assassination of the regime opponent Oswaldo Payá, he said that he, “doesn’t subscribe to that thesis… I don’t think there’s clear evidence that points to a State plan to assassinate Oswaldo Payá,” dead after a car accident last year on the island.

He said he believed that his death answers “to the inability, lack of professionalism of the Cuban intelligence services, which followed him and weren’t able to control the harassment to which he was subjected.”

From Cubanet, 4 November 2013

Castro’s Strategy, in Short: A Perfect Manual for Disaster / Manuel Cuesta Morua

HAVANA, Cuba, August, www.cubanet.org — Does Raul Castro have a vision for the state? After seven years in office the question bears asking. Perhaps few people thought about it during the previous forty-six years because most observers just assumed that Fidel Castro had a grand plan for the state. But in perspective I do not think so. One can be a political animal yet lack a strategic vision for the country. What is clear, however, is that Fidel Castro did have the political fiber required to constantly to remain in power.

He demonstrated the abilities necessary to fuse a founding myth with a sense of opportunity and social control. And everything seemed perfect politically as long as he was able to hide the brutality of his regime, his absolute lack of principles and his incompetence at financial management behind this fusion. But where his lack of vision for the state can be seen is in not having left behind anything serious, such as a legacy, in the three areas where he uprooted the myth: in the social, in values and in the reconquest of the nation. In the end he did not know how to do what politicians with a head for strategy do. He did not know how to reinvent himself.

The followers of Castro, the tall one, can say what they want in his defense. However, this only demonstrates that the confusion between expectations and results continues to be fascinating material for two types of study: mythology and clinical psychology. It has nothing to do with reality.

Milk and marabou

It was hoped that whoever came to power in 2006 would take a healthy dip in reality. Cuba had strayed so far from its revolutionary dreams that this cleansing would be a preliminary step in confronting the task refreshed and with mental clarity. Asians know a thing or two about the relationship between the sauna and the mind. And this appears to be what happened when Raul Castro, in a speech on July 26 of that year in Camaguey, said two trivial words: milk and marabou. They indicated a fresh return to the abandoned land, and an idealized return to the land as metaphor; this after a lofty, fattened regime anchored to the rest of the world only through rhetoric and foreign subsidies.

But strategically the shorter Castro could write a how-to book on disaster. I will not dwell on the long list of his economic adjustments and their social consequences. Much has been well and wisely said about the failure of his so-called economic reforms, notwithstanding the analytical obstinacy of an unwavering group of academics, prominent in the news media, who did (and do) not realize that in terms of economic reform Cuba had (and has) to learn to run, not just move. So I am not interested in judging Raul Castro by his own words. We must measure the man by his results, not by his efforts.

There are two areas I would like to visit in order to analyze what I consider to be a worrying lack of national vision or strategic proposals. One is the port of Mariel and the other is the set of factors facilitating the exodus to what Cubans refer to as la Yuma, meaning everything outside the island, whether it be Brazil, Haiti or the  United States itself.

The island as banana republic 

Many see in the construction of the port of Mariel a brilliant strategic move. I see the new port as a step towards turning the island into a banana republic, as we used to be portrayed in the schools of most Central American countries. A social poet, who visited several places in our archipelago to feel its vibration before reflecting them in his poetry, described us at the time as a synthesis that was simultaneously powerful and depressing: Cuba, the ruin and the port.

I find no strategic value in a project that ratifies Cuba as a landlord state, living off of a couple of assembly plants and on being the connecting port-of-call between a super-power (the United States), an emerging power (China) and a jolly secondary power (Brazil). Foregoing the economic possibilities offered by the knowledge economy in favor of one for which we are better prepared — one which depends on the crude economics of the exploited and poorly paid port worker — does not get us much closer to a strategic vision for the state. Nor does a property owner prepared to collect tolls and warehouse fees from all who pass through his ports. But that is indeed what is happening.

Mariel: a circle of illusion

This is because — and here the circle of illusion becomes complete — such a step presupposes two additional elements. One is a deep knowledge of the internal reality of the countries in question. The other is effective control over the temptation of the governmental elite to decide things lest they forget that there is a new port in Cuba called Mariel.

Keep in mind what happened in the Soviet Union in 1989 and in Venezuela in 2013. Having information about what really takes place in countries that affect us economically, and being able to process it, is not the strong point of revolutionary leaders. The former socialist superpower collapsed and Maduro won in spite of losing. China is only interested in money and we have none. And Planalto Palace — the headquarters Dilma Rouseff took over from Lula da Silva — has been trembling lately.

Let us remember that investments in Mariel were being managed by a risk-taking partner, President Lula, who held out the promise to a Brazilian business conglomerate, Odebrecht, of a hypothetical opening by the United States to Cuba. It is as though a fiancée were to put on a wedding dress without knowing for sure that her intended would show up to satisfy her nuptial ambitions. A fiancée who, on top of everything else, behaved as though she did not have to do anything to attract the very specific type of suitor she was after by showing him anything he might possibly find attractive in her.

From subsidies to an economic enclave

There is nothing strategic about turning a subsidized economy into an economic enclave within the confines of old-fashioned capitalism, especially for a country that loudly demands — or rather politely requests — a comprehensive modernization built on the foundations of a knowledge-based economy.

If you are wondering why the government of Raul Castro is involved in this issue, which we know as state strategy, then imagine all that can be done by using Cuba’s potential to assure the structural integrity of the country, guaranteeing a relaxed transition and re-legitimized mandate for successors who lack the pedigree of the mountains we know as the Sierra Maestra.

A new port development provides no insurance in either of these areas. It puts Diaz-Canal in quite a precarious position relative to two interest groups. One is made up of real estate interests tied to unproductive corporations, and the other is made up of citizens excluded from sharing in the pie, which can only grow arithmetically rather than exponentially.

And the exodus to la Yuma? Well, this is where the disconnect between the sense of the treasury and the sense of State is perhaps best revealed. Now that the treasury no longer puts food on the table, we have weakened the possibilities of redefining the State by making an overseas sojourn possible for what the utilitarian language of economics calls human capital. It really surprises me that the emigration reform law has been so widely applauded. After granting fifteen minutes of fame to the restitution of a right that did not have to be taken away, there should have come a serious and sober analysis of its medium and long-term impact on the nation and the country, which are really the same thing.

Living off remittances 

Two facts continue to be confused: as an economic reform measure, the migratory reform converts Cuba into the El Salvador of the Caribbean: living off remittances. And as the restitution of a right, it destroys the options to rethink an economic model to export the best young minds of the country, as a country like India has avoided.

The media analysis has blurred the problem, focusing the discussion on superficial political terms. They say that the Cuban government has thrown the ball in the court of the rest of the world, as if it were a tournament which, in reality, doesn’t exist between states — all countries let their own citizens leave and abrogate the right to allow the citizens of other countries to enter — and obscure the principal debate: the fate of a country, aging, losing in a trickle or a torrent its potentially most productive and creative people and, on the other hand, not rebuilding its image as a possible nation.

This the principal problem of our national security. And it only has one origin: The concentration of the political in a single lineage. The philosophers of this matter are right: politics begins beyond the family sofa.

The problem takes on a new light, more dangerous in terms of national security, with an immigration reform targeted to Cubans by the United States, much deeper than that of Raul Castro. The granting of a five-year multiple-entry visas to those who live on the island grants a right foreigners greater than that granted by the Cuban State to its own nationals living inside and outside the country. This is somewhat embarrassing. Cubans from here can freely enter and leave the United States for much longer than Cubans can enter and leave their country of birth without renewing their permit.

Citizens of both countries

One of the results we have, one which I want to focus on, is this: we Cubans have become, in theory, resident citizens of two countries. Cuba is one, you choose the other. This is an issue that goes beyond the transnational nature of our condition — very well analyzed by Haroldo Dilla, a Cuban historian based in the Dominican Republic — because over the long term it weakens the center that serves as the axis to the global nature of citizenship. We Cubans will stay in the same place in an ambivalence that weaken loyalties to a nationality that one now feels and lives anemically. A strange and dangerous situation for a country lacking a sense of solidity.

If the story says that the new U.S. policy serves to promote relations between Cubans and Americans and between Cubans and Cuban Americans, in reality we are moving to a scenario in which relations between Cuban-Americans, in fact, resident on the island, and Cuban-Americans by law, resident in the United States arise and are strengthened; and on the other hand between Americans and Cubans residing on both shores.

All that will be left is an irreducible minority, regardless of their ideological leanings, who will resist nationality in both, taking American or Spanish nationality as strong reference points.

So, we return to the economic and cultural circuit of the United States — in some way we have already entered that of Spain — which we supposedly left more than half a century ago. Not to mention other smaller circuits such as those of Jamaica and Italy.

Surrendering to this reality, hiding behind the anti-imperialist rhetoric of “no one surrenders here,” that keeps obsolete arms oiled and “repaired,” is evidence that the strategy of the State has never accompanied the Castros. Will our paradigm as a nation ever be viable? The question is not rhetorical.

From Cubanet

18 August 2013

The Revolution Might Have Leaked Out the Sewer / Manuel Cuesta

HAVANA, Cuba, August ,  www.cubanet.org. Revolutionary tourism is a first world practice. It’s like it is the tourism-tourism. The second and third world revolutionaries don’t have the time or money to travel all over the globe to idealize the misery produced by the violence which triumphs in the name of the people.

I ought to make it clear right away that first, second and third world aren’t geographical notions, as I see it. All countries have their own particular combinations of them, and always in relative terms. In Cuba too there is an element of first world. So that those people who are involved in the tourism of the revolution come from all over the place, all of them sharing three things: a blindness in regard to social reality, an anthropological disapproval of the poor people who inevitably generate the revolutions, and a bulging wallet.

But recently a piece of information drew my attention: the loss of hygienic awareness on the part of the revolutionary tourists. Because Cuba is the dirty country of tomorrow. I wonder, therefore, how from the status of the first world can you defend a filthy revolution. You can be on the side of nationalism, populism or indigenousism, regardless of their aseptic quality. Of unhygienic revolutions, no.

Cuba, hygiene and revolutionary tourism

Anyone visiting any part of Cuba should be frightened, except in small towns or small cities like Cienfuegos, by their foul odors. It’s as if Cuba were uninterruptedly evacuating the gases of a slow digestion, hearty and heavy in virtue of the food it eats. Except that in this case the public waste system is broken and doesn’t have the capacity to resist an environment of putrefaction.

A country without bathrooms for pedestrians, without water or soap to wash your hands after going to cafes or restaurants, no napkins nor toilet paper in public places, without even slightly effective garbage collection, with doorways that accumulate three decades of dirt, with half-collapsed buildings serving as “motels” for young couples without private spaces for sexual pleasure, with steambath-buses in the morning, with hospitals and polyclinics ready to transmit infection, all in a hot climate that synthesizes natural outgrowths between the heat and humidity, such a country can not treasure its own future.

What distinguishes utopias is hygiene. If you think of the funding vocabulary  of revolutions: throughout history it has associated with the past destroyed by rot, with trying to start some kind of sanitization of society to build the beautiful country of tomorrow. Everything about them seems to come down to health and hygiene: mental hygiene, the difficult relationship of totalitarianism with the madness that equates aristocracy with the plague; of social hygiene, separation and isolation of the offender are also pathological reactions for the construction of utopias; and body hygiene,which we see in  the obsession with health in a type of society that thinks its subjects are always sick.

These hygiene are basically totalitarian techniques of control and discipline where no cracks are permitted. However, all these areas of health-related work are collapsed. The number of mentally ill continues to grow, the population is almost endemically criminal and the sick crowd the statistics. And let’s not even talk about the language.

Unthinkable development

That utopias are unproductive, well that’s not a big problem, the stresses of productivity and consumption are theoretically alien to the revolutions of the future. They are unimaginative, it does not matter;  imagination is an individual trait that, in essence, threatens the coherence and rigid core of the powers-that-be of the builders of peoples. What should be an alarming signal prosaic filth of the Cuban utopian city. As a sign of its health, its people should be wearing patched clothes, but clean, as recommended by my grandmother.

And worst of Cuba is not the stench of daily work, but a type of medieval dirt shows in four features: the accumulation of filth, the indifference as if everyone is immunized against the city’s garbage, the proximity of the centers for processing the population’s waste, and the lack of modern infrastructure for the recycling of waste. As in the Middle Ages, the septic tanks are very close to the bedrooms and it’s easy to confuse drinkable water with sewer water.

Why doesn’t revolutionary tourism realize that the Cuban Revolution might have leaked out the sewer? Getting to Havana, Holguin and Santiago de Cuba and having to drink bottled water, sold at prices inaccessible to those who supposedly made the revolution, should be the supreme test that without hygiene it is impossible to see the outlines of the streets of the future. Also broken and filthy.

Manuel Cuesta Morúa

From Cubanet

12 August 2013

Translated by GH

Very Rare Progressives / Manuel Cuesta Morua

01-moncada-vistas-300x168HAVANA, Cuba, August, www.cubanet.org-On July 26 was a strange date for the so-called Latin American progressivism. Rarely have we seen more than ten heads of state trivializing violence in a public act, as if the failed tactics of killing among human beings were the founding myth of a regional model of progressivism. Only President Mujica of Uruguay saved the situation.

This is new in Latin American rhetoric, and undoubtedly at odds with the fundamentals of progressive ideas. In our hemisphere we remember independence as the founding events of the republics and as the rupture of colonialism, but in no case do responsible politicians in power launch into a rhetorical account of the battles and deaths. Every message from the state is typically civil and about the future.

It is, therefore, worrying that some of the governments in the region have joined the ritual of the frustrated Moncada assailants, without thinking about the precedent it opens in their own countries. Their advocacy of violence paves the way for armed groups in their nations to invent their own Moncada, to assault a few garrisons and justify it with social justice.

There was more enthusiasm for the Moncada assault in the ALBA countries than among Cubans. Judging from Havana’s beaches, and the absence of flags, whistles and allegorical maracas in other provinces, and by the mocking conversations on the streets, the 26th of July was nothing more than another nice holiday. It’s one proof that the mythical condition of an event is related to what you can build, not what you could destroy.

If the current generation of Latin American leaders formed its vision from afar starting from what happened in Santiago de Cuba in 1953, they shouldn’t have lost the double perspective of the fact that, 60 years later, many Cuban revolutionaries entered middle age disillusioned, and that the majority of young people bring little vehemence to the defense of revolutionary violence as the supposed midwife of justice.

cuba260713_001-300x161But the fundamental issue has to do with the progressive vision. It should be noted at this point that the Cuban government is not progressive, it is revolutionary. A revolutionary is a concrete type, brutal and, as Mujica himself would say, short-term; someone who is very upset with the way the world is, who lacks the tools and cultural concepts to transform it, and so, thinks it is best to make it disappear…in the name of justice.

A progressive, on the other hand, is characterized by two fundamental features: doctrinal flexibility and the rejection of violence. He understands the revolutionary, but sees him like the juvenile arsonist, incapable of controlling the fire and its consequences.

When revolutions were at their peak in Africa, Asia and Latin America, progressives enjoyed a bad press in political and intellectual circles throughout the hemisphere and beyond. Especially in our region, you were either revolutionary or bourgeois, representing the interests of powerful nations.

In Cuba, to mention the word progressive is a deceptive intent to mask, under supposed social justice ends, the interests of the United States, but through another means: that of those who, according to revolutionary cunning, want to be ready after having read a few social-democratic texts.

Onthe collapse of what never should have been built under the name socialism, the progressive concepts gain media attention, seen as a new image and the beginning of a breakthrough. Then come the social movements, anti-globalization and people protesting in the streets against the stagnant powers.

In the process, old guerrillas change, adopting the peaceful path, re-reading Gandhi and Martin Luther King, not abjuring Mandela for having abandoned violence and criticizing his own violent past. Joaquin Villalobos, in El Salvador, Teodoro Petkoff, in Venezuela, and José Mujica in Uruguay, are the examples that come to mind.

Everyone understands that elections and representative democracy are important; that human rights that must be defended; that fundamental freedoms are at the origin of any sense of justice that can be conceived; that, in the end, conservatives and liberals may have, if not reason, at least their reasons; and that the attempt to build socialism is the hardest way to destroy modern conceptions of equity and social justice, as demonstrated in Cuba.

Where does the Cuban government fit in this, let’s say, progressive philosophy? Nowhere. In modernity there are greater concerns than those of their adolescent history with its heroic self-contemplation. Mouths to feed, homes to build, welfare to define, old age to ensure, and opportunities that offer, are and should be more pressing and decent concerns than praising what was ultimately a sign of poor tactical military sense that founded nothing.

This Latin American and Caribbean praise is not just a lack of respect for our history, it is also contrary to what progressives claim to defend in Latin America: the growing role of citizens, with their diversity of names and surnames, and measurable justice and social equity social. With no paeans to violence.

Manuel Cuesta Morúa

Translated from Cubanet

2 August 2013

Cuba’s Civil Society Is Transnational Says Rodiles / David Canela

From left to right: Antonio Rodiles, Roberto de Jesús Guerra, Yaremis Flores, Jorge Olivera, and Manuel Cuesta. Photo by the author.

HAVANA, Cuba, July 22, 2013, David Canela/www.cubanet.org — Last Saturday the independent Estado de SATS project sponsored a panel discussion among Cuban civil society activists. The participants included attorney Yaremis Flores, journalist Jorge Olivera (one of seventy-five dissidents imprisoned during the 2003 Black Spring crackdown), Roberto de Jesús Guerra, director of the news agency Hablemos Press, and Manuel Cuesta Morúa, a political analyst. The topic of the event was the current situation on the island following the latest political reforms and especially after recent trips overseas by many independent activists.

In regards to the experience of trying to be part of a globalized world, Flores emphasized that “the issue for Cubans is the lack of information.” Referring to his work representing those involved in legal cases, whose rights have often been at risk, he said, “If you cannot travel (to Geneva), they can send you information.”

Guerra and Olivera emphasized the need to strengthen the intellectual and organizational capabilities of the peaceful opposition. We must “continue organizing and empowering opposition groups,” said Guerra. For his part Olivera pointed out that the government “tries to manipulate international public opinion and buy time, which means we must adopt a more articulate and professional approach.”

According Cuesta Morúa, “the government has moved the battle of ideas abroad, and in Cuba tries to present a friendly dissent or a loyal opposition.”

The trend to a more balanced and dynamic migration flow would be a catalyst in the modernization of the country, as there is now a “transnational Cuban civil society,” as Rodiles called it.

As for the present, not all agreed with the idea that we are in a political transition, — as the journalist Julio Aleaga said — although this has not been officially declared. He explained that the reforms in China had begun in 1979, although its results were visible a decade later, with the Tienanmen protests, and that the Soviet Union no one imagined, in 1985, that Perestroika would be the dismantling of socialism.

Olivera believes that in the future “there will be a negotiation between the government and the opposition, because the country is in ruins.” In this regard, the journalist José Fornaris enunciated that “we have to prepare a program of government,” and not be ashamed to admit that we want to be part of the new government.

When the panel was asked what recommendations would that give to those traveling abroad, the lawyer Yaremis Flores suggested bringing evidence and documents on specific cases that demonstrate the problems of Cuban society that are not exposed in international forums, and so give a new face to the society, that humanizes it, and belies the manipulated figures from official groups of the government.

Cuesta Morúa added to avoid saying “I speak on behalf of …”, “I am the voice of …” He said there are receptive people abroad, who don’t want to hear protests, but rather proposals. And with regards to his experience at the last meeting of the Latin American Study Association (LASA), he noted that for the first time they broke the monopoly and the image (official) of Cuba at these academic meetings, due to the actions of independent sectors of the Island

This coming Saturday will be the three-year anniversary of the Estado de SATS project.

22 July 2013

From Cubanet

Property Liberalization and Recovery of Idle Lands and Dilapidated Properties: A Necessary Step for Initiating a Recovery Process / Estado de Sats

A residential building in Havana

By Antonio G. Rodiles, Julio Alega, Manuel Cuesta, Wilfredo Vallín

Introduction

The centralized and planned economy is closely linked to state ownership. For a process of economic decentralization to be successful, there must be a parallel process of decentralizing property.

The Cuban government has undertaken timid reforms with the objective of restarting the economy without making fundamental transformations. The lack of integrity, the rent seeking character, and the lack of transparency are the hallmarks of these timid reforms that are clearly only in pursuit of a transmutation of power. The facts are a demonstration that one year after their implementation the impact of these reforms has been very limited. Land has been delivered to farmers in usufruct as an emergency measure to end the chronic shortage of food.[1] The result, however, has not been as expected, among other reasons because many producers are wary of an offer to work land that does not belong to them and that can be withdrawn at any time. On the other hand, for years the Cuban State has preferred to import billions of dollars worth of agricultural products, and in particular American products, instead of providing greater incentives and free markets to domestic producers.

The law governing distribution of land in usufruct allows great discretion and equally great uncertainty, as we can see reflected in some of the articles of the governing statute, Decree Law 259 [1]:

ARTICLE 6: The area to be given to each person in usufruct, be it a natural or legal person, is determined according to the potential labor force, the resources for production, the type of agricultural production for which the land will be destined, and the agricultural production capacity of the soils.

ARTICLE 14:  The termination of the usufruct granted to natural persons should be for the following reasons:
c) for ongoing breach of the production contract, previously determined by specialists;
f) for acts which would defeat the purpose for which the usufruct was granted;
h) revocation for reasons of public utility or social interest, expressly declared by resolution of the Minister of Agriculture or higher levels of government.

Workers clearing marabou weed infested land. Source: lettresdemontreal.wordpress.com

Subsequently, the Council of Ministers also approved the sale of houses and other measures related to housing properties [2]. These measures have been well below the actual needs of Cubans because in no case do they provide the ability to generate new housing stock, which is one of the most pressing problems facing Cuban society today. Also, they have recently rented some locations in a very poor state of repair to microbusinesses.

There are great similarities between the urban and rural scenarios in our country. Havana is not full of marabou weed, but there are thousands and thousands of dilapidated properties – many are complete ruins — and large areas of unoccupied land. The State alleges lack of resources to undertake restoration and construction of the housing stock and infrastructure, but these spaces constitute a wasted frozen capital that should be handed over to Cubans as soon as possible, for its fullest use. If we add to this the vacant land nationwide, we have a large number of urban and rural properties waiting to fulfill their social function.

The process of liberalizing property use and ownership should be initiated as soon as possible, not only for idle farmland but also for urban land and properties. It is essential to end the ambiguities with respect to the character of property, because this alone generates great inefficiency and corruption; property needs real owners. While the categories of owners in usufruct and tenancies may exist, there is no reason why that should be the basis for our economic structure. The existence of a legal framework that supports private property is a necessary condition for an economy that offers real opportunities to all participants.

This article first analyzes the different methods or liberalizing property ownership that were implemented in other countries, proposes an auction program that puts frozen resources at the service of Cubans, which would be extremely helpful right now, discusses the economic environment that must accompany these transformations, and offers some conclusions.

Foreign experiences in the liberalization of property ownership and their possible application in Cuba

A process of liberalization of property ownership undoubtedly touches highly sensitive fibers of the Cuban nation, inside and outside the island, and, therefore, facts and circumstances of the past and present must be carefully analyzed to achieve a broader consensus. Although it is necessary to undertake a thorough analysis of the issue of property related to State enterprises, in this paper we focus on addressing the case of idle lands and ruined properties.

In many countries, in recent decades, there have been processes of liberalization of property ownership, some with very encouraging results, while in others corruption, nepotism and patronage predominated. In the former Soviet Union, the process of liberalizing property ownership converted many members of the old government elite and dishonest individuals into new millionaires, creating great discontent and disillusionment among the population.

It is very important to understand the problems that have appeared in previous experiences and to evaluate the best options for our case. In the Eastern European countries, and in China and Vietnam, various mechanisms were applied; among the most popular were:

1) Restitution or compensation
2) Sale to the public
3) Sale to the employees
4) Sales en masse

As a first step it is essential to create institutions and rules to govern this complex process. To restart an economy in ruins, like ours, it is essential to guarantee a system of legitimate ownership. This will not be possible if a system of restitutions or compensations to the many owners who lost their properties due to unjust confiscations is not implemented in advance.

How did the process of claims function in the Eastern European countries?

“In East Germany two million claims were filed, cluttering up the courts for years and holding up thousands of construction projects and businesses because of the uncertainty of legal claims. Some restitutions occurred in the majority of the Central European countries, particularly of land and real estate, while restitutions for medium and large businesses were avoided.” [3]

In Hungary the law did not offer restitution, and primarily used compensation through government bonds that could be used to acquire shares in state enterprises as they were sold. [4]

Poland, for example, preferred compensation over restitution. Poles living abroad were eligible for restitution or compensation in the form of state bonds only if they adopted Polish citizenship and returned to Poland permanently to administer the reclaimed businesses and/or land. [5]

Each country had its own characteristics, and in our case it is very important to evaluate the great deficit in the housing stock and the majority of the population’s lack of capital to be able to participate in the purchase process. The issue is not only to liberalize property ownership, principally ruined and underutilized properties, but that this process truly yields a clear benefit and grows the economy of the country.

The experience of other countries tells us that these sales culminate in a short period, as people realize that this will be the only way to acquire properties relatively cheaply.

Let’s analyze each of these methods of privatization in more detail and look at how they could operate in the case of Cuba.

1) Restitution or compensation

The issue of restitutions in our country is controversial and unavoidable. For years there has been great controversy surrounding the claims and devolutions of the properties to owners whose ownership predated the year 1959. Gradually, some consensus is appearing, to shed light on a sensitive and delicate point.

We can separate these claims into two groups. The first group is those properties currently occupied by families, and the second is those properties that remain in the hands of the State.

As suggested by Professor Antonio Jorge:

“The right of permanent occupation for urban residential properties should be recognized in favor of the occupants or current residents. However, the former owners, as in the cases of other property, should be compensated” [6].

Teo A. Babun similarly agrees:

“Fortunately, most expatriate groups have recognized that the return of homes or residential properties is not feasible. The discussion can be restricted to non-residential properties. Looking beyond returning the properties, this simply means that any litigation would be limited to issues concerning the validity of the claims and the value of what was lost, and the compensation, if appropriate.” [7]

The economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe recommends:

“With respect to the return of property to former owners, we believe that the Cuban reality suggests different methods. First, in the case of dwellings, we are in favor of the mass granting of property, with all the responsibilities inherent in this, to those who are either the current lease holders or the people who enjoy the use of the property today without paying rent.

“With regards to the former owners, we agree that from the moral point of view the fairest approach would be to return these properties to their former owners, but given the time that has passed and the transformations in these properties, some of which no longer in exist, the best solution would be to pay these people, which could be done with bonds that could be used to purchase legal properties.” [8]

Property on the Malecon in Havana, reduced to a facade.

For his part, the economist Jorge Sanguinetty considers:

“The restoration of property rights in Cuba has two closely related aspects, restitution or compensation of old properties to their rightful owners and the creation of new properties. Both parts of the process represent the two poles of the recreation of the private sector of the economy, which would include the opening of new businesses and privatization of the state investments created by the revolutionary government, which were never private.

“This is a highly complex problem that ideally requires good prior preparation and a large administrative and executive capacity to permit rapid resolution of outstanding claims. If this problem is not resolved, the recovery of the Cuban economy could become significantly delayed because it would not have created the right environment to attract new investment to expand the productive capacities of the country and revive its economy.

“A group of properties that presents a special challenge is that of urban real estate, especially homes that were used for rental housing or housing direct for its owners that are now occupied by other families or individual tenants. It is obvious that the transition government cannot put all these people in the street at the time when it takes over an impoverished and indebted economy, and therefore one of the solutions that could be contemplated to recognize the property rights of prior owners is to provide instruments of debt, bonds or tax exemption certificates negotiable in the financial markets.” [9]

Compensations is a very useful method through which the government can make up for the damage to many original owners. Clearly, in our country, this method cannot be implemented without delays, given the serious economic constraints in which we live. But as the Cuban economy begins to open up there will be major opportunities to realize such compensations. However, there are methods such as exemption from taxes that could be effective in some cases, particularly where the investor is a former owner stripped of their property.

2) Sales to the public

Direct selling has two basic objectives. First, to increase State revenues, which currently are strongly depressed. Second, to immediately attract investors interested in jump-starting these underutilized assets, and bringing the know-how to do it.

It’s important to appreciate that Cubans living on the Island do not possess sufficient capital to buy property at current prices. Given that at the moment when sales begin there will be a lot on offer in an environment of scarce capital, prices should not reach very high levels, enabling many citizens to become owners of new spaces.

In this situation it is essential to contemplate the issue of corruption. In the former socialist block, foreigners and other buyers with suspect capital, such as corrupt officials, organized crime and new “men of business,” had the largest sums of money to participate in such sales.

Another important issue is the efficiency of the process, because the proceeds from the sales should never report more losses than gains to the government. The valuation agency created by the German government collected DM 50 billion through sales, and spent no less than DM 243 billion in the privatization process. [3] In that case the sales were heavily concentrated in businesses in the former East Germany.

3) Sales to employees

The sale of commercial space and services to employees at preferential prices is an option that is a priori attractive. However, it can create serious problems of corruption, especially when managers or executives are associated with some group in power that allowed them to obtain these personal benefits.

From a political standpoint this variant is popular among the population. But there are also some disadvantages, as the companies often have deficient management, given that the new conditions of a market economy differ radically from those of a centrally planned economy. The property rights may become diffuse and could be usurped by the directors.

In some countries, this was an administratively quick method of sale, but on the other hand the workers and directors blocked the process.

There are different possibilities, like that applied in Russia, where 20% of the shares were given to the directors, 40% to the employees, and the other 40% sold directly. [3]

4) Sales en masse

This method is implemented through the distribution of bonds or “vouchers,” for free or for a nominal price, which can be exchanged for shares of the companies or properties sold. This allows rapid sales, not only of medium but also large-sized businesses, and offers citizens the possibility to become new owners, which was widely accepted.

This form of release facilitates a major distribution of direct sales. However, due to the dispersed ownership, obstacles appeared in the direction and management of the companies.

In countries such as the Czechoslovakia investment funds were created, which were still closely linked to the State-owned banks making null, to a large extent, the final result of the process.

This building collapse in Havana killed 3 and left one more vacant site in the capital. Source: www.hispanicallyspeakingnews.com

Proposal to release idle lands and ruined properties

Our proposal seeks to make available as soon as possible spaces that represent frozen capital and that have been reduced, for years, to mere ruins, tenements full of rubble, or vacant land covered with marabou weed. These properties should have Cubans as the main beneficiaries, principally those living on the Island, although clearly they should be part of the attraction for foreign investors. Their exploitation will allow many other sectors to receive a strong impetus from the market that would be generated.

The cornerstone of the proposal is to auction all the vacant lands, as well as dilapidated or underutilized urban properties. The auction process can be planned in three consecutive steps:

a) Sale to nationals living in the country

b) Sale to nationals not living in the country

c) Sale to foreigners

Note: This method ends up being a mix of mass and direct sales.

Let’s look at some of the practical procedures it will be necessary to define:

1)     Create the appropriate committees, charged with organizing and executing this auction process.

2)     Develop a clear definition of the properties to be auctioned.

3)     Prepare a census of all the properties, tenements and land that may be subject to auction.

4)     Publish the properties and lands with their characteristics and minimum prices.

5)     Establish periods for each one of the three stages.

6)     Establish a limit, for the number of properties to acquire, and their dimensions and values.

7)     Publicize the date, as well as all the information related to the auctions. They will be hosted by municipalities and announced a minimum of 30 days in advance.

8)     Offer a special price to all those who now hold lands under usufruct.

9)     After the sale a database must be prepared with all the information regarding the sales and final price at auction. All this information should appear in physical copies as well as on the Internet.

10)  The entities responsible must keep control of all the income derived from the sales and the use of these funds in their communities.

Once citizens have the title deed of the property in their possession, they can sell the property acquired if they wish. This will allow them to obtain some capital immediately, which can be reinvested or used at their convenience.

Compensation must be established for all those whose were deprived of their properties unjustly, and the most effective methods for this process must be considered, assessing the economic conditions of the country. This compensation, as suggested by some experts, could range from cash to the granting of bonds and shares.

Environment for the full operation of the process

The creation of an enabling economic environment is a key factor to ensure that the process of releasing property has the desired effect. A new system of property ownership does not, in itself, constitute a guarantee of success for such transformations. Other factors are needed to guarantee that the market mechanisms function efficiently. To mention some of them:

1) Legal framework

The first aspect that must be prioritized is the creation of a legal framework that guarantees full rights of ownership. It should create mechanisms for the quick transfer of property titles. Another aspect that should be given special attention is not to allow the process to become, in one way or another, a piñata used by influential groups, such as government officials, leaders of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), or chiefs of the Cuban military apparatus.

Laws must also be established that guarantee a competitive market. It is important that the new entrepreneurs can fully develop the potential of the newly acquired properties.

2) Financial market

The creation of a financial market is an essential element for the development of a modern economy. It is important to create an agency charged with the sales process that displays each transaction in a transparent way, as well as the final destination of the funds received by the government.

It is necessary to begin with the granting of credits to new microenterprises. State companies should not provide soft credits, which hinder the growth of the incipient private sector. The use of soft credits could encourage alarming levels of inefficiency and corruption.

3) Infrastructure

The State must free up the issuance of licenses for manufacturing, and end its monopoly on the production of construction materials, which would ensure that the real estate sector would take off. It must end the monopoly on imports and exports and liberalize these sectors. This would allow a new market to be supplied with products lacking in the national market, materials which are indispensable to jump-start construction.

On the other hand, it is important to stress that this entire process must be undertaken with due respect for the norms of urban planning.

The liberalizing of these resources would be an initial step to begin to reverse the state of deterioration suffered by an immense number of buildings throughout the country. There is an urgent need to at least halt the advanced state of destruction of the national infrastructure. The resources acquired by the State in this sales process should be used immediately for this purpose.

4) Transparency

Transparency has become an essential element of contemporary societies. It is vital that citizens have full knowledge of and participation in a process of such transcendence as a change in the structure of ownership. Mechanisms should be created so that citizens have all the data on the properties and lands sold.

The use of new technologies is a recourse that can play a very important role in this transparency. Unlike 20 years ago, when there was no Internet, today it is possible to consult, from a private computer, all the data pertaining to governments and their institutions; this, without a doubt, greatly reduces the levels of corruption.

5) Tax system

A modern tax system is an essential element that guarantees not only that the State can receive the necessary resources to maintain its social obligations, but also that it will not put the brakes on the growth of the new entrepreneurial sector.

The taxes must be reasonable and easy to pay, and tax evasion must not become the norm. An interesting example of a tax system was implemented in Estonia after its separation from the former Soviet Union, when it adopted a uniform tax of 26%.

Conclusions

The cornerstone of any reform in our country should be the transition to a democracy and the reestablishment of all individual rights. The economic transformations should be directed to stimulate private initiative. It is essential to prevent small corporate groups from being able to exercise a monopoly on the Cuban market, which would accentuate the exhaustion and pessimism within Cuban society, risking a worsening of the grave social problems already facing us.

Every entrepreneur should be able to use the tools of a free market economy, otherwise the failure of the reforms is predestined. To think of a transformation in the style of China, in which political rights are of no importance, makes no sense in our country. Cuba should not be seen as a maquiladora – a country of off-shore factories employing low cost labor.

The new "self-employed" in Cuba. Source: www.primaveradigital.org

The economic transformations should be directed to create a new sector of micro, small, medium and large enterprises. It is unacceptable to continue to live in conditions or penury and ruin, when the country has the necessary potential to be a prosperous and thriving nation. The economy has to be immediately open to the productive sector and to make this happen the property ownership system needs to be fully implemented.

To ensure a greater distribution of wealth it is essential that Cubans hold their respective titles, which creates the possibility of granting credits among other benefits. In parallel, it is necessary to create a financing system that allows taking advantage of the process of liberalization. This, by itself, does not guarantee economic growth if the appropriate economic environment is not developed.

If Cubans do not have the opportunity to acquire these dilapidated properties, empty tenements and idle lands, we can expect that in a not-too-distant future they will be negotiated in a non-transparent way with large businesses without any bidding process. In this case we will see a vast majority of Cubans playing the role only of spectators, left completely outside the scheme of property ownership. Experiences elsewhere show that in these cases the bribery of state officials ends the legitimate yearnings of the population to possess some capital or property, to enter the new market reality, and this can lead directly to a failed transition.

The new "self-employed" in Cuba. Source:blog.mycubanstore.com/

On the other hand, the type of social dynamic that the current government is generating in the short, medium and long terms should be looked at with particular concern. The currently authorized forms of “self-employment” only allow Cubans to participate in marginal third-world-style activities such as street hawking, food preparation, kiosks selling schlock goods, and other micro-enterprises. With the exception of bed-and-breakfasts and small family restaurants – which do serve tourists, but at the margin – none of these activities link to any of the profit centers of the economy, nor are they supported by wholesale markets, and they do not have connections of any kind to global commerce, all of which remain in the hands of the State and, significantly, in the hands of the Revolutionary Armed Forces.

Furthermore, street vending and similar “professions” are an extension of the existing informal sector – i.e. black market – already overdeveloped as a survival strategy in our country. It is important to bet our future on well-developed fully established businesses that can support an entrepreneurial class and a broad tax base, rather than grow an army of tax evaders.

Thus, the current track is an extremely negative policy, designed to keep Cubans permanently at the margins of the country’s economy. Studies in other countries demonstrate the deleterious impacts of this type of economy.[10]

We should all be very aware that whatever path is followed at the current moment will generate the economic structure of our economy for years to come. We have the resources and the human capital to have a “first-world” economy, why shouldn’t we create one?

Bibliography

1) Decree Law 259. Official Gazette No. 024. 2008.
2) Decree Law 288. Extraordinary Official Gazette No. 035 of November 2, 2011.
3) Aslund, Anders. Building Capitalism. Cambridge University Press.
4) Property Compensation Law to take effect in Hungary, BNA International Business August, 1991.
5) Sariego, Jose M and Gutierrez, Nicolas J. Righting Wrongs Old Survey of Restitution Schemes for Possible Application for a Democratic Cuba to. April 2, 1989, p.1.
6) Jorge Antonio. Privatización, reconstrucción y desarrollo socioeconómico en la Cuba post-Castro (Privatization, reconstruction and economic development in post-Castro Cuba).
7) Babun, Teo A. Preliminary study of the Impact of the Privatization of State-owned Enterprises in Cuba.
8) Espinosa Chepe, Oscar. La situación actual de la economía cubana y la posible utilización de la experiencia eslovaca en el tránsito a una economía de mercado  (The current situation of the Cuban economy and the possible use of the Slovak experience in the transition to a market economy).
9) Sanguinetty, Jorge. Cuba realidad y destino (Cuba reality and destiny). Editorial Universal.
10) Perez Calderon, Rebecca. Algunas consideraciones sobre el comercio informal en la Ciudad de México (Some thoughts on informal trade in Mexico City).