The Unforgivable Crime of Confronting Cubans on Two Sides

This Tuesday, in Havana, the National Revolutionary Police was preventing passage in the areas surrounding the Capitol, as a measure against the anti-government protests of recent days. (EFE / Yander Zamora)

14ymedio biggerThe streets of Centro Habana are overrun with policemen and paramilitaries disguised as civilians. I can easily identify them: the experience of years living under the harassment of surveillance leaves in the harassed the sad ability to discover the hyenas, no matter how hard they try to blend into the urban landscape.

Political police officers swarm on their Suzuki motorcycles which, far from concealing their presence, make them known instead. They want to be seen, they show haughty faces, an arrogant attitude and a great desire to be feared. I am not afraid of them. They are the ones who should feel afraid.

Under the summer heat, common people circulate through portals, line up at stores and fill the buses like any other day. But below the surface, nothing is normal anymore. You do not feel the usual vibe, the ease, the eternal street chatter among Cubans, whether they know each other or not. There is a feeling of anxiety in this silence, or better, in this strange non-dialogue, so alien to us. I am struck by so much silence in people who are usually outgoing, loquacious and chatty.

It is a deceptive silence because continue reading

, in poor neighborhoods like this one, with decades of accumulated shortages and frustrations, is just where popular revolts are forged

It is a deceptive silence because, in poor neighborhoods like this one, with decades of accumulated shortages and frustrations, is just where popular revolts are forged, which broke out on Sunday, July 11th and continue to take place, despite all the disproportionate repressive deployment, riot troops included.

Patrols circulate along Avenida Carlos III with their sirens at full throttle, followed by caravans of repudiators that the Government sends to beat and repress the rebels. They carry sticks tied to their wrists to lash out at the unarmed protesters.

It’s a sad spectacle, to see these Cubans, also poor and deprived of rights, so willing to crush their brothers with hatred and violence just to defend the privileges of the members of the power class, the ones that oppress and humiliate everyone equally. Nothing will save them tomorrow from such shame.

Since Sunday I feel that we are inhabiting a different city, a different country. The scab of fear has cracked and fear has been transferred to power, its henchmen and scribes.

Now the puppet on duty, the jockey of continuity, has committed the unforgivable crime of inciting violence, confronting the Cubans on two sides and, what is worse, has stained his hands with blood.

It is a pity that, with all this, the so-called president has ruined the opportunity to dialogue with the people, who have so generously offered him many civil society voices to seek a way out of the crisis and have him lead the essential process of change. One could not imagine greater ineptness.

Translated by Norma Whiting


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Cuba’s New Bank Resolution: More Shadows than Lights / Miriam Celaya

A line in front of a bank in Havana. (File photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 June 2021 — An informative note from the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC) presented on Cuban TV’s  Roundtable program this Thursday, June 10, announced the temporary suspension of US dollar deposits in Cuban banks by individuals and legal entities.

As expressed in the note, this measure, which will go into effect on June 21, is “necessary for the protection of the banking system” and will affect cash, but not accounts in freely convertible currency (MLC), which will be able to continue receiving US dollars from abroad. The provision does not affect other currencies such as the Euro, Canadian dollars, Pounds Sterling, etc., in which deposits and other transactions can continue.

Presentations on the subject were given by Carlos Fernández de Cossío, Director General of the US Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; Marta Sabina Wilson González, Minister President of the BCC, and the Vice Minister Yamilé Berra Cires. None of the interventions sufficiently clarified the implementation of this new edict. continue reading

Resolution 176 of the BCC is based on the impossibility of depositing physical US dollars in international banks in Cuba due to the restrictions imposed by the “extraterritorial nature of the blockade,” which makes it increasingly difficult to find banking institutions that will allow Cuba to carry out transactions in that currency.

According to Fernández de Cossío, with the tightening of the blockade applied by the Trump administration since 2017, but with greater force since 2019, “the US seeks to depress income and generate hunger and misery” in order to achieve a social outbreak that will do away with the Revolution. The emphasis on affecting the financial sector, laments the official, “has had surgical precision,” with “devastating impact.”

The official maintains that the limitation of remittances since 2019 and the suppression of the institutional channels to process them -he refers directly to the express prohibition of conducting of US dollar transactions through FINCIMEX — turns it into cash arrivals in Cuba, introduced by Cuban and foreign travelers, which causes a “disproportionate” circulation in that currency without being able to give it its due course.

The matter is confusing, especially considering the pernicious lack of liquidity that Cuban authorities often complain about, which was the reason given for the controversial opening of MLC-operating stores. Now it turns out that the “blockade” has generated an accumulation of dollars in Cuba which the government alleges it has no way to process.

According to Minister Wilson, an accumulation of physical money has been created that is without value because it cannot be circulated; “No foreign trade operation can be carried out with it.” She says that “the incisive effect on the financial system” and the loss of counterpart foreign banks is an additional damage caused by the US blockade against Cuban banks. “Placing Cuban entities on a black list implied the limitation of transactions with those entities”, she points out. Therefore, “people must understand that we have no other option” than the application of this resolution.

June 20 was established as the deadline for the public to make dollar deposits. It was also announced that the application of the new provision is temporary and that it will not result in penalties for holding dollars.

The duration of this measure, insists Wilson, “will depend on the duration of the restrictions imposed by the United States on Cuba,” which leaves the alleged “sovereignty” that the Island’s government authorities boast so much about in very bad standing.

For her part, Vice Minister Yamilé Berra was in charge of another array of calamities suffered by the Cuban banking system from the pressures established by Trump, which “Biden has kept intact.” Among them, he mentioned the conclusion of operations with Cuba on the part of 35 foreign banks, 12 of which were fined hefty multimillion-dollar fines under the Helm-Burton Act.

Berra also stated that, as part of the measures implemented since 2017 by the Trump administration, Cuban banking messaging system was canceled and several banking services have been closed operationally, including messaging and correspondent codes, and the refusal to accept Cuban operations using letters of credit.

“In 2020 alone, there were more than 190 actions by foreign banks against Cuban banks,” declared the vice minister, who regrets that Cuba is considered a risky country for these banks, a rating that has the “blockade” as one of its reasons. The official did not refer to other possible reasons -such as the recurrent defaults on the overwhelming debt- for the existence of such reserves against the Cuban banks.

In short, the statements by government officials on the Roundtable program, far from being enlightening, left many unanswered questions, in addition to omitting some questions of great interest. It would have been interesting to know if the non-acceptance of US dollars by Cuban banks includes the suppression of their purchase in the CADECAs at the rate of 24 x 1, given that this entity is part of the same financial system. It is assumed that the dollars collected by the CADECAs would also accumulate in bank vaults and thus lose their user value.

Another question corresponds to the statement of the CADECA management, a few weeks ago, about its lack of liquidity to change the national currency into foreign currency, as in cases of visitors who return to their countries of origin and try to get rid of the CUP. It turns out that — and is contradictory at a minimum — in a country where vaults are full of dollars that cannot be given their user value, it is not possible by a financial entity created for that purpose to exchange currency.

Nor can we ignore the possibility that the new resolution of the BCC has the unconfessed purpose of suppressing, or, at least, of limiting, the rampant illegal market of currencies, of which the most present is indeed the US dollar, a market that, among other secondary evils, encourages the development of illegal trade with products that are sold exclusively in MLC stores.

For the moment, in the days to come, corresponding reactions to these illicit activities should take place, typical of economies in crisis, as the Cuban case has been for decades. It is to be expected that the value of the dollar will tend to fall — at present it is around 70 CUP — while the Euro should rise considerably.

Attention, Cubans, new distortions are coming.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Endless Drama of the Cuban Rafters, Where Are the Causes?

Cuban rafters intercepted by the US Coast Guard October, 2020. Photo Coast Guard

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, 8 June 2021 —  On January 12th, 2017, when Barack Obama, the then outgoing president, repealed the dry feet/wet feet policy that had been in force since 1995 — a result of immigration agreements between the US and Cuba after the Balseros Crisis (1994) — Cuban authorities considered that decision as “an important step” for the advancement of relations between both governments. In addition, Raúl Castro, then Cuban president, gave himself credit for the event as a result of the secret negotiations that his government had held with the northern neighbor for more than a year.

It should be noted that, though years ago the Cuban side had accepted in principle the conditions proposed by the Clinton administration regarding the return of migrants who were intercepted at sea, it had previously refused to do so. Since 1995, the Cuban dictatorship had insistently spoken out against the existence of that policy that, it claimed, encouraged illegal migrations from the Island, putting the lives of thousands of Cubans at risk while causing a “brain drain.”

For their part, Cubans living in and outside of Cuba reacted virulently against what they considered Obama’s flagrant betrayal, despite the fact that visas had multiplied under his government and that the entry of Cuban migrants to the US had increased, especially since the announcement of the reestablishment of relations between our two countries raised the fear — not entirely unfounded — of losing the immigration privileges Cubans had enjoyed, including the Adjustment Act, in force since 1966. continue reading

As a reference, it should be noted that in fiscal year 2015-2016 alone, about 47,000 Cubans arrived in the United States, doubling the number who had arrived in the previous fiscal year.

But, although the repeal of the wet-foot/dry-foot policy meant a severe setback for tens of thousands of Cubans, whose maximum aspiration was (and is) to settle in the United States, and despite the fact that the first impact, while not eliminating it completely, did manage to considerably reduce the flow of rafters from Cuba, the truth is that, since the beginning of 2021, the trend of escaping from Cuba by sea is increasing.

Figures don’t lie. In 2018, a total of 259 Cubans were intercepted at sea, while the figure rose to 313 in 2019. In 2020 — at the start of the pandemic — there was a pause, when only 49 Cubans were captured in their vessels, while so far in 2021 that number has increased more than six times, with 323 rafters trapped so far.

The drama of this migratory flow is accompanied by a heavy dose of tragedy and death, which is why it continues to make headlines in numerous international media. The shipwreck of a boat with 20 Cubans on board was recently revealed. Two of them were found dead, floating at sea, 10 disappeared and only eight survived, rescued by US Coast Guard vessels, so that, eventually, the culmination of their sacrifice will be to face almost certain deportation to Cuba.

The increase in the illegal exodus by sea despite the fact that Cubans no longer have the prerogative that allowed them to remain in the United States legally and access permanent residence just by being able to touch that country’s territory (dry feet), and the evidence that they prefer to assume the uncertainty of living under undocumented status, just like the rest of the millions of illegal immigrants of other nationalities in that great nation, confirm that the causes that also compel Cubans to face the dangerous journey by sea, risking their lives in pursuit of a dream that not everyone manages to achieve, rest exclusively on the failure of the sociopolitical system imposed in Cuba more than six decades ago, in the permanent economic crisis derived from it, in the absence of freedoms and rights, as well as the repression inherent to the dictatorial regime.

Meanwhile, against the grain of the most elementary common sense that indicates that no one would escape from a country where everything is fine, where a Revolution was “made for the humble,” where social justice prevails and opportunities for a better life abound, Cuban authorities, alienated to the reality that is revealed before everyone’s  eyes, and with its intrinsic cynicism, continue to point to the Adjustment Act, the embargo and the “provocations” of the different US administrations as the causes that motivate the escapes.

But the indisputable truth is that the Cuban rafters, hostages of politics on both sides of the Straits of Florida and a bone of contention between extreme positions, are a direct result of the Castro Regime. It’s a sad chapter, unknown to our pre-1959 history. The escapes have existed since the first years of the “Revolution,” the rafters crossed the waters of the Florida Strait even before the existence of the Adjustment Act and the policy of wet-foot/dry-foot, and they will continue to exist and surrender to the uncertain fate of the unpredictable Caribbean as long as there is a dictatorship that prevents all of us from manufacturing our own dream of prosperity and democracy in Cuba. There is no alternative.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Foreign Correspondents in Cuba: The Fascination with the Dictatorship / Miriam Celaya

A conference at the International Press Center in Havana (Photo: CPI / Twitter)

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, Havana, 2 June 2021 — One of the most effective pillars that has helped to cement the legend of the “good Cuban dictatorship” has been the work of not a few accredited foreign press correspondents in Havana.

It is not something new. Since New York Times journalist Herbert Matthews’ crush on Fidel Castro in 1957, when he interviewed the guerrilla leader in the Sierra Maestra, many reporters have succumbed to the mythology (and mythomania, it should be added) of the Castro revolution.

Perhaps dazzled by the color and heat of the tropics, the cheerful carefreeness of Cubans, the beauty of the beaches, the refreshing taste of mojitos and the comfort of what, more than the work of being a correspondent, turns out to be a perennial state of paid vacations, the truth is that most of these foreign reporters are more interested in not upsetting the Cuban dictatorial power than in honoring the professional commitment to objectively narrate the reality of what is happening on the Island.

It is not surprising, then, that several press media, among the best known and most prestigious at the international level, echo the supposed technological and scientific advances that are produced in Cuba thanks to the high level reached by Cuban specialists in the shadow of the “Revolution,” or that they don’t extend themselves in praise over the imaginary social security and quality of health care enjoyed by the inhabitants of this Island either, and that they even tear their clothes off against the forever-villain: the US government, with its most deadly weapon, the “blockade,” which has prevented us from reaching greater heights in all categories and occupying our rightful place on the world stage. continue reading

The most recent installment of this type of half-truth journalism – all the more harmful because it selects a fragment of reality but show only one of its faces – is a column authored by Mauricio Vicent, published in the Spanish newspaper El País, dated May 31st, whose sole title (“Cuba and the United States Return to Times of Confrontation”) constitutes an inexplicable slip by such an experienced writer, given that the confrontation between the Cuban authorities and the United States government has not only been a constant, with brief and scant intervals of truce during the last 62 years, but constitutes the backbone of the foreign policy of the Castro dictatorship and its heirs of today, pledged to “continuity.”

To such an extent, it is of capital importance for the Palace of the Revolution to keep the confrontation embers and the “imperialist enemy” burning, because without this it is not possible to conceive the very survival of the dictatorship, as was definitely demonstrated during the thaw period prompted by the Obama Administration, when Cuban authorities hastily backed off from the dangerous effect of openness and détente offered by the powerful northern neighbor.

Mauricio Vicent, correspondent for the Spanish newspaper El País in Cuba (Photo: El País)

The avalanche of unilateral measures by Obama, which made the embargo more flexible with the intention of favoring the nascent sector of entrepreneurs and Cuban society as a whole, was capitalized on by Havana to establish itself in power without taking real steps towards the freedoms and rights of Cuban citizens. This is a reality that Vicent, who has lived in Cuba for over 20 years, should know by heart. However, his article is not only biased, but chooses to openly attack the new US president, Joe Biden, and side with the Cuban regime.

What is Vicent accusing Biden of? First, of having spent five months at the helm of the US government and having lifted “not a single of the 240 measures adopted by Trump to intensify the embargo” as if the Cuban issue had to be a priority for a foreign president, particularly for the American one, and as if the Cuban side did not have to make any internal moves to try to improve the situation in our own country.

But Biden’s bag of sins is bulkier than that. The El País columnist seems to be irritated both by “Washington’s reproaches” for the human rights situation in Cuba and by the fact that the current US Administration has kept Cuba on the black list of governments that sponsor terrorism or are not doing enough in the fight against this scourge.

To support the position of the Cuban side, Vicent cites the fiery reactions of the Cuban Foreign Ministry, with an arsenal of phrases and cumbersome adjectives which he uncritically seems to agree with, to conclude that “every day returns to the fierce rhetoric from the Trump era, and Obama’s normalization is no longer talked about…”

In order not to skimp on quotes, Vicent also makes use of the American academic William Leogrande, who recalls Joe Biden’s support for Obama’s open-minded policy towards Cuba when Biden was his vice president, plus his campaign promise about resuming the dialogue between the two governments, whose stagnation Leogrande attributes to an unresolved debate that would be taking place between the forces in favor of the policy of rapprochement and those who prefer to maintain pressure on the Cuban dictatorship.

So far, it could be said that Vicent’s position is valid: each one with his own political sympathies, only that you would expect more objectivity from him as a journalist. Because, while his article gives voice and place to the Cuban and US authorities – obviously in favor of the former – at the same time, he conveniently avoids including the claims of dissident artists and activists, whom he does mention in the column.

So, when he speaks of the forced transfer of Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara to the hospital, where he spent “almost four weeks as an isolated in-patient,” Vicent fails to allege that it was actually a kidnapping and that this isolation included the artist’s abduction, prevented from having any contact with his friends and colleagues from the San Isidro Movement, deprived of his phone and possibly subjected to medical or other practices not authorized by Otero himself. Vicent also avoids mentioning the illegal arrests, house confinements and police harassment of activists and dissidents, or of all the violent events related to the hunger strike and the subsequent kidnapping of Otero.

Prodigal in epithets when it comes to condemning the US government, he seems to suffer a sudden language impoverishment when he refers to the flagrant human rights violations in Cuba, as if the existence of the much-used “US blockade” – which undeniably affects everyone – justifies police repression and lack of rights of Cubans.

It goes without saying that this journalist doesn’t make any critical mention either – I don’t remember his ever having made it – of the internal blockade of the dictatorship toward Cuban nationals, of the discrimination implanted by the government both towards Cubans who have access to hard currency and those who do not, of the new provisions that force Cuban travelers to pay in dollars for their stay in isolation centers and transportation to their places of residence when they return from a trip abroad, among countless other perversions that have nothing to do with the embargo.

But the greatest offense is that this correspondent, like a sounding board for the official discourse, attributes a political handicap to us Cubans, as if we were a herd, incapable of claiming rights on our own. Perhaps because of that colonial mentality that permeates many children of the old metropolis settled comfortably in Cuba, because of that congenital resentment towards the United States or simply because the hierarchs of the regime also have in their hands the power to keep them in Cuba or to allow them to leave, this foreign correspondent joins others in the assumption that all of us who stand up to the dictatorial power are responding to an agenda imposed on us by Washington.

Everyday Cubans and dissidents, those of us who are actually suffering from both the pressures of the embargo and the repression and twists and turns of the dictatorship, don’t even figure as political subjects in Vicent’s imagination. Reduced to a simple uncomfortable reference, he doesn’t recognize in us the capacity nor the right. His reductionist proposal, which only conceives of the Biden Administration and the Cuban dictatorship as debaters in the solution of the Cuban crisis, mimics the same position that Cubans faced at the end of the 1898 war, when they were excluded from agreements between defeated Spain and victorious U.S.

Vicent concludes that the “blockade” and US politics show that Cuba and Cubans are not interested in the US, and this may be true. Though, at this point he failed to say that he does not care about us either – in short, a foreigner whose stay among us depends on the benefits of the regime – or, what is worse, on the elite that has held the dictatorial power in Cuba for more than six decades.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Electronic Commerce in Cuba, Another Gordian Knot

Photo: Cubadebate

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 March 2021 ─ On March 22nd, the official Cubadebate website has published an analysis on electronic commerce in Cuba one year after the implementation of the TuEnvío platform. Despite the forced omissions imposed by the dictatorship’s orders to its spokespersons, the article recognizes some of the numerous problems that weigh down this “new” service to nationals, although the author, Oscar Figueredo Reinaldo, washes his hands of possible indictments by pointing to the “blockade”, the global economic crisis and the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration as the root causes of the inefficiency of virtual stores: insufficient supply.

Among the successes of the TuEnvío state platform, which promotes sales of the CIMEX and Caribbean chains, is that with this option the crowds of the eternal queues in each store in the country are avoided, with the consequent risk of multiplying contagion and expansion of the disease. In the text, mention is made of elements that have been introduced to improve the platform, such as the acquisition of new equipment in order to improve network traffic, readjustment of shopping hours and reduction of delivery times and (supposedly) a greater stability of the offer.

However, these improvements are not reflected in the experience of users, among whom a “collective sense of frustration and disappointment” predominates. For these, in addition to technology inefficiency, the main obstacle lies in the gap between the growing demand of the population and insufficient store supplies. continue reading

This tends to be confirmed in the data provided by CIMEX executives through other media, and that in the reference article reflects a decline in the delivery of between 5,000 and 6,000 daily modules of food and sanitary items in relation to last October, despite the fact that, at that time, the daily dispatch (20,000 modules) far from satisfied the platform’s registered customer demand, which currently amounts to approximately 800,000.

Other problems are added to the limitations of the offering, that are reasons for recurring complaints by customers. These are related to technological failures, such as page instability, connection drops, saturation, emptying of the “shopping carts” before having completed the cycle, disappearance of some items after they have been selected, as well as the practice of imposing “combos” that forces customers to purchase products that they do not want or need as a part of a package. Frequent difficulties with banking service are also reported through the Transfermóvil application, to which national cards are attached.

Of course, in the analysis of yore, the complaint against hoarders and resellers is ever present and has become an obligatory reference in all official press releases related to real or virtual trade, as if said phenomenon were the cause and not the consequence of the chronic shortages of food and other basic necessities, a phenomenon typical of a highly unproductive and incompetent economic system.

A line stretches into the night (Photo by the author)

Thus, with exquisite “ingenuity”, the author discovers that “the battle to acquire scarce hygiene and food products has shifted to online spaces”, generating the resurgence of a “parallel market” (of hoarders), which implies resales at higher prices which “affects the pockets of millions of Cubans and defeats the government’s efforts to increase the quality of life of the population by increasing wages.”

Thus, this communicator ─ who is not by chance the Editorial Coordinator of Cubadebate and a regular journalist on the Roundtable television program, who has special permission to make moderate “criticisms” of the national reality ─ seems to ignore that the resale of scarce products has not only always existed among us, but has also been perfected and diversified to the extent that the shortages suffered by the population and the inability of the State to satisfy them have both multiplied, so the underground market (which is not “parallel”) has not “moved” to online spaces, but has expanded from real to virtual space, beyond the intended righteousness of a government whose most palpable show of goodwill towards its people is also the unstoppable increase in official prices, much higher than the artificial rise in wages and pensions of Cubans from the overhyped (un)-Ordering Task.

What Cubadebate qualifies as a return to “feudal times”, endorsed in the exchange (barter) and “trading of merchandise by online groups” is the appropriate response to the reality of a feudal economy driven by a government that stubbornly refuses to move towards the inevitable: an opening towards the freedoms of vernacular entrepreneurs and national commerce that increases production, sanitizes the internal economy and satisfies those market demands that do not depend on imports and that have nothing to do with the hackneyed U.S. “blockade”.

(Photo by the author)

Meanwhile, in recent times an interesting phenomenon has been registered in relation to an evident change in attitude of Cubans, who have gone from acceptance to criticism, as can be seen in the comments of the forum members on the pages of the official press, and whose interventions are much more revealing and realistic than the complicit texts of the scribes of the Castro press. The stubborn reality shows that you cannot have an entire people deceived all the time, and even less so in this era of the Internet and social networks.

Increasingly irreverence, questioning and mockery are the popular response to the disrespect of the regime and its scribes, as sealed in the case at hand with the satirical comment of one of the forum members: “TuEnvío seems very good to me, the whole day to shop, you don’t eat but are entertained”. Let that sentence function in summarizing the perception that Cubans have about electronic commerce one year after its implementation on the Island.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“To Leave Cuba”: The True Spontaneity of Young Students / Miriam Celaya

Cuban University Students. (Archive Photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 February 2021 — Almost a year after the interruption of classes at Cuban universities in March 2020, as an extreme measure to prevent the advance of the coronavirus pandemic in Cuba, the Ministry of Higher Education (MES) issued Resolution 3 of 2021 on January 22. The resolution establishes the “general guidelines for the beginning and development of undergraduate and postgraduate academic activities in the academic year 2021” —which begins February 1— matching “each territory’s epidemiology situation”.

Among the provisions of the aforementioned Resolution, the following stands out: prevalence given to the “incorporation of students to the necessary impact tasks, with priority in facing the pandemic …” rather than to teaching activities and the training of future professionals within each specialty.

The document in question insists on what it calls “actions of community impact, as part of the training of comprehensive, competent professionals, with ideological political firmness and committed to the Revolution”, with which the instrument of pressure on young university students is enshrined to use as pawns in the new “battle”, this time against an invisible and potentially lethal enemy, the coronavirus.

Paradoxically, the shutting down of the Universities last March took place, at least in word, to keep students away from possible contagion and control the epidemic, at a time when the number of positive cases was extremely low. For example, official figures for March 23rd, 2020, showed a total of 40 cases since the disease was declared in Cuba (on March 11th), of which 5 were the positive cases detected the day before, and of those cases, only three were Cubans.

Today, however, the situation is much more complex. In one week between Monday, February 8, and Sunday, February 14, 5,458 new positive cases of COVID-19 were reported throughout the country, 2,847 of them in Havana, where the largest portion of the population resides, and where thousands of families live in numerous communities in conditions of poverty and overcrowding.

How, then, is it possible to explain that the current resurgence in cases prevents the start of face-to-face classes in university classrooms, but at the same time require students to join the so-called “impact tasks”, which include support in isolation centers and community polyclinics, investigations into the orderliness of the massive lines outside the markets as part of the famous “Fight Against Coleros* and Hoarders”, with all the risk of contagion that this implies? continue reading

A meeting with several students from Havana’s Enrique José Varona Higher Academic Institute demonstrates what their opinion is on this point and others, contained in Resolution 3/21 of the MES. All of them have been receiving peremptory messages from their “teacher guides” to join the aforementioned “impact tasks”, under warning of being “analyzed” by the Dean’s Office and suffering the corresponding retaliation, which in the most rebellious of cases could include dismissal from the University.

Leannis, a Spanish-Literature Faculty 3rd year student, indicates that the students in her group were instructed to connect to a common “Telegram” thread through which the lead teacher would give them the necessary information about where they should go in the municipality where each resides to receive the corresponding “task”. The municipal institution would also certify their performance.

“There is a high number (of students) who have resisted going, although it is said that they will be paid more than a thousand pesos (CUP), but that money does not warrant the risk. Now a process of analysis of individual attitudes is taking place and there will be sanctions and notes on the student’s record. But there is a lot of disagreement because nobody asked us if we were willing to make that sacrifice… Because it is a sacrifice!”, she reasons.

“To them we are soldiers, so they give us orders as if we were a troop in a war. I’ve already done a year of military service and I don’t have to take orders, even less from a civilian!”, Francis intervenes. He is also in his third year, although in a different faculty, and he is one of those who is reluctant to take on the “impact task”.

Very upset, he shows me a WhatsApp thread on his mobile phone through which his guide teacher and other teachers from the faculty communicate. Threats against those who refuse to “join in the work” are frequent, laying naked young people’s “spontaneity” so much touted by the official media.

“Bear in mind that if you are predisposed, it will be worse… All revolutionary students have joined” (and it is already known that universities are “for revolutionaries”), “be consistent with what concerns you, lamentations will come later.”

“You are not required to attend to give support in these tasks, but everyone knows what is best for you in this case… you have what other countries don’t have, be grateful and you will be able to attain your career… the impact tasks will be measured and evaluated as one more subject… let’s call ourselves a chapter, don’t take this as a scolding, or a much less as a threat” …are some of the messages from teachers to young people that can be read in the thread.

“They also told us that we should donate blood,” adds Vanessa, a 3rd year Spanish student. “I don’t know how they say in the government media that ‘everything is guaranteed’ and now they ask us for blood because ‘there is a national emergency…’ There are many things that are not understood, they are not being clear and they are not telling us everything… I’m even afraid”.

Two other fellow members are more withdrawn, afraid to express themselves, but end up being infected by their peers. “What worries me the most is that last year ended with practical work in some subjects and in others with a ‘shutting down for performance’, which was in consideration for the teachers, without debate or consultation. They sent us a note, period. We finished 2nd year without completing the course syllabus and continue the same or worse”, says Igor, in his 3rd year of the Art Faculty.

“I want to be a good teacher”, Leannis intervenes, “but we all come with a very bad base due to the low level of education we had in elementary, secondary and high school. Now it is worse, because in that Resolution it is said that we must develop ‘self-management of knowledge’, ‘autonomous learning’ and other things that can only be done when we have a bibliography, Internet access, digital content and other guarantees that most Cuban students do not have. Everything looks very nice in the document but in real life we know that only those who have families with resources can learn and take proficiency tests because they can buy cards to connect to the Internet, download information and get bibliographies. The rest of us have only a study guide and a list of sources, but no books or megabytes. I feel very frustrated”.

Once again, as is often the case with everything legislated in Cuba, the aforementioned Resolution is no more than another manifesto of intentions, the kind written by a group of satisfied technocrats with the sole purpose of showing public opinion how concerned the political power is about the new generations’ education which, in truth, has no relation to the vital reality of these young people and the majority of Cubans.

Meanwhile, frustration and uncertainty are the feelings that predominate in my interviewees. They do not have the solution; they feel that they are wasting their time and know in advance that they are condemned to the same mediocrity that ended up swallowing their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. That is why, when I asked them the last and provocative question: “what, then, is your best expectation in this scenario?” I was not surprised by an answer as heartbreaking as it was firm and unanimous: “For us to leave Cuba, the sooner the better”.

*Translator’s note: Coleros are people who are paid by others to stand in line for them (as it is not unusual for lines to be hours long, or even days).

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban Fable about “The Four Cats*”

Cuban San Isidro Movement in Miami, archival photo

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 December 2020 — There is no doubt that Cubans are experiencing unusually intense days. The last days of November, and especially the repressive onslaught against the barracks of the San Isidro Movement (MSI) that caused the November 27th sit-in before the Ministry of Culture (MINCULT), marked an important milestone in the tense relations between Cuba’s 60-year-old dictatorial power and the independent civil society: for the first time a group of freethinking citizens forced the authorities to listen to them, face to face.

The openly threatening, even confrontational and belligerent response that the dictatorship maintains through its press monopoly against this sector of artists, independent journalists and activists, not only is in sharp contrast with the peaceful – though firm – mood of the latter, but also contradicts the official thesis of “the four cats*” [i.e. a handful of people], with which they try to minimize the just claims of the plaintiffs.

The attack against the MSI and the November 27th demonstrators has been fiercely sustained and particularly mendacious, following the old matrix of disqualification and slander that has been applied to dissidents and opponents of any political hue. This time, however, the dictatorship has raised the tone to unthinkable heights by claiming the supposedly legitimate right – guaranteed in the new Constitution approved a little over a year ago, when the elite of the Palace of the Revolution already knew what was coming to them – to confront with weapons those who dare to challenge its power. continue reading

The threat itself is a reflection of the concern of the leadership and its vassals in the face of growing social discontent and the surprising solidarity that these new generations of young people, determined to change the state of affairs in Cuba, have managed to arouse. At the same time, it shows the true depth of the economic and structural crisis of a failed system.

The failure of the Castro regime’s “revolutionary project” is obvious. Beyond its slogans of unity and “continuity” it becomes more palpable, to the extent that the process of criminalization of society by the State is established, ever bloodier as the population shortages increase and uncertainty becomes more generalized.

Despite the national misery, no one seems to be safe from the irrational fury of the authorities and their repressive bodies that attack entrepreneurs, farmers, merchants, “illegal residents” of the capital, fences, paid holders of places in lines and any real or imaginary transgressor of the absurd official regulations with equal fury, all seasoned by a pandemic that continues to strike in the midst of the greatest medicine shortage in Cuban memory and the dire state of hospitals and the entire health system.

All of this leads to counterproductive effects: increase in popular discontent, violence and social insecurity, a perfect breeding ground for greater and more dangerous crises, where those who turn against the authorities would no longer be “the four cats”, a peaceful, organized and dialoguing handful of people demanding civil spaces. Popular revolts caused by despair are usually anonymous, but they are never peaceful, and generally produce a snowball effect: they become uncontrollable, far exceeding the category of “the handful of people” that start them.

Suffice it to add all those who have something to demand in today’s Cuba, some claim to make, some pressure due to their needs or their chronic poverty. Let’s make a list of those Cubans who have lost their homes and their scarce assets in a building collapse, who lack the resources to find another place to live and replace what they lost; workers whose wages do not meet their needs and those of their families; the retired elderly whose pensions are a bad joke or a colossal disrespect for their working years; those who have lost their income because their employers have been forced to close their restaurants, coffee shops or hostels; entrepreneurs who, despite the pandemic are no longer receiving income nor getting any help from the government, but  are now in debt to the national to social security account and are forced to make payments without having any money.

The list is incomplete, but it helps to imagine what would become of the authorities if all those mentioned decided to stand before their corresponding ministries, or better yet, perhaps make loud demands at the Plaza Cívica, before the headquarters of the Central Committee (as the “guiding force of the society ” that it is), to solve their pressing problems. Would the media say that they are “a handful of people,” mercenaries paid by Washington or, in the best of cases, that they are “confused”? Would they launch an army to fire weapons at them?

Obviously, such a long-lived dictatorship is showing clear signs of decrepitude and advanced senile insanity when it tries to downplay the dissidents and non-conformists by appealing to their small numbers. It seems to conveniently forget that the number of the Moncada assailants**, the Granma expeditionaries and those who managed to penetrate the Sierra Maestra were all much lower than the artists and activists who are grouped in the MSI, out of the hundreds that stood in front of MINCULT, of those who tried to reach and were blocked by the repressive bodies that surrounded the area and of the thousands of Cubans who, from social networks and from all shores, have spoken out against the repression in support of the demands and for the recognition of rights that we have been denied over six decades.

Meanwhile, of that handful of people of the pompous self-nominated “historical generation” who, once enthroned in power betrayed their own program of struggle and failed to fulfill the democratic promises with which they mobilized the most diverse social strata, hardly a dozen survive today. The majority is physically or mentally incapacitated, but not sufficiently disabled to block any possibility of a national dialogue that allows all Cubans to think and act on the nation’s course. Those few souls and their servants, a tiny privileged and marginalized minority of society, keep the snare and the brake over Cuba and over Cubans.

But if it were really only about numbers, it would be necessary to decide how it’s possible that a single and scandalously minority party, whose membership is less than 1% of the country’s population, constitutes the absolute master of the destinies of all; how is it that 600 officials at the service of power – the so-called “deputies” – are the only ones who vote for the President (previously elected by the dictatorial leadership) to exercise an unquestionable mandate over more than 11 million Cubans, while mocking the right to choose from 8 million people registered in the national electoral roll.

In their infinite arrogance, the powers that be fail to understand that the dialogue civil society is proposing to them today is not a plea from those who make demands, but an opportunity for power. Because the time for changes has already arrived, and change will take place one way or another. Discussing what Cubans claim and in what way they want a democratic transition to take place towards a State with rights and freedoms is the option generously offered by the people, the sovereign. It would be better for those at the top to abandon the bravado and the war cries and to reflect on this, because it is them, the true “four cats” of this fable, who have the most to lose.

Translator’s notes
*The four cats (los cuatro gatos): Cuban slang phrase meaning a handful of people.
**Moncada Barracks assailants = 160. Granma expeditionaries = 82. Surviving expeditionaries in the Sierra Maestra = 22. 

Translated by Norma Whiting

Journalist Miriam Celaya Has Become ‘Regulated’ and Cannot Leave Cuba

On Friday Miriam Celaya joined the list of ‘regulated’ citizens who have been banned from leaving Cuba. (Radio Martí)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 13 November 2020 — Independent journalist Miriam Celaya has joined to the list of regulated citizens this Friday under a ban on leaving Cuba. The 14ymedio columnist and contributor tried to apply for an extension of her passport but came across the news that she cannot travel abroad.

“I went to extend my passport early at the office of the Directorate of Identification, Immigration and Foreign Matters (DIIE) in Centro Habana and there they told me that I was regulated so I was unable to complete the process,” Celaya comments to this periodical.

The official who communicated the situation to Celaya was unaware of the reasons for the travel ban and recommended that she go to the headquarters of the DIIE to inquire about the causes, although the reporter intuits that her opinion columns, very critical of the Government, could be behind the measure.

“I have been ‘regulated’ for writing, for my work as a journalist and for what I share on social networks.” Celaya adds that the sanction can also be a punishment “for having defied State Security in March of this year,” when she received a summons from the political police and refused to answer their questions. “They wanted to question me but I told the officers I met with that I had nothing to say to them.” continue reading

Celaya adds that the sanction may also be a punishment for having defied State Security in March of this year, when she received a police summons from the political police and refused to answer their questions

The journalist also has Spanish nationality obtained in 2010 through the so-called Grandchildren’s Law and planned to spend the end of the year with her family in the United States, a project that she’ll have to postpone indefinitely, since the authorities usually do not divulge how long the sanction will be in effect.

Some 200 people are on this blacklist, established by the Cuban authorities. With these travel bans, the Government violates the right to free movement of citizens, which is enshrined in Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and also in Article 52 of the Cuban Constitution.

Those affected by this ban also note that, in January 2013, an immigration reform came into force that significantly relaxed the procedures to travel outside Cuba, as the old “exit permit” was eliminated. At that time the the foreign press described this move as part of the reforms leading to greater openings by Raúl Castro.

However, the list of opposition voices banned from leaving the country has been increasing over the years. At first, State Security prevented dissidents from traveling, through arbitrary arrests or by intercepting them on their way to the airport, but since 2018, the strategy of informing them of their status when passing through the immigration window at the airport or when renewing their passport has become more common.

Translated by Norma Whiting

COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

The Emblem of Biran: The New Man, Castro-Style / Miriam Celaya

Young Cubans drinking rum in a public place (File photo)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 October 2020 — It was the serial murderer, Ernesto Guevara –“Che” to his friends, if he had them, and also to his cult followers, whom he does have — who defined the original concept of “New Man” as a kind of superhuman being, a permanent revolutionary, whose mission in life would be to lay the foundations for an inescapable end: communism, which one day would impose itself on the entire Earth.

As is often the case with such epiphanies, the baby’s father was destined not to attend his birth. It is known that all faith needs martyrs, and ironically, Guevara himself was the sacrificial lamb before the communist Castro altar. Only the death of the ideologist, eternal guerrilla of failure, would guarantee the perpetuity of the myth.

And so, invoking the hidden corpse, buried in a nameless grave, the Castro catechism incorporated the insane idea of materializing a humanoid model of a pure revolutionary, an individual dedicated entirely to working every day and hour of his life in pursuit of a socialist transformation without sensing it as a cold, sacrifice detached from material and personal ambitions, austere, disciplined, intransigent, implacable against the enemy (anyone who does not embrace the cause, but especially the Yankee imperialism) to the point of being willing to kill or die for such a cause, including placing the communist utopia above family. continue reading

At the same time, the new social prototype had to be unconditional, blind and obedient towards its leaders, especially towards the “maximum leader.”

Fortunately, the projected New Man never went beyond one of the many concepts ingrained in the extensive Castro-communist taxonomy.

Unrealizable because of its dehumanizing and unnatural nature, the gestation of the Guevaran New Man ended in abortion. It could not have been otherwise, given the numerous flaws in its origins, such as the insurmountable fact that there never existed a single pure revolutionary among the makers of the socialist project, and their servile sounding boards, to take on the task of training the new generations in the purity of the communist ideal.

It was even less likely that the children of a traditionally hedonistic, fickle and festive people were willing to become such rigid and bitter subjects as to renounce their personal ambitions and the pleasures of life. Definitely, the Guevara New Man was not possible, or at least Cubans were not the appropriate raw material for its construction, as was outrageously demonstrated in the 1980 stampede, when hundreds, or perhaps thousands of communist youth militants stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana, or left Cuba in flotillas that followed the route from Mariel to Florida.

However, it cannot be denied that many Cubans of the new generations, who grew up during the revolutionary process not only preserved the negative characteristics of our idiosyncrasy, such as the tendency to impose our own opinions over those of others, to admire and follow the leadership of a strong man, or to let passion prevail over reason. They, however, incorporated all the vices typical of totalitarian societies: simulation, double standards, fear and corruption as survival mechanisms, accusation, escapism and indolence.

Thus, from the very beginning of the Cuban social experiment, which has lasted for more than 60 years, another category of man emerged and consolidated, almost spontaneously, as a collateral result, not foreseen or defined in the official discourse: the Castro-style New Man, whom neither all nor even many of them are, but they do make a great racket and are very destructive.

And that anthropological malformation is not limited to the narrow Cuban geography, but has also been transferred as it is to the other side of the Florida Straits, spreading its tentacles through different waves of emigrants, with greater inflection among those who inhabit Miami, that other Cuban capital beyond the archipelago.

Because it turns out that, despite the colossal leap that presumes leaving dictatorship conditions behind and waking up every day in one of the most solid and long-lived democracies in the world, the Castro New Man who emigrated took with him and still has that “little Fidel” very deep inside of him that does not allow him to renounce what he left behind: he carries in his soul the soldier of the despot.

And thus, from the other shore, he offends, insults, stones and discredits everyone who differs from his political preference; he applauds the “rallies of repudiation” — both virtual and physical — orchestrated against the adversary; he finds a “strong man” to uncritically follow and deify (with the same blind and irrational passion as those who followed F. Castro then and today follow his heirs); and he assumes, without embarrassment, the same Castro principle of “who is not with me, is not only fundamentally wrong, but is also against me.”

These days, when the heat of the electoral contest reaches unprecedented levels of polarization, verbal violence and debauchery in the midst of Miami’s Cubanism, when we see that some of our countrymen are demonstrating in favor of harsher and harsher measures that directly affect their compatriots back home, when I hear that they call “the sheep” to rise up from within Cuba, though from the safety and comfort of their distance — despite the fact that most of them never raised their voices against the dictatorship while they lived here — when they talk about stopping the remittances and phone recharges, they applaud lists that are the sad imitation of the snitch planted in the national DNA by the regime that they say they detest, I cannot avoid the evocation of that murderer of Cubans who one day imagined the “New Man” and the caricature that resulted: the Castro-style new man.

This is the one that immortalizes among us and on either of these two shores the ill-fated emblem, born in Birán* almost 100 years ago.

*Translator’s note: Fidel Castro’s birthplace

Translated by Norma Whiting


A Debate for Democracy in Cuba: The End Does Not Justify the Means

Celaya believes that A debate that does not imitate the pathetic Trump vs Biden media show. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana | 2 October 2020 — Fresh off the networks, saturated today by the echoes of the unfortunate show (supposedly a debate) between United States presidential candidates, Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and with their clothes still torn by the attacks of the always furious Trumpist pack – those worthy imitators of the purest Castro style who accept no other position other than unconditional support for their idol – I have made note of an article by colleague Reinaldo Escobar Casas that brings me back to what is really important on this side of the Florida Strait: a reality so overwhelming that it far exceeds the convenience of the triumph of one or another candidate in the US presidential elections on November 3rd.

In agreement with my colleague Escobar Casas, and as a Cuban residing in Cuba, I have no preference for any of the American candidates. It’s clear to me that neither one nor the other has a commitment to achieve democracy in Cuba beyond speeches and intentions for electoral purposes. It is not their responsibility to solve the pressing problems that suffocate Cubans from all areas of national life, of which successive US administrations are not the cause.

I am clear that neither one nor the other is committed to achieving democracy in Cuba, beyond speeches and intentions for electoral purposes

After 61 years of dictatorship and in the midst of the most serious crisis of the socioeconomic and political system established by force of voluntarism and repression, it would be naive to attribute the eventual collapse of the Castro regime to the good or bad will of an American president, without denying that the policies of that country, as the great power that it is, have some influence, not only on this limited and close geography and on the lives of its inhabitants, but also — for better and for worse — have a relevant impact throughout the world. continue reading

I absolutely agree with Escobar Casas when he declares the need for a debate that matters to us as Cubans, when he focuses his aspirations for matters to change in Cuba, for political disagreement to be decriminalized and for all of us to have the right to an opinion for or against those who govern us, and that, in the economic realm, those who are capable of producing the things we need in order to live are given the freedom to do it. This should be an inalienable direction for all of us who, through thick and thin, continue to push the wall of the Castro regime from inside and outside of Cuba, although we well know that, in light of the current reality of the Island, our aspirations for the moment are chimerical.

However, I cannot agree with Escobar in what seems to be the justification of the means to an end. In fact, the scenarios for exiting the Cuban crisis in the face of one or another U.S. policy are as opposite as the human and social costs that would arise from them.

In his article, Escobar welcomes equally the “strangulation” caused by a resurgence of sanctions as well as a “rapprochement” that forces the regime to change, since his priority — and I know he is sincere — is the prosperity and welfare of this country “where my children and my grandchildren will live for many years.” Personally, I will always opt for the least possible traumatic exit for Cubans, against the grain of being aware that in Cuba this variable seems less and less likely.

What moral authority aids us in subjecting others to the deficiencies that those of us who have some financial support to cope with the crisis don’t experience?

Let us take, then, two situations, A and B, where A would be the eventual triumph of Trump and, consequently, a fierce claw capable of suffocating the Castro regime’s tentacles and, incidentally, all Cubans who in some way depend on economic support, remittances, food packages, etc., which ultimately will always benefit, to some extent, the elite who receive the dividends. The question, then, would be: to what extent are we willing to sacrifice economic survival or to bear the cost of deprivation for ordinary Cubans in order to force change? Is it legal to assume chaos and human losses as the “collateral damage” necessary for these changes? What moral authority aids us in subjecting others to the deficiencies that those of us who have some financial support to cope with the crisis don’t experience?

And, taking it to a more extreme level, is there any guarantee that the dissident sectors, the opposition, the press and the independent civil society are safe from the worst repression in the extreme case of social chaos?

Furthermore, in a scenario of chaos and anarchy caused by famine and in the absence of guarantees and social tension, who would assume control and ensure a minimum social order? That possibility, which may now seem like a dramatic exaggeration, is still an almost tangible threat.

The other extreme, option B, would be the gradual, political and orderly transition that, despite everything, remains the most reasonable because it does not make use of Cubans as hostages on the road to democratization, but rather facilitates their insertion as economic actors and politicians of the changes, provided that this policy is implemented in a complete, intelligent and duly conditioned way, toward effective steps in the matter of human rights by the Castro leadership. This was the step that was omitted during the thaw of the Obama era and that contributed to the withdrawal of the regime.

The weak point, in the case of either A or B, is the absence of effective proposals and strengths in the opposition sectors, generally attentive — it is fair to admit — to the policies of the White House. There is no plan C or “Cuban proposal.” In this sense, it is worth reviewing recent statements by some of the so-called opposition leaders, where a common denominator is striking: they all seem to agree on what a US administration should do with regard to Cuba, but not one of them has their own plan to implement in any scenario that we may encounter, whether in the face of a policy of rapprochement or confrontation from the powerful northern neighbor.

Waiting continues to be the watchword in a scenario that, beyond our wills, keeps us tied down, as passive hostages of foreign policies

In short, everything leans towards eternal passivity or contemplation, waiting for two eventualities, neither of which will depend on the opposition’s effective actions: 1) Wait to see what the United States powers decide to do and 2) Wait to see how much the hierarchs of dictatorial power in Cuba are weakened from these policies. Waiting continues to be the watchword in a scenario that, beyond our wills, keeps us dependent, as passive hostages of foreign policies, to such an extent that a policy of suffocation may seem equally valuable as one of rapprochement, as long as it promotes changes that are not within our power to control. I couldn’t disagree more.

In the end, and as far as the subject is concerned, we urgently need a broad and inclusive national debate in Cuba in which the entire society participates and all interests are present, regardless of political or ideological constraints. A debate that does not imitate the pathetic Trump vs Biden media show, which we witnessed on September 30th. Because the best and worst we Cubans have is that much remains to be said here, and everything remains to be done, especially the transition to democracy. And it has been a dream held for so long and so pregnant with sacrifices that different means to achieve it cannot deliver the same result.

Translated by Norma Whiting


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.

COVID-19 in Havana: An Alibi to Perpetuate the Castro Pandemic / Miriam Celaya

Between seven in the evening and five in the morning, mobility for people and vehicles is prohibited in Havana (photo: ADN Cuba)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 September 2020 — The new bundle of measures that begins to rule for 15 days in the Cuban capital starting today, Tuesday, September 1st, comes to place a new marble slab on the spirit of the capital after five harrowing months of an epidemic whose end is a period as unknown as that of the food crisis that Cuba was undergoing long before the start of the pandemic.

With the pretext of controlling the current outbreak of COVID-19, which has spread “with intense transmission” in all the municipalities of the Cuban capital, Reinaldo García Zapata, Havana’s governor, in his response by videoconference at the national TV’s Round Table last Thursday, August 27th, declared that the previous measures and actions were not enough to control the contagion.

He explained that “there has been a lack of discipline on the part of people who did not act reasonably and (also) there are institutions that did not fulfill their guiding roles and their leadership”, all of which led to a re-outbreak of the disease and we returned to the previous stage in the course of this week, “of endemic transmission”, but with a much more complex situation than in the previous stage, since there are 6 open sources of contagion and a greater dispersion of cases in the capital. continue reading

Without wishing to immerse myself in the murkiness of the official figures, nor to return to the subject of the highest incurable level of vice of the authorities, to evade their great share of responsibility in this setback — excess of triumphalism, anticipated de-escalation, haste in the opening of hotels with the sole purpose of making money regardless of the risks, just to mention the most obvious ones — the rigor of the new restrictions does not bear a proportional relationship to the number of infections when compared to the capital’s population of more than two million.

Nor does it seem reasonable that the authorities have set a period of just 15 days (in the first instance) to stop a re-outbreak that the Minister of Health himself declared could become “uncontrollable.” Something smells rotten.

Even if we give the benefit of the doubt to the country’s and the capital’s senior leaders in their presumed intention to deepen controls in order to protect the health of the people, and without denying the priority of maintaining the fence over such a dangerous disease, it is obvious that the new commandments abound in criticism by and prohibitions to the population – some of them bordering on the absurd or exaggerated – and focus on disciplinary measures for those who dare to transgress these taboos, but the obligations and responsibilities that the authorities must fulfill have been left in an extremely diffuse limbo, as usual.

Let us take, for example, the omission of the functions that the different instances of the government and the Ministry of Health would be obliged to guarantee in terms of material, hygiene and service conditions, both at the hospital level and at the so-called “isolation centers”, taking into account the numerous complaints issued by those admitted to these places during phase I of the outbreak.

Another dark point is the responsibility that those same authorities have to transfer people to hospitals requiring urgent attention, not necessarily cases related to the Covid virus, especially between the hours of seven in the afternoon to five in the morning during which mobility of people and vehicles is expressly prohibited, under penalty of loss of registration and circulation to unauthorized vehicles traveling during those times.

Furthermore, in accordance with the new restrictions, the Governor has been empowered “with a legal instrument that allows the application of severe fines against various cases of social indiscipline” during this period. Said fines must be paid within a period not exceeding 10 days, otherwise, the original amount will be doubled, and if not paid within 30 days, the offenders will be subject to criminal charges. All this in a scenario of economic and social paralysis where the majority of the State workers remain furloughed, receiving 60% of their salary and in some cases receiving no income, while workers in the private sector (the self-employed) have not received any financial help at all).

As expected, the arbitrary and biased nature of the official provisions and their application, as well as the “impunity from the top” are perfectly reflected in the absence of entities or legal mechanisms with the capacity to sanction authorities at any level, including the Governor himself, in the event that those authorities or their subordinates are the ones who (again) violate the regulations or fail to fulfill their unstated obligations.

In any case, the next two weeks will be a real challenge for law enforcement officials in charge of implementation in the most complex theater of operations and, demonstrably, one of the most difficult to control for law enforcement officials: the Cuban capital. A veritable testing ground — to paraphrase a friend who defined it this way — where those same agents have dealt, with little or no success, with illegalities, the informal market (“immortal”, I should say) and corruption, when they have not formed part of that long chain.

And this is precisely where the new restrictions are ultimately aimed: refining and reinforcing repressive structures. The draconian measures that will rule in Havana in the next two weeks rather suggest a trial exercise to oil — as far as possible — the repressive mechanisms in the face of possible sources of disturbances that could occur in the coming months, not due to claims of a political nature, taking into account the civic circumstances and political ignorance of “the masses”, but because of the unstoppable advance of the shortage crisis that threatens to worsen and that will hit the poorest households with greater force.

Curfew, severe sanctions, watertight separation of the population (each isolated in its municipality), drastic limitation of movement of people and vehicles, perhaps they could be part of a tactic aimed at facilitating the response to the popular discontent. More than the control of COVID-19, a twisted strategy to perpetuate a much more virulent and damaging epidemic: that of the Castro legacy.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Clandestinos: a Scandalous Silence

Image of a bust of José Martí supposedly covered in pig’s blood, released by the Clandestinos group at the beginning of the year. (Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 September 2020 — Popular voices state that sometimes forgetting is healthier than remembering. This maxim could well be applied to the case of a supposed anti-Castro organization that upset the social networks in the first days of January of this year with its coming out appearance using a controversial method of rebellion: covering with pig’s blood several busts of José Martí and the occasional public billboard in which the image of the deceased Castro appeared.

Either because of the intangibility of the Clandestinos – the name by which the group was known — or because of their unexpected appearance, because they hid their identity using masks that completely covered their faces, because they always acted during night hours and because, in addition, they shot short videos that were later published on social networks to record their alleged activities, the truth is that these elusive rebels captured the attention of Internet users and of multiple digital media, unleashing fierce debates between supporters and detractors and breaking the usual apathy of the Cuban political opposition scene.

There were many angry voices criticizing what they considered a serious desecration of the memory of the most revered Cuban of all time – José Martí, it is understood — but it must be recognized that Clandestinos managed to attract the sympathy of a large part of the emigration and of activists of different ideologies, as well as activists of the most diverse agendas and several independent journalists within the Island who, with absolute lack of judgment, joined the hashtag #TodosSomosClandestinos [#We’re are all Clandestinos] and began to share videos and photos of the alleged actions of the new freedom champions. continue reading

 There certainly never was in the opposition universe of the Castro era another group so ghostly, with such a meteoric rise, such a resounding fall or such an ephemeral life

Furthermore, during the first week of the year, and with the irrational passion that characterizes the national temperament, questioning the very existence of the Clandestinos or launching any reasoning that could cast a shadow of suspicion on the heroes of the moment or their actions — which no one could even contrast — to the most radical spirits it was the equivalent of the worst betrayal of the anti-Castro cause, if not a test of “being at the service of the dictatorship.”

However, the mirage was short-lived. There was never in the opposition universe of the Castro era another group so ghostly for sure, with such a meteoric rise, such a resounding fall or such a fleeting life. Barely a week elapsed between the appearance of the first video of Clandestinos in cyberspace, on January 1st, until the official note was issued through the National Television News (NTV), on the 8th of the same month, reporting on the capture of the authors of those “acts of vandalism”.

Now without theatrical masks and without a hint of glamour, the images of Panter Rodríguez Baró and Yoel Prieto Tamayo, the alleged Clandestinos, were exposed in the media monopoly of the Castro press. Following the typical State Security scheme, both were classified as antisocial with a criminal record for possession and consumption of drugs, whose actions, financed by the usual villains — that is, “stateless people” from Florida — were part of “a dirty media maneuver to make believe that there is a climate of insecurity and violence in Cuba. ”

Judging by the corresponding report with which these “victories” of the Plaza de la Revolución are usually accompanied, that group of anonymous warriors of national scope turned out to be a duo restricted to Havana.

And so, devoid of a single applause or tears, the drama ended. In stark contrast to the scramble they had sparked during their brief stint on the media scene, a tombstone of silence and oblivion has since closed over the Clandestinos.

Interestingly, in the six months since then, not one of their passionate supporters has called for a campaign for the release of these courageous anti-Castro fighters. Nobody wonders where they are or what state they are in, locked in the dark cells of State Security, if they really are there. In fact, the names of Panter and Yoel are not even on the lists of politically motivated prisoners that are regularly updated by different organizations.

Since the arrest and the beginning of the criminal investigation process of the case, the official media has not mentioned a word about the topic

No less intriguing is the silence from the opposite end of the spectrum. Since the arrest and the beginning of the criminal investigation process of the case, the official media have not mentioned a word about the issue, despite the fact that, in the heat of that comical report, the most seasoned revolutionaries went so far as to suggest the application of the death penalty against the conspicuous masked men for the crime of affront to the fatherland.

It is suspicious at least that tarnishing the memory of the National Hero represents a minor crime — and therefore able to be postponed — compared to crimes as abominable as the hoarding of onions, the resale of toiletries, the dealing in auto parts, the illegal trafficking of people’s spaces waiting in lines or cheese making, which in recent times and almost every day occupies a priority in the final minutes of the TV news.

This time, although for different reasons, one of those exceptional coincidences is apparently taking place in which opposite extremes — the Castro regime, by some obscure interest and its most staunch adversaries on both sides of the Florida Strait, by perception of the ridiculous – opted for the same strategy: to spread a pious mantle on an issue that may be uncomfortable for both sides.

We have yet to see if in the near future the Clandestinos return to the fore and the Cuban authorities mount a model mock trial. Although, personally, I would still have reservations. Who knows if, as a colleague pointed out, one day we will recognize Panter or Yoel serving as custodians in a foreign embassy in Havana. It is known that the decisions of State Security are inscrutable.

Translated by Norma Whiting


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Cuba, Monetary Unification and “The Horizon” for its Destiny / Miriam Celaya

The Cuban Economy and the Dual Monetary System. (Photo AFP)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 August 2020 — A note recently published by the official Cuban press discusses once again the much harped on and, so far, unresolved issue of monetary unification, through an interview conducted by its author with various specialists from the Central Bank of Cuba.

Said officials agreed on the importance of monetary and exchange unification as a “necessary, although not sufficient, condition to reorder and update the national economy,” and offered their vision on the origins of the dual currency and its historical antecedents, with an explanation about what would be the ideal economic environment of the country for (finally) money to fulfill its functions.

It would be useless to repeat what was said by the experts, who are, after all, government officials whose speech does not differ from the countless explanations poured out on this controversial issue since 2011 when the then General-President had an epiphany and declared that it was time to unify the two national currencies. Almost ten years later, the miracle has not yet to take place. continue reading

It would be expected that these senior bureaucrats of the national coffers, protagonists of the reference note, would have offered us some advance on the solution strategies that — supposedly — are being applied to cut the Gordian knot of the monetary and exchange rate duality. Or, at the very least, they should have clarified where we stand in the steps and stages that were supposedly planned in the “Guidelines,” and that would be taking place to make possible (if only!) the long-awaited unification.

We would have appreciated being enlightened in the midst of a reality so chaotic and obscure that the currencies — far from being unified — continue to diversify. The recent irruption of foreign currencies in the national trading system multiplies the distortions, deepening the devaluation of Cuban currencies, strengthening the black exchange market and reinforcing the already large social gaps existing between the poorer sectors, who have no access to foreign currency and those who are better off (the “privileged”) and may rely on some source of income in foreign currency.

In other words, the most damaging thing at a social level today, beyond the financial, is no longer the old problem of the existence of two currencies, but the coexistence of two types of currencies: on the one hand, the local ones (CUP and CUC), with a physical presence in the depressed national commerce, without real value and without financial backing, a sad imitation of the old tokens issued by sugar mills with colonial heritage.  On the other, foreign currencies, with real value but with only virtual presence (overlapping dollarization), and privileged within the national trading system itself (commercial apartheid) with the provision of markets exclusively for those who have access to them through debit cards attached to bank accounts in freely convertible currency.

Obviously, although the urgency of gaining control over hard currencies foreign exchange is undeniable, which, according to vernacular experts, should theoretically help accelerate monetary unification, this would be an extremely long process in practice, due to the internal economic crisis aggravated by the severe global economic one related to the COVID-19 pandemic, concurrent  with unpredictable social costs.  All that, taking into account the tension and the growing discontent in Cuba, the increase in repressive measures and police and para-police controls, and the evident distancing between “the government” and “the governed”.

So, in the midst of such a storm “cleaning up internal finances” and “creating an ideal environment for Cuban money to fulfill its functions” will be quite unlikely — to use a nice adjective — unless the hierarchs have some trick up their sleeve, which has never been favorable for common Cubans.

Despite all this, and with regard to the illusory monetary unification, Karina Cruz Simón, a specialist in the Directorate of Economic Studies, offered premises that constitute pure chimeras in light of the current situation. The “key”, the expert suggests, is to stabilize the national currency.  This may be achieved, among other factors, by “ensuring that the money issuance processes correspond to the evolution of the real or productive economy.”

What this official does not mention is how she thinks such a spell can be performed. As if it had not been sufficiently proven throughout the entire Castro experiment that a “real or productive” economy urgently requires promoting a profound transformation of property relations in Cuba without further delay: another equally complex and long-standing distortion that began since the very dawn of the so-called Revolution which has been the basis of the national economic disaster.

Achieving this “favorable scenario so that the Cuban peso can fulfill its functions and preserve macroeconomic balances” does not depend only (or magically) on the factors mentioned by Cruz Simón, which is also unattainable if Cuba does not open up to the market economy and if, simultaneously, the economic, political and social rights of its citizens are not recognized so that they can participate as protagonists and not as hostages in the new economic scenario.

The fundamental obstacle to advancing on both sides of the necessary unification and revaluation of the national currency — economics and finance — is the obsolete and proven failed principle of “general economic planning”, which is the new euphemism when referring to a centralized economy.

In reality, all the “renovating” proposals launched so far by the political Power in order to “get the economy moving” only tend to shield this failed official centralism and to perpetuate the privileges of Power. It is this stubbornness that prevents the economy from advancing in the first place and, in the last place, makes monetary unification possible. When you have lived 60 years in totalitarianism and uninterrupted economic disasters, it is not necessary to be a specialist in the field to understand it that way.

However, so we are not faulted as unfair, it will be necessary to recognize some coherence. Already the very heading of the state-owned newspaper Granma’s note announced it bluntly: the monetary unification of Cuba is “on the horizon”… And it is known that the horizon is an imaginary and unattainable line. It is on this line that Power has always placed all its promises of prosperity, and where our destinies continue. At least they have never lied to us about that.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuba: The “Strategy” of Desperation

(Photo: Estudios Revolución)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 19 July 2020 — If I had to briefly describe the general impression that emerges from the new Economic and Social Strategy of the Cuba’s upper echelons of power, I would choose three preliminary adjectives: wrong, late and incomplete.

It is wrong because it continues to estimate in a foreign currency what they call “impulse to the economic development of the country” – more noteworthy, in the “enemy’s” foreign currency which supposedly generates all the ills – and in items that are not related at all to the results of the production of the (ruined) national industry: family remittances from abroad, the eternally “potential” foreign investment capital and the eventual foreign tourism income, now disappeared.

It is late because each and every one of the proposed guidelines, such as the “flexibilities” announced for the private sector, financial “autonomy” for state-owned companies, the introduction of micro and small and medium-sized companies, among other measures could and should have been implemented many years ago, especially during the thaw period, with the administration of the then-US President, Barack Obama, when the Castro regime had its best opportunity to implement these and other changes. continue reading

On the other hand, the official proposal for economic reforms in the current national and international context (though it is noteworthy that the term “reforms” was not uttered), far from projecting an alleged interest of the power claque to expand the economic potential of citizens or a real desire for change, only evidences despair and a sense of urgency to increase hard currencies.

But perhaps the most relevant feature of this official strategy, which they now offer as the holy grail to try to revive the depressed economy, is its incompleteness. And here, it is worth dwelling on several root considerations when it comes to economic efficiency.

According to the leaders of the Castro court, the priority objective of all the theoretical-strategic scaffolding – which until now is only about that: theory and intentions – is food production. In fact, the spokesman of the constituents of the Political Bureau of the PCC, comrade Díaz-Canel, in his scolding speech before the Council of Ministers on the morning of July 16th made reference to the urgent need to achieve “food sovereignty”, a kind of religious invocation resulting from the delusions of the Deceased-in-Chief, whose status has never advanced beyond that of a chimera, and who only sounds yet again like a bad omen in the current scenario.

But, getting to the heart of the matter, producing food at a level that satisfies domestic demand, substitutes imports and even generates income from exports – as these hallucinated ones claim – necessarily goes through the everlasting problem of property relations over land, a critical point of which no mention was made on last Thursday’s Roundtable television program.

If the farmer is not the legitimate owner of the land he works; if, in addition, laws (not simple paper “strategies”) that grant legal nature and protection to the producer are not implemented; if the inopportune interventions of the State that establish price limits, criminalize commerce or impose leonine taxes are not irreversibly suspended; in short, if, simultaneously with the “flexibilities” in the economy, the corresponding civil and political rights are not recognized for citizens, there will be no effective progress, nor will the necessary and profound changes take place.

The official rhetoric, so worn and rotten that its seams seem to pop, deserves a full stop.  About said rhetoric I will only mention some brushstrokes that stand out in the midst of the ideological patch that preceded the information on the masterful “Strategy”, through the intervention (in effigy) of the president by appointment, which makes clear the absence of a compass of a political power that weighs itself down as obsolete and ineffective.

When Díaz-Canel, in his parliament, reminiscent of a “Cantinflas”* movie plot, declares that “to benefit everyone, sometimes you have to take measures that seem to favor a few but in the long run favor everyone”, and when the differentiation of access to goods is established as a norm and services according to the income of citizens, privileging those who receive foreign exchange – to the detriment of the state worker who receives his salary in national currency (CUP) and the most humble sectors of society, without access to remittances or other income – and establishing the bases for a new and deeper social gap between the poor and the rich, are in fact establishing the same “neoliberal” strategies that have been so widely criticized by the seat of power when it comes to other governments in other latitudes.

But if, to add to the humiliation, the official media offers to the most disadvantaged the promise of two “additional” pounds of rice and six ounces of beans, to be distributed for two months through the ration card, then discrimination is compounded by insult.

Hopefully, all of us Cubans, here or overseas, will finally place ourselves at the height of the conflict. This time it is worth paraphrasing the maker of national ruin to tell those who humiliate and insult us from the seat of power that we don’t want them; we don’t need them.

*Translator’s note: Cantinflesco: A term derived from Mexican actor Mario Moreno Cantiflas’ movie genre: laughable, ridiculous, caricature-like.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Medications Crisis in Cuba: Rationing vs. Reasoning / Miriam Celaya

Pharmacy in Cuba (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 June 2020 – Another hot summer day has barely dawned in the city, but dozens of people are already gathered in the vestibule at the Carlos III Pharmacy in Central Havana. The day before, the drugs were “unloaded” and since quantity and variety of the assortment never meets demand, exactly every ten days an anxious human conglomerate fills the area and its surroundings for several hours.

In the past three to four years, drug shortages have become an increasingly tricky topic at this medical powerhouse. The impact of the crisis is such that neither the pharmaceutical industry nor the importing companies -both monopolies of the State- are able to insure even those drugs assigned to patients with chronic diseases, acquired through the Controlled Medicines Acquisition Card, popularly known as “the big card”.

“I warn you that only part of the Enalapril arrived, and antihistamines or dipyrone, medformin, or psychotropic drugs didn’t arrive either, so those who come looking for this already know it, and don’t bother to line up!”, warns one of the pharmacy employees, who has come out to face the crowd like a gladiator before lions. The answer, in effect, is a kind of collective roar. Discontent spreads. continue reading

Moments later the same employee returns to the crowded vestibule to report, with the same subtlety, about the great “solution” that pharmacies are going to apply to the shortage of medicines: “Shut up and pay attention here, so you can’t later say that you didn’t know!” Right after that, he makes an announcement that only half of the dose prescribed by the corresponding doctor will be filled for each card. And he ends with an absolutely irrational warning: “So save [your medicines]!”

The supposedly altruistic idea is that with this rationing of what has already been rationed, a greater number of patients have the possibility of acquiring part of the medicine that is required to treat their ailment. The bad news is that, in practice – and by the grace of the authority of the administrators of destitution – what this achieves is the multiplication of the number of people who cannot duly comply  with what is indicated by a trained physician, and consequently, the risks of health complications that are derived, increase.  Numerous of these cases include extremely serious events, such as cerebral or cardiovascular infarctions, hypercholesterolemia, hyperglycemia and kidney problems, just to mention a few.

Thus, the alternative to these shortages ignores such a basic principle that can be stated simply and mathematically: consuming half the dose equals twice the risk for patients. Because it so happens that there are no half-hypertensive, half-cardiac or half-diabetic cases. Health problems cannot be adapted to the inadequacy of the medicine market.

If it were not for the highly vaunted benefits of a Revolution that leaves no one helpless, we could imagine that we are witnessing a scenario of neo-Malthusianism, where the excess of population added to the increasing scarcity of resources imposes an inevitable socio-demographic selection: the weakest, the old, the ones with lowest incomes and the sick will be the decimated sectors and only the most solvent, strong, young and healthy will survive without further damage, be it or not- or not necessarily-  a State policy.

It is obvious that, despite the accelerated aging of the population in Cuba and with that the increase in chronic patients with diseases related to advanced age, an effective government strategy was never devised to alleviate the stumbling blocks of the fragile national pharmaceutical industry or to protect the so-called “pharmacological groups by control cards”.

Going back in time and appealing to the long history of shortages on the Island, there are numerous drugs that have disappeared from the shelves since the 1990’s, never to return. Even those that were once available over the counter began to be sold by prescription only, a situation that remains to this day. Pharmacy supplies have never come close to what it was until 1989, despite frequent official promises for improvements or recovery of the industry.

Furthermore, the crisis has become so severe that eventually the official press has been forced to bring up the matter. Thus, for example, on 3 February 2018, the article On the Pharmacy Counter (by Julio Martínez Molina) appeared on the digital page of the State newspaper Granma, reporting that in 2017 dozens of shortages of drugs had been reported in throughout the country that year, and the persistence of “the absence of high demand pharmacological items” had been acknowledged, among them hypotensive, antidepressant, anti-ulcer medications and many more.

The BioCubaFarma association reported that the instability in drug deliveries was due to “the lack of adequate financing to pay suppliers of raw materials, packaging materials and expenses.” There was no lack of the favorite “blockade” among the causes for the pothole, which forced “the use of third countries to acquire equipment, American-made spare parts, chemical reagents, etc.”

Other data pointed to interesting figures: of the 801 drugs that make up “the basic picture” of Cuba’s drug demand, BioCubaFarma was responsible for 63%. In total, 505 medicines were produced by the National Pharmaceutical Industry and 286 were imported by the Ministry of Health (MINSAP); while of the 370 lines that were distributed to the pharmacy network, 301 were domestically produced and 69 imported.

Despite everything, explained authorities in the pharmaceutical industry, the critical situation “would change gradually” (would improve), up to the recovery of the production and distribution of medicines, which should take place around the first quarter of 2019.

But BioCubaFarma officials also suggested that the doctors carry some of the responsibility for not being sufficiently informed about the supplies of the drugs they prescribed to patients. “If the doctor has the correct information about the difficulties of a certain medicine, he should avoid prescribing it.”

The real problem, beyond this colossal simplicity, was, and still is, the almost absolute shortage of entire groups of medications, including antibiotics to fight infections or analgesics for pain relief which has caused many doctors – at the risk of being penalized – to recommend to their patients to arrange for their own medicines through family or friends overseas.

In 2018, during a presentation before the National Assembly, the then Minister of Public Health, Roberto Morales Ojeda, beckoned to “combat the misuse of medical prescriptions”, an exhortation that automatically led to the rationing of the doctors’ prescription books. After that, they would receive a limited number of these in order to tackle mismanagement among corrupt doctors and medicine smugglers, a business that had been confirmed for years and that grew in direct proportion to the decrease in supply in legal networks.

This was the rampant official strategy designed to eradicate the wide and deep hole of illegal maneuvers that let medicines slip through pharmacy networks, aggravating shortages and feeding the informal market. Simultaneously, a limit was also placed on the number of medications that could be indicated in each prescription, which – oh, paradox! – forced doctors to issue a greater number of prescriptions to each patient.

The result of so much nonsense was immediate: the drug smugglers diversified their strategies, but survived, while the insane rationalization of prescription books had a null, if not counterproductive effect, in the control of medications.

Meanwhile, more than two years after BioCubaFarma’s triumphant promises, and far from improving, the shortage of medicines in Cuba has deepened and is headed to getting even worse. Because at the end of the day it is not a medication crisis but a system whose disease has no cure.

Just around noon, the Carlos III’s Pharmacy had run out of medications. The line scatters, among whispers, complaints, and resigned faces. The curtain falls on a scene that will repeat itself in exactly ten days.

Translated by Norma Whiting