A sole proprietor sells peanuts and sweets in Havana streets, but he is far from opening a store and growing his small business. (Luz Escobar)
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 3 October 2015 — Halfway between analysis and opinion, and not having responded clearly to his own initial question, journalist Carlos M. Álvarez recently addressed a controversial issue: the transition in Cuba, or to put it more accurately, as posed by the title of his work: Can a transition in Cuba be discussed?
In principle, we must give credit to Álvarez for his courage: to declare that we are experiencing a transition in Cuba may be total heresy for many, beyond their political positions, or likes or dislikes of the government or of the opposition. In particular, it is taboo for those who have communed with the official power; but also, as he points out, it is something denied by many Cubans who are not at all into politics, by a sector of the domestic opposition and by the most intransigent groups in exile. Continue reading
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 September 2015 — The recent visit to Cuba of the Bishop of Rome, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, brought a flood of masses and homilies in several different settings, where, among others, two words were often heard in the context of the Cuban landscape: forgiveness and reconciliation. They were all the more curious since they were not evoked at the same time as those other words to which they are unavoidably related: offense, confession and repentance.
In this fashion, Francis urged all Cubans, believers or not, to reconciliation in the abstract and forgiveness of no particular offense, an exhortation so cryptic and watered-down that it well could have been uttered anywhere in the world. Who are the offenders and the offended, what do offenses consist of, whose turn is it to forgive and who will be the forgiven were matters that were left to each individual to ponder. The Pope also spoke of “suffering of the poor,” of “respect to differences” and many other similar phrases that can assume conflicting interpretations according to one’s point of view. Continue reading
Carlos III and Árbol Seco (author’s photograph)
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana 18 September 2015 – There is just one day left before the arrival of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Bishop of Rome, and work at the Cuban capital has intensified on the faded facades of buildings flanking the route that the head of the Vatican and his accompanying delegation will travel. A motley profusion of stridently contrasting colors has invaded the city, in an apotheosis of bad taste.
These days, the deployment of supports and scaffolding has been intense around the streets that the sense of humor of people has dubbed “Via Sacra.” As often happens in murky waters, the occasion is also conducive to the illicit sale of paint. Thus, a gallon of water is added to every gallon of paint that is sidetracked for sale, in the watercolor canvas destined to cover the usual filth on the facades. It is an economic law that no opportunity for smuggling should be wasted in a country where the black market is not only the best stocked, but also the most organized and efficient. In addition, the visit will be brief, so Bergoglio will not witness how the layers of bright colors poured out in his honor will fade away under the scorching Cuban sun. Continue reading
A bricklayer works on a wall in Havana, Cuba.Reuters
What Happens the Day After Pope Francis Leaves Cuba?
The paradise many Cubans dream of is not in the infinity of the heavens, but a mere 90 miles across the sea.
The pope is arriving in Cuba, and with him runaway speculation in the media about the impact his visit will have on Cuban society and politics—and particularly the push for greater democracy in the country.
Read the rest of the article in The Atlantic, here.
19 September 2015
Pope Francis I at the European Parliament last November. (Flickr / CC)
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 September 2015 – Pope Francis has just taken an extraordinary step: he has arranged for the Catholic Church to grant forgiveness to women who had abortions during the Holy Year (December 8, 2015 to December 20, 2016) provided they are sincerely repentant of it. This is a temporary authorization for the clergy to exercise love and the infinite mercy of God.
Only time will tell if such a decision, included in the changes launched by Bergoglio since his ascension to the Papal throne, will turn out to be temporary or more permanent in character. However, we must recognize that the step taken by the pontiff is, at minimum, bold. It could not be otherwise, if he really intends to carry out a process that places the Catholic Church — essentially backward — on track to assimilate the dynamics of the twenty-first century, when religious scholastic pruderies are being relegated in the presence of new realities that pose real challenges to old moral orders, such as this and other controversial issues, including the recognition of gay rights and gay marriage. Continue reading
The lifeless body of Diomar Tarcisio Arenas Sanguino is transferred through the fence that separates the countries of Venezuela and Colombia. Arenas died of appendicitis in Guasdualito, Táchira, after failing to receive adequate treatment just for being Colombian, said his sister Sulbey Arenas. (EFE / Mauricio Duenas Castaneda)
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 September 2015 — The paranoid frenzy of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has reached delirium levels, and now, in the midst of the crisis taking place on the border between his country and Colombia, and in the course of his untimely visit to Vietnam, geographically removed from the diplomatic cloud of dust he provoked, he appeared on Hanoi national television and took the opportunity to accuse Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, of “turning a blind eye” to the campaign which – he claims to have proof — is being orchestrated in Bogota to kill him.
What began a few years ago as innocent conversations with a bird Maduro claimed to be the ghost of his tutor, the late Hugo Chávez, has ended up becoming a sequence of hallucinations about a true international conspiracy to assassinate him – since he is so famous and important — and destroy the Bolivarian Revolution, as if he himself hadn’t wholeheartedly taken on responsibility for that task. Continue reading
Interior of Carlos III Market in downtown Havana. (14ymedio)
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana | August 18, 2015 — A crowd of shoppers and dozens of neighbors in the vicinity stood together at around 3 PM last Monday across from the popular Carlos III Market, in the capital municipality of Centro Habana. In a matter a minutes, and in a flurry of confusion, they had been forced to evacuate all shopping departments, eateries and entertainment areas due to a “bomb threat”.
The emblematic shopping center was shut down, and employees responsible for its security, who almost never have anything to do other than to check out the bags of customers suspected of theft, fluttered from one side to the other, trying to keep away the curious while exchanging details in their walkie-talkies, in a showy display worthy of a Hollywood action film like those that air on Cuban TV on Saturday nights. They had become the heroes of the day and were enjoying their role.
We are the only people who, instead of running away, stand around in a place where the possibility of a bomb exploding has just been announced. Continue reading
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 10 August 2015 — The digital version of Cuba’s most official newspaper, Granma, has once again published an article harping on the issue of nationalization of businesses and other US properties in Cuba which took place in 1960.
A few weeks before, the same lampoon had made reference to the matter, which, curiously, is one of the items on the agenda currently being negotiated by the governments of both countries.
The insistence on the subject should not be random, though it is inconsistent if we take into consideration that the public event that transpired 55 years ago, in front of a delirious crowd that filled the Estadio del Cerro, when Castro I – along with his younger brother, current negotiator General-President – proclaimed, microphone in hand, possessed by his own soul and by force of populism, the Law that in one swift stroke expropriated some thirty properties belonging to “the Yankee imperialism.” The very same “imperialism” (or could it be another?) that the very same old Cuban government (and no other) is crying out for, without mediating explanation for such a radical reversal. Continue reading
Historian and activist Armando Chaguaceda en Miami. (14ymedio)
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Miami, 3 August 2015 — Historian and activist Armando Chaguaceda defines himself as a defender of “democratic socialism that does not sacrifice freedoms for goods or services.” In Cuba, he associates with the independent left and currently resides in Mexico. Last week, he traveled to Miami for a meeting of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy (ASCE, its acronym in English).
“Chagua” as his friends call him, spoke to 14ymedio about reforms in Cuba, the process of the negotiations with the US and the future of the ideology he has defended throughout his life.
Miriam Celaya (MC). Where is the left headed in Cuba?
Armando Chaguaceda. The left is often defined by privileging equality over freedom. However, this is a very schematic definition. For me, it is necessary to hold political equality and rights against all powers, including the market.
In Cuba, the left will become more pluralistic. There are several lefts currently on the Island: one that is more communist and totalitarian; another one is anarchist and does not recognize the State, which is good in a sense because it demystifies and questions it. Mine is the social democracy or democratic socialism, which does not sacrifice freedoms for goods or services. It is a more humane and inclusive socialism. Continue reading
Who will compensate the thousands of Cuban boat people who lost their lives in the Florida Straits? (Mexico, Department of the Navy)
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 22 July 2015 — After the media foreplay stirred by the opening of the Cuban and US embassies in their respective countries, some outstanding issues on the agenda of negotiations between the two governments begin to surface as matters that should, in short order, get the attention of the media and of public opinion.
Statements by senior officials on both sides have made reference to cardinal issues that marred the Cuba-US relations for half a century, whose solution – requiring very complex negotiations and agreement — will depend on the success of the standardization process that has been occupying headlines and raising expectations since this past December 17th.
One such point refers to compensation claims from both sides. On the US side, for the expropriations suffered by large American companies in Cuba, whose assets have remained in the hands of the Cuban government, and the demands of Cuban citizens who emigrated to the US, who were also stripped of their properties under laws introduced by the Revolution in its early years which remained in place for decades. The total amount of compensation demanded by those affected is estimated at about 7 or 8 billion dollars. Continue reading
Inauguration of the Washington embassy with officials from Cuba and the US (picture from the Internet)
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 22 July 2015 — The reopening of the Cuban embassy in Washington finally took place amid extravagant fanfare, and, judging by the profuse media coverage, with catchy headlines and photos on the front pages of almost all the newspapers, it seemed that there was nothing more relevant taking place in the world.
The (re)opening of the Cuban embassy was the recipient of movie star treatment in some of the news media: photo galleries with pictures of before and after, instant ones — not as offensive — of the first opening of the building during the Cuban Republican era, a construction worker, proudly posing outside the newly renovated headquarters, showing off his Che Guevara arm tattoo, an indoor plaque to be unveiled at the time of the opening, and the flag hoisted on the mast; just like all flags at embassies around the world … Undoubtedly, the Island’s proverbial vanity was on a high.
A large official delegation traveled from Cuba, at public expense, to attend the merriment that joyfully celebrated the Castros’ capitulation and which – with that skill for euphemisms — the government discourse coined as a “victory of the Revolution.” These included several representatives of the government “civil society” who offered the embarrassing spectacle of rallies of repudiation orchestrated during the last Summit of the Americas in Panama, who now were awarded a trip of encouragement to the Empire of Evil which provides so many goods. Continue reading
John Paul II and Francis (internet photo)
Cubans will continue to leave for places where they believe God has placed his hand beyond the intervention of his Holiness
Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 July 2015 — It’s been 17 years since a head of Vatican State visited the Island for the first time. John Paul II arrived in Cuba in 1998, preceded by his well-deserved reputation. He had played an important role in the Polish transition – his native country — where democracy was finally achieved after decades of subordination to Soviet communism.
Such credentials of the Pilgrim Pope aroused expectations among many Cubans still being hit by the deepest economic crisis in its history, and also hopeful about the possibility of an eventual transition derived from some “easing” of the rigid centralism of the economy and politics in the Island. They reasonably assumed that after so many shortages and scraping out a living, all that was left was for things to improve. In addition, it was unusual for a pope to honor us with his presence. National vanity reached unprecedented levels, and optimists of the day hoped that Jozef Wojtyla’s appeal would positively influence the goodwill of the Cuban government towards openness.
For even more reverie, the discourse of John Paul II before a square filled with a mixture of the faithful and the dilettante, and facing Che Guevara’s gigantic image, made an overt reference to the need to break the isolation endured by Cubans as a consequence of our political system: “Open Cuba to the world”, he said in his inspired homily to the delirious crowd listening, captivated and hopeful, as if, just by the Pope’s suggestion, the miracle of freedom and democracy for Cuba were to happen by osmosis. Continue reading
El Rey se Muere [The King is Dying] (Martinoticias)
“What right does anyone have to rule over everyone’s thoughts?” The question, deeply subversive towards the Cuban reality, is at the heart of the open letter that artist Juan Carlos Cremata
recently sent to an unknown Culture officer by the name of Andy Arencibia Concepción after a commission of the National Council of Theatre Arts (CNAE) suspended the theatre season which, under Cremata’s direction, was presenting the play The King is Dying*, the work of Eugene Ionesco, at the Tito Junco Auditorium of the Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center. After only two shows – Saturday July 4th
and Sunday July 5th
— the play was abruptly suspended by art officials.
Cremata’s letter, harsh and unadorned, was sent via e-mail to several friends and to 14ymedio for wider dissemination, in a gesture that calls to mind the phenomenon that took place more than eight years ago, termed “the little war of the e-mails” or “intellectual debate” initiated by a spontaneous reaction of artists and intellectuals to the introduction on national television program of the notorious censor-author “Papito” Serguera’s process of “parametración” that ostracized dozens of artists, writers and other creators. Continue reading
Wi-Fi antenna in Havana. (14ymedio)
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 July 2015 — Contrary to what one might expect in a country where communications are almost a luxury and not a right, the announced opening of a public network access at Havana’s La Rampa, which would expand Internet access in the capital starting July 1st, did not generate significant crowds.
In the morning hours, the iconic El Vedado stretch, from 23rd Street, between L and El Malecón, showed its usual liveliness. Just a few, mostly young, would-be Internet users roamed the corner of 23rd and L, manipulating their mobile phones in vain: there was no Wi-Fi signal.
The almost total absence of foreign media at the location seemed a bad omen. One of the most important complaints of the Cuban population has been specifically about the Internet. That is why every occasion relating to the expansion of communications and the creation of cyberspace is an event that brings out the media. Continue reading
Celebration of Independence Day (14ymedio)
14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 3 July 2015 — The traditional celebration offered by the US Interests Section in Havana, on the anniversary of the Independence of the United States, had on this occasion a special connotation for being the first one to take place following the announcement of restoration of relations between that country and Cuba, and the last one before the reopening of the US embassy in Havana, scheduled for July 20th.
A large turnout of members of the independent civil society participated in the festivities on Thursday July 2nd, sharing the space with known artists, other cultural figures, scholars, and representatives of the Catholic Church, led by Cardinal Jaime Ortega. As usual, there were numerous officials of the diplomatic corps present at the event.
After listening to the national anthems of Cuba and the US, Mr. Jeffrey De Laurentis, Chief of the US Interests Section, delivered a brief speech by referring to the importance of the date and the events that are taking place at this new stage of dialogue between the two governments, while expressing his hopes that soon the ties between our two countries will deepen and consolidate. Continue reading