Tom Malinowski Speaks with the Independent Cuban Press / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Tom Malinowski, Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, held a meeting with independent journalists in Havana this Saturday
Tom Malinowski, Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, held a meeting with independent journalists in Havana this Saturday

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 October 2016 — The second round of talks on Human Rights took place this past Friday between the governments of Cuba and the United States, as part of the ongoing dialogue initiated when relations were restored.

In line with the importance of the issue and in relation with the relevance that the US government has granted him, this Saturday, Thomas Malinowski — Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor- who co-chaired the US delegation, together with Mrs. Mari Carmen Aponte, Acting Assistant Secretary for Affairs of the Western Hemisphere — met with independent journalists Ignacio González and Miriam Celaya, to discuss topics that were debated on that occasion.

Unlike the previous meeting held in Washington on March 31, 2015, this time both sides delved deeply into human rights issues, on which they hold opposing positions. Continue reading “Tom Malinowski Speaks with the Independent Cuban Press / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

Malinowski: “I don’t expect to be able to persuade the Cuban government about how we consider human rights should be applied in Cuba”

“I don’t expect to be able to persuade the Cuban government about how we consider human rights should be applied in Cuba, but we consider human rights as an important and permanent item on our agenda,” said Malinowski. While acknowledging the opposing stances of the two governments, he considers that these meetings are of great value because, on the one hand, they reflect the common agreement of both governments on addressing that the issue of human rights in the rapprochement process is legitimate; and on the other hand, it has been established that the basis for these freedoms is upheld in international standards that establish the universal character of human rights, recognized and signed by our two countries.

“The result is positive. At least the Cuban government is not refusing to discuss human rights, and does not deny that they are also applicable to Cuba, though the legal interpretation of the principles is defined differently in our countries”.

Both sides discussed related laws and international treaties that confirm the universality and protection of fundamental rights, such as freedom of association, freedom to join unions, and electoral systems, among others. About the last item, the US side fully explained the characteristics of its electoral system and inquired about the Cuban system, particularly the obstacles faced by opponents and critics of the Cuban government to aspire to political office.

“For our part, we recognize that our system is not perfect. But in the US human rights violations are made public, and there are ways and mechanisms to force politicians to fulfill their commitments and obligations”.

Cuban laws, however, are designed so that the Power can manipulate them according to its interests, with no civic or legal mechanisms to force the government to observe the principles enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, signed in 1948.

Malinowski asserted that the US government is committed to the debate on human rights at every meeting with the Cuban authorities, but he insists that it is not their place to interfere in Cuban politics, which is a matter for the government and the people of Cuba. He believes that dialogue is proceeding on the basis of mutual respect, despite differences in respective viewpoints on the subject. However, he believes that frank conversations about the realities of our nations create a more positive and beneficial climate for all than does the policy of confrontation that maintained a breach between the two countries.

There are pockets of the dissidence that remain critical or skeptical of the White House’s new policy of a thaw towards the Palace of the Revolution

There are pockets of the dissidence that remain critical or skeptical of the White House’s new policy of a thaw towards the Palace of the Revolution. Some people assume that it only favors the Castro regime, and complain that the demands of opponents are not represented on the agenda.

In that vein, Malinowski said: “We have maintained contact with all of Cuban civil society. Not only with opponents, independent journalists and other sectors of civil society, but also with representatives of the emerging private sector and even the sectors that are in tune with the Cuban government. We want to hear all opinions, aspirations and proposals to form a more complete picture of the aspirations of the Cuban people. We share and defend the defense of human rights and our government will continue with this policy”.

According to Malinowski, a climate of detente favors the desires to strengthen the ties between our peoples, and to promote a mutual approach after half a century of estrangement and hostility. In fact, in the last two years, exchanges between the US and Cuba have increased and diversified, as evidenced –for example — by the participation of young Cubans in scholarship programs in US universities

When asked how the US government viewed Cuban authorities’ insistence on spreading through its media monopoly a distorted interpretation of the topics discussed at the bilateral meetings, Malinowski stated that this encounter with the independent press was exactly a way to get a more complete view to Cubans about information on the issues discussed between the two delegations.

At the end of the meeting, the Deputy Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor recognized the importance of the views and suggestions received by the US delegation from many sectors of Cuban society. “Without their remarks and views, without their participation, our agenda for these meetings on human rights with the Cuban government would not be possible. We appreciate the contributions of all Cubans. We are open to continuing to listen to all proposals, whether they come from those who support the dialogue process or from its detractors”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Reflections Against a “Black Winter” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Ladies in White during a Mass, shortly after the raids of 2003’s Black Spring (Photo: EFE)
Ladies in White during a Mass, shortly after the raids of 2003’s Black Spring (Photo: EFE)

cubanet square logoMiriam Celaya, Havana, 4 October 2016 — CUBALEX, an independent organization dedicated to providing free legal aid to Cubans — an essential service in a society where the abuse of rights is a permanent part of daily life — in recent days suffered a sudden and brutal attack at its headquarters in Havana, by the repressive forces of the government.

This unpredictable event, in which disproportionate and absolutely unjustified violence was applied, marks a new chapter in the escalation of terror that has been taking place in recent months against the independent civil society of the Island in the form of harassment of individuals and of various civic projects.

With this act, repression breaks its own routines and sends a grim message: it is no longer about assaulting and beating dissidents and opponents who demonstrate peacefully in the streets, but the regime is willing to violate their own laws and indiscriminately level private spaces in its attempt to crush any outbreak of dissent. No one is safe; the Constitution and the laws are worthless against the power of the State-Party-Clan Castro. Continue reading “Reflections Against a “Black Winter” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

Meanwhile, the project Convivencia, the Law Association of Cuba, independent journalists, unions and independent libraries, among others, have also been receiving the unwanted attention of the political police in the last three weeks, with no shortage of summonses, threats, arbitrary arrests, seizures and “visits,” both covert and open, a clear sign that, despite the almost two years since the beginning of reconciliation with the “imperialist enemy” and the end of the belligerence, the top leadership is not even slightly willing to tolerate the existence of areas of freedom and alternative positions to its totalitarian power.

Put in perspective, since the raid of the Black Spring in 2003, the picture has never been so baffling and obscure for independent civil society, a fact that should trigger alerts in civilized societies that defend the principles of democracy throughout the world.

In a clumsy effort to legitimize repression, the Castro regime has also turned up its propaganda machine through its media monopoly, with its old and hackneyed arguments: disqualification of its critics within Cuba, as “mercenaries,” “stateless,, “counter-revolutionaries,” etc. – and accusations against the US government of attempting to subvert the political order in Cuba, to fund, either directly or indirectly, “enemies of the revolution” and perversely maintain “politics of carrot and stick,” since the true intentions of Uncle Sam continue to be reinstating capitalism in Cuba, something that is the well-known wish of millions of Cubans.

Interestingly, this has not prevented the reconciliation process of the Palace of the Revolution with the White House from continuing its course. In fact, both parties consider that it is progressing satisfactorily. Because it happens that the elders in olive green (or in suits and ties, depending on the occasion) are more interested in American dollars than these very “mercenaries of the internal counterrevolution” whom they are accusing.

Repression, then, is not really based on the alleged bad habits of sovereignty and self-determination – two buzzwords as corrupt as everything else in Cuba – as their faithful spokesmen and their regional allies argue. Nor it is that Castro and his claque aspire to a share of the benefits that a normalization of relations with the powerful Northern power would bring about. It is about wanting it all – dollars and power – without intrusion and without question. For that purpose, they need to complete their silent transition to succession without uncomfortable interference from the restless actors of Cuba’s independent civil society. They also have the quiet acquiescence of international public opinion and the approval of democratic governments around the world, looking away distractedly as repression increases in the exemplary Island.

This explains why this upsurge in violence by the forces of power stops being logical, not contradictory. The Cuban reality is now so confusing and controversial that there are no flat-out explanations to interpret the signals in a unique or irrefutable way. The same question may receive a number of different answers, not necessarily related to each other.

For example, the most recent survey presented on the cover of CubaNet had a simple question, as is to be expected of an inquiry of this nature. It sought responses to whether the current escalation of repression of the Castro regime is due to the impunity it enjoys before the international community. And indeed, just 24 hours after the survey, more than 80% of respondents (including this writer) did so in the affirmative.

Though impunity is indeed a factor of great importance in this case, because it stimulates the violent actions of the Castro hordes, it is just one element to explain the repression, but it is not its essential cause. In fact, there is not one essential cause, but several; and they are all essentially within Cuba and not just in the international political arena.

In that cluster of underlying causes – which are, in turn, the result of the failure of the Castro model and its inability to stand on its own so-called “socialist” founding principles—include, among others, an increase in social discontent and dissident sectors (and others “who disagree”) in the country, with the corresponding increase in activism and social groups potentially receptive to proposals for alternative solutions to the regime; greater visibility of critical sectors from the standpoint of the use of new information technologies and communications to penetrate the official information monopoly, despite the still precarious and insufficient capacity of Cubans to access to the Internet; hopelessness and lack of prospects of a better future for new generations, dramatically reflected in the sustained outflow of people from the country and the whole crisis that stems from it; and the fading myth of the “external enemy” which has created numerous pores in the monolithic structure on which absolute power was based.

Add to this the current boom of new critical actors, in this case under the same or similar ideological designation used by the Castro regime (socialist, Marxist, José Martí-based and others), which move in two different trends: those who advocate participatory and democratic socialism to allow opportunities for all Cubans, regardless of their political color; and those faithful followers of the thought and labor of the Revolution, who recognize the historic generation and ignore the political otherness but refuse to slavishly repeat the official line, while claiming their participation in political decision-making, an unthinkable heresy to the totalitarian power.

Following the logic of a regime that encompasses the worst of the traditions in all other Latin American dictatorships and totalitarianisms in the rest of the planet, we can only expect more repression and terror in the immediate future. The Castro regime seems to be preparing for what is being proclaimed as a Black Winter. Paradoxically, every new repressive action that aims to provide the image of strength and curb outbreaks of internal dissent exposes more clearly the vulnerability of the regime and its own fears of losing the absolute control exercised for nearly six decades.

Independent civil society’s response against the dictatorship’s escalation in repression has been the same in all cases: don’t give up, keep the will to continue fighting peacefully for democracy in any circumstances, an attitude that deserves greater recognition, respect and support from democratic governments and international organizations that demonstrated so much solidarity at times when they rewarded the oldest satrapy of the Western world with their applause, their approval, or their silence.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Youth Leadership, a Dangerous Sequel to the US-Cuba Rapprochement / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban youth (Photo:
Cuban youth (Photo:

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 30 September 2016 — This Friday, 30 September 2016, the fourth session of the Cuba-US Bilateral Commission is meeting in Washington, an occasion which the Cuban regime has selected to present their rejection of “endorsing programs that Washington is promoting without the consent or consultation by the official channels established for exchanges of this kind.”

This statement by Mr. Gustavo Machín, vice president of the Cuban Foreign Ministry in the United States, refers to the summer scholarship program that the non-governmental World Learning Organization grants young students around the world, although the official Press in Cuba and officials instructed in the case have been orchestrating in recent weeks in an all-out media spectacle aimed at convincing domestic public opinion that this is another grisly imperialist plan aimed only at encouraging young Cubans to subvert the political and social order within the country. Continue reading “Youth Leadership, a Dangerous Sequel to the US-Cuba Rapprochement / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

It would seem that the roughly 40 Cuban students who have had the opportunity to pass these summer courses in 2015 and 2016, respectively, constitute a real threat to the stability of a dictatorship that has survived for nearly 60 years in power. Or that the White House has concocted the bright idea of annually forging a handful of youth leaders who, after several weeks of classes in a free society, where they will exchange with other young people from the US and other countries, will be willing and prepared to end Castro’s revolution.

Such presumption suggests, on the one hand, the fallacy of the ideological solidity of the Cuban youth, so touted by the olive green regime; and on the other, that the political system has begun to suffer from a butterfly fragility in the heat of the exchange programs promoted by the US after the restoration of relations between the two governments.

The apotheosis of nonsense is the list of “subversive” practices acquired by students benefitting from World Learning summer course scholarships, shown on the organization’s website, citing verbatim the press monopoly scribes of the Castro regime: developing public speaking skills, teamwork, negotiation, consensus building, conflict resolution, defense of one’s rights and troubleshooting.

Only for a reality like that of Cuba could such a program be termed “subversive”. No leader with a modicum of decency – especially in our underdeveloped, poor countries with serious institutional problems – would be offended in the least by their country’s youth receiving this type of instruction and acquiring these skills that, according to the website, “help the next generation of world leaders to get a greater sense of civic responsibility, to establish relations across ethic, religious and national lines, and to develop skills and knowledge to transform their communities and their countries.”

But it is not difficult either to understand the alarm of the Druids of the Plaza of the Revolution, well-versed in subversions. Nothing is as dangerous to them as a “leader” who does not emerge from the “Ñico Lopez” Party High School where, nevertheless, dozens (or more) guerrilla leaders have been formed who have sown conflict, war and death in this region. Not a few leaders of the FARC and other leaders of the most corrupt Latin American radical left have passed through its classrooms and have received diplomas and awards from their mentors. Some have even attained the president’s chair in their own countries, with known disastrous results.

Young participants in World Learning programs (
Young participants in World Learning programs (

And not to mention the indoctrination and systematic brainwashing of thousands of young people from the Third World who have studied Medicine and other specialties in Cuba over the last decades. The Castro regime, the most perversely “generous” dictatorship in recent history, has even extended its “charitable” mantle to lower-income American students, though it has not requested their government’s permission to do so.

And it is specifically at that point where the apex of insular authoritarianism reveals itself. Assuming that the US government and the NGO World Learning need to go through the prerequisite of requesting authorization from the Cuban government to provide summer scholarships for Cuban youth, they are placing the young people in an obvious position of slaves who need the benevolence of their masters (the State-Party-Castro Dictatorship) to access certain training. At the same time, the government places itself in the position of the feudal lord who turns down success opportunities for his serfs.

At the same time, they ignore once again the leading role that should belong to the young people’s parents and relatives, who would be best suitable to decide and support, or not, their children’s education, especially since the timing of such instruction – student’s vacation period – will not interfere with the school year set by the Cuban educational system.

Far from it, and to legitimize the “national outrage” of the colossal offense, the Cuban authorities have ordered middle school, pre-university and technical school students to engage in the traditional protests against the twisted imperialist maneuver leading them down the wrong path. The most histrionic teenagers have screamed their heads off chanting slogans and waving nationalistic signs, they have learned by heart the speeches they might have to utter before the news cameras and the world press, while their own government has yet to offer an alternative with a future.

I see these fresh faces, hear their voices repeating the thousand platitudes of several generations lost in the national shipwreck, and I cannot stop thinking about how this corrupt regime has sown duplicity in the spirit of the nation. I just hope, for the sake of these young people and of Cuba, that scholarships like these will become more prevalent, that our youth will be taught as free individuals and that they will be granted lofty dreams and strong wings so they can achieve them. By then, they will have forgotten the slogans and will provide ideas and actions to overcome the long Middle Ages of the Castros. Meanwhile, let more “subversive like this” scholarships come, until Cubans won’t have to leave their national borders to learn to lead the destiny of their own country.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The End of Freebies by the Revolution / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Source: Cuban government website:
Source: Cuban government website:

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 September 2016 — In recent days, the Cuban official media announced the implementation of a tax on personal income for workers in the State’s business sector, as well as an extension of payments called Social Security Special Contribution (CESS) – that workers at the so-called “perfecting entities” were already paying into.

The new measure will take effect on October 1st of this year and will involve over 1.3 million workers who will “benefit” from the Business Improvement System (SPE) along with those receiving payments for results and profits. Such an arrangement “confirms the redistributive function of tax revenues and allows a decreasing participation of the State budget in the financing of public expenditure,” according to officials quoted by the official press. Continue reading “The End of Freebies by the Revolution / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The payment of taxes will be deducted directly from State company workers’ income by the State company, which will forward it to the State Budget. That is, workers will collect their a salary after deductions are taken by their State employer for payment to the State.

Contrary to what might happen in a moderately democratic country, where workers can join together in free trade unions and make demands against measures that affect their wages and income, in Cuba there have been no demonstrations, strikes or insubordination in the labor groups affected by this arrangement. Nor is this expected to occur. Against the grain of what some imaginative foreign digital media may claim about “over one million angry workers,” to date no event in the Cuban scene justifies such a headline.

Actually, Cuban State workers, deprived of such a basic right as free association, have developed in recent decades other peculiar ways of processing their dissatisfaction with government actions that harm them, such as being less productive and increasing theft and “diversion” of resources to round up their depressed wages with additional “profits” from such diversions; or emigrating to the private sector – which has been becoming more frequent and expeditious – or permanently leaving the country to seek prosperity away from the costly “protection” of the Castro regime.

For its part, the Central de Trabajadores de Cuba (CTC, Cuban Workers Center), the only “union” legally recognized in Cuba, not only has failed to fulfill the functions it supposedly was created for, and – on the contrary – is developing a whole strategy of support for the government, holding meetings at the grassroots level so that union leaders may enlighten workers about the need to contribute to the State Budget as a way of contributing to the fabulous social benefits they are enjoying, especially with regard to health and education.

For this purpose there have been commissioners who, either due to their lack of mental capacity, out of sheer perversity, or for both reasons, mention among these “freebies” the public’s use of battered highways and roads, the calamitous sewer system or even the precarious and almost nonexistent system of streetlights.

However, implementation of the new tax measures should not surprise anyone. Since the 2011 Sixth Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), the Guidelines framed on Fiscal Policy announced that “higher taxes for higher incomes” (Guideline 57) would be established, and that the tax system would gradually “advance widely to increase its effectiveness as an element of redistribution of income.”

In that vein, on November 2012, Law 113 (of the Tax System) was approved, repealing Law 73 of August 1994, establishing a special provision that reads: “Personal Income tax on salaries and other qualifying income, in accordance with the special rules and Property Tax on Housing and vacant lots to Cuban-born citizens and foreign individuals permanently residing in the national territory, will be required, if economic and social conditions warrant its implementation, which will be approved by the Budget Act of the corresponding year.”

In April 2016, the VII Congress of the PCC once again took up the issue of the need for the population to develop a tax culture, stressed the inability of the State to continue assuming the costs of social benefits and announced that it was studying the implementation of a system of personal income tax… when suitable conditions existed.

In light of today, it becomes obvious that these “conditions” did not refer specifically to an increase in workers’ purchasing power, which is still insufficient despite the much vaunted 54% increase in the average wage in the State business sector from 2013 to the present, which places the wage at 779 Cuban pesos (about US $31) according to official figures. Rather the “conditions” are the State’s increasing inability to ensure the already deficient social security by itself, plus the budget deficit, which the government’s own media places at 1.2 billion Cuban pesos, which must be covered by the treasury.

As officially reported, the State budget for 2016 is 52.4 billion Cuban pesos, of which 5.7 billion (more than 10% of the total budget) went to social security.

Hence Resolution #261 of 2 August 2016, by the Ministry of Finance and Prices, which sets out in detail the tax rate aimed at complementing Law 113 of the Tax System. This should have been applied starting in the second half of the year, but – apparently – nothing could be allowed to mar the Ex-Undefeated One’s 90th birthday celebration in August, so, during the last regular session of the National Assembly of People’s Power it was agreed to postpone the implementation of the resolution until the fourth quarter, starting with September’s income.

Of course, in a “normal” society, an increase in social benefits coincides with a rigorous compliance with a realistic tax policy. The problem is that Cuba does not have either of these two premises: it is neither a “normal” country nor does it have a “realistic” tax burden, but quite the opposite.

In fact, Cuba’s own laws demonize prosperity, limit and discourage production capacity, and discourage and penalize the “accumulation of wealth.” At the same time, there is colossal inflation and a deviant monetary duality: the country operates with two currencies, the Cuban peso (CUP) and the so-called Cuban convertible peso (CUC). For the most part wages are paid in the first currency, while a large portion of the necessities of daily life are sold only in the second. With an exchange rate of 25 Cuban pesos for 1 CUC, this creates an unbridgeable gap between Cubans with access to hard currency, CUCs, and the always insufficient living wage in national currency, CUPs, creating a distortion between official projections, real wages and workers’ cost of living.

Other accompanying factors to the tax culture of a nation, not reflected so far in the government’s plans, are the economic freedoms of those who produce the wealth – the taxpayers – and a necessary transparency in financial figures. Both the source of funds of the State Budget and the destiny of the revenue that feeds State funds through fiscal policy are occult matters of science, under the management of only a small group of anointed ones.

There are certain benefits of collateral privileges for some sectors, which are also not in the public domain. For example, the population does not know what percentage of the national budget is allocated to the cost of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) and the Ministry of the Interior (MININT), although both ministries were the first to apply the SPE, while their employees enjoy higher wages, as well as prioritized plans for housing construction and free or irrationally cheap vacations at resorts with prices that are prohibitive for the pockets of common workers. They also get guaranteed transportation services, the largest motor home park in the country, preferential access to food products and a long list of freebies.

In addition, there has been no information on the relationship between the tax and the pensions that retirees get. That is, how many State workers should pay taxes to cover the pensions of all retirees, and what are the projections in this direction for a population that is aging at an alarming rate, and that is, in addition, being hit by the growing and constant exodus abroad of its labor force.

At the moment, workers – suddenly converted to taxpayers without economic rights – have not been liberated of their patriotic obligations such as the “donation” of a day’s pay for the National Militias Troops, a shell entity which nobody sees or belongs to, but with a fixed quota, or of the union fees for an association whose primary function is to defend management. Cuckolded and beaten.

What is uncontested is the efficiency of the State in sharpening its pencils and doing its math. It is known that 1736 State-owned businesses have average salaries in excess of 500 Cuban pesos at which the tax goes into effect; therefore, their workers will begin to take on the new tax burden that will make their incomes dwindle. The bad news is that, presumably, many State workers will give up their jobs to look more promising ones elsewhere. The good news is that Daddy State will stop bragging about so many expensive freebies.

The “gains” made by the workers through half a century of “Revolution” are quickly blurring.

Translated by Norma Whiting

For an Uncomfortable Journalism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya


cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 26 August 2016, Havana — It’s been said that radically opposite ends end up looking alike. That truism has become irrefutable for those of us who are dedicated to independent journalism in Cuba, especially those who practice the basic right of free expression through opinion columns and end up subjected to relentless crossfire, both from the dictatorial power with its powerful monopoly of the press, and from the anti-Castro opposition, and even from “colleagues” of the profession, who are supposedly champions of freedom of expression.

Specifically the press, whose Cuban origins date back to 1790 with the emergence of the newspaper Papel Periódico de la Habana, founded by La Sociedad Económica de Amigos del País*, was one of the most solid pillars of the 1902 Republic, where dozens of newspapers and magazines circulated. In 1922 the first radio station emerged, and by 1930 the number of stations had grown to 61. Television, meanwhile, arrived in Cuba in 1950, and included new informational and news programs. Continue reading “For an Uncomfortable Journalism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

Somehow, over half a century a twisted and pernicious political system has ended up undermining the social foundations so deeply that perhaps the same amount of time will be needed — if not more — to recover, at least partially, the weak republican civic fabric that was taken from us since the “Revolutionary victory.”

If we add to this the newsreels that existed previously, it can be concluded that Cuba had a strong media tradition that promoted the development of public opinion and political formation of a good part of the population through a range of views of the most diverse trends in different subjects of interest to national life.

With its lights and shadows, journalism during the republic enjoyed a healthy development until Castro I took it over and “nationalized” it to found his private press monopoly and place it at the service of the government’s power, its role today. Nevertheless, its counterpart — independent journalism — emerged in the 90’s, and in recent years, driven by the use of new information technologies and communications, has managed to gain space and even grow under truly precarious and hostile conditions, against repression, harassment, and other adversities.

The history and ups and downs of Cuban independent journalism are too extensive to address in this text, since we would stray from the essential issue, which could be summed up in one cardinal question: are parties and opposition leaders prepared to assimilate the democratic paradigms which the Castro dictatorship is presumably facing? Or, more directly, do they have a clear awareness that freedom of expression is a basic, inescapable element of any society that aspires to be considered as democratic?

Judging from my personal experience and the reactions I’ve received from some leaders and their staunchest followers when I questioned their proposals, attitudes and methods, I fear that not all “democratic fighters” in Cuba and in exile are ready to take on the challenge of a free press. In addition, I would argue that the dangerous virus of “intransigence” has undermined the proto-democratic corpus of Cuba’s independent civil society and — together with the miasma of autocratic government, authoritarianism, and its evil companions — is replicating patterns of the system it iss trying to topple.

For certain “illuminati,” criticism of the opposition it is not only harmful, but practically an act of “treason” – a term very much in vogue in the media — as it “panders to the dictatorship” or “discredits” leaders “who are really doing something.” As the General-President Raul Castro always points out, some opponents consider that there is “a right place and a right time” for criticism. That moment, in his view, has not come, and since they feel personally attacked, they react with insults and reproaches, not with arguments, in an unadulterated Castro style.

A frequent accusation launched against any question or opinion that differs from one of these illustrious champions of democracy is that criticism tends to “divide” the opposition, and unaware individuals might think that it was once united. It is also the position of another obstacle: the opportunists; who, in the absence of their own limelight take the opportunity to pose as practical and as conciliators, paternally scolding the transgressor journalist and brandishing one of the most inaccurate phrases often repeated in the corridors: “at the end of the day, we are all on the same page.”

As if instead of politicians and journalists, positions commonly in tune in fairly healthy Western societies, we were school children who bicker for a treat at summer camp.

However, what is most alarming in this senseless contrapuntal — since a truly democratic leader infused by a truly democratic sense should be more interested in the well-argued criticisms he gets than in the servile adulations always at hand — is that reality is being reflected in the self-censorship on the part of some independent journalists, who often, with greatest dishonesty and hypocrisy, silently approve the criticisms that their boldest colleagues publish, so they utter low and furtive congratulations and keep quiet their own disapproval, for fear of being branded “politically incorrect” or “agents,” this time from the antipodes of the Castro regime.

There is also no shortage of neo-chiefs who get offended when some irreverent journalist, like this writer, refuses to be of service or to become a chronicler of his personal scrapbooks. They can’t imagine how anyone could be so “lacking in solidarity” that she decides to prioritize other topics rather than their heroic campaigns and unparalleled demonstrations of patriotism and bravery.

If, to be exact, the journalist of yore prefers to avoid in his writings such bombastic phrases as “the hyena of Birán,” “the blood-spattered tyranny” or other similar theater affectation to qualify the autocrats of the Palace of the Revolution, he becomes de facto a suspicious subject.

Is any similarity to the anointed of the olive-green dome pure coincidence?

It feels like something trivial, however, it is really worrisome for the health of journalism that tomorrow’s censorship is taking shape in certain niches of the opposition today. If it continues, the end of the Castro dictatorship would only mean a change in the color of the political power’s muzzle over the free expression of citizens, and the beginning of an authoritarianism with a different emblem, but equally restrictive.

Barring our having chosen the exercise of opinion in the press as a profession, let’s have enough sense of ethics and respect for ourselves and for our readers to continue doing that uncomfortable journalism that keeps politicians today and tomorrow under the rigor of public scrutiny, just as they should be in a democratic society.

Personally, I reject sappy and complacent journalism, journalism’s subordination to any leadership, and, particularly I reject impunity. That may not be what is expected of independent journalism by the very controversial “servants of the people”; but it certainly is what good Cubans expect.

*Translator’s note: Sociedades Económicas were established in the Spanish colonies (Havana’s is the only one that still survives to date, since 1793) whose mission was that of promoting local economic development, Members were generally drawn from the local aristocracy, scholars, professionals and skilled artisans. Some of the groups strayed into activities that bordered on the political, and were punished by having their legal licenses revoked.

Translated by Norma Whiting

First Conference On Internet Freedom In Cuba To Be Held In Miami / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

A group of young people connect to the internet in a wifi zone in Havana. (EFE)
A group of young people connect to the internet in a wifi zone in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 24 August 2016 – This coming 12-13 September, independent Cuban journalists will meet with digital innovators and individuals who are fighting to open the island to the World Wide Web. This first conference on the use of the internet in Cuba is being organized by the Office of Cuban Broadcasting (OCB), which operates Radio and TV Martí. The event will be free and open to the public.

One of the pillars of “The Martís” (as OCB’s media are known on the island), is free access to the internet in countries where the right is censored, as is the case in Cuba,” explained Maria (Malule) Gonzales, OCB’s director. Continue reading “First Conference On Internet Freedom In Cuba To Be Held In Miami / 14ymedio, Mario Penton”

According to Gonzalez, the event will be something new because it will not be Miami Cubans teaching islanders about the internet, but more than 20 experts in different areas who will come exclusively to share their knowledge and experience with the use of the network in Cuba.

“We are looking, first of all, to provide the ABCs of internet use in Cuba, and also to present the ‘offline’ internet that people on the island have developed: applications, informal information networks, among other things,” she explains.

The Office of Cuban Broadcasting is an institution funded by the US government in order to break the government monopoly on information in Cuba. For more than 30 years it has managed Radio Martí, later adding a television signal, both of which are bones of contention between the Cuban government, which wants their elimination, and the US government which funds them.

“Our first means of distribution is Radio Martí, but shortwave use is declining in Cuba. The digital world is gaining tremendous momentum,” said Gonzalez, hence the interest of the enterprise to enhance its digital portal.

The conference will include different sessions, among them universal access to the internet as a human right, the work of social networks and dissidence and activism in the digital era, as well as covering different Cuban media from outside the island.

Among the speakers from Cuba will be Eliecer Avila, president of the Somos+ Movement (We Are More), and Miriam Celaya, freelance journalist. In addition, professors Ted Henken and Larry Press will attend, along with Ernesto Hernández Busto, manager of the blog Penúltimos Días, and Karl Kathuria.

For Celaya, the meeting in Miami will be an occasion to show that journalism on the island has its own voice. “We are in a process of maturation. Independent journalism in Cuba was not born yesterday, but is the result of an evolutionary process. Right now, the conditions are ripe to accelerate it,” she said.

Cuba ranks among the countries with the poorest internet access in the world. According to official sources, about 30% of the Cuban population has been on the wireless networks that the government has installed in parks and downtown streets of some cities. Only two provinces have wifi in all municipalities, and prices remain very high for the average Cuban, at two CUC per hour, in a country with an average wage equivalent to about 20 CUC a month.

The Best Way to “Become a Man”? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban soldiers carry rocket propelled grenade launchers during a military parade in Havana's Revolution Square April 16, 2011.
Cuban soldiers carry rocket propelled grenade launchers during a military parade in Havana’s Revolution Square April 16, 2011. Reuters

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 August 2016 — Recently, during my brief stay in Miami to participate in an academic meeting on legal issues, I was surprised to hear from a Cuban emigrant – fairly old in age – about his wish that, in a future democratic Cuba, a law of compulsory military service would be maintained. His proposal was based on the assumption that military life imposes discipline and maturity in young people. Virtues – his opinion – which are practically extinct on the island.

Very frequently and with minimal variations, I’ve heard this phrase in different scenarios for Cubans of the most dissimilar political ideas or with no political ideas at all. The common denominator is the age of those who think this way: usually adults over 55 or 60. Continue reading “The Best Way to “Become a Man”? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

It would seem that the experience of the failed Republic, where so many presidents came from military life, and the nearly six decades of this calamitous revolution, led and directed ad infinitum by the military, there are some that just don’t get the damage inflicted by this entrenched militarist tradition in our history.

There are still those who think that certain “misguided” young people can “become men” after being forced to complete their military service, preferably in so-called combat units. “The boys have to go through hard work and get to know what hunger and hard life are in order to have discipline,” state many venerable septuagenarians. However, if such a principle were true, we Cubans who have been born and raised under the Castro regime would be among the most disciplined people on the planet.

The strange thing is that the same principle has been valid for both Tyrians and Trojans. Suffice it to recall that supporters of Fulgencio Batista were convinced that the country’s leadership should be in the hands of a “strong man,” even if it meant the violation of constitutional order, a perception that made the March 1952 coup possible, which opened a new door to military violence.

Just a few years later, another “strong man” was beating popularity records among Cubans, when he took power by force of arms, overthrew the earlier “strong one” and imposed the longest military dictatorship that this hemisphere has known.

That same militaristic thought made possible the existence of the notorious Military Units to Aid Production, created with the aim of amending and “making men,” through the rigor and discipline of military life, out of homosexuals, religious, “softies,” petty bourgeois and other elements whose tendencies and attitudes did not seem worthy enough to the “macho” olive green power elite.

And, on behalf of that bellicose national spirit, invoked from Law 75 (or the National Defense Act), thousands and thousands of young Cubans have been called to the military ranks. Castro-type military testosterone planted in several countries of South America and Africa in the form of guerrillas has not just been exported from Cuba, but hundreds of young Cuban recruits who completed the Compulsory Military Service were sacrificed uselessly in the war in Angola. Those who returned alive still carry the trauma of war to the present day, although there has never been a single patient officially reported with post-traumatic stress syndrome. Young people who refused to go to war, meanwhile, suffered military prison for “treason.”

The chimeric moral superiority of military training in men is directly correlated to the machista Cuban culture and is reflected even in familiar popular phrases. Who has not heard of “if you do not like it, go lead an uprising in the Sierra”; or “don’t act so brave, you have never fired a shot,” because being “one who fires shots” is not only an irrefutable sign of manly courage, but also the source of legitimacy of the force imposed over arguments.

Undoubtedly, those who advocate the supposed virtues of military discipline as a solution to the crisis of Cuban social values forget that over half a century of Compulsory Military Service, far from forming the character of our young people, has been a source of humiliation and deprivation, having only succeeded in enhancing the resentment and frustration of being forcibly subjected to an activity for which they do not feel the slightest vocation. I cannot think of a worse way to “become men.”

Keep in mind that a mechanism for corruption has been promoted from the standpoint of purchasing permanent deferments at recruitment offices by parents of young men subject to the draft, often with forged medical certificates alleging their adolescent children have some sort of handicap and are unable to undergo the rigors of a combat unit. Another way is through bribing the officials in charge of enlisting, who, for a set amount in hard currency, make the candidate’s file disappear, and he is not called to serve.

But the military band of men in Cuba extends beyond the compliance of active duty, since once he is “licensed,” the soldier becomes part of the country’s military reserve and is subject to mobilization whenever the Party-State-Government declares some imaginary threat or craves a show of force.

In so-called combat units, an inaccurate term for referring to the camp and shooting areas, weaponry and exercises, most of the recruits’ time is spent clearing fields and cleaning, or in some activity related to repairing and maintaining the headquarters’ kitchens. At the end of their active duty, many of them may only have “practiced” shooting their weapons once, and some not even that, so they are very far from being trained to carry out a war or to defend the country in case of aggression.

Of note, among other factors in the “training” of young recruits in Cuba, are poor living conditions in the units, poor health, poor diet, lack of drinking water or sanitary services, forced labor, mistreatment by officers, among other hardships that have nothing to do with military training, with preparation for the defense of the country or with the forging of character in discipline and high ethical and moral values which they would have to aspire to.

Compulsory Military Service has not only served the regime as a clamping and blackmail mechanism over Cuban adolescents – restricting the continuance of their studies, travel abroad or holding jobs – but it constitutes one of the most backward obstacles we need to get rid of as soon as possible. In a democratic Cuba the army should not replace the functions of home and civilian schools in forming our youth’s values. In fact, most Cubans who have lived for nearly six decades in this prison of olive-green uniformed guards, who have endured a regime of orders and control as if instead of citizens we are obedient soldiers, wish to be present at the conclusion of the detrimental cult of the epaulets and the philosophy of “people in uniform.”

A simple look at the most emblematic figures of Cuban civic history reveals the primacy of civilian-humanist over militaristic thought in forging the nation. Examples abound, but we quote only emblematic names like Félix Varela, José de la Luz y Caballero and José Martí, champions of virtues very distant from the staunch Hispanic militarism breath that has choked our spirit since 1492 until today.

A separate topic would be the future existence of military academies, where officers with real military vocations would be trained in different specialties, and would lead a well-paid professional army, properly prepared and much smaller in numbers than the substantial hordes of hungry and resentful rookies that are bundled in the armed forces today, who, in an imaginary case of aggression, would only serve as cannon fodder.

It is not reasonable that a small, poor and malnourished country that is not at war or under the threat of an armed conflict has more men lazing about wasting time in an unnecessary army than producing the wealth and food so urgently needed.

However, it remains true that in a future Cuba we will need a formidable army, only not an army of soldiers, but of teachers, professionals from all walks of life, from the labor forces, from our peasant population, our merchants, businessmen, free citizens. They will shoulder a much greater responsibility than a thousand regiments of warriors: the material and moral reconstruction of a nation ruined specifically by the military caste planted in power in the last half century, which has been more pernicious and destructive than the sum of all wars fought in the history of this land.

Translated by Norma Whiting

A Deplorable Spectacle / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Fidel Castro at the Colmenita Gala event on the occasion of his 90th birthday (photo: Juvenal Balán/Granma)
Fidel Castro at the Colmenita Gala event on the occasion of his 90th birthday (photo: Juvenal Balán/Granma)

It is a crime to manipulate a child’s conscience for the adulation of a dictator.

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, 15 August 2016, Havana – This Saturday, August 13, 2016, was the culmination of true torture after months of putting up with the fanfare in the official media on the occasion of the ninetieth birthday of the Specter-in-Chief.

Against any reasonable forecast, the responsibility for the birthday celebration was delegated to the members of the children’s art troupe “La Colmenita,” (The Little Beehive) and was presented to an audience that was beyond unusual: a theater crowded with adults dressed in military accoutrements or in pressed white guayaberas, Cuban dress shirts.

In the front row, flanked by the president of Venezuela on his left and his brother Raúl Castro on his right, the Orate Magnus in the flesh writhed in his seat and turned to whisper something to the Venezuelan catafalque, without paying much attention to the apotheosis of bad taste that was taking place on stage. Undaunted and haughty, as he has always been, he remained indifferent to the adulation, as if the whole deployment of major sucking-up were not exclusively devoted to him and his irreparable 90 years. Continue reading “A Deplorable Spectacle / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

However, it this upside-down granddaddy, to whom the children narrated stories, is not what this commentary is about, but specifically about the child actors who were charged with the responsibility for the pathetic spectacle, whose most salient feature was a waste of a repulsive cult towards the ancient dictator.

An alienated representation of Abdala, José Martí’s well-known theater piece, where the hysteria and the over-acting of the two young performers stood out in stark contrast to the firm, serene and happy mood behind this work of Martí, was the strong dish that attempted to draw a parallel line between the hero of the play–young Abdala marching off to war—and Cuba’s ex-chief.

Meanwhile, the girl in the role of the mother of Patriot Abdala rendered herself on the stage with the same deranged passion of a slum tango, to the delight of all spectators… except one. Poor children, victims of the political manipulations of their elders! Poor Martí, so used and abused by the power of a satrapy that has turned Cuba into exactly the opposite of what he dreamed of!

Meanwhile, on the backdrop, images from the Wars of Independence were projected, followed by other, real ones, of the guerrillas in the Sierra Maestra, the Bay of Pigs battle and the thousand useless fights tussled by the ex-Undefeated from his climate-controlled headquarters. The same ossified scheme of the aesthetics of socialist realism rooted in the years of the Cold War. The consecration of mediocrity.

And just in case the show wasn’t tasteless enough, the City Historian and a decrepit Omara Portuondo were brought onto the stage. In a shaky voice, Portuondo sang (again!), “The era is giving birth to a heart.” Castro I sat in an armchair because his dreadful state of health no longer allows those incendiary speeches standing on his feet before the public. The City Historian, one of the most notorious pimps of Castro I, made a grotesque and vulgar tribute praising the culture and genius of the nonagenarian honoree, his astonishing knowledge, his aptitude for speaking (and supposedly also “for listening”), the beauty of his hands and that “Fidel” had given him a tie 20 years ago.

The children’s feigned passion, the fake joy of the director and the artificial rigidity of the public provoked embarrassment among the rest of the people, but it especially arouses indignation to note how brainwashed these children are. Their carefully learned scripts, their acting gestures, the projection of their voices; everything indicates thorough indoctrination, long hours snatched from the play and joy of that brief period of their lives, to be submitted to obedience and sacrifice in order to satisfy the vanity of the old tyrant.

The U.N.’s Convention on the Rights of the Child should condemn this practice as a criminal violation, suitable to Nazism, to manipulate the conscience of defenseless children in serving the ideological interests of adults.

The children arouse pity. In a not-too-distant day, when the revered specter of today is just a bad memory next to a pile of ashes, they will discover that they were used in the service of an outdated ideology and that their candor was sacrificed at the foot of a statue of the past, with the willing consent of those who should protect them: their parents. I would like to think that at least the children will have the opportunity to change course.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Injustices of a Debate / 14ymedio Miriam Celaya

Note: The video is not subtitled in English

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana 10 August 2016 – The recent broadcast of a television program from Miami with Maria Elvira Salazar as moderator, where there was a heated debate between the well-known Cuban opposition leader, Jose Daniel Ferrer, and the also well-known Castro regime panderer, Edmundo Garcia – former presenter from a decadent musical program on Cuban television, before he chose to settle in Miami “for personal reasons” – has sparked an avalanche of wide-ranging comments about the performance of one rival or the other, as well as about the appropriateness or otherwise of the topics introduced by the host on the set.

While the confrontation between an opposition leader living on the island, and a regime defender – but not a “representative” – of the Cuban dictatorship was original, the truth is there are antecedents where supporters and opponents of the Castro regime have faced off before the cameras. Continue reading “Injustices of a Debate / 14ymedio Miriam Celaya”

Almost 20 years ago, on 23 August 1996, Maria Elvira herself participated, along with two of her colleagues, in moderating an unusual debate between a representative of the opposition in exile and a senior official of Fidel Castro’s government.

The memorable and passionate debate between Jorge Mas Canosa, then chairman of the Cuban American National Foundation, and Ricardo Alarcon, then president of the National Assembly of Cuba, was recorded simultaneously from both sides of the Florida Straits – Mas Canosa in Miami, Alarcon in Havana – and released by the CBS television in more than 20 countries.

Lasting almost an hour, that discussion made clear the superiority of an opponent who expressed himself with total freedom, in contrast to the obedient servant of a totalitarian ideology, tied to slogans and cliches, who was literally run over by his rival.

An important moment of that program came when Mas Canosa exhibited the dehumanizing nature of the assumptions on which the Castro regime stands, reading Alarcon the text, printed on the back of a Cuban internationalist’s card, with a phrase from Che Guevara taken from his speech during the Tricontinental Conference: “… the revolutionary needs to know how to become a cold killing machine…” There is nothing to discuss.

Saving the differences, the most recent debate between Jose Daniel Ferrer and Edmundo Garcia repeats some elements of that one from two decades ago, namely, the passionate defense of diametrically opposing positions and the adherence of the Castro regime supporter to the same scheme of slogans and repetition of the discourse dictated by the Cuban totalitarian power.

However, a great many of the colleagues and friends who from Cuba and from emigration have shared with me their views on this program, agree that Ferrer fell below expectations, and could and should have been more precise and direct in his responses to the hackneyed postulates and attacks of Mr. Garcia.

They feel, moreover, that the confrontation demonstrated, on the one hand, the ability developed by the Castro regime’s servants in the media to evade positions about the Cuban reality and the continuing violations of the rights under the dictatorial Castro regime, clouding the atmosphere and attacking the adversary with the usual disqualifications that are repeated ad nauseam in the official media of the island; and secondly, the lack of training of the leaders of the opposition in controlling the debate and taking advantage of the many weaknesses of the pro-Castro discourse, even when it is presented by a minor extra lacking any credentials, as is the case with Edmundo Garcia.

Personally, I agree with most of these opinions, but I know, from the times I have been able talk with José Daniel Ferrer, that his ideas are better informed and his discourse is better articulated than that he offered us during his presentation in Miami.

We have to recognize that, like it or not, Mr. Edmundo Garcia, an emigré who defends the olive-green caste from the comfort of a Florida city – which however, he considers a nest of terrorists – dominates the job of disinformation, and misinforms, distorts and disguises truths before the cameras with astonishing tranquility. José Daniel, on the other hand, was visibly uncomfortable. His natural setting is the tribunal of the streets, the passionate call, the colloquial discourse among Cubans; not the media. A limitation that must be overcome.

The use of inexact or poorly enunciated terms on the part of the moderator was not helpful, nor was the poor selection of the video that should have been shown (but wasn’t) of the beatings the political police deal out to opponents. The well-trained and opportunistic Edmundo knew how to use these failures to his favor.

These and other miscues explain how Garcia handled himself and dared to say without blinking and without a blush on his cheeks, that the painful events of the 13 de Marzo tugboat massacre, when a group of innocent Cubans were killed by Castro’s military forces, were the direct responsibility of the victims.

He also downplayed the scandalous hiring of foreign labor on the island, when there are thousands of unemployed Cubans, a fact that Ferrer pointed out to him and that the ineffable Edmundo Garcia considered something “normal.” I can understand that Ferrer could barely contain his outrage in the face of the rampant cynicism of this man, and to a certain extent this explains to me Ferrer’s distraction while responding in the debate.

Another unnecessary altercation between the two was related to the number of activists and members belonging to the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), recognized as the largest opposition group inside Cuba. A topic on which Ferrer was left in the dust by Garcia. The latter tried to ridicule the figure and question the veracity of the numbers quoted by the opposition leader, when in reality what is essential here is not the number of members of this or any other opposition party, but the legitimacy and fairness of their demands and their right to exist as an alternative to the powers-that-be.

It is known that, in a dictatorship, the opposition is always a minority, so there is no need to emphasize how many fans support one team or the other. Why play this crooked game of the Castro regime’s servants and make it so easy for them?

But, put in that position, Ferrer coud have, in response, reminded Garcia of the ridiculous membership numbers of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), which the last Congress officially cited as 700,000 – despite the almost 60 years “in Revolution” and the more than 50 of a “single party” – which constitutes barely 6.36% of a population of 11 million people. Isn’t this a compelling piece of data if we are talking about legitimate rights based only on a question of numbers?

Moreover, Ferrer should avoid comparisons between the Castro regime and North Korea, or extemporaneous allusions to the similarities between it and Stalinism, the fascism of Mussolini and Hitler, or other equally criminal regimes.

The Cuban reality, by itself, is sufficiently subversive so as not to have to appeal to historical or geographically distant paragons. It would have caused a better effect to enumerate the many and urgent existential problems and the absence of freedoms in Cuba than to try to describe the fascist nature of the Castro regime, which we all know ad nauseam.

One of the most recurrent vices of the opposition is precisely this, taking every opportunity to characterize the island dictatorship, instead of putting your finger on the everyday problems of the Cubans, or disclosing your own platforms and proposals to reverse them.

For example, the government’s blockade toward prosperity and the happiness of the population is reflected in the continuing, growing and unstoppable emigration of Cubans. Or there is the subject of the laws that have been changing in recent years, with the express ban on Cubans investing in Cuba, or unionizing, or the free contracting of workers, to mention just a few. These are issues that would have been difficult for Mr. Garcia to rebut, or had he done so, he would have done so very badly. Not to mention other sins, such as a lack of freedom of the press, of expression and of information, or the right to strike and other issues of great importance, timeliness and relevance to those they were talking about.

It is clear we must urge finally overcoming the media oversimplification of bad Castro regime and the good opposition. We simply have to engage in effective opposition and if the media over there or everywhere offers the space, we have to take advantage of the opportunity to present our own message, instead of allowing others, from the comfort of the television studios with one eye on the audience ratings, to write the script for a sterile course. It is not reasonable to squander the moral capital of a leader on a mediocre program.

Of course, to achieve this it would have been necessary to have a good script and a better moderator. Maria Elvira pitifully lost control of the program, which at times seemed like a cockfight arena without any order. Although she probably considers this a manifestation of spontaneity and democracy.

She was also truly unfortunate in some of the issues focused on, looking for easy sensationalism – like the Chanel fashion show on the Prado or the arrival of US cruise ships to the Port of Havana – rather than essential questions that really affect Cubans’ daily lives. The right to attend a parade is truly innocuous compared to the pressing problems of Cubans: the total absence of freedoms and the material needs of an entire nation. Frivolity strikes when it comes to politics.

In the end, the moderator repeated to the combatants the exact same question that 20 years ago she asked Mas Canosa and Alarcon: Would you be willing to recognize the triumph of your adversary in democratic elections? And their answers demonstrated once again the moral superiority of free thought: Jose Daniel, as Mas Canosa did before him, said he would accept the decision of the people at the ballot box; not so Edmundo Garcia, who declared that he would take to the Sierra Maestra before accepting the electoral triumph of UNPACU. Perhaps this was the high point of the program.

However, what I really deplored in the end was the fact that a leader of the prestige and courage of Jose Daniel Ferrer would accepted a debate with a character who isn’t even a legitimate representative of the dictatorial regime he defends. In any even, there was nothing to gain. I would say Ferrer spent artillery shells to shoot a mosquito… without success.

In my opinion, the problem of the program-debate in question is not who came out better or worse, or who better defended his position. The truth is that the debate of José Daniel Ferrer versus Edmundo Garcia should never have taken place, because it tends to lend prestige to someone like Garcia, who does not have the least relevance now nor will he later. A political leader must be careful when choosing his opponents.

Either way, I take this opportunity to express my solidarity with Ferrer and my respect for his performance as an opposition leader, his honesty and courage in the defense of that cause that belongs to many Cubans like him and like the members of UNPACU. Know that my criticism is anointed with the greatest good will, so I reject in advance any misrepresentations about it. In any case, opinion journalism is the way some of us contribute to the development of democracy and freedoms. I have reason to have confidence in the greatness and ability of Ferrer to understand this as well.

Neither “Humble” Nor “Young” Nor “Majorities”: Simply “Citizens” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya


cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 August 2016 – We are nearing 60 years since that ominous January 1959, and after decades of ideological fraud and demagogic discourse, we might expect that at least the political pillars on which the current aspirations of Cuban society rest would have radically changed. However, this is not the case. Some populist myths have become so deeply rooted in the social imagination that they have become commonplace and even been assumed to be incontrovertible truths.

Some of these principles useful for political messianism, especially in Latin America and Cuba, have been the perceptions of “the humble,” “the youth,” and “the majority.” These, not to mention other subdivisions that also carry political weight – such as those wielded by racial claims (for non-whites or whites), gender (women only), or sexual preference (for LGBT) – in a county where absolutely all of us have been dispossessed, far beyond our individual categorizations. Continue reading “Neither “Humble” Nor “Young” Nor “Majorities”: Simply “Citizens” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

It is these intangible categories that skillfully serve to place everyone – subjects that can be classified in any of those areas by their condition as supposed beneficiaries and protagonists of policies dictated from the speeches and political projects; and the politics of any position – whose projects rarely get past the proposal stage – to gain the goodwill and votes of those sectors.

Put this way, any interlocutor could argue that these are strategies used by almost all the politicians in the world, which is true. But in free societies there are also democratic structures such as the separation of powers; civil society in its various manifestations and its specific objectives; freedom of expression, communication and press, as well as multiple independent state institutions that question, demand and moderate politicians.

In the case of Cuba, however, more than half a century of autocracy has not only consolidated the demagoguery from Power, but – in the absence of a strong independent civil society and a well-articulated opposition – this demagoguery has become a kind of political subculture that has even polluted the speech of some opinion leaders and the opposition, despite the value of many of their proposals.

This is why, in the laudable desire to demand democratic spaces for all Cubans, more than a few discourses presented as alternatives to the official line also commonly reference the demands of “the humble,” while calling on the inspiration of the transformations of the country, especially from “the youth,” and offer themselves as interpreters of the demands of “the majority.”

“They are humble people, and so good and hardworking people,” some of them affirm referring to the poor sectors of society – the majority. As if poverty itself constitutes a virtue or that implicit in it is honesty and industriousness. One might think, then, that prosperity is the parent of evil and laziness.

With such assumptions, the legitimacy of political projects would be directly proportional to the defense they offer to the interests of “the humble,” which are “the majority,” in detriment to the rights of the more economically advantaged “minorities,” thus following the patterns of populist regimes who have done so much damage in the region and, incidentally, strengthened the dispossession of these economically advantaged “minorities.”

And, given that in Cuba the “Revolution” has performed the miracle of converting an entire people into an army of the needy, with no lack of new messiahs, some of them as egocentric as that boastful young man in the olive-green uniform with the dove on his shoulder [Fidel Castro]. These new messiahs return to draw upon the discourse of the victimization of the “humble people,” for whom they fight and sacrifice, because this “childlike people” is immature and congenitally incapable of defending itself.

However, it is a truism that the most relevant social transformations are led by minorities, as minorities are also opposition groups facing dictatorial regimes. Minorities are, in addition, the entrepreneur class that in free societies contribute taxes to the public treasury, and at the same time create jobs, among other contributions.

A class that, in counterpoint to so much populist megalomania, we need to consolidate in a post-Castro Cuba to lift the country’s dire economy. In a future democracy it will be this will be accomplished not only by investors who come from the outside, but also those entrepreneurial sectors (the so-called “cuentapropistas” in today’s Cuba) – a minority – that today is repressed and stifled by the same power that strangles all of us.

On the other hand, to award “the young” in Cuba the role of the “vanguard” in the changes espoused – perhaps as an unwitting parody of the official tendency to devalue the present, always expendable for the sake of a luminous future – is at the very least an illusion in the light of current reality. Not only because “the young” are not, in and of themselves, do not enjoy the condition of success without which the changes needed cannot be guaranteed – as shown by the fact that the 1959 Revolution was led and carried out primarily by young people, with the results that we all know – but also because a great part of Cuban youth choose emigration abroad over rebuilding their nation.

In this regard, the emergence of some pro-democracy centers and organizations of youth activists on the island is a hopeful sign, as they have endeavored to gain representation and have incorporated new proposals within already existing ones from previous years. Sadly, these projects are still in the early stages, but they are renovating spaces and bring a different vision, more attuned to this century than are some of the old formulations.

But it also happens that in Cuba, where there is an accelerated demographic trend toward an aging population, that the enormous segment of Cubans over ages 45 or 50 must be taken into account, not in terms of their economic potential but because of their broad political representation and their potential as voters in an eventual scenario of transition and democratic elections.

In fact, most of the opponents, dissidents, and independent journalists of today are exactly in that age group, such that one of the current challenges is to achieve the creation – apparently still well in the future – of an inclusive strategic block that on the one hand brings together the minimum consensus of all proposals and, on the other, capitalizes on social discontent and reflects the interests of everyone.

It is an old aspiration, whose attempts at realization have so far ended in failure, due mainly to the extreme fragmentation of the opposition and independent civil society – divided by leadership, methods of struggle, finance, prison pedigree, age, geographic region, proposals, ages and even racial or gender composition – which weakens the whole and in turn makes it easier for the repressive forces and, ultimately, the powers-that-be.

But, back to the initial topic, it is not about omitting the interests of the “majority” of society, scorning the importance of “the young” or failing to recognize the importance of the new leadership for the present and the future. What it really is about is the need to move to a new political message, better articulated, that reflects the reality of these times and abandons once and for all the Manichean tenets of postulates of the twentieth century, peppered with praise for “the humble, the young and the majorities.”

Specifically, it urges offering a hopeless, faithless and apathetic people an alternative of real changes and an image of convincing cohesion, particularly in these moments when Power has not only lost its capital of faith, but has just announced a promised future of major difficulties. This task belongs to political leaders.

And that alternative is not going to be achieved with the repetition, from opposite poles, from positions of martyrdom, immolation and victimization, however sincere and well-intentioned they may be. Let’s not fool ourselves: ordinary Cubans are tired of martyrs; they no longer want leaders willing to die to “point the way,” because they prefer the way to life and prosperity. Leaders need to live.

We leave it then, to social scientists, this task of elaborating the taxonomies and nominalist segmentations that separate us. Opponents must articulate a more integrated discourse and postpone internal competition for a future in democracy, if they truly desire “the good of all.” And times of freedom will arrive that will permit the certification of social divisions without their implying secular privileges nor transgressing against the rights of one person or another.

Personally, I will continue to distrust any harangue vindicating the humble, flattering the young or legalistically defrauding minorities. Let us say “citizen,” and let this simple word alone encompass the dreams of Cubans of any origin, social sector and age.

Cuba in Crisis: the Pressure is Building / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro
Raul Castro

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 July 2016 — Some claim that “nothing ever happens in Cuba.” However, the signals we have been receiving of late indicate otherwise.

The price increases at the produce markets since the last quarter of 2015, accompanied by periodic (and frequent) cycles of shortages of food and other basic items in the TRDs,* accompanied by fierce raids against the self-employed – and particularly against the well-known pushcart vendors – the closing down of the only wholesale produce market in Havana, and the accumulation of problems without solutions, have been increasing the pressure inside Cuba. The most expeditious solution has been the exodus stampede, which has already turned created a crisis in some areas of South and Central America. Continue reading “Cuba in Crisis: the Pressure is Building / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

As if such a scenario were not enough, during the sessions of the Seventh Ordinary Period of the current legislature, the National Assembly has once again begun to thresh the usual litany of failures: lack of completion of building plans and housing repairs, aqueducts and sewage system networks, insufficient food production, the new debacle of the last sugar harvest, the insurmountable difficulties in public transportation, the drought problems, the climate’s ill turns, the chronic lack of liquidity as an essential feature of the national economy, and even the damages we are encountering because of low world prices for nickel…. and oil (!?!?).

Reports presented by ministers and other Cuban senior leaders in the ten working committees, as well as “debates” that have been taking place among deputies, are proof of the healthy and uninterrupted march towards a national debacle, under the experienced guidance Castro II.

It is a well-known fact that we are living in the midst of a disaster. What’s new is that now the dark prophecy of the impending advent of (more) difficult times is being delivered by the official spokesmen themselves, not by the ‘counter-revolutionaries’ from here and over there.

The report presented to the Economic Affairs Commission by Economy Minister Marino Murillo referred to – without much fanfare – saving measures and adjustments that have been taking place to combat what he called “a tense liquidity situation.” He noted that the expected revenue in the economic plan did not materialize for this period, and that it is unlikely that the well-heralded 2% GDP growth will take place by year-end 2016.

As usual, such “predictions” are not only made when the national drama is in full swing, but they are not accompanied by a package of solutions. Instead, the “measures” of the highest echelons of power to alleviate the crisis had preceded the omen. For several weeks they have been cutting working hours, transportation service for workers, “subsidized gasoline” and other perks, such as lunches or snacks – in the few centers that belong to “strategic sectors” the state still has – of the workplaces of the capital.

Air-conditioning service is being reduced at the TRDs, from 2 PM until closing. They have also started to increase the blackout periods in different areas of Havana.

The new savings plan includes the elimination, starting the week of July 11th, of night shifts in several orthodontic offices, including at the Orthodontic School.

Shortages in oil and regular gasoline at the gas stations (Cupet), where they are sold, is another factor being felt in the transportation systems, both state-owned and among private carriers. Assignations to the state fleet have been dramatically limited – including those intended for the transportation of goods from warehouses to the TRDs, thus aggravating the shortages – while the private service has been decreased, suggesting an upcoming transportation price hike.

Almost simultaneously, meetings have been held with the militants of numerous Cuban Communist Party (PCC) base organizations to alert them to the need for increased vigilance and support for the institutions responsible for maintaining order, and also to be ready to counter manifestations of violence, increased corruption and other criminal activities characteristic of crisis situations.

The communist base is being warned about the importance of being vigilant against any outbreak of discontent that could lead to an anti-government revolt likely to be exploited by the enemies of the Revolution. Everything indicates that what is worrying the power elite is not exactly “what’s going on” but what might happen in the short term.

And since – in direct line with the worsening crisis choking the lives of Cubans – discontent is what continues to grow most in the country right now, and militants can’t rest in their mission to safeguard the interests of olive-green caste.

Meanwhile, in the interior of the island frustration increases and the migratory stampede continues to assume cyclopean dimensions. With the capital of the masses’ faith drained to the dregs, power will be forced to multiply its spending to sustain the formidable repressive forces needed to repress an entire people, a task that will not be as easy as beating, arresting and imprisoning peaceful dissidents.

In the interior of the island frustration in creases and the migratory stampede continues to take cyclopean dimensions (photo: AP)
In the interior of the island frustration in creases and the migratory stampede continues to take cyclopean dimensions (photo: AP)

Paradoxically, the government’s stubbornness and political clumsiness impel the outcome it is seeking to avoid. An insistence on trying to lead the nation as if it were an army in the full campaign of war, rather than promoting a broad and deep economic opening that cleanses the domestic economy, allows the development of the potential of the private sector, and gives a break the national anoxia, shows the meanness of a caste that prefers the sacrifice of an entire people before losing power.

To accentuate the absurd, the leaders of the Palace of the Revolution have the effrontery to launch this new report of forced austerity at the same time they are debating strategies and the government’s economic plans out to the year 2030. No moderately reasonable government would announce a period of energy cuts and other unpopular measures while running a public consultation of such importance. Undoubtedly, the General-President and his claque rely excessively on the powerful social control they have exercised so far, and the gentleness of a people who have forgotten how to assert their rights.

However, although no one doubts that Cuba is navigating toward a major disaster, one cannot rely too heavily on the accuracy of official reports. Especially if there is no access by citizens and independent institutions to primary sources or macroeconomic data, which remain the secret patrimony of the State-Party-Government and its most faithful servants. This means statistical figures are not reliable even when they are unfavorable to the country’s leadership.

We can’t forget that just days before the gloomy reports of the National Assembly, official media reported optimistically the increasing numbers of foreign visitors who are bringing hard currency in the tourism industry, and rubbed their hands with glee over the numerous signings of technology exchange agreements and declarations of intent from foreign investors.

For this reason, and without denying the great influence of the Venezuelan situation on the Cuban economy – which has a profound impact on a country as dependent on aid and subsidies as is Cuba – it cannot be affirmed with a scientific certainty how much of a real urgency there is in the “complex scenario” of the island’s economy, and the political blackmail maneuvers by the Castro regime’s highest levels of power, intended to pressure the United States government, and it congress and political forces for a final lifting of the embargo, which would allow the dictatorship quick and direct access to credits, a flood of foreign investments and a flow of hard currency that would guarantee its permanence in power.

Thus, to magnify the effect of the virtual collapse of Chavismo in Venezuela and that country’s economic crisis as the main source of the current Cuban crisis is to place (once again) the causes of Cuba’s problems beyond its frontiers, when in reality the key to all our ills is found in the inefficiency of an elite of cunning bandits who have hijacked lives and property, looting the nation at will for decades.

Because with or without Venezuela – as before with or without the Soviet Union, with or without the “Socialist Camp,” with or without foreign investors – the truth is that the Castros have done more damage to Cuba than all the epidemics and wars this nation has faced throughout its history, and will continue to be a hindrance for all Cubans regardless of who remains in the seat of power.

This summer, then, promises to be very hot and not because of the greenhouse effect. The compasses of tens of thousands of Cuban continue pointing to the promising north and the stampede from the island is expected to once again take the maritime route. If this is the General-President’s strategy to ease the internal pressure and achieve his interests in perpetuity, he should know it is a risky game and could be counterproductive for everyone, especially for those who have more to lose.

At this point, we could rewrite as its inverse that bombastic phrase of a certain chimeric allegation, which could well serve as an epithet on the tomb of Castroism: “Absolve them. It doesn’t matter. History will condemn them.”**

Translator’s notes:

*”TRD” is the acronym for the official name (in Spanish) of these government stores which does not even attempt to hide their intended function: Hard Currency Collection Stores.

**Fidel Castro concluded his four-hour speech in his own defense at his trial for his leadership of the 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks with the words: “Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Blackboard Mafia / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

High School Students in Havana (14ymedio)
High School Students in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 5 July 2015 — “Everyone knows which teachers accept money,” a group of young people tells me. In fact, some not only accept, but clearly require it from students who know they would not be able to pass the exam on their own.

The final days of the 2015-2016 school year are here, and once again the recurring theme of fraud by students and teachers surfaces, poor preparation of students, low quality of education and the shocking loss of values among not a few education professionals.

A group of five 10th and 11th graders of the pre-university Gerardo Abreu Fontán, of Centro Habana, agreed to offer their testimony on the subject under conditions of anonymity, in an interview that lasted more than two hours and uncovered before me a broad and deep network of corruption. Continue reading “The Blackboard Mafia / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

“You know you are going to have to come straight with me…” says a professor to a bad student, in a full classroom and in the presence of all other students. A phrase that, from a pure semantics point does not say much, but that in marginal code says it all. The aforementioned understands and abides: the game’s move is set.

Around this sunspot there is a whole system of tariffs and strategies that work seamlessly interlocked with the precision of a Swiss watch. Impunity in this maze of fraudulent trickeries is almost absolute.

The teacher acting as proctor will charge 5 CUC for each student thus strategized in the case, of which he will pay a portion of the professor who teaches the subject and another to the person in charge that year.

There is a kind of unwritten agreement In Havana that stipulates an approximate rate, depending on the type of examination (whether oral or written), the period evaluated (if the test is partial or final), the neighborhood where the school is located (which is usually indicative of the purchasing power of the student’s family) and quality and/or experience of the professor.

Thus, to achieve a good grade on a mandatory mid-term (known as a “Partial Control Work” with the initials TCP), a student from a relatively solvent family who is generally behind must pay between 2 or 3 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos) to the subject’s teacher. Some teachers, however, charge at a rate of 4 CUC per grade per question, so, considering that a TCP contains three questions; the cost can go up to 12 CUC for each TCP for each core subject.

Meanwhile, the final exam contains five questions, but the system and the going rate in this case vary, depending on what manoeuver is used. For example, a variant is that a certain number of students previously disclose to the subject’s teacher their interest in paying for the proctor during the exam so he will let the students cheat, whether it is looking up each correct answer in books or notebooks or copying among themselves.

The proctor, in turn, charges 5 CUC for each student involved in the plot, from which he will pay a portion to the professor who teaches the subject and another to the person in charge that year, who will turn a blind eye when he makes the classroom rounds to guarantee the transparency of the evaluation process.  So the circle of what we might call a blackboard mafia is closed.

Assuming that there are four subjects with written finals—Spanish, Math, Biology and History—and that there are an increasing number of students interested in using this negotiated evaluation process, it is easy to conclude that the dividends to these “educators” stemming from fraud far exceed their paid wages.

Dividends obtained by these “educators” through fraud far exceed the amount of their wages.

Another variation, usually applied when the teacher has a close relationship with the student and his family, is to conduct the review of examinations at either the home of the student or teacher, where the professor will dictate the correct answers to the student, thus allowing for corrections of mistakes made in the classroom. In these cases, payment is not in the form of cash, but masked in the form of a more or less expensive gift, accompanied by the corresponding eternal “gratitude” of the adolescent’s family.

Finally, there is also the old trick of altering official assessment records, so the teacher gives the student a higher grade than the grade received in the evaluations, which raises the student’s rank so he will have easy access to better university career choices once he finishes high school.

However, the juiciest peculiarity takes place at the provincial level, where the tests are prepared and the final exams and revaluations are “guarded.” According to the students interviewed, both can be bought for a price of about 30 CUC, although the student or his family must know the right person to contact, because otherwise it could mean severe sanctions.

Meanwhile, the new form of oral assessment for subjects like Physics and Chemistry in pre-university education, which was established in the 2014-2015 school year to “facilitate” student grades and elevate their advancement, has only managed to diversify the corruption behaviors of teachers to defraud the system.

These tests are performed through paper forms known as “ballots,” developed at the provincial level. The procedure is simple: the “paying” student will speak to that subject’s professor, who in turn will coordinate the gimmick with some member of the hearing panel to whom he will deliver a list with the names of those students who will pay for their grade in advance. Meanwhile, on the date of the exam, the corrupt faculty panel member, once he has verified the student’s name on the list, gives the student a ballot containing the answers, or he points out the answers to the incorrect ones written by the student, in cases when the student chooses to fill out the ballot himself.

Another variation is to conduct the review of examinations at either the home of the student or teacher, where the professor will dictate the correct answers to the student.

Each subject has a different price, depending on its complexity. A Physics test, for example, costs 15 CUC this year. Chemistry is often cheaper, 5 to 10 CUC, or a gift, which can be anything from perfume, a wallet, or any article of clothing to a bottle of rum.

Evaluations of subjects that are “not important,” such as Political Culture, English, or Computing, almost always are bought, because they are cheap and almost everyone can do it, and so you get it off your mind easily with 2 or 3 CUC or a modest gift, if it is a TCP”.

For a final exam, those who can will pay 5 CUC so they won’t have to make a presentation at the evaluation seminars, which is how they are evaluated. “Sometimes you pay the teacher to give you seminar from a previous year, and you can then transcribe it, as if it was your own work.”

“And all that without taking into consideration that, in addition, on Teachers Day, they get lots of presents,” says M, the most lively of the students interviewed.

But the corruption of the education system is not limited to the evaluation process. According to testimonies from students and parents, access at the end of the ninth grade (secondary school) to a pre-university slot higher than the student’s rating would entitle them to, costs about 100 CUC, paid directly to the school board, or it is “negotiated” through some municipal official with the Ministry of Education (MINED) responsible for the “grants.”

Judging by these statements, corruption is decaying the previously formidable Cuban educational system and it is sprinkling into everyday life, so much so that even students who have not succumbed to the mechanism of fraud—whether for moral reasons or their family’s financial limitations—perceive it as commonplace, perhaps a questionable issue, but not a crime at all.

Each subject has a different price, depending on its complexity

“It’s normal to some extent,” states G, an 11th grader who dreams of making a career in design. “It’s not that I feel respect for those corrupt professors, but I don’t care. It’s not my problem.”

In the case of R, an adolescent with beautiful features and pleasant manners who wants to be a doctor, he believes that what these educators do is not right, but “each person is worthy of respect, that is their livelihood.  If we had a different economy, other wages, different teacher training … perhaps it would be different.”

Once again, M intervenes with a sharp reflection for his young age.  He expresses himself with ease: “The problem is that the Government doesn’t pay them enough. It doesn’t invest in professors or their training, because they don’t produce immediate gains, as in the case of doctors, for instance, who go to foreign assignments and the government takes almost all the money they get paid abroad. Of course teachers are looking for any way to make money, especially the younger ones, who want to go out, have fun and buy fashionable clothes and shoes, just like us.”

All the teens assent in tacit agreement, while something akin to despair invades my being. These youngsters have offered me a glimpse of the true dimension of the damage inflicted to the spiritual body of Cuban society, not just to the economy. I am impressed by the colossal task that will be entailed in rebuilding the moral fragments of our nation, once the long nightmare of the Castro regime has ended. Of course, I don’t accept defeat in advance, but, for now, corruption is continuing to spread its tentacles and threatening to win the game.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban Migration Crisis: Neither Economic nor Humanitarian / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Cubans demonstrating in Ecuador (14ymedio)
Cubans demonstrating in Ecuador (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 June 2016 — About 400 Cubans who remained ensconced in front of the embassy of Mexico, in the city of Quito, Ecuador, demanding an airlift to allow them entry to the United States, were violently evicted from the place by police in the early hours of Sunday, 26th June. It was the culmination of a protest that began on Saturday 18th

Days earlier, the Mexican authorities had informed the thousands of Cubans in Ecuador that there is no possibility for its government to establish a new airlift, which leaves unresolved this chapter of the immigration crisis for the Cubans fleeing the questionable benefits of Raul Castro’s socialist model. Continue reading “Cuban Migration Crisis: Neither Economic nor Humanitarian / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

Mexico, through whose mediation several thousand Cubans managed to arrive in the US this year, has noted the need for a solution through “dialogue,” without specifying who would take part in it or when it would take place. It is fair to point out that Mexico is not responsible for solving the Cuban migratory crisis. During the month of May, more than a thousand Cubans in Ecuador had been mobilized for the same reason: to find a safe exit to follow their route to the US, with no results.

Some leaders in the region have attributed responsibility for the steady stream of emigrants, especially those coming from Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia, to the existence of the Cuban Adjustment Act

As usual, the official Cuban press has stayed tight-lipped about this drama, part of that stream of refugees that continues to flow silently, as a kind of plebiscite without polls, very clearly showing how insignificant the performance of their government is to Cubans and where their real hopes for the future reside.

While the Cuban government remains mute and deaf, Cubans continue to invade the forests of South and Central America or to defy the Gulf Stream on rickety boats in the unpredictable waters of the Florida Straits to reach US territory, spraying the Cuban crisis throughout the entire regional geography.

Much has been argued about the causes of the current Cuban migration. Following the crisis sparked last April by the constant arrival of Cubans in Costa Rica and the closing the Nicaraguan border, which caused a traffic jam of refugees and strong diplomatic frictions between the governments of Central America, some leaders in the region have attributed responsibility for the steady stream of migrants, especially those coming from Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia, to the existence of the Cuban Adjustment Act

Some analysts, while deploring the preferential treatment of US authorities towards Cubans arriving in their territory, have indicated that the fears among Cubans that the Act will be repealed after the restoration of relations between the governments of the US and Cuba is the main source of such a constant and increasing exodus.

The preferential treatment includes immediate legal protection and access to the Federal Program for Refugee Resettlement, thanks to the 1980 amendment of the Cuban Adjustment Act. In addition, in just over a year, most get their permanent residence, regardless of their reasons for leaving Cuba.

Other migrants are returned to their countries of origin, despite the real violence of the situations they suffer in their countries, related to wars or drug trafficking

In contrast, migrants from South and Central America, Mexico, and elsewhere, are returned to their countries of origin when they are caught, either at any of the border crossings or by immigration authorities within the US, despite the real violence of the situations they suffer in their countries, related to wars or drug trafficking, criminal gangs linked to drug cartels, murder, kidnapping, the aftermath of the guerrillas, paramilitaries, poverty and other situations that Cubans within the Island do not endure.

The Adjustment Act has thus been turned into the alleged determining cause—and, therefore, the obstacle to eliminate in solving the problem of migration from Cuba—when the real causes for the Cuban exodus are the hopelessness, the absence of opportunities, the generalized poverty and the failure of the “revolutionary project” of Castro-communism.

In fact, the government’s economic program stemming from the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba under the guise of the documents Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social Development Plan and National Economic Development and Social Plan until 2030, are, all by themselves, a stronger incentive for the national stampede than a hundred Adjustment Laws.

However, to focus the discussion of the migratory drama in the search for the alleged responsible villain, be it the Cuban Adjustment Act or the olive-green caste enthroned in power, not only masks and delays the solution of the problem, which undoubtedly is in the hands of Cubans themselves, but diffuses the explanation of the basic issues, which are not the mere existence of a particular foreign law that rules the personal future of émigrés from the island, but the fundamentals of the existence of a dictatorship in Cuba that has dominated the destiny of a nation for over almost 60 years, largely thanks to the acquiescence of Cubans themselves.

It is, therefore, about a vicious circle that seems to not have an end, because, though the main cause of the Cuban exodus is a situation resulting from a suffocating, long-lived dictatorship that nullifies the individual—and not a law enacted 50 years ago by a foreign government—it is Cubans’ incredible capacity for tolerance that has allowed the survival of the system to date that drives them to look for their future beyond the horizon.

It is the Cubans’ incredible capacity for tolerance that has allowed the survival of the system to date that drives them to look for their future beyond the horizon

The mobilizing ability of some bargain-basement “leaders” among Cuban émigrés is extremely noticeable. They are ready to demand from foreign authorities what they were not capable of demanding from the Cuban government, and implicate in such demands significant numbers of individuals including families with minor children.

It is also hard to believe that several hundreds of Cubans can organize themselves, demand a solution to the crisis they have provoked, and prepare themselves to make statements to the press and cameras that will show their faces to the world.

Are they the same individuals who remained silently acquiescent to the abuses of power in Cuba? Are they the same ones who accepted the ideological indoctrination of their children, the ration card, the dual currency, the high prices, the most miserable wages, the blackouts, the government-sponsored marches and all the existential humiliation under dictatorial conditions?

How can so much political willpower to demand rights in a foreign land that are not theirs be explained, when they were stripped of natural rights in their own land and accepted the humiliation in fearful silence? Is it less dangerous to traverse jungles and mountains riddled with dangers and drag their people into such an unpredictable adventure than to simply refuse to cooperate with the Castro regime that condemns them to eternal poverty?

The issue deserves a thorough anthropological study of the nature of the Cuban people and the catastrophic effects of more than half a century of dictatorship, beyond any logic of solidarity with their cause or wishes for the successful outcome for the efforts of those fleeing the Island.

There are signs that also indicate how deeply the uprooting from their land has infiltrated so many Cubans. For over half a century, the Castro regime has stripped the Cuban people to such a point that a significant number of Cubans don’t even feel the impulse to defend in their own country what is theirs by birth, history and culture.

The native moral duality becomes more evident especially when it comes to seeking immediate solutions to current problems, carefully avoiding any political involvement and placing on the shoulders of others the weight of problems that are ours.

This is what is happening now, when refugees stranded in Ecuador are defining their situation as a “humanitarian crisis,” though the issue is not about groups fleeing from a war, or about the politically persecuted, or about survivors of a natural disaster, of a famine, or ethnic conflict. Paradoxically, they are making demands in countries already facing their own national crises, without the need to put up with the Cuban crisis.

Paradoxically, they are making demands in countries already facing their own national crises, without the need to put up with the Cuban crisis.

What is more, these Cuban migrants do not risk jail or death if returned to their country of origin. They even declare: “We have nothing to do with politics and we are not against the Cuban government. Our aim is to reach the U.S.”

It is about generations shaped in the philosophy of survival, brought up in permanent simulation, of “pretending to go along,” where anything goes, in a society where the principle of every man for himself reigns, so they resort to any means to reach their objective, in this case, reaching the U.S. That is why they present themselves as subjects trapped in a “humanitarian situation” that, nevertheless, they have chosen not to associate with the political situation in Cuba.

Of course, there’s no denying the humanitarian principles of support for the needy or remaining indifferent to the fact that most Cuban migrants caught in transit to the US—just like other hundreds of thousands of migrants of so many countries in the region—lack the means and resources to survive, have no access to health care and other essential social benefits, such as a secure roof, basic housing conditions, water service, appropriate hygienic food and clothing, so they depend essentially on the solidarity of others. But they have voluntarily placed themselves in that situation.

We are facing a situation which doesn’t seem to offer any short-term answers, and, in any case, whose ultimate solution depends on surmounting Cuba’s internal crisis, whose essence is markedly political, though, by their irresponsibility, the government and those governed continue to pretend to ignore it.

Translated by Norma Whiting

About False Taínos and Alleged “New Trends” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

In the "Taíno" village “Guamá” blowing into a conch shell (photo Martí News)
In the “Taíno” village “Guamá” blowing into a conch shell (photo Martí News)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 June 2016 — I recently read an internet article published by Martí News (Bogus Taíno1 Dance in Cuba Shocks an Intellectual Canadian Native), which — as the title indicates — is about a Canadian tourist’s experience during his stay in Cuba. He witnessed an imaginary Taíno show, choreographed in the Matanzas province by a group of dancers “with bare-breasted women, painted skin and wearing wigs,” who “talked about a dubious native Cuban rite on the force of a river.”

The scene that the tourist describes was a mixture of contemporary dance movements and alleged ritual representations, performed by… artists(??) supposedly dressed in Taíno costumes, including white bullseye circles painted on the women’s bare breasts. Continue reading “About False Taínos and Alleged “New Trends” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The greatest indignation of the Canadian tourist, who is himself a native North-American, was the amusement of his fellow travelers, who were so pleased with the scam that they even took pictures with the fictitious natives. The Canadian regarded – and with reason — that this ridiculous representation conveyed a false image of “a Caribbean Indian culture.”

On the subject, Martí News comments that this “picturesque” show was previously criticized by the “Castro regime’s organic intellectuals” but that now, “cash is king, and so is the tourist industry, which the authorities want to turn into a locomotive to drive the economy, taking advantage of the murky waters of the thaw with the US.” So the government “does not hesitate to use the pseudo-culture as bait for unwary tourists.”

This, however, is only a half-truth. Ancient culture farces is a universal practice and not exclusively Cuban. In addition, the use of nonexistent native expressions in Cuba as a tourist hook to catch foreign currency is a reality, but far from being a novelty. In fairness, it predates the current avalanche of American tourists and, without a doubt, existed for a long time before President Barack Obama decided to restore relations with the Castro dictatorship. Though some find it hard to understand, not everything that is taking place in Cuba today stems from the new framework of relations between the two governments.

The interest in selling an “indigenous” tourism product beyond rum, cigars and the most affectionate prostitutes in the world has numerous precedents, ranging from apocryphal legends -like the love stories of Hatuey and Guarina in the eastern region of Cuba or that of the Indian lovers of Jagua, to chimeras, such as the treasure of Guamá, which, according to the oral folkloric tradition, lies at the bottom of the lake by the same name, in the current Matanzas province, where it was thrown by the Taíno rebel so the Spanish conquistadores could not find it.

In fact, Matanzas1 is one of the provinces with the highest record of aboriginal legends, even though it had low Taíno presence compared to the south-central and eastern regions of Cuba. There is, for example, the legend of the Yumurí — another romantic saga of love between a young Taíno couple — and the massacre of Spaniards by natives (or of natives by Spaniards, depending on who’s telling the story) which took place in the ample bay. Both the province and the bay were named after the incident.

All these sagas, more or less whimsical, come from pre-1959 Cuban traditions, and were compiled from the work of archaeologists, anthropologists and other scholars of pre-Columbian Cuba from the country’s practices. In particular, stories on these topics collected by members of the National Board of Archaeology around 1940 and 1950 stand out.

Such traditions, like so many others considered by the Castro regime as hoaxes and unenlightened thinking, typical of “colonialism and neo-colonialism eras” were almost completely erased from popular memory by the overwhelming thrust of decades of “revolutionary” indoctrination, but quickly unearthed starting in the 90s’, when the boom in tourism from foreign capital investments — mainly Spanish — took place, which saved the Cuban regime from asphyxia in the early post-Soviet crisis.

And it was precisely during that period in the 90s’ when the debauchery in search of dollars made possible the miracle of the existence of nothing less than a whole “Taíno community” in eastern Cuba, specifically in the town of Caridad de los Indios, in Yateras, Guantánamo province, whose population, though predominantly descended from the ancient Taíno people of the same region and with the same visible physical traits of that original ethnicity has not preserved the Arawak language of their native ancestors, nor their customs, arts, traditions, or belief systems.

In fact, residents of Caridad de los Indios, as in other remote villages in the region, have mixed equally with peasants of Spanish and African descent, and do not differ substantially in habits, customs and standard of speech of any other peasant population in the eastern region.

However, this did not prevent the cultural authorities and other astute provincial officials from recreating a semblance of a Taíno village with all the components of the stagehands out of those very poor locals in order to attract foreign exchange earnings for themselves and for the province in the depths of the 90s’.

Thus, they built caneyes2 in the modest village and created spaces. From the dressing rooms, they invented body adornments (necklaces made of shells and stones and polychromatic paintings on the skin), and even the feathers to be worn by locals, imitating the style of the colorful headdresses of certain continental native cultures. The animators staging the scenes probably copied from old Cinemascope western movies that were once shown on Sunday matinees at any neighborhood cinema.

So that nothing is missing and tourists will enjoy the unforgettable experience of an encounter with the true Taínos of Cuba, in the cacique4 village, there were medicine men [behíques], drugs smoked through the nostrils [cohoba], “Taíno princesses,” ceremonial dances and rites [areítos], bows and arrows (just props, of course) and even songs in an unintelligible “Arawak” language that probably made more than one venerable ancestor of the new Taínos of pastiche turn in his grave.

Arawak names also became more frequent — though they retained their Castilian surnames — so “Hatueys” and “Guamás” and even some “Atahualpas” and “Monctezumas” proliferated. At the end of the day, when it comes to profits, chauvinist concerns are non-existent.

Incredibly, the Taíno fraud worked for a while, and there was more than one visitor who, amid the obligatory areíto ritual — in which foreign tourists participated alongside the natives — was possessed by the spirit of some bellicose aboriginal great-great grandfather and fell in a kind of trance, in the style of spiritualism that is practiced in the eastern region of Cuba. Of course, this was very Taíno-like emotional and truthful.

The locals played their new roles with enthusiasm worthy of better causes, and got used to wearing their Taíno costumes before each group of visitors, and embodying the ambiance of what they believed would be a typical Taíno village, plenty of musical gourds, [guayos], feathers, loincloth, stoves for cooking cassava bread, campfires and a battery of artisanal tools created for this purpose. Everyone was happy: the new Taínos felt important for the first time in the history of their community; cultural and tourism dollars flowed into the official coffers — and especially into their thirsty pockets — and collaterally, the “Indians” also benefited financially and materially. They had discovered that it was more lucrative and less fatiguing be a Taíno than a peasant.

But behold, the unwary villagers came to believe they were genuine Taínos. So, when at one of the annual meetings of the Caribbean Festival — hosted in Santiago de Cuba, one of the sources with the most tourism influx to the “Taíno” village of Yateras — a group of similar “Taínos” appeared from Puerto Rico, representatives of a so-called “Taíno Nation” created to vindicate their rights as authentic West Indian natives and to demand compensation and return of land seized from their ancestors from the time of the Conquest, those from Yateras didn’t want to be left behind and decided to join the aforementioned pipe dream.

Numerous forms were filled out, with photographs and personal details of the alleged Taínos, and each were obstinate to “prove” tenaciously their aboriginal pedigree, to have the honor of belonging to the intangible nation and to have access to the appropriate compensation. The foreign press, meanwhile, had unleashed a whole tendentious campaign on the existence of “ethnic minorities” in Cuba, thus triggering the demons of censorship and repression on the Island.

It was, without a doubt, a “political problem” and a counterrevolution crime to encourage these Cuban peasants to acknowledge themselves as members of a particular ethnic group, and especially encourage them to claim ancestral rights. It was a crime to thus divide the Cuban nation and manipulate so perversely the goodwill of the people of Yateras.

As might be expected, there were purges. The official heads of those in charge rolled, provincial political authorities pretended to ignore the “diversionary” phenomenon that had developed in the face of the unsuspecting ideologues of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC); villagers were visited and warned by the censors about the dangers of such temptations of autonomy. As quickly as it had sprouted, the myth of the aboriginal village in remote eastern Cuba vanished.

Or, rather, it was transformed, since, even today, tourist excursions to Caridad de los Indios remain, so that foreign visitors may get to know the descendants of the original inhabitants of Cuba close-up, and see how much the Castro revolution has benefitted them. It is rumored that “areíto” rituals are carried out discretely. That is a peculiar spiritualist ceremony in which – in the afternoons — the spirit of mythical Hatuey comes to dance among the living, of which the locals are very proud, because, since now nobody deceives them, the leaders of the PPC have made it very clear that they descend from him: “the first Cuban revolutionary.”

1-The Taíno were an Arawak people who were indigenous to the Caribbean and Florida. At the time of European contact in the late 15th century, they were the principal inhabitants of most of CubaJamaica, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico in the Greater Antilles, the northern Lesser Antilles, and the Bahamas They spoke the Taíno, one of the Arawak languages.

2-Matanzas in Spanish means massacre

3-Caney (plural, caneyes) Village chief hut

4-Cacique: Tribal chief


Legal Framework for the Enemy / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya


Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 June 2016 — The phrase uttered by Castro I a few years ago, when he confessed that no one knew how to build socialism, remains in the minds of many Cubans. Most of us, stunned and unbelieving, wondered back then what they had been doing for all previous decades, when the official discourse specifically maintained that we were immersed in the construction of this idyllic “society, qualitatively superior to capitalism”.

However, the successor to the throne, Castro II, apparently does believe to know how socialism is built, not socialism as the soviet manuals indicated, but something similar to it: a gestational namesake that, in reality, would only be the consumption of the State capitalist monopoly, the absolute eldest son of the Galician-Birán caste, his close followers and their offspring. Continue reading “Legal Framework for the Enemy / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

In fact, the General has even calculated even how much “prep time” will elapse until we can view this wonder: exactly 13 years, i.e. from the year 2017, when the new National Plan for Economic and Social Development (PNDES) will be defined and approved until 2030, when the “successful” implementation of the Guidelines has fertilized the field for “socialist development”. The PNDES is the complement and the tool of the Conceptualization Project (PC), as discussed in a previous article.

Let the new bricklayers get ready, the ones that will stir together the new mixture that the Castro regime brings us, if we assume the folly as a certainty, the promised “socialism” could start to be built just 70 years after the takeover of power by the guerrillas who are still in the warpath from the heights of comfort of the Palace of the Revolution, far removed from ordinary people’s daily hardships.

Of course, we’re dealing with an amazing accumulation of chimeras. First among them is the assumption that there are Cubans who are ready to read and seriously analyze documents flowing from last April’s secret conclave of the Druids. The other — no less dreamy — is that anyone (including their own promoters) will take seriously the contents that are summarized in them. And, finally, there is the alienation of the ideal “model” from where we diverge to project the future of a country that doesn’t even have a present, in which the predominant demographic features are the low birth rate, the rapid aging of the population and the unstoppable emigration abroad. It is unlikely that the ruling caste will have enough slaves in the endowment to build another “revolutionary” lie of such magnitude.

But it is not my intention to dwell on another analysis of senile — though not naïve at all — utopias, but to focus on some shady elements which, paradoxically, are part of a kind of glossary, presented under the title Meaning Of Terms Used In Documents Presented At The Seventh Congress Of The CCP, which establishes, in 33 categories, the new battery of Castro concepts “over property and socialism,” so that the most educated population on the planet might fully understand the scope of such illustrious pages.

But, just like the bedsheet that’s too short to cover your toes, the glossary in question does not mask the demons that the Castro regime is trying to conjure. An example that jumps out is that the concept of “private property” – acknowledged as one of the forms of property for the Cuban Model (subsection d of point 120 PC) — is not included in the list of glossed definitions for either document.

Instead, ersatz categories, such as Non-State Ownership, Personal Property, or Common Proprietor of the Basic Means Of Production, euphemisms intended to blend for the sake of a purported “common interest” the rights of individuals to manage, control, inherit or dispose of their property. In Cuba, such an interest has already be determined by “the leading role of the socialist State in the economy” and that stands for “State-owned” – the so-called “socialist property of all the people” — in “the backbone of the entire system of property of the socialist society”(point 123, PC).

This guiding character of the State, in turn, is strictly based on “the principles of our socialism,” therefore the “projects of personal life, family and collective” are also selected by free will and responsibility “of each person, but within the political-ideological framework outlined by the CCP, and, in any case, the individual and family projects can be conceived “as counter or antagonistic towards the collectives.” In this equation, “collectives” equals people-society and, especially, State. Contradictorily, individuals or entities defined as “common owners” are included among the “non-State forms” of property.

If the reader has not understood a thing, this is the purpose of the official tabloid. I will simplify it to a minimum: the State (Castro and his conga-line) is the representative of the people (everyone else who is a native of Cuba) and as such, he is the one who controls everyone’s property, including assets that presumably do not belong to the State. As a corollary of this legal-theoretical aberration, the “people” own everything but every day is more deprived in assets, capital and rights; while the State collects and manages all the wealth and benefits of the nominal owners, it establishes production strategies (although they not produce anything) and it launches the legal and political order of the “owner-people.”

Another notable omission in the glossary is the latest type of property mentioned in section 120 of the CP, “property of mass political organizations and other forms of association” – implicitly understood in these institutions created by the government-State-party to ensure its control of society, which fittingly overlaps within the generic concept of “socialist civil society” (glossary term number 10).

Interestingly, unlike other forms of property, “political organizations of the masses, social, and others …” (Sub-paragraph e, point 120 of the PC) enjoy a special privilege, as these associations “have legal personality and work in the established framework “(point 188 PC) and “can receive State or other support, in the interest of the country’s advancements and its well-being” (section 190 PC).

There is no need to be an accomplished analyst to discover the Castro trick. When organizations created for the State’s own service — such as the CDR, FMC, CTC, FEEM, FEU, OPC, UPEC, UNEAC* and a whole long list of “foundations” defined as “socialist civil society” — are acknowledged as “properties” with legal personality and independent from the State and then the rights of these organizations are legitimized to receive “help” (financing? donations?) from the State or from “others” (institutions, organizations or other foreign actors?). This not only justifies the permanence of a monstrous unproductive and parasitic institutional structure within a country in debt and in perennial economic crisis, but frees the State-Party-Government from the burden that support for them implies, and in addition converts them into potential tax contributors to the State itself.

Taking this analysis a step further, it is difficult not to relate the category “socialist civil society” and the official recognition of the form of ownership of ” political organizations of the masses, social, and others …” — defined in the glossary as a “form of non-State ownership” — with the easing measures dictated by the US government regarding the approval of bank loans and other benefits for non-State entrepreneurs. It would not be surprising if socialist civil society becomes the entrepreneurs of the future. Suffice it to remember that the origin of the capital of many of the tycoons of today’s Russia stems from the workings of the institutions created by the Soviet State. If this seems a bit twisted to the readers, be aware that, in effect, it is.

And since everything seems to be thought out, not by chance, concept number 6 of the glossary (forms of non-State-owned property) literally states in paragraph 4 that “the possibilities of different non-State forms for the effective management and efficient use of resources” must contribute “to the development of the national economy, instead of being a burden to the socialist State.” That is, all must pay income taxes to the State.

Obviously, regardless of the unworkable nature of almost all Castro plans, we must not lose sight of the obvious intention of making a comprehensive legal framework for the whole society, which is to be favorable to its interests as a military and political enterprise. Such a framework would cover both the minimum formal requirements to satisfy legal scruples for the sake of appearances from abroad and to legitimize the Castro transition to State capitalism disguised as socialism.

So it is that we finally know that, hereinafter, when the power elite speaks of how to “construct socialism” it will actually be referring to how to best consolidate the private emporium founded by the two most illustrious sons of… Birán**.

There will be no shortage of those who think that this is causing too much worry, that the absurdity of the official plans is, in itself, the warranty of its failure. Those who think that way might be forgetting how much damage it has caused us as a nation to underestimate the mimetic and survival skills of the Castro regime. Personally, I agree with those who believe that we would be better off if we kept our enemies under close scrutiny, even if we are convinced that they are in agony. And I don’t know anyone who is more deserving of the title of enemies of the Cuban people than the Castro brothers.

Translator’s note:

*The acronyms stand for: CDR – Committees for the Defense of the Revolution; FMC, Federation of Cuban Women; CTC, Cuban Workers Center; FEEM, Federation of High School Students ; FEU, Federation of University Students; OPC, Cuban Patriotic Organization; UPEC, Cuban Journalists Union; UNEAC, Cuban Writers and Artists Union.

*The birthplace of Fidel and Raul Castro

Translated by Norma Whiting