Driving in Reverse / Miriam Celaya

Image from the Internet

(Originally published in Cubanet the April 11, 2014 , titled ” Raul Castro Goes in Reverse”)

Clearly, the new Foreign Investment Law “approved” by the usual parliamentary unanimity last March 29, 2014, has been the talk of the town on the topic of “Cuba”, for the Island’s official as well as for the independent and foreign press.

With the relaxation of the existing law–enacted in 1995–the new regulation is aiming to throw the ball to the opposite field: if Cuban residents of the US cannot invest in Cuba currently, it would no longer be because the regime bans it, but because of the shackles imposed by the embargo, a trick of the elderly olive green crocodile that continues with its wiles and snares despite the collapse of the system.

Amid the expectations of the government’s and of aspiring investors, there stretches a wide tuning fork of the ever-excluded: the common Cubans, or the “walking Cubans” as we say, whose opinions are not reflected in the media, magnifying their exclusion.

This time, however, the cancellation of the innate rights of Cubans is causing social unrest to multiply, in a scenario in which there are accelerated shortages in the commercial networks and persistent and increasing higher prices and a higher cost of living.

Rejection of the Investment Law

Shortages, as well as inflation, indexation and bans for certain items of the private trade, have caused many family businesses to close since January 2014 due to the uncertainty surrounding the heralded–and never properly explained–monetary unification.

In addition to the lack of positive expectations, these are the factors that thin out the social environment and lead to generally unfavorable reviews of the new law and its impact within Cuba.

An informal survey I conducted in recent days in Central Havana after the March 29th extraordinary session of parliament shows rejection of the new Law on Foreign Investment, almost as unanimous as the “approval” that occurred in the plenary: of a total of 50 individuals polled, 49 were critical of the law and only one was indifferent.

In fact, the issue has been present with relative frequency in many cliques not directly surveyed–uncommon in a population usually apathetic about laws–in which the dominant tendency was to criticize various aspects of the law.

The main reasons for the people’s discontent are summarized in several main points: the new law excludes, arbitrarily and despotically, Cuban nationals, which implies that the lack of opportunities for the Island’s Cubans is being maintained.

Foreign investors will not only have great advantages and tax considerations which have never been granted to the self-employed, tariff concessions with respect to imports (which is just what traders in imported items asked for and was not granted); the State will remain the employer of those who will labor in foreign-funded enterprises, implying consequent hiring based on Party loyalty–be it real or fake, and taxed wages; widening social gaps between sectors with higher levels of access to consumption and the more disadvantaged sectors (the latter constantly growing).

At the same time, many Cubans question the vagaries of government policy which, without any embarrassment, favors the capital of the expats-–the former “siquitrillados*, the bourgeoisie, gypsies, worms, traitors, scum, etc.”–over those who stayed behind in Cuba.

The logical conclusion, even for those who stayed relatively associated with the revolutionary process, or at least those who have not openly opposed the regime, is that leaving the country would have been a more sensible and timely option to have any chance of investing in the current situation. There are those who perceive this law as the regime’s betrayal to the “loyalty” of those who chose to stay, usually Cubans of lesser means.

Another topic that challenges the already diminished credibility of the government is the very fact of appealing to foreign capital as the saving grace of the system, when, the process of nationalization of 1959, it was deemed as one of the “fairer measures” and of greater significance undertaken, to “place in the hands of the people” what the filthy bourgeois capital had swiped from them.

Cubans wonder what sense it made to expel foreign capital and 55 years later to plead for its return. It’s like going backwards, but over a more unstable and damaged road. Wouldn’t we have saved ourselves over a half a century of material shortages and spiritual deprivation if we had kept companies that were already established in our country? How many benefits did we give up since the State, that unproductive, inefficient and lousy administrator, appropriated them?

What revolution are you taking about?

At any rate, the majority has a clear conscience that the revolution and its displays of social justice and equality are behind us, in some corner of the twisted road. “Do you think this new law will save the revolution?”

I provocatively ask an old man who sells newspapers in my neighborhood. “Girl! Which revolution are you referring to, the one that made Batista flee or the one that is making all Cubans escape? The 1959 revolution was over the moment ’this one’ handed over the country to the Russians, now the only thing the brother wants is to give it back to the Americans and to keep himself a nice slice.”

I probably never before heard such an accurate synthesis of what the history of the Revolution means today to many a Cuban.

*Translator’s note: Those who lost investment and personal property when companies were nationalized in 1959 and early 1960’s. From one of Fidel’s speeches, “we broke their wish bone and we will continue to break their wish bone”.

Translated by Norma Whiting

11 April 2014

The Voices of Cubans? / Miriam Celaya

Arrogance is a personality trait impossible to hide for those who suffer from it. In fact, it becomes more obvious when an arrogant individual tries to cover his proverbial petulance under a cloak of feigned humility. The worst of such a subject, however, is his histrionic ability that allows him to deceive considerable groups of people, particularly those who desperately need someone to speak “for them” or those who, quite the opposite, enjoy the blessing of authority.

In the case of Cuba, where freedom of speech, of the press, of information and of association are among the major shortages of this society, it is not difficult that, from time to time, some savior may appear self-proclaiming to be “the spokesperson for Cubans” which–it’s obvious–betrays immeasurable insolence, not only because it lacks the allocation of powers, but because it previously assumes an often repeated lie that, for some chumps, has become the truth: Cubans have no voice. Allow me, Mr. Arrogant and his troupe, to correct your mistake: Cuba’s Cubans do have a voice, what they lack is the means to be heard, not to mention the great number of deaf people in the world.

But, of course, a shining hero will always appear–usually with credentials and even with a pedigree–who, from his infinite wisdom, will quickly delve into the deeper intricacies of the Cuban reality and will be the only one capable to interpret it objectively because he, balanced and fair, “is not at the end of the spectrum”. Interestingly, these specimens proliferate virulently among accredited foreign journalists on the Island.

Since I don’t wish to be absolute, I suppose that there are those who are humble and even respectful of Cubans and of our reality, only I have never had the privilege of meeting them. It may be my bad luck, but, that said, to practice journalism in Cuba armed with credentials of a major media outlet and with the relative safety that your work will be published and–very important–duly financially rewarded, seems to have a hallucinogenic effect on some of them.

Such is the case of quasi-Cubanologist Fernando Ravsberg, to whom I will refer as “R” as an abbreviation, a journalist recently fallen from grace with his (ex) employer, the BBC, who has written a plaintive post following his clash with the powerful medium and, oh, surprise! after many years of working as a correspondent in Cuba and having collected his earnings has found that “he does not share their editorial judgment” as stated in his personal blog, Cartas Desde Cuba. R, inexplicably, took longer to find out the editorial standards of the BBC than to get acquainted with the intimacies of such a controversial society as that of Cuba. Continue reading

Spider’s Web to Trap Investors / Miriam Celaya

Dilma Rousseff and Fidel Castro

HAVANA, Cuba – Some 53 years, 5 months and 17 days after the publication of Law 890, which provided for the expropriation of many locally owned and foreign firms, principally American, the regime just introduced the new Foreign Investment Law that goes into effect in 90 days.

The new ordinance replaces the norms in effect since 1995, when the sharpest and longest economic crisis suffered by the country forced the country to turn to foreign capital investments in Cuba, despite the purest principles of the Communist doctrine in which several generations have been (de)formed at the hands of this government. By then, some foreign businessmen were tempted to ensure themselves a space in the virgin market, while others discovered the a true tax haven in the Caribbean socialist inferno.

These capitalist outposts gave the regime the oxygen needed to overcome the imminent asphyxiation, and also made possible Castro I’s backing off from the “opening” that had allowed the return of small private property in the form of some family businesses–such as snack bars, restaurants and rooms for rent, among others–that had rapidly expanded throughout the island from the beginning of the 90s.

Cuba ‘s National Assembly votes in unison like a chorus of stringed puppets

Now that foreign capital has ceased to be an evil that must be overcome by socialism and has been converted into a “necessary good” called on to boost the always promised and never reached “economic development of the country” (Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth), Sunday 30 March 2014).

It’s here that, among the surprises that the updating of the Raulist model holds for us, Powerful Mr. Money is destined to facilitate “the consolidation of Cuban socialism,” which this time–yes, now!–will be “prosperous and sustainable, thanks to that formerly demonized capital. That other ancient bearded one, Karl Marx, must be turning in his grave.

Retrospective: the negation of capital

In 1960, Article 1 of Law 890 declared: Nationalization is carried out through the forced expropriation of all industrial and commercial businesses, as well as factories, warehouses, deposits and other properties and members’ rights of the same.

The mega port of Mariel

Under this law, the state appropriated 105 sugar mills, 18 distilleries, 6 alcoholic beverage factories, 6 soap and perfume factories, 5 dairies, 2 chocolate factories, one flour mill, 7 packaging factories, 4 paint factories, 3 chemical producers, 6 metallurgists, 7 stationary makers, a lamp factory, 60 textile and apparel industries, 16 rice mills, 7 food factories, 2 vegetable oil makers, 47 food stores, 11 coffee roasters, 3 drug stores, 13 department store, 8 railroads, a printer, 11 cinemas and film circuits, 19 construction-related companies, a power company and 13 shipping companies.

In subsequent months the expropriations continued, given that the Revolutionary government had decided to “adopt formulas that finally liquidated the economic power of the privileged interests that conspire against the people, proceeding to the nationalization of the large industrial and commercial companies that have not adapted nor can ever adapt to the Revolutionary reality of our nation.”

Another image of the mega port of Mariel

 

Spider Web to trap the unwary

At present no one seems to remember the aforementioned Law 890. Nor do they allude to the fiasco of the entrepreneurs who dared to negotiate with the Castros in the 90s and suffered great material and financial losses in the adventure. Few earned the expected profits, much less kept their businesses on the island. It’s not known if there were indemnifications, although there were definitely damages to public opinion from the irresponsible actions of so many foreign investors and of the Cuban authorities. The government has not publicly acknowledged responsibility for its mistakes, and on the other hand, we Cubans have not seen the benefits from theses inflows of capital. Nothing guarantees we will realize them with the new legislation, the greatly over-used “judicial guarantees” are not for us.

Self-employed Cubans struggling to survive between legality and the black market

The rights and benefits of Cuban workers were also enunciated: “There will not be free contracting of a labor force, so the figure of the employing entity will be maintained, the wages will be conditional upon the labor supplied, efficiency, and the value added that the company generates.” Furthermore, “The payment of the workforce will be negotiated between the employing entity and the foreign capital company.”

Thus, the State-Government, as the “employing entity,” will continue to be the owner and the Cuban employees the rented slaves, a detail that should serve to alert potential employers, given that the chronic low wages is the best incentive for theft and other forms of corruption, common among us as illegal, but legitimate, methods of survival.

The new Foreign Investment Law has not yet been published or circulated as a draft in tabloid form in recent days, so that the exact terms of its text, considerations for parties, etc. are unknown. However, it is expected to suffer some modifications to suit the needs of investors interested in trading in Cuba. The cupola will have to cede or pass away, but it will certainly seek huge profits.

It simply remains to be seem how many unsuspecting entrepreneurs fall this time in the murky legal webs of Castrolandia. Forgive me if I don’t wish them success.

* Official Gazette of the Republic of Cuba (Special Edition Havana, Thursday Oct. 13, 1960, Year LVIII, Vol Fortnightly, No. XIX).

Cubanet, 4 April 2014, Miriam Celaya

Potatoes, Food and Condoms: The Shortages Diversify

Image taken from the Internet

Chronic shortages in Cuba are extending their tentacles with renewed vigor. The cycles of absence of numerous products are ever more frequent, even in the markets that trade “in hard currency.” Lately toilet paper has disappeared (for the umpteenth time in recent months), and similarly there have been short “gap” periods in which there have been no toothbrushes, toothpaste, wheat flour, powdered milk, soaps and detergents, sanitary napkins, etc. Nothing seems to be safe from the black hole that is Castro’s socialism, in which life is reduced to “not-dying,” while running a perennial pilgrimage after those articles which, anywhere in the civilized world, are a part of the most common reality.

With regards to food, it’s better not to talk about it. It’s enough to see the Dantesque scenes offered to us by the lines that form at dawn whenever someone announces that this or that farmers market “is going to have potatoes.” The police in Central Havana are practically on a war footing attending to the brawls that occur in the crowds who aspire to buy the longed-for tuber.

Now it turns out that the shortages have reached condoms, those attachments needed for the safe practice of what some call “the national sport.” Things have reached such an extreme that it has come to the point where drugstores and pharmacies have mobilized staff to change the expiration dates that appear on this product–already expired–to “update” it and be able to sell it. There is testimony that in some of Cuba’s interior provinces this task has been assigned to recruits doing their military service: a strategy of total combat in the face of the alarms set off by this small and humble latex object. According to the authorities, this is being done “because the dates on the containers were wrong.”

Consumers, however, are wary. In a country where corruption and deceit are part of the reality, no one feels safe. Some paranoiacs go to the extreme of suspecting it’s part of an official conspiracy to promote births in Cuba… What it really does is lead to an increase in abortions.

At the moment, a friend tells me, half-amused half-worried, that if in the 90s she had buy condoms to use as balloons at her son’s birthday party–today a young man of twenty-something– now she will have to buy balloons to practice safe sex.

31 March 2014

Cuba for Foreigners / Miriam Celaya

HAVANA, Cuba – On Saturday 29 March 2014 the Cuban Parliament “will debate” in a special session period the new Foreign Investment Law, another desperate attempt by the regime to attract foreign businessmen who choose to risk their capital and ships where those of others have already been shipwrecked.

This time the scenario and the circumstances are markedly different from the decades of the 90s, when the fragile and dependent Cuban economy touched bottom and the government had no other alternative but to reluctantly open it to foreign capital, creating then a Foreign Investment Law that granted some legitimacy and limited guarantees for investors.

Hugo Chavez’s rise to power in Venezuela at the end of this same decade came to the rescue of the regime with new subsidies that allowed backtracking on the opening to capital and the small private family businesses that arose in the midst of the privations of the period.

Paradoxically, 15 years later, the critical socio-economic and political situation in Venezuelan situation, which threatens to collapse the Bolivarian project, once again closing the sources nourishing the Cuban government, strongly affects a new search for foreign capital because this is the only way the system will survive, but the investors are reluctant and skeptical given the absence of a legal framework to protect the invested capital.

It is rumored that the recent visit of José Ignacio Lula Da Silva to Cuba , concerned about the risk of elevated investments from Brazil and the delay of the government of the Island in updating the Foreign Investment Law, was the definitive touch that made the Cuban cupola decide to push its approval, postponed several times. There are also unofficial rumors about the freezing the Brazilian investments in the Mariel Special Development Zone, and the approval of new credit to the Cuban side, until there are adequate legal safeguards. The agreements are no longer based in solidarity, but rather on purely capitalist financial and commercial relations.

Propaganda at the Recent International Trade Fair of Havana

The new Foreign Investment Law in progress, therefore, is to “strengthen the guarantees of the investors,” while it “also contemplates the total tax credits and exemptions in determined circumstances, was well an increased flexibility with regards to customs, to encourage investment,” according to the statements from José Luis Toledo Santander, president of the Standing Committee of the National Assembly of People’s Power which, “deals with the Constitutional and Legal Affairs,” (Granma, Saturday March 17, 2014, page 3), elements not covered in the Law.

Also the high official declared that the draft presented to the deputies,”established the priority character of foreign investment in almost all sectors of the economy, particularly those related to production.” Clearly, a self-employed person is not the same thing as a capitalist entrepreneur, in case anyone had any doubts.

In the preparatory process, which according to the official press has been developing throughout the country, participating along with the deputies have been “specialists, functionaries from the municipal and provincial governments, representatives of international legal consultants and consultants from important businesses; in general people who could support the discussion.” (Emphasis by this author.) A plot behind closed doors of which some harmless notes have reached the national media, but the common people are nothing more than this conglomerate of spectators incapable and prevented from making some “contribution” and should swallow the pill as the olive-green filibusters stipulate.

The “main concerns and contributions of the deputies” in the so-called process of analysis and discussion of the draft on the Island revolved around “the labor rights of the Cubans who work on these projects, the terms for the investment and the protection of the National Patrimony,” omitting the fundamental question: the privileging of foreigners over what should be the national rights of Cubans. A details that recalls that “Carolina Black Code” that in 1842 recognized the doubtful rights and privileges of slaves such as corporal punishment not exceeding 25 lashes, and the prize of freedom in exchange for the betrayal of fellow slaves.

Almost 40 years of experience in parliamentary simulations allow us to anticipate that, like all the previous laws “discussed,” this one will also be unanimously approved by the choir of ventriloquists from the from the orchestra seats in the headquarters of the farce, the Palace of Conventions, on March 29th. For now, many of the parliamentarians have conceded that the new Law “is in complete harmony” with the economic adjustments drive by the General-President in his process of updating the model, another experiment that—indeed—will allow him, through capital, through capital, the solving of the ever pressing problems of building socialism.

Miriam Celaya

28 March 2014

I Don’t Feel Alluded To / Miriam Celaya

Photos taken from the Internet

The Cuban media, experts at manipulating jingoistic sentiments and fabricating nationalist trash, is using the anti-Cuba signs wielded by demonstrators against Nicolas Maduras’ government to manage at will national public opinion in the interior of the island. The task is simple, given the great disinformation of the natives here and the impossibility of accessing sources other than those offered by the Castro press monopoly. As a consequence, the most ignorant or naive, not to mention the ever-present useful idiots, walk around talking about how “ungrateful” the Venezuelans are, with the number of doctors and aid that “Cuba” has given them… As if it weren’t about a simple transaction of renting out slaves between masters, already generously paid for with petrodollars which are, in short, a treasure that belongs to the Venezuelans and not to the governing regime.

However, the most surprising thing is that these signs, along with the public burnings of Cuban flags, have been another touch that triggers outrage, not among the poor disinformed within Cuba, but among the Cubans of the diaspora, some of whom are speaking on behalf of “all” those born on this island, to attack the protesters who are every day risking their lives and liberty publicly and bravely protesting in the streets of several cities in their country.

I certainly understand the reasoning of susceptible Cubans: they feel alluded to when “Cuba” is insulted, and it’s no less true that directing the outrage against “Cubans” and not against the government would be, at least, erratic. Personally, however, I understand that it is not the intention of the opponents to Maduro and his cronies to insult Cuba, but to direct their rejection to the Castro’s regime, the outrageous interference of Cuban agents in Venezuelan intelligence and the army, the parasitism on the Venezuelan economy, the Castro control over national policy.

That’s why I do not feel alluded to in these acts. In fact, Cuba is for me something beyond the textile symbol of a flag. Venezuelan protesters are doing much more for their country than many Cubans, who today are offended by them, are willing to do for theirs. Believe me, my compatriots, with all due respect for their ideas, which as far as I’m concerned they can burn all Cuban flags they want, if this is the price to lift their own spirits and gain freedom. The day on which they fully regain their rights, and Cubans and Venezuelans sit down to talk together, I am sure that we will understand each other on the best terms. Until then, I offer them my deep admiration and respect.

24 March 2014

The Beginning of the End / Miriam Celaya

Venezuela-queman-bandera-cubana

The note pinned to the Cuban flag being burned says “Out of Venezuela”

HAVANA, Cuba – The stunning images of the National Guard repressing marches in Venezuela reveal a stark contrast between the capability achieved by mankind to communicate globally at breakneck speed and the existence of apelike behavior: the authorities using their beasts against unprotected civilians.

Things are not going very well in a nation whose president, supposedly democratically elected at the polls to lead to a successful destination all its citizens and not just his followers, has adopted repression as a resource to establish “peace”, while he stokes the fires of hatred and polarization as a means to “solve” the crisis, behavior which evidences the failure of his political performance beyond the period of time he may yet stay in power.

The complexity of the situation in Venezuela is also reflected in that the protests being held steadily since February 12th are not initiated or led from the well-known opposition figures, but are mostly student and civic demonstrations against a government trying to establish itself as a dictatorship. The discontent has been growing from within society, not only because of the increasing shortages and the growing gaps and civil liberties violations, but also since President Nicolas Maduro’s Parliament sought and obtained full freedom to exercise despotism at will.

And, though control of the situation has slipped from Maduro’s fingers, (if he ever had any control), and though he is deserving of, but sadly destined to go down in the country’s history as the perfect scapegoat of the Castro-Chávez experiment that seems to be reaching its end, the truth is that the late Hugo Chávez would not have been able to sustain indefinitely the Bolivarian project either, in the presence of an economy that had begun its countdown at the time of his death, after 14 years of nonsensical policies. The outcome is only a matter of time.

The end of an alleged paradigm

It goes without saying that any leftist project inspired by a “Cuban Marx-Fidel-Martí” ideology — and for some years also “Chávez-Venezuelan” — which manages to achieve political power in Latin America, carries in itself all the essential elements that, though originally intended to perpetuate the new ruling class, leads instead to its failure: contempt for property, populism as a platform to support the political-ideological government programs, the destruction of the infrastructure and of the institutions inherited from earlier periods, the elimination or limitation (radical or gradual ) of civil liberties, the reformulation of the legal basis in favor of the interests of the new controlling power and the identification of an external enemy that hinders or prevents achieving government programs, among others.

This last element, which decades ago allowed F. Castro to polarize society from his power base by establishing a watershed between the government and its supporters (the worthy ones, the Patriots) and those in the opposition (the evil ones, the stateless), currently constitutes a political immaturity that is not delivering the dividends of previous decades, since the ever-villain U.S. government is not showing too much interest in taking part in Latin-American conflicts, an issue that weakens the regional nationalistic outbursts of a sub-continent with a historical past plagued by the interventions of its powerful northern neighbor.

And if that were not enough, the so-called “Bolivarian revolution” supports, in addition, an extra burden: while Castro’s revolution assumed, relatively successfully, a regional symbolic leadership managed to date – this must be acknowledged — with great skill by the Cuban leadership, Chávez’s revolution risked economic leadership by subsidizing the region’s leftist and other related projects, squandering generously Venezuela’s natural energy resources with the consequent deterioration of its very economy, ultimately leading to the current crisis. In short, just like Fidel Castro long ago depicted himself as an image of the Messiah, Hugo Chávez, in his time, ended up as the image of a patron saint, while the fickle masses will end up someday seeing Maduro as “the guy who ruined everything.”

As for the rest, and for the detriment of the radical leftists, Venezuelan oil is the lifeline of that pipe dream called ALBA, conceived as an economic locomotive of the “Latin American integration” which has allowed so much nationalist populism to be reborn in a region particularly addicted to sentimentality and caudillos. Little fortune could be predicted in an alliance whose central axis has its household upside down. Just in case, each fairly astute chieftain should be reviewing his accounts and stuffing his personal savings under the mattress. When XXI century socialism eventually stops developing in its Chávez cocoon, it will drag with it whatever parasites are feeding on Venezuela. It is possible that, at least in that nation, a very long sleep awaits the fundamentalist left.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cubanet, 24 March 2014, Miriam Celaya

Putin Looks to Cuba / Miriam Celaya

Barco-MorroHAVANA, Cuba.-The crucial dispute in which the geopolitical, economic, and military interests of major world powers are played is the most relevant one in escalating individual conflicts that have been taking place in other regions–the Syrian and Venezuelan crises are two examples–perhaps of lesser effects globally, but where hegemonic interests also have some influence. Thus, in numerous media, alarms have gone off heralding the Cold War, an old ghost which many believed had been banished.

Review Notes

The term “Cold War ” was coined during the late 1940s to define tensions of multiple natures (economic, political and ideological, military, scientific, technological, etc.), that characterized the relations between the communist bloc, under the aegis of the dominant USSR, and the capitalist, led by the U.S., after the end of World War II.

The ongoing power struggle between the two axes to achieve global hegemony constituted a permanent threat to world stability and peace, branding many of the major events of the second half of the twentieth century up to the time of the elimination of the Berlin Wall (1989) and the disappearance of the Soviet Union (1991).

The US bloc and its allies had won the game; however, tensions between East and West have never really been overcome. Currently, competing interests go beyond the ideological aspect that defined that almost 50-year span, but the global threat of conflicts between the powers remains intact.

[WELCOME TO CUBA HONORED RUSSIAN PRESIDENT, VLADIMIR PUTIN] Havana street sign, 2000

[WELCOME TO CUBA HONORED RUSSIAN PRESIDENT, VLADIMIR PUTIN] Havana street sign, 2000

Meanwhile, those countries under the influence of the super powers continue as test sites in the show of force of world power centers, and also as blackmail scenarios of the worst of dangers, just as the 1962 Russian nuclear threat against the U.S. from the Cuban mainland. No wonder, then, that the mere mention of the Cold War can be a source of apprehension to many Cubans, especially now, when there are surges of the unmistakable signs of intentions of using our region, and in particular, our country, as platform for Russian imperialist expansion in this hemisphere, in full defiance of the U.S.

Good and Evil Empires?

At first glance, it might seem that the Russian intervention in the Crimea, the Russian arms sales to Venezuela, and the presence of a Russian spy ship in Havana, are unconnected events. However, declarations by the Russian Defense Minister, Sergei Shoigu, about their intentions to open military bases in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba (in the latter case these would “reopen”), information which was not published by the Cuban official media, show that Mr. Putin, seasoned in intrigue and sordid affairs since his days in the KGB, is ready to step up the tone, moving his historical adversary’s line of dispute in Latin America which, despite everything, remains an American sphere of influence.

Meanwhile, “leftist” governments in this region are sounding the alarm against “Yankee Imperialism”, but at the same time they meld alliances with the Russian Empire, whose importance might not be wise to underestimate, despite its post-Soviet era of decline, while others remain indifferent to these events.

Thus, Russia, with its culture and history completely unrelated to ours, and with a lack of traces in our national emotional memory, today has the enthusiastic connivance of the same old Cuban conspirators and their regional disciples, and the acquiescent silence of our Latin American brothers/step-brothers.

Obama and Putin, Mexico 2012

Obama and Putin, Mexico 2012

For Cubans, such a plot could not be taking place at a worse time, when the military power cast holds the monopoly of the economy, and the gerontocracy has been consolidating its international political legitimacy–though not its prestige–thanks to the collusion of governments that met in late January at that aberration called CELAC, and of other international organizations that decided to give the Havana regime a boost, thereby increasing the defenselessness of Cubans against the power’s game for political gains.

For now, some Russian entrepreneurs have begun to invest in sectors of economic interest on the Island, such as tourism, and reportedly also in the Special Development Zone in Mariel, indicating that Cuba remains a point of strategic interest for “the Northern Bear”, the only empire that, at a time when it was Cuba’s “ally”, at the goriest time of the Cold War, placed us in the epicenter of what had the potential to become a global conflagration which, in a matter of minutes, could have wiped us from the face of the earth.

It is terrifying to remember that there were Cubans back then, to whom the government denied the existence of those dangerous Russian artifacts on Cuban soil, who, immediately and massively, got up “in arms against the US imperialist threat”. Such a sad paradox, the enemy was, and continues to be, at home.

More than 50 years later, the scenario is different but some facts are repeated, creating–due to lack of information–the most diverse speculations. The same irresponsible government retakes up the affair with its former allies, perhaps with the collateral intention of indirectly pressuring for the repeal of the U.S. embargo, among other possible plans. Concerns abound, because, if the first part of that forced marriage was bad, we can bet that a second part could even be worse.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cubanet, 12 March 2014, Miriam Celaya

More Chalas Than Carmelas / Miriam Celaya

conducta_02-500x400HAVANA, Cuba- I confess that I have some animosity against Cuban fiction film, so prone — with few exceptions — to clichés, stereotypes, overly cryptic messages, implied story morals, or what is perhaps worse, the search for easy and superficial acceptance through humor, catharsis or bad satire. I will not list examples, because there are too many, but anyone who has seen a vernacular film of the last 15 to 20 years knows exactly what I mean. Personally, I hate the delight in trying to provoke laughter at the expense of our own misfortunes, derived largely from the pernicious tendency to exploit mockery in order to avoid deep reflection and collective responsibility for the reality that chokes us.

Only a handful of movies from this period preserve dignity, and most of them do not properly fit the genre of fiction, they are documentaries, such as the masterful and unforgettable Suite Habana (2003), directed by Fernando Pérez, to quote a valid example.

That is why, since the beginning of this cinematic phenomenon called Conduct, with the fanatic public filling theaters and with the general approval of viewers and critics, I decided to go see it, only after a process of self-estrangement, and to not write about it as cinematographic product film — something the critics and a whole host of admiring amateurs have already done — but from the perception of the public’s reaction and what it means.

It is fair to recognize that, in the presence of this movie, it is impossible for a Cuban to put distance between the screen and his emotions. The imagery, the dialogue, the plot and sub-plots, the settings and the conflicts it exposes so crudely, are elements that combine to place before a viewer’s eyes the reality of the lives we share and which we hardly notice, immersed in the necessity of an existence full of shortages and unresolved problems.

The plot consists of a central drama, a child of an alcoholic and substance abusing mother. At the same time he pursues elementary school studies, the child also works tending fighting dogs and raising pigeons, which he sells in order to earn money, thus helping his mother. He simultaneously maintains a close bond with his teacher, an experienced educator and very dedicated to her profession, her main reason for living. The child (Chala) and his teacher (Carmela) are characters of great strength and intensity, perfectly articulated and credible. Continue reading

Jurassic Cuba / Miriam Celaya

Mass demonstrations in Venezuela. Image taken from Internet

The news agencies don’t have a moment’s rest these days: a satrap in Ukraine has been overthrown through demonstrations and street protests amid the harsh winter, people stand on long lines to see with their own eyes the pomp and pageantry in which the ex-ruler, an ally of Russia, lived.

In Venezuela, student demonstrations continue, supported by opposition leaders finally came together to confront the Maduro government. In Ecuador, the opposition has just delivered a commendable blow to the government authorities by winning an unquestionable majority vote during local elections this Sunday February 23rd in important places like Quito and Guayaquil, putting the brakes on the rampant President of the “citizens’ revolution.”

The world is moving at breakneck speed, changing scenarios and uncovering new players, while we in Cuba remain in the political Jurassic era, with a government of dinosaurs perpetuated in power. Continue reading

Tax Culture in Totalitarianism / Miriam Celaya

Estado-ladrón-MiriamApproximately four years into the process of the reinstatement of private labor in Cuba, official data acknowledges the existence of over 400,000 “self-employed” throughout the country, representing a percentage of workers that pay taxes to the State, a force to be reckoned with, given their great tax contribution to the State and the jobs they generate, that is, close to half a million individuals producing foods and services, offering income to others, and contributing to the country’s economy, supporting at the same time the State and its many institutions which are just as parasitic.

The authorities, through their media, have been insisting on how important it is for Cubans to gain experience and awareness regarding the “tributary culture” (paying taxes), since the era of “state paternalism” ended, along with its policies of subsidy; everyone should strive to earn a living based on their own capacity and resources to safeguard the revolution’s social benefits, namely the supposedly extraordinary standards of health and education that we enjoy on the Island.

Cynicism aside, the logic of the need for a tax culture is undeniable in any moderately functional society. But in the case of Cuba – are we ever going to stop being a “case”? — It appears that the tax culture that we now aspire to, which was destroyed by the government with the Revolutionary Offensive, is destined to flow in only one direction: from those who provide the tax to the tax institutions, but never the other way around.

Thus, a particular economic variant comes into play in virtue of which the producers must assume the burden of a heavy tax to the State, but the State is not required to report the amounts collected or the fate of the funds collected.

Silent tGaceta-oficialaxes

But there are longer standing taxes whose fate is also unknown. For decades, Cubans have contributed taxes to the Sate-party-government through a system of evaluations from multiple quasi-State organizations that it created.

For example, if we use the official statistics, which indicate there are about 3 million State employees whose average salary is 400 pesos, and if we consider that they are affiliated with the Workers Center of Cuba and, as such, they donate one work day each year destined for a non-existent territorial militia, their contribution in this context would be about $50 million annually — about 16.66 pesos per capita — not counting what they pay in dues to their unions, which, paradoxically, represent the interests of employers, who benefit both from what the employees produce as well as what they pay into the unions.

Recently a friend and colleague speculated about the contributions of the 800,000 members of the ruling and only party. Using an extremely conservative estimate, my friend found an estimated 50 pesos per year per militant, which produced $40 million annually in contributions to the State.

In addition to these estimates, there are taxes collected from mass organizations, such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and the Federation of Cuban Women, a minimal amount, but significant because of large number of their affiliates, or the Young Communists Union, “the revolution’s youth vanguard”, in which both students and workers are active.

National Tax Administration Office

National Tax Administration Office

All these organizations, in turn, are supported by a monstrous (and expensive) infrastructure ranging from office buildings, furniture, fleets of vehicles, employees, materials and resources, even wages, fuel costs and electricity, etc., producing absolutely nothing.

As for the huge bureaucratic apparatus of government and its repressive forces, it is impossible to calculate their living costs. In this sense, many Cubans, especially the so-called “self-employed”, have begun to do their accounts and they wonder if it is not too much of a contradiction to help support the same system that plunders and represses and that, in addition, continues treating them like lepers.

Because, at the end of the day, the tax culture is not — as the government pretends — the imposition of a consciousness of servitude to the Master State in order to keep supposed supreme ideals that, so far, only benefit the State. The tax culture is born and consolidated from the self-awareness that individuals acquire when they reach economic independence, a road that sooner, rather than later, will have to start to flow in both directions.

Cubanet, 20 February 2014, Miriam Celaya

Translated by Norma Whiting

 

My Friend, La Peregrina / Miriam Celaya

Tula

The recent declaration of the birthplace of Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Camaguey, 1814-1873) as a National Monument on the 500th anniversary of the city’s founding, originally named Villa de Santa María del Puerto del Príncipe, (today, Camagüey) awakens in me the evocation of a special woman who has always resonated in my spirit.

Tula is that great poet who once chose the pseudonym La Peregrina to publish her poems, never imagining that over 150 years later, this obscure writer would borrow her familiar name to use as the distinctive signature of my own work. Because Tula Avellaneda was my first pseudonym as citizen journalist, a personal way to hide my identity behind the name of a Cuban for whom I have great affection, admiration and respect, as if she were a close friend. The strength of her dynamism was a kind of symbolic shield in the process of exorcism against the demons of fear. Tula is, in short, the only woman for whom I secretly keep a friendly complicity not devoid of a trace of envy.

Because, you know what? I’ve always preferred the Tulas over the Marianas. The nineteenth century was rich in extraordinary Cuban women. Most of them, however, went down in history for their relationship with the wars of independence, and in particular for their link — either maternal or marital- – to men who were the protagonists of these military contests. A few were warriors themselves, so they transcended as patriots for a nation that, unfortunately, has always rendered greater worship to violence than to poetry, love, and literature. Continue reading