Havana, Nostalgia Capital

Any former times were better, is a refrain that is being fulfilled to the letter in Cuba.(Lahabana.com)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 July 2017 — The walls full of photographs of old city landscapes and a whole host of famous artists from the Cuban Republic, record album covers from the same period, and old advertising posters from the 40’s and 50’s.

In a central space, an old off-duty Victrola captures the prominence of the small restaurant. On the tablecloths, old long-playing vinyl records double as tray holders, while the coasters are vinyl 45’s.

In this private business –as in many similar ones that began to proliferate in Old Havana and in other parts of the city since the so-called “Raul reforms” — the whole atmosphere exudes that unmistakable inspiration on the past, a cult that has been seizing the capital as an epidemic. “Any former times were better,” states a refrain that is being fulfilled in Cuba. continue reading

But it is not just any past. No. Because, curiously, these enthusiastic private entrepreneurs show no interest in appealing to the socialist aesthetic of Soviet encouragement that occupied thirty years of Cuban national life without silencing the native spirit. There are no matrioskas, balalaikas or “Russian dolls” characters decorating the stained glass or interiors of these businesses or on piñatas and private catering salons dedicated to children’s parties.

The paradox is that, after almost six decades of Castro regime, the republican liberal ideal is returning, camouflaged in its cultural symbols. (CC)

There’s nothing that evokes the indestructible Cuban-Soviet friendship of an era when almost all the members of that Cuban proto-entrepreneur were born, who today prefer to revive the Republic’s prosperity of strong Yankee influence and forget the hard years of drunken rule on the Island.

That explains why one can find decorations of a Benny Moré’s album cover and not ones of Van Van or Isaac Delgado in any of these environments. The glossy and smiling face of Kid Chocolate may be staring at us from the walls, but not the face of Teófilo Stevenson.

There is no doubt, glamour is a Western capitalist product. Although, as is the case, it is a glamour as old and encased as that of Cuba in the 1950’s, which — as is always the case in societies without rights, where mediocrity prevails — ends up being a model that tends to be standardized.

Because, as usually happens in the presence of any opportunity to thrive advantageously, there is no shortage of scoundrels who have decided to take advantage of the new lode that offers this sort of aesthetic for nostalgia to extract their own revenues, as is clear from a detailed announcement published in the very popular web site Revolico, where for the price of 25 CUC, or its equivalence in CUP (625 pesos), you can buy a collection of 27,000 Cuban photographs from before 1959, “for the walls of your business.”

The paradox is that, after almost six decades of Castro regime, the republican liberal ideal is returning, camouflaged in its cultural symbols. (CC)

“The history of our country lives through image,” a message tries to encourage while promoting the sale of a “wide selection of photos of cafes, hotels, streets, houses, monuments, shops, historical sites and main streets and avenues of the Cuban capital.”

Such an offer is not limited to photographs, but also includes “old maps, postcards, bus lines, architectural drawings, prints, very good quality scans of old beer advertisements such as Cristal, Hatuey and Polar, the loose propaganda of Cigar brands, hotels, casinos, beverages and much more that constitute a large and valuable treasure trove of value.” A whole cult to the pre-revolutionary past that shows the persistence of a lost paradigm, the more ingrained and endearing, the more decadent and ill-fated the present and the more uncertain and gloomy the future.

The paradox is that, after almost six decades of Castro regime, during which the ruling power spent the greater part of its efforts trying to erase the era of the 57 years of the Republic — “pseudo republic”, they call it — trying to impose a model (this one is truly “pseudo” socialist), falsely proletarian and alien to the national culture and aspirations, the liberal ideal of the Republic is returning, camouflaged in its cultural symbols, and today it grows as a cult to the memory of those “better times,” when prosperity and wealth were  plausible goals and not crimes.

As a result, and in view of the inability to project a promising future, the much-vilified Republic has become the symbol of paradise lost, and returns to occupy a place of preference in the collective imagination, despite the fact that more than 70% of Cubans today were born after 1959 and have been (de)formed under the doctrine of austerity and sacrifice.

While ideological battles and blistering anti-imperialist speeches continue to occupy public spaces, the enterprising class and the chameleonic Castro power cupola invent themselves a marketing Cuba. (CC)

However, the use of symbols pertaining to the Republic is not exclusive to the small niches of the private economy. The mediocrity and lack of imagination also reach the almighty State-Government-Party that almost controls the entertainment industry. Recreating the past before 1959 has become a very lucrative source of income even for the slayers of the Republic themselves, especially since American tourism became the main target of socialist marketing.

This is demonstrated, for example, by the careful reconstruction of old hotels, bars and other spaces destined for international tourism, which for decades were decadent localities or simple ruins, whose architecture and interior spaces were recently rescued to recreate the elegance and style of the ambiance of pre-revolutionary Cuba.

In this way, while ideological battles and fiery anti-imperialist discourses are maintained in public spaces and in the official press, for the indoctrination and control of the native proletarians and for the sake of regional progress, both the nascent entrepreneurial class and the chameleonic Castro regime have invented themselves a marketing Cuba, a parallel reality disguised as Republican era tradition and artificially rescued for the solace and delight of foreign visitors, who pay in dollars for attending this kind of theme park: a country frozen in the middle of the twentieth century.

And it is not necessary to deny a past that, which, for better or worse, is part of Cuban culture and history and represents a period of prosperity and expectations of that young nation. What is truly sad is that six decades under the regime have left us with the legacy of a people who, instead of pushing towards the future, assumes the past as a paradigm that, beyond its lights and democratic conquests, was sufficiently imperfect to incubate in its core the longest dictatorship in the hemisphere, in whose hands the destinies of all Cubans continue to be. It’s a shame.

Translated by Norma Whiting

“American-Philia” Conquers Cuba / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

The regime is unable to counteract the growing “Uncle Sam” effect on Cuban society

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 June 2017 — Ten days have passed since Donald Trump announced his “new” political strategy toward Cuba, and while the official Cuban press monopoly has wasted gallons of ink on newspapers and on dozens of reports, interviews and TV programs to show the world the indignation and rejection of the Cuban people at the gross interference of US imperialism, which attempts to undermine the portentous social and economic achievements reached in almost 60 years of Castro rule, national life continues its boring course at ground level, far from the rhetorical battles.

If the US president’s speech has had any palpable effect in Cuba, it is in the possibility of clearly confirming, on a daily basis, the enormous gap that exists between the olive-green power elite, as an eternalized political class, and common Cubans. Oblivious to the political and mass organizations at the service of the gerontocracy, which these days have shown discipline through the obligatory task of drafting their declarations of repudiation of the Empire of Evil, the people remain as alienated from the old “revolutionary” epic, and from its ideological disputes as is possible. Particularly when the enemy they are fighting is none other than the endearing monster in whose entrails so many thousands and thousands of Cubans yearn to live. continue reading

A breach that has become all the more visible because the majority of Cubans today increasingly identify less with the official discourse and is more irreverent in relation to the State-Party-Government and with everything it represents.

If anyone were to doubt this, all he would need to do is to walk the streets of the Cuban capital and check the number of American flags that proliferate every day, either as articles of clothing worn by numerous passers-by, such as caps, sandals, head scarves, etc. or decorating the interior of private transportation. It is like a contest in social irreverence towards everything that stems from the government and its colossal propagandistic and repressive apparatus, a phenomenon that was unthinkable only a few years ago.

Thus, the more the official voice shouts itself hoarse calling for the union of national sovereignty and the reaffirmation of socialism, not only does American-philia expand among the population of the island – with even greater strength, although not exclusively, among the younger generation – but it also adopts multiple variants of expression. It is not limited to the open display of the US flag, but also has well-known trademarks originating in that country, signs of official US institutions on textiles (including t-shirts labeled: USA, DEA, or FBI, for example), as well as images and names of famous US cities.

It is like an effect of funny magic, by virtue of which everything having to do with that country draws me near. Or, to put it another way, to think intensely about a thing is a superstitious way (like “I hope it becomes true” while crossing one’s fingers) of preparing the ground for the pleasure of enjoying it.

But if, in the daily routine of the city, the American symbols continue to mark the pace, as if mocking that dreaded label of “ideological diversion,” presumably fallen into disuse, on the beaches the phenomenon constitutes a quasi-apotheosis. This can easily be seen at the beaches east of Havana, where coastline areas from El Megano to Guanabo in the extensive sandy stretches where – despite Trump’s bitter declarations and the strong patriotic protests of the Cuban government – the stars and stripes constantly parade in the shape of towels, men’s shorts and lightweight children’s swimwear, caps, umbrellas and even inflatable rafts or infant’s lifejackets.

It must be torture for the Castro clan and its claque that no regulations are in effect, (especially not now, when diplomatic relations exist between the two countries), that prohibit the use of the US flag in clothing or in any object created by the human imagination. Would it be justifiable to quell those who wear a symbol that represents a friendly people entirely, and not just their political powers?

But this is not about a new phenomenon either. It turns out that this epidemic of a taste for everything American and its symbols had been manifesting itself in a more or less contained but constant way for several years, and was unleashed with marked emphasis at the time of the reestablishment of relations between the governments of Cuba and the US, especially during and after President Barack Obama’s visit to a Havana, until turning into an unstoppable cult to the chagrin of the hierarchy of the geriatric elite and its ideologic commissaries, who try in vain to tackle a hare that is like the mythological hydra, spouting seven heads for each one they cut off.

And while all this intense American mania continues to be sharpened in Cuba – the historical bastion of the continent’s radical left – the nationalist affectation of the regime recently chose to prohibit the use of the Cuban national symbol in a similar way. In fact, Cuban laws expressly prohibit it.

Consequently, not even the fiercest prospects of their pack of repudiators or other similarly-minded halberdiers can counteract the growing “Uncle Sam” effect on Cuban society, since they are barred from wearing the Cuban national flag as a way to counteract those involuntary “traitorous” ones, who, without hiding it, continue to publicly display their admiration for the crème de la crème of evil capitalism, which, it was taken for granted, had been banished definitively from Cuba since 1959.

Personally, and begging the pardon of the more ardent and sincere patriots of fetishistic spirit, I am not tempted to worship symbols, whether from my own country or from others. Even less would I think to wear a flag, although those who do sowith the vocation of flagpolesdoes not affect me. It is their right. But, strictly speaking, the flag is nothing more than a rag that many years ago someone designed and chose to represent us all and that, ultimately, has been used with the same zeal and passion for the best as for the worst causes, also supposedly “of everyone.” Ergo, I’m not excited about the flags, but nor do I feel myself to be any less Cuban than anybody else.

Nevertheless, a flag, as a symbol of something, evidences the feelings of the individuals who carry it towards that “something.” That, in the case of the American flag in Cuba, symbolizes exactly the paradigm of life of the Cubans who exhibit it. An aspiration on a national scale. So, for those who want to know what Cubans really think about the US, do not look for the statements published in the official press or the boring speeches at events: go to the beach. There, relaxing by the sea, sheltered by a good umbrella and perhaps savoring a cold beer that protects them from the strong tropical heat, they will see, parading before their eyes, the mute response of the Cuban people to the Empire that attacks them.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Thanks for Nothing, Trump

Donald Trump (Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 21 June 2017 — After much media frenzy, Trump’s “new policy” toward Cuba has not gone beyond the rhetoric expected by most political analysts. His act was more a symbolic gesture towards his faithful than any practical novelty. In short, those who expected an announcement of truly transcendental changes in the policy toward Cuba by the US president during his speech in Miami on Friday June 16, were left wanting. As we say in Cuba, the show turned out to be more rigmarole than movie reel.

The long-awaited changes, far from being novel, are actually quite limited. In fact, the highlight of his announced “punishment” for the Castro dictatorship is enveloped in an inconsistent magic trick where the essential cards seem to be a ban on US businessmen to negotiate with Cuban military companies, the suppression of non-group tours visits by US citizens to Cuba and the auditing of group visits. The rest is garbage. continue reading

The whole of the Palace of the Revolution must be shaking in terror. The dictatorship can already be considered as having failed: judging by the enthusiasm of its fans gathered in the Manuel Artime Theatre in Little Havana, with Trump in power, the Castro regime’s hours are numbered. Those who know about such things say that the Castros and Miami’s “Dialogue Mafia” “have run out of bread,” that “the political actors (?) are now where they should be” And that Trump’s speech was “friendly towards the Cuban people.” If the matter were not so serious, it would probably be laughable.

The sad thing is that there are those who believed the sham, or at least they pretend to believe what he said. At the end of the day, everyone should stick to the role of the character he represents in the script of this eternal Cuban tragicomedy.

It would be another thing if all this elaborate anti-Castro theory (!) could be successfully implemented, which is at least as dubious as the construction of socialism that the extremists continue to proclaim from opposite points on the globe.

And it is doubtful, not only for the intricacy of the long process that each proposal of the US Executive branch must follow before being put into practice — as detailed in a White House fact sheet — but because its sole conception demonstrates absolute ignorance of the Cuban reality in trying to “channel economic activities outside the Cuban military monopoly, GAESA.”

It would seem that there is a division of powers and an autonomy of institutions in Cuba that clearly distinguishes “military” from “civil,” defines its functions and establishes to what extent the economic structure of companies, cooperatives and other sectors are or are not related to the military entrepreneurship, or with the State-Party-Government monopoly itself, which is one and the same, with which, nevertheless, relations will be maintained. Just that would be a challenge for Cubans here, let alone for those who emigrated 50 years ago or for the very Anglo-Saxon Trump administration.

On the other hand, Mr. Trump’s proposals carry another capricious paradox, since limiting individual visits would directly damage the fragile private sector — especially lodging and catering, not to mention independent transportation providers, and artisans who make their living from selling souvenirs and other trinkets, a market that is sustained precisely by individual tourism.

Tour group visits, which remain in effect, are those that favor the State-owned and run hotels, where these groups of visitors usually stay because they have a larger number of rooms and more amenities than privately-owned facilities.

This would be the practical aspect of the matter. Another point is the one relating to the merely political. It’s shocking to see the rejoicing of some sectors of the Cuban-American exile and the so-called “hardline opposition” inside Cuba, after the (supposedly) “successful” speech by the US president, and his pronouncements about benefits that the new-old politics of confrontation will bring “to the Cuban people” in the field of human rights.

In fact, such joy is hard to explain, because it is obvious that Trump’s speech fell far short of the expectations these groups had previously manifested. One of the most supported claims of this segment has been the break in relations between both countries, and, more recently, the reinstatement of the policy of “wet foot/dry foot,” repealed in the final days of the previous administration. Far from that, the unpredictable Trump not only reaffirmed the continuation of diplomatic relations, but omitted the subject of the Cuban migratory crisis and even the suppression of aid funds for democracy, which he had proposed a few weeks before.

Curiously, no member of the media present at the press conference held after the very conspicuous speech asked uncomfortable questions about any of these three points, which do constitute true pivots of change in US policy towards Cuba which affect both the fate of the Cubans stranded in different parts of Latin America on their interrupted trip to the US, and the financing (and consequently, the survival) of various opposition projects both inside and outside Cuba.

The truth is that, so far, the great winner of Trump’s proposals is none other than the Castro regime, since the rhetoric of confrontation is the natural field of its ideological discourse inside and outside Cuba. Thus, has rushed to evidence the official declaration blaringly published in all its press monopoly media last Saturday, June 17th, with plenty of slogans and so-called nationalists for the defense of sovereignty and against “the rude American interference”, which that gray scribe, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, Cuban chancellor by the grace of the divine green finger, repeated two days later in his apathetic press conference from Vienna.

Meanwhile, the “Cuban people” – with no voice or vote in this whole saga — remains the losing party, barely a hostage of very alien policies and interests, whose representation is disputed by both the dictatorship and the US government, plus a good part of the opposition.

We must thank Mr. Trump for nothing. Once again, the true cause of the Cuban crisis — that is, the dictatorial and repressive nature of its government — is hidden behind a mask, and the “solution” of Cuba’s ills is again placed in the decisions of the US government. At this rate, we can expect at least 50 additional years of burlesque theater, for the benefit of the same actors who, apparently and against the odds, have the

Translated by Norma Whiting

Between the Official Utopia and Generational Realism / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Cuban youth at the Major Lazer concert in Havana, 2016 (Photo file)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 June 2017. – A characteristic feature of ineffective and outdated political regimes is the constant appeal to the historical past as a mechanism for legitimizing the present, and as a resource for survival. In the case of Cuba, this principle has been the rector of official discourse and its means of diffusion, and it has been applied with particular force in the teaching of History.

As a consequence, several generations of Cubans born shortly before or after 1959 have grown up indoctrinated in the assumption that all events from the “discovery” of the Island by Christopher Columbus through Spanish colonization, the Taking of Havana by the British, the Wars of Independence, and the brief Republic were nothing more than the flagstones that paved the long road that would lead to this (even longer) path -with airs of eternity- known as the “Cuban Revolution”, our nation’s only and final destination. continue reading

The preaching took almost religious tones. Just as Noah saved all of Earth’s living species, the boat “Granma”, with its young crew, was the Cuban people’s “salvation”. Thus, judging from history textbooks at all levels of “revolutionary” teaching, the founding fathers, the illustrious pro-independence, the brightest Cuban-born intellectuals, and all decent Cubans for the last 525 years had their hopes set, though they didn’t know it, in today’s “socialist” Cuba and, above all, in the pre-eminent guidance of an undisputed leader of world stature who would continue to lead the ship even beyond material life: Fidel Castro.

War Vocation in the “Peace Zone”

Raúl Castro during a CELAC summit (AFP)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 31 May 2017 — A brief note published by the official Cuban press reports the meeting held by “General of the Army Raúl Castro Ruz” with “the Chief of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army, Timoleón Jiménez” (FARC-EP), where the former “ratified the willingness of the Cuban government to continue supporting the Colombian peace process.”

For an untrained reader, the aforementioned comment was just a note as insubstantial as so many others that are so abundant in the Castro media monopoly. However, the maculae are evident, even though their deeper meaning remains hidden. continue reading

In fact, some aspects are provocative and some are incongruous. Let’s say, if the FARC is the “People’s Army,” who does the Colombian constitutional army belong to? Isn’t it the true and legitimate army of all the citizens of that country?

Another interesting matter would be to understand why the Cuban leader, who in this case presents himself with all his warlike attributes of “Army General,” despite having diplomatic relations with the democratically elected government of Colombia, hosts, in the company of his brand-new chancellor, Bruno Rodríguez, the individual who still qualifies as “Head of the FARC,” that is to say, the “Chief” of an illegal “armed force” that supposedly is currently in the process of disarmament under the Peace Accords signed in Havana specifically with the legitimate government of Colombia.

As is often the case when scoundrels meet, something is afoot… and it smells bad. Especially when Latin America is experiencing a period marked by the loss of political power of the radical left in various countries, allies of the Castro regime, and when the most irrational (and important) pupil of the Castro regime, Nicolás Maduro, tries to stay afloat on a piece of wood in a violent sea in the middle of the biggest socioeconomic and political crisis that Venezuela has ever suffered.

All this leads us directly to question the usefulness of this regional fiction called CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean States), one of whose most proclaimed “achievements” during its Second Summit, held in Havana in January 2014, was declaring this a Peace Zone, in order to promote cooperation and maintain peace and security at all levels among its member countries.

Beyond the political intentions and the (always sterile) desire to consolidate a regional alliance that confronts economic crises and promotes development, CELAC has been characterized, since its creation in February 2010, by a large package of intentions and declarations in the face of a scant list of results.

In that sense, the declaration of “Peace Zone” is one of the most illustrative examples of this organism’s alienation, first because it was a peace invoked in a conclave whose host country not only envelops longest dictatorship in the hemisphere, which systematically violates the human rights of its own people and applies violence against any sign of political dissent or social discontent, but for decades has been dedicated to sustaining and spurring numerous armed conflicts in the region, through the training of guerrillas, and through logistical support and the mobilization of armed troops in conflict zones.

The intrusion of the Palace of the Revolution into the internal problems of several countries in the hemisphere is so common that it could be said that the hand of the Castro regime has intervened to some extent in each and every one of them, whether as a puppet of the Soviet Union and as the spreader of the germs of that disease called “Marxism-Leninism” that it futilely attempted to impose in Latin America and the Caribbean, or more recently, as a survival strategy in the face of the failure of the experiments of left-wing governments, allies of the Castro and Chávez regimes.

A brief and incomplete account of the Cuban presence (interference) in internal crises of this region’s other nations shows that it covers an immensely greater geographical extension of the territory in the archipelago under the dominion of Castro, and includes ideologies of the most diverse hues.

Suffice it to recall the Castro regime’s imprint on the guerrillas in Bolivia, Colombia, El Salvador, or Nicaragua; its participation in the Chilean crisis that ended with the fall of President Salvador Allende; the unusual support for the military junta headed by Leopoldo Galtieri during the Las Malvinas Crisis (1982), settled with an overwhelming defeat for Argentina and a high human and moral cost to that nation; Grenada’s brief and unsuccessful adventure under the Government of Maurice Bishop; the close and suspicious relations with the former Panamanian President Manuel Antonio Noriega, confessed drug trafficker and great “friend of Cuba,” whose name was not mentioned again in the official Cuban media after his fall from grace, except to announce his death this Tuesday, May 30. And, more recently, from the beginning of the 21st century, the icing on the cake: Venezuela, where the Castros’ penetration has truly metastasized and today monitors and protects the bloody repression of the regime of Nicolás Maduro against his people.

But, ignoring historical examples, the convulsive Latin American reality is far from the much vaunted regional “peace.” The ongoing conflict between Bolivia and Chile, the endless Brazilian corruption scandal that has sprinkled dozens of politicians in the region, the violence of drug and human trafficking that sows uncertainty and crime at the borders and among the population, tensions Between Venezuela and Colombia, the persistence of the paramilitary in Colombia against the controversial Peace Agreements between the government and the FARC, and the tensions in Venezuela, where government repression against street demonstrations provokes a decisive scenario where the survival of democracy or the final consolidation of a dictatorship supported from Havana is resolved.

And, while this vertiginous whirlwind continues to spin in the “Peace Zone,” the Cuban General-President moves gently in his tropical oasis while he manages the diplomatic lobbies that allow him to recognize the civilized world and the secret warrior intrigues. The strategy of Raul’s regime now consists in wearing the chic suit of a democrat. Under it, however, the green stitches of his old suit as heir-dictator of war continue to tenaciously peek out.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Marta’s List

Marta Cortizas compiles daily news, opinion and reports to email them to Cuba. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 May 2017 — Her grey hair and blue eyes suggest a picture of a grandmother out of a children’s story, but Marta Cortizas is actually a native of Havana who, after emigrating to the United States, found a way to be useful to her countrymen. From her apartment in Kendall (Florida), she compiles daily news, editorial columns and reports to e-mail them to Cuba, a service known as Marta’s List.

Mailings began almost seven years ago, and today they are received by more than 50 subscribers. Its targeted recipients are independent journalists, opposition activists, members of the civil society, or simply friends.

Since childhood, Marta was in the habit of reading, and when she began working as a typist at the Casa de las Américas Library in July 1967, she was amazed at the institution’s catalogues and archives. The latter is considered the “trigger” for her passion for information. continue reading

Inside the walls of La Casa, as those who frequent the library refer to it, she met Virgilio Piñera, Anton Arrufat, José Triana and Luis Agüero, who often visited the reading room. There, she met Mario Benedetti, Roque Dalton, Antonio Benitez-Rojo, Inverna Codina, Fayad Jamis and Manuel Galich, and she has fond memories of the “beloved poet Raúl Hernández Novás.”

Mailings of news and other information began nearly seven years ago and there are currently over 50 subscribers

This soft spoken woman, with proven tenacity against discouragement, came to work as secretary for poet and essayist Roberto Fernández Retamar. “I loved my job with a passion and was respected by my peers without belonging to political organizations. In fact, I never belonged to any,” she clarifies.

Marta devoted the years after stopping her work at the library to caring for her mother, but neither retirement nor domestic life turned off the vigor of her freethinking. In her seclusion at home, she read tirelessly. These readings often included books censored by the authorities, some writings that deepened her critical stance against the official doctrine of the Castro regime.

Earlier this century, her husband, Eugenio Leal, joined other opposition members, journalists, activists and organizations and he shared his involvement with Marta. Both participated in the 2004 founding of the magazine Consenso, the first independent digital publication in Cuba.

“I started to serve as secretary and member of the editorial board”, recalls Marta. “It was a wonderful experience that offered me another reality, opening a door to freedom of expression in Cuba.”

In October 2005, Eugene and Martha suffered a spectacular act of repudiation in front of their own home. “It angered the authorities that we had created Consenso which was headquartered in our home.”

First they were threatened by State Security, and days after “they launched a massive repudiation rally which led to a 24-hour guard in the lower floors of our building, by repressive agents, members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution and Communist Party militants.”

The siege lasted for nine days. Its goal was to prevent visitors and terrorize neighbors. Marta laments “from that moment on, we were plunged into total and absolute ostracism in our neighborhood.”

“Some prisoners of the Black Spring who were supported in opening their personal blogs have a special place in my memory”

This event marked a turning point in Marta’s life. “I realized that anyone or anything can lose their personal dignity and their basic rights as a human being.”

If the rally intimidated the neighbors, it had the opposite effect on Marta. In fact, she continued to work for Consenso and later for the magazine Contodos, until February 2007, when the last issue was published. By then, the first independent blogs were about to make their appearance.

“The alternative blogosphere had the virtue of establishing close links between a large number of civic activists, independent journalists and members of the opposition, previously unconnected,” she explains. “In the most intense months of 2008 and 2009 several campaigns were promoted denouncing rights violations against opposition activists and ordinary citizens, and demanding freedom for political prisoners.”

“Some prisoners of the Black Spring who were supported in opening their personal blogs have a special place in my memory.” They dictated their writings by phone from prison, and Marta transcribed many of those articles that were later published on the internet.

When her mother died, her daughter – who had emigrated years before – invited her to visit Miami, but the Immigration and Naturalization Department denied her permission to leave for three years. “Although I had a Spanish passport, they would not allow me to travel. I denounced what they were doing and they finally allowed me to leave the country in October 2010. “Deciding to emigrate has been the most difficult decision in my life,” she confesses.

In the United States she found “the freedom I so much longed for, the power to vote democratically, the possibility of setting goals and being able to achieve them, the satisfaction of seeing my daughter and granddaughters evolve.” She is happy and grateful to the country that welcomed her, but insists that Cuba is forever in her heart.

Marta stops at this point in the story and quotes Guillermo Cabrera Infante: “Nostalgia is the memory of the soul.” As a result of this yearning and with the desire to contribute through technological possibilities, Cortizas saw new horizons. “I started copying articles, especially Cuban topics and some world events, which I sent, along with notes to my friends.”

Every day she tries to find the most important articles to e-mail. She also gets specific requests from Cuba.

Almost without realizing it, she learned how to edit the articles, deleting pictures and reducing fonts to minimize memory when sending them. The information and the number of subscribers thus begun to grow.

Every day she tries to find the most important articles to e-mail. She also gets specific requests from Cuba. “I try to accommodate everyone.  That makes me feel refreshed and useful,” she states.

“Some days I even spend over four hours compiling information, and I try to do this seven days a week.  The greatest satisfaction is to get messages of concern for me at times when, for different reasons, I am unable to send the information. She does not get any kind of material compensation for this work, and pays for repairs to the frequent malfunctions of her laptop out of “her own pocket.”

She does not think that the opening of Wi-Fi zones with internet access in various locations in the country has reduced the demand for news. “As long as the government keeps a gag on free information controlling, through its machinations, access to different webs, this work will be useful,” she affirms.

“I will rejoice the when it will not be necessary for me to continue this work. Then, I will find another way to be useful.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Dangers of Hatred / Miriam Celaya

Venezuelan demonstrators burn the Cuban flag, March 2014 (CNN)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Norma Whiting, West Palm Beach, U.S., 29 April 2017 – The news, later refuted, of a supposed Cuban flag burning in recent days by Venezuelan demonstrators who oppose the government of Nicolás Maduro provoked diverse reactions on social networks and some Cuban websites. Many Cubans, mostly residing overseas, immediately expressed their indignation against Venezuelans at what they interpret as an affront to a national symbol they consider sacred, which does not represent in the least the dictatorial power that has ruled Cuba for almost sixty years, ultimately co-responsible for the deep political, social and economic crisis that Venezuela is currently experiencing.

The misconception, however, was not completely unfounded, considering that a few years ago Cuban flags burned in connection with student protests in Venezuela. continue reading

However, leaving aside anything smacking of nationalism, justified or not, the Venezuelans’ apocryphal pyromantic message against the Cuban flag in several important cities of their country would have made clear the rejection of the gross Cuban interference in Venezuela by Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, since it is not just the perverse tabernacle where the devastation of their nation has been cooked for years, but, to date, it’s the arena from where the strings of the Chávez-Maduro regime are manipulated, now decadent but, because of this, more dangerous.

Thus, in any case, it should have been that evil power and not the Cuban national emblem that Venezuelans burned in their riots of recent days. In fact, the images from 2014 that caused the confusion leave no room for doubt when we see that several of the flags burned then carry Fidel Castro’s image on a bundle of dollars displayed under his face, and other pictures where the signs “Out with the Castros” and “Out of Venezuela” can be seen. At that time, they also set on fire mannequins that mimicked the now deceased creator of the longest dictatorship that has existed in this region.

But it is also true that one of the dangers now is that, in the midst of the violence applied by the repressive bodies and the gangs incited by the central government against the demonstrators, their response will turn more violent. The Venezuelan crisis offers a much more convulsive and highly volatile and unstable scenario as a result of widespread hunger, the shortages and the needs of the population, social frustration, and the regime’s misrule, so that any situation can lead to uncontrollable chaos for any of the parties.

In this context, popular indignation would not be able to discriminate between Cuba and Cubans on the one hand, and the Castro regime on the other, bypassing the irrefutable fact that the misfortune of living under autocratic regimes is something that nationals of both countries share.

In this sense, and not wishing to be apocalyptic, it cannot be denied that the thousands of Cuban civilians who currently collaborate in the populist programs (called “missions”) of the Castro-Chávez alliance are very fragile links in the midst of the Venezuelan confusion, not only because they could easily become victims of the hatred, accumulated over many years, against a political project led by a gang of thieves and crooks which turned out to be a swindle, but because the perverse nature of the alliance between the hierarchs of Havana and Caracas would not hesitate for a second to sacrifice them motu proprio, and to attribute to the opposition the loss of life and the violence against Cuban civilians.

The Cuban gerontocracy knows that the loss of Cuban lives would allow them to unleash a whole Witches’ Sabbath through their monopoly of the press, and would be a golden opportunity to stir the patriotic spirits of the masses in the hacienda in ruins, especially now, when the defunct revolution doesn’t have any credibility among Cubans, and when the final fall of ” twenty-first century socialism” also heralds (more) difficult times for the Cuban population.

The fact that it would involve Cuban professionals, mostly in the health industry, who carry out a humanitarian mission of medical care to very poor populations, would add a dramatic touch that is extremely conducive to the propaganda effects of the Palace of the Revolution. Who could resist the tragedy of perhaps dozens of Cuban families?

For now, the official Cuban press is keeping a suspicious, almost sepulchral, silence about what is taking place in Venezuela. Or it has lied cynically, as is evident in the printed version of the main official newspaper, Granma, which contained a brief note this past Monday, April 24, stating that “normalcy reigns” in Venezuela, despite the opposition to Maduro calling for demonstrations, the massive mobilizations that have flooded the streets of many cities in Venezuela since the beginning of April, and the dozens of deaths, mainly protesters’, that have taken place at the hands of the delinquents grouped in the sinister “collectives”, that variety of motorized terrorists at the service of the government who assassinate their compatriots with impunity, just for exercising their right to protest.

Let us hope that the best children of Venezuela do not allow the just aspirations of freedom, justice and democracy of her people to be contaminated with criminal acts against Cuban civilian collaborators. They need to not give in to the hatred sown by officials in power. But, in any case, the evils that might take place in Venezuela will be the direct responsibility of the Cuban leadership and its puppets at the head of the Venezuelan government.

(Miriam Celaya, a Havana resident, is currently visiting the U.S.)

Translated by Norma Whiting

Tell Us, General, What’s Plan B?

Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro and Cuba’s president, Raúl Castro. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The Venezuela of “XXI Century Socialism” is wavering and threatening to collapse. It’s only a matter of time, soon, perhaps, as to when it will tumble. And since the economic and political crisis of the country has slipped from the government’s grasp, President Nicolás Maduro, in another irrefutable demonstration of his proverbial sagacity, under the advice of his mentors of Havana, has opted for the most coherent path with the nature of the regime: increase repression and “arm the people.”

Such a strategy cannot end well, especially when thousands of street protesters are not only motivated by the defense of democracy, but also by the reluctance to accept the imposition of forced present and future poverty for a nation that should be one of the richest on the planet. Decent Venezuelans will not accept the imposition of the Castro-style dictatorship that is trying to slip in their country. continue reading

Thus, “Maduro-phobia” has become viral, people have taken to the streets and will make sure that they will stand in protest until their demands are met, which involve the return of the country to the constitutional thread, to legality, to the rule of law, that is to say, without Maduro.

Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots

As the Venezuelan crisis increases in its polarization, Nicolás Maduro, allegedly elected by the popular vote, continues to accelerate his presidential metamorphosis into a person of the purest traditional Latin American style, capable of launching the army and hundreds of thousands of armed criminals against their (un)governed compatriots who have decided to exercise their right to peaceful demonstration.

So if it is true that the terrible decisions of the Venezuelan government are guided by and directed from the Havana’s Palace of the Revolution, the intentions of the Cuban leadership are, at least, very suspicious. Such recommendations from the Cuba’s high command would drag the Chávez-Maduro regime directly down an abyss, and Venezuela toward the greatest chaos.

That is to say, if the Castro clan really ordered Maduro to radicalize a dictatorship and to cling to power against the will of the majority of Venezuelans, by applying repression and force to achieve it, even though this would mean the end of the “socialist” regime in Venezuela -with the consequent total loss of petroleum subsidies for the olive green cupula, as well as the income capital sources from health professionals services- would be a challenge to logic.

Such a strange move, in addition to Raúl Castro’s significant absence at the recent ALBA political meeting held in Havana as a show of support for the Venezuelan government, the official reluctance to directly accuse the US government of the popular expressions of rejection against the regime of Nicolás Maduro inside and outside Venezuela, the suspicious silence or minimization of the facts on the part of the Cuban official press about what happens in Venezuela, and the unusually circumscribed condemnation pronouncements “to the regional rightist coup” – which, in any case, have stemmed from the Cuban government’s political and mass organizations and other non-governmental organizations, and not directly from it –we can only speculate about the possible existence of secret second intentions on Cuba’s part.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, since it is known that it is widely infiltrated by Castros’ agents.

It would be childish to assume that the Cuban government does not know the magnitude of the crisis of its South American ally, given that – as it has been transcended by testimonies from authorized sources in various media over the years – both the army and the repressive and intelligence Venezuelan bodies are widely infiltrated by Castro’s agents, so it may be assumed that the regime’s political strategists have some idea of a solution, at least in what concerns Cuba.

One example is the case of Cuba’s aid workers, which are in Venezuela in the tens of thousands. We cannot ignore the serious danger faced by Cuban professionals in the health sector and in other services, who work in Venezuela as “collaborators” in ALBA programs, in the very probable case of a violent chaos in that country. How, then, would one explain the folly of advising, or at least supporting, the violent actions of the Venezuelan regime? Why don’t the official media offer more accurate information, specifically about the safety of our countrymen in Venezuela? What is the contingency plan to safeguard the lives of these Cuban civilians in case the Venezuelan humanitarian crisis is aggravated by the violence incited from power?

Cuba’s past history is disastrous. It is not wise to forget that the same person who occupies the power throne in Cuba today is the same subject that commanded the Armed Forces when thousands of Cubans were sent to fight (and to die) in Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Bolivia and other remote points of the world’s geography. Fidel Castro, who was never in a real war, was the one who had – at least de jure, not de facto –  the actions of the Cuban army when, in 1983, civilian workers were ordered to participate in the construction of an airport on the Island of Grenada who fought back the US Marines during the invasion of that small Caribbean country.

When one speaks of the profits of the Castro regime, one usually thinks in terms of money. However, the harvests of innocent martyrs have always brought the Cuban regime valuable political returns and allowed for a temporary respite. Now, when the glory years of the “revolution” have passed, when just a few naive ones believe in the discourse of the olive green big shots, and the predominant feelings of Cubans are disappointment, apathy and uncertainty, and when the very “socialist model “is only a sad compendium of failures and promises of infinite poverty, it would not be surprising that the Castrocracy is considering the possibility of nourishing its moral capital at the expense of the sacrifice of the helpless professionals who lend their services in Venezuela.

It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control.

It would be particularly easy for the government to take advantage of several dozen Cuban doctors and technicians – the numbers are not important for the government leadership, as long as the people provide the corpses – that turn out victims of the violence of “the stateless ones who sold out to the empire” in Venezuela, to try to ignite some spark of the quasi withered Cuban nationalist and patriotic feeling and to gain some time, which has been the main goal of the power summit in Cuba in recent years.

It would not be unreasonable to consider this possibility, especially in a population that mostly suffers from a lack of information, which makes it susceptible to all sensory manipulation. It’s true that times have changed, and that, to some extent the penetration of a few information spaces -spread by the precarious access to technology – makes the consecration of the deception on a massive scale difficult. It no longer seems possible to mobilize the Cubans as in the days of the gigantic marches for “the boy Elian,” to cite the most conspicuous example, but neither should we underestimate the regime’s histrionic capacity and social control. Suffice it to recall the tearful and blaring spectacle displayed during Fidel Castro’s funeral novena.

In any case, and since the strategy of harvesting victims has often been applied successfully, perhaps the caciques are considering the possibility of taking advantage of the wreck of the Castro-Chavez ship. That’s how warped they are. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the narco-elite from Miraflores and their cohorts have made a pact with the Cuban honchos to escape to Havana in case they find it impossible to keep the scepter.

For now, it is a fact that the Cuban-Venezuelan soap opera is experiencing a truly dramatic escalation these days and nobody knows what the outcome will be. But in the midst of so much uncertainty, one thing seems irrefutable: what is currently being played out in Venezuela is not only the future of that nation, beyond the adversities of Nicolás Maduro and his cronies, buy the course of the next steps of the Cuban regime, which continues to be the absolute owner of the Island’s destinies. So, tell us, General Castro, what is Plan B?

Translated by Norma Whiting

When Your Ally’s Beards are on Fire*… / Miriam Celaya

From left to right, Raúl Castro, Bruno Rodríguez and Nicolás Maduro, at an ALBA meeting (EFE/Archive)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 April 2017 — According to an old adage, when you see you neighbor’s beard on fire, go soak your own*. The maxim should be applied to the elderly Cuban dictator, especially if we take into account that the erratic performance of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro is largely attributed to the bad advice he received from the founders of the Castro dynasty, in addition to the deficient or lacking mental capacity of the absurd southern leader.

It is disastrous that, while Venezuela is experiencing the worst political crisis of the last 20 years, most Cubans on the Island are not only lacking in information but – even worse — are being subjected to a real bombardment of misinformation by the government’s press monopoly. continue reading

As a result of decades of lies and “secrecy” — which journalist Reinaldo Escobar has defined as “the euphemism that disguises what is in reality a policy of censorship of the press” — and the requirements of the struggle for daily survival in a country marked by shortages and poverty in perpetuity, common Cubans live alienated from reality and are apathetic to any political scenario, whether inside or outside Cuba.

In fact, the shortage of information in the official Cuban media about what is happening in Venezuela is truly extraordinary, even though its government is the closest ally to the Palace of the Revolution. The presence of tens of thousands of Cuban professionals delivering their services to Venezuela should be sufficient reason for relatives and the population as a whole to be duly warned about the growing political tensions and clashes that are taking place between the government of Nicolás Maduro and his Chávez phalanges, on the one hand, and the opposition sectors supported by thousands of Venezuelans who are fed up with the regime on the other.

But if most Cubans may care very little about the fate of Venezuelans, for which the lengthy meddling of the Cuban dictatorship has so much responsibility, they should, at least, worry about the fate of their countrymen, volunteer slaves in Venezuela, where violence, growing poverty and political polarization make them potential victims of circumstances that, after all, are alien to them.

Who doubts that a possible situation of social unrest and chaos would constitute a colossal danger for the Cuban “missionaries” of health and other fronts of the Castro-Chávez alliance who remain in Venezuela? Does the Cuban General-President have any contingency plans to protect them? Or will he launch them as cannon fodder to defend the autocratic system with totalitarian aspirations that the Castro regime has sown in Venezuela? Will we be witness to a second Grenada, like that of the late Maurice Bishop, where in 1983 Castro the First ordered unassuming Cuban construction workers to offer themselves up against US marines in a sacrifice as irrational as it was absolutely useless?

Venezuela is now a time bomb where the population is satiated with more gloom and the outrages of government than even opposition parties and leaders, a place where the citizens are playing all their cards in street demonstrations. And, while tensions and violence of the “collectives” and police forces are increasing, and the government’s repression against the demonstrators, torture against detainees and arrests against journalists attempting to cover the truth of events are also on the increase, the Castro regime, accessory to Venezuelan suffering and perverse to the marrow, remains silent.

Word is that the immediate future of Venezuela will be defined next Wednesday, April 19th. No one can predict if that day, when the streets will be taken over by supporters and opponents of the Chávez-Maduro government will end in a bloodbath, only to perpetuate another dictatorship in Latin America or to end the most ambitious extraterritorial plan of the Castro Clan. For now, Mr. Nicolás Maduro has already made clear that his path is one of repression, while thousands of Venezuelans remain determined to regain freedom and democracy.

In such a scenario, the Venezuelan Armed Forces could be the key factor to support its own people or to sell its soul to the merchants of the Miraflores Palace or to the infiltrated Cuban officials in the high command of the army of that country, but in any case, XXI Century socialism, which in its heyday proclaimed itself to be “the peoples’ alternative,” has lost the match prematurely, for no decent government or respected international organization will support a government that is imposed by blood and fire.

It is precisely for this reason that the old fraudsters at Havana’s Palace of the Revolution continue to keep discrete silence. They are waiting to see how this hand ends. They count on the proverbial meekness of Cubans, lacking in Venezuelans’ will and courage, but knowing that with Maduro deposed they would lose their last strong political ally in the region and one of their main sources of oil and capital that still sustains them in power, in return for which they lease out their slaves in the form of doctors, teachers, sports coaches, etc.

It is impossible to imagine what new tricks the General-President and his clique may be plotting in order to find a non-“Bolivarian” alternative to the crisis ahead. They have their work cut out for them. It’s not always possible to find allies with the features of the Venezuelan government — brutality, corruption and compromise – all in a neat package, that has enabled the Castro regime for almost 20 years to fully manipulate, for Cuba’s benefit, the riches of Venezuela, and thus extend its own power. They will no doubt think of something, but it is likely that, in order to stay in the game, they will have to satisfy certain conditions to even minimally fulfill their role as “a democratic dictatorship” for the world. For now, in the midst of all the storms, presumably they are soaking their beards*.

*Translator’s note: Akin to the expression in English that begins: “When your neighbor’s house is on fire…”

Translated by Norma Whiting

Oil in Cuba: Dream or Nightmare?

Cuban-Venenzuelan refinery in Cienfuegos (Photo: barometropolitico.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 April 2017 — HAVANA, Cuba. – “Thank goodness oil is something we don’t have in Cuba.” So said the lyrics of a popular song by Cuban musical group Habana Abierta. However, now Cuba’s official media insist the opposite is true: “The enterprise Cuba-Petroleum Union (CUPET), which promotes prospecting projects with the participation of foreign capital, reveals that, “In four wells located in the Economic Zone Exclusive to Cuba in the Gulf of Mexico (ZEEC-GOM) there have been indications of crude.”

Lately, when the disappearance of “high test” and the shortage of “regular” gas in Havana have caused real congestion in the few service stations where some fuel could be found, the news of the alleged presence of large Cuban oil reserves sounds like a bad joke: who cares that there are several billion of barrels of oil of dubious quality, deeply buried in the depths of the Gulf, if there is not a drop of gas at service stations? And, if it were true, how would Cubans benefit from it? Our idiosyncrasy has a special mocking phrase to illustrate the case: “It’s here but not for you.” continue reading

In fact, such fanfare by the press about the dubious and inaccessible discovery that lies submerged in ultra-deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico is highly notorious, while the official press has been evasive in informing us about the fuel crisis taking place in the nation, before our very eyes, which is fueling popular uncertainty with the alarming signs of the return to the days when the Soviet subsidy program ended with a stroke of the pen. Many Cubans point out that the unburied ghost of the so-called “Special Period,” with its aftermath of blackouts and famine, is, once again, stalking the nation.

Therefore, the topic of “crude” with which the masters of the hacienda are trying to shake the hopes of the masses, smells like a sting, as long as the cataclysms in the house of the allies cause the Mafiosi of the Palace of the Revolution to play any card palmed in their sleeve to emerge and to continue, unharmed, to place their bet: to conserve power at all costs and at any price.

That is why some suspicious individuals consider that the news is only a beam of light to attract unsuspecting investors, and that it collaterally pursues the immediate effect of reassuring the mood of a population sufficiently shaken by the gradual — although apparently inexorable — return to another cycle of great material hardships, this time with the aggravating issue that has been the end of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy, which has been, for the longest time, the most expeditious solution to escape the condemnation of perpetual misery.

Filling up at a gas station in Cuba

Thus, while the economic and political crisis in Venezuela — whose true causes and magnitude are carefully silenced in the official media — keeps deepening, common sense and the experience of nearly six decades of cons suggest to Cubans the existence of a direct relationship between the current gas shortage and the spasms of agony of the Chávez-Maduro regime, incapable of continuing to maintain any longer the already depleted subsidies that have artificially prolonged the life of the Cuban dictatorship.

So now, if we hypothetically assume the possibility that the olive green kleptocracy would soon dispose of another source of hydrocarbons — this time, alas, its absolute property — what would that mean for Cuba’s destiny? Well, nothing less than a sentence to live under conditions of dictatorship in perpetuity, with the acquiescent tolerance of the powers that rule the planet. In fact, many of the staunchest critics of Castro’s “socialism” would become its partners. This would not be a novelty, because it is axiomatic that wealth often grants immunity to dictators.

So if, for once, Cubans decided to climb down the ridge and assume the true position we occupy in the world, which equals that of plankton in the biological chain, we would find that similar plots have already taken place.

A classic example is Equatorial Guinea, that diminutive West African island, formerly known as Fernando Poo, with less than 100 thousand inhabitants, that has been a Portuguese, French, English and finally a Spanish colony until in October of 1968, when it obtained its independence, only to pass onto the hands of dictator Francisco Macías, who imposed a single compulsory party and a repressive regime (1968-1979), until he was deposed by a coup led by Teodoro Obiang. The latter, after having executed the defeated tyrant, promised to end the island’s political repression.

However, far from improving the lives of the Equatoguineans, under Obiang’s control, repression and poverty increased, as did the country’s underdevelopment. Meanwhile, Amnesty International, the UN and numerous world figures have repeatedly accused Mr. Obiang of arresting political opponents, as well as of torture and human rights violations. These accusations have not influenced a process of democratization or, at the very least, improvement in conditions and in the standard of living of three quarters of the population, which continues to be plunged in the most absolute misery.

It can be said that the misfortune of the Equatorial Guineans is due to the utter indifference of the inhabitants of this planet, the majority of whom do not even know of its existence. Additionally, the kleptocrat Obiang is often amicably received by leaders, politicians of high rank, and personalities of renowned prestige from the Western world, who, however, otherwise tear their garments and throw spears for democracy in all international forums.

It turns out that, years ago, in that small spot in the African geography, enormous oil reserves were discovered, whose rights of exploitation belong to foreign companies, mainly Americans, who don’t seem to have any scruples in negotiating with the flaming President who was described at one time as “the most murderous thieving ruler in the world” by a former US ambassador to that nation. Beneficiaries of such massive dividends might be saying among themselves, “To Caesar what belongs to Caesar.”

Obiang, meanwhile, not only retains absolute power in Equatorial Guinea, but is the founder of a dynasty that has amassed, with impunity, colossal wealth by appropriating the revenues from oil exploitation and safeguarding them in European bank accounts, and perhaps in banks in other continents too. To ensure the continuation of the plunder of the national wealth for the benefit of his caste, his son occupies a relevant political position in the country and has numerous properties inside and outside the little island.

Aren’t there certain suspicious similarities? We Cubans should be warned. It isn’t prudent to be so arrogant as to think that kind of thing happens in Equatorial Guinea “because they are Africans” and that the same thing will never take place in Cuba because we are “westerners.” Sixty years ago nobody would have believed that prosperous Cuba would become a nation almost as poor as Haiti … and we continue our descent.

Personally, far from feeling encouraged by them, the Cuban oil reserves announcements set off every possible alarm in me. Sufficient time has elapsed and dissimilar circumstances have taken place to verify that the precariousness of the rights and freedoms of Cubans do not concern any of the great centers of world power and politics.

In fact, the destiny of the inhabitants of this island is so uncertain and our dreams for democracy still so chimerical that it would suffice for a gambling foreigner to appear, reckless enough to invest huge amounts of venture capital into the oil adventure and that – in fact — such precious hydrocarbons might appear, for the Castro kleptocracy to sprout anew “with that added force,” crushing any hint of hope for Cuban freedom. I don’t have religious beliefs, but, just in case, I will keep my fingers crossed.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Thousand Faces of “Journalism” / Miriam Celaya

A tourist walks along Calle Monserrate, in Old Havana (File)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 March 2017 – An opinion piece published in recent days by El Nuevo Herald gives me a disturbing feeling of déjà vu. It is not the subject – overflowing with a number of articles by different authors – but its focal point, which presents as adequate a number of superficial and highly subjective assessments to validate conclusions that in no way reflect the reality it alleges to illustrate.

With other hues and nuances, it has the same effect in me as the experience of participating as a guest at a meeting of journalists, politicians and academics – primarily Americans – held October, 2014 at Columbia University, just two months before the announcement of the restoration of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States, where the wish to support rapprochement and to substantiate the need to eliminate the embargo was essentially based on colossal lies.

For example, I heard how the “Raúl changes” that were taking place in Cuba favored the Cuban people and a process of openness, and I learned of the incredible hardships that Cubans had to endure as a result of the direct (and exclusive) responsibility of the embargo, of the fabulous access to education and health services (which were, in addition to being easily accessible, wonderful) enjoyed by Cubans, and even the zeal of the authorities to protect the environment. continue reading

To illustrate this last point, an American academic presented the extraordinary conservation state of the Jardines de la Reina archipelago and its adjacent waters, including the coralline formations, as an achievement of the Revolutionary Government. She just forgot to point out that this natural paradise has never been within reach of the common Cuban, but is a private preserve of the ruling caste and wealthy tourists, a fact that explains its favorable degree of conservation.

The Cuba that many American speakers described on that occasion was so foreign to a Cuban resident on the Island, as I was, that I wondered at times if we were all really speaking about the same country.

In my view, the question was as contradictory as it was dangerous. Contradictory, because there is certainly sufficient foundation, based on realities, to consider the (conditional) suspension of the embargo or to show partiality for dialogue between governments after half a century of sterile confrontations, without the need to resort to such gross falsehoods, especially – and I say this without xenophobic animosity or without a smack of nationalism – when they are brandished by foreigners who don’t even have a ludicrous idea of the reality the Cuban common population lives under or what its aspirations are. Dangerous, because the enormous power of the press to move public opinion for or against a proposal is well known, and to misrepresent or distort a reality unknown to that public, can have dire consequences.

But it seems that such an irresponsible attitude threatens to become a common practice, at least in the case of Cuba. This is what happens when overly enthusiastic professionals confuse two concepts as different as “information” and “opinion” in the same theoretical body.

It is also the case of the article referred to above, that its essence is the answer to a question that is asked and answered by the author, using the faint topic of the first anniversary of Barack Obama’s historic visit to Cuba and some conjectures about the continuity of the relations between both governments with the new occupant of the White House.

“What repercussions have the normalization of relations between the United States and Cuba had on the Cuban people?” the writer of the article asks, and she immediately answers herself by assuming several suppositions, not totally exempt from logic, but regrettably inaccurate.

“Greater openness to Cuba has undoubtedly meant greater interaction with the Cuban people through the exchange of information from the thousands of Americans who now visit the island”, she says. And this is partially true, but this “exchange of information” about a society as complex and mimetic, and as long closed off as Cuba’s, is full of mirages and subjectivities, so it ends up being a biased and exotic vision of a reality that no casual foreign visitor can manage to grasp.

A diffuse assertion of the article is one that reassures: “Tourism represents the main economic source for the country, and at the same time it leverages other sectors related to textiles, construction and transportation.” Let’s see: It may be that tourism has gained an economic preponderance for Cuba, but that it has boosted the textile, construction and transportation sectors is, at the most, a mere objective, fundamentally dependent on foreign capital investment, which has just not materialized.

In fact, the notable increase in tourist accommodations and restaurants, bars and cafes in the private sector is the result not of the tourist boom itself but of the inadequacy of the hotel and gastronomic infrastructure of the State. If the author of the article has had privileged access to sources and information that support such statements, she does not make it clear.

But if the colleague at El Nuevo Herald came away with a relevant discovery during her trip to Havana –job related? for pleasure? – it is that many young people “believe in the socialist model.” Which leads us directly to the question, where did these young people learn what a “socialist model” is? Because, in fact, the only thing that Cubans born during the last decade of the last century have experienced in Cuba is the consolidation of a State capitalism, led by the same regime with kleptomaniacal tendencies that hijacked the power and the Nation almost 60 years ago.

About the young people she says that “many are self-employed and generate enough resources to live well.” There are currently more than 500 thousand people In Cuba with their own businesses, about 5% of the population, according to ECLAC” [U.N.’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean]. This is another slip, almost childish. The source that originally reports the figure of half a million self-employed workers belongs to the very official National Office of Statistics and Information (ONEI), a Cuban Government institution, and not to ECLAC. This number has remained unchanged for at least the last two years, as if the enormous migration abroad and the numerous returns of licenses on the part of the entrepreneurs who fail in their efforts or who are stifled by the system’s own circumstances, among other factors, did not make a dent.

But even assuming as true the immutable number of “self-employed” that the authorities refer to, on what does the writer base her assumptions that the self-employed generate sufficient recourses to live well? Could it be that she ignores that that half a million Cubans includes individuals who fill cigarette lighters, sharpen scissors, recycle trash (“the garbage divers”), are owners of shit-hole kiosks, repair household appliances, are roving shaved-ice, peanut, trinket and other knickknack vendors, and work at dozens of low-income occupations that barely produce enough to support themselves and their families? Doesn’t the journalist know about the additional losses most of them suffer from harassment by inspectors and the police, the arbitrary tax burdens and the legal defenselessness? What, in the end, are the standards of prosperity and well-being that allow her to assert that these Cubans “live well”?

I would not doubt the good intentions of the author of this unfortunate article, except that empathy should not be confused with journalism. The veracity of the sampling and the seriousness of the data used is an essential feature of journalistic ethics, even for an opinion column, as in this case. We were never told what data or samples were used as a basis for the article, the number of interviewees, their occupations, ages, social backgrounds and other details that would have lent at least some value to her work.

And to top it off, the trite issue of Cuba’s supposedly high educational levels could not be left out. She says: “While it is true that education in Cuba is one of the best in the continent, the level of education is not proportional to income, much less a good quality of life.” Obviously, she couldn’t be bothered going into the subject of education in Cuba in depth, and she is not aware of our strong pedagogical tradition of the past, destroyed by decades of demagoguery and indoctrination. She also does not seem to know the poor quality of teaching, the corruption that prevails in the teaching centers and the deterioration of pedagogy. We are not aware of what comparative patterns allow her to repeat the mantra of the official discourse with its myth about the superior education of Cubans, but her references might presumably have been Haiti, the Amazonian forest communities or villages in the Patagonian solitudes. If so, I’ll accept that Cubans have some advantage, at least in terms of education levels.

There are still other controversial points in the text, but the most relevant ones are sufficient to calculate the confusion the narration of a reality that is clearly unknown can cause to an unaware reader. It is obvious that the writer was not up to the task, or is simply not aware of the responsibility that comes from a simplistic observation. And she still pretends to have discovered not one, but two different Cubas. Perhaps there are even many more Cubas, but, my dear colleague: you were definitely never in any of them.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Mysterious Closing of Plaza Carlos III Causes Distress

Plaza Carlos III Shopping Center, Havana

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 March 2017 – It is almost noon on Sunday and a young couple, with their two young children in their arms, stops, frustrated, in front of the closed gate of the Plaza Carlos III Shopping Center. For a moment they are confused, they consult their watches and immediately start asking questions of several people who arrived earlier and who, like them, have stopped in front of the gate. Some wait patiently outside from very early, “in case they open later”, but in vain.

This scene has been repeated every day since Friday, March 24th, when the commercial center, the largest and most popular of its kind in Cuba, closed down. Dozens of regular customers from several of the provinces have traveled to the capital just to stumble across a small and laconic sign on the gate, warning about the obvious, but offering no useful additional information:

DEAR CUSTOMER
THE PLAZA CARLOS III SHOPPING CENTER
WILL BE CLOSED UNTIL FURTHER NOTICE
WE APOLOGIZE FOR THE INCONVENIENCE THIS MIGHT HAVE CAUSED.
GENERAL MANAGEMENT continue reading

Of course, without any official information, the surprise closing of Plaza Carlos III has raised a lot of speculation, especially in neighborhoods surrounding the area, in the heart of downtown Havana, for it is one of the pioneer shopping centers to deal in foreign currency transactions in Cuba, since the so-called decriminalization of the dollar took place, back in the 90’s. From the time it opened as a foreign exchange market, Carlos III has undergone several renovations in different stages, but never before have sales to the public been completely discontinued.

Would-be customers mill around outside the shopping center (14ymedio)

Rumors are circulating that connect this unusual closing with the recent fires that have taken place in other establishments that operate in foreign currency in the municipality

Rumors are circulating that relate this unusual closure to the recent fires that have occurred in other establishments that operate in foreign currency in the municipality. “The management denounced to the fire department headquarters the bad state of the fire-fighting media, because it does not want the same thing to happen to them [as in the last ones], so they are renovating the whole system,” say some residents of the neighborhood who, according to what they say, received that information from some of the shopping center’s employees and officials. There are those who say that “the firemen came and found that there were flaws in the fire protection system.”

These days, however, no metal or metal bars covering the two entrances of the Plaza have been seen to deploy personnel or vehicles specializing in fire-fighting technology, nor have any workers been seen to be reinstalling or maintaining the electrical networks or other similar tasks.

The most visible interior hassle has been the employees of the place, occupied in general cleaning of the floors and windows, who have been reluctant to give explanations to those who are not satisfied with the simple poster and inquire about the date of reopening. “Until further notice,” they repeat, as automatons, those who deign to respond.

Other neighbors speak of a “general audit” that “becomes very complicated” due to the large number of shopping mall departments and the size and complexity of their stores. This conjecture is reinforced, on the one hand, by the experience of decades of cyclical (and futile) raids against mismanagement, administrative corruption, misappropriation, embezzlement, smuggling, black marketing and all other illegalities to be found in a socioeconomic system characterized by growing demand, insufficient supply and the poor management of the state monopoly on the economy. The regularity of which does not escape any establishment where a high amount of state resources moves.

The only information that is offered to those who come to the shopping center entrances is a brief sign. (14ymedio)

On the other hand, the surprise and undisclosed closing -with all the losses it entails in a shopping center that bills thousands in both national currencies- is a sign of the intervention of the highest ranking government auditors to detect irregularities in situ, without giving transgressors time to hide traces of their misdeeds.

If the alleged audit is true, it would be a demonstration of the ineffectiveness of the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) and their failure to prevent unlawful activity in the neighborhood. For several months, the constant and strong police presence around the outer areas of the commercial center has looked like the appalling image of a besieged square, while the “inside” criminals, those who are part of the staff, lived by their own code.

For now, all indications are that it does not appear to have fallen into that sort of epidemic closing that has been coming down hard recently in the capital on several establishments that trade in foreign currency

Last Sunday several trucks continued unloading merchandise in the stores at Plaza Carlos III, which augurs that, on an imprecise but possibly brief date, the center will reopen to the public. For now, all indications are that it does not appear to have fallen into that sort of epidemic closing that has been coming down hard recently in the capital on several establishments that trade in foreign currency, such as the cases of heavyweight hardware departments on 5th and 42nd and at La Puntilla, in the municipality of Playa; The Yumurí and Sylvain, at Zanja and Belascoaín markets in Centro Habana; The TRD Panamericana at Ninth Street, in the Casino Deportivo development, Cerro municipality, and numerous sale kiosks dispersed through different points in the city, just to mention some cases.

While the waiting stretches out and the questions without answers accumulate, the more optimistic habaneros have begun to rub their hands to the intangible expectation that the next reopening of the popular Plaza Carlos III will arrive with renewed offerings, and that, at least in the first sales days, the usually depressed shelves and stands of the different departments will offer more quantity and more variety of products.

Hope is the last thing you lose.

Translated by Norma Whiting

*Site manager’s note: The previous “translation” of this post, which was a complete mess, was a mistake in transmission / my apologies to Miriam and Norma!

The Private Sale of the Official Press is Legalized / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Satisfactorily completing a three-day course is necessary before completing the contract and obtaining the license to take over a newspaper stand as a self-employed activity. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 9 March 2017 — On one of the side walls, inside a small newspaper stand on Avenida 26, in Nuevo Vedado (Havana), an unusual sign announces: “This stand became private property.”

The event is unique. The elderly self-employed man behind the counter is normally cautious. Survival instinct has taught Cubans to mistrust those who ask too many questions, particularly when what’s in play is the relative security of some additional monetary income to round off the meager retirement income.

However, when an informal conversation is established, some information and small details always surface which, at least in principle, confirm that a new secret experiment has been initiated by the State-Party-Government: the process of legal privatization of the sale of the main ideological weapon of the revolution: the press. continue reading

The truth about the new measure that includes the commercialization of the official press as a sole proprietorship activity was confirmed by Yordanka Díaz, director of the Cuban Postal Service, Habana-Centro

It is obvious, in addition, that this event is taking place barely three months after the death of the infamous creator of the information monopoly, as soon as the last prop tears of his faithful have dried up and in the midst of constant invocations in the press “to his memory, his legacy and his work.” No one can ignore that the colossal Castro press, and especially the Granma newspaper, was the apple of Fidel Castro’s eye, who commanded it for decades from his office, from where he was taken daily through the tunnel connecting the Granma building with the Palace of the Revolution, for his final approval, before going to press.

The true nature of the information about the new measure that includes the commercialization of the official press as a sole proprietorship activity was confirmed to this publication by Yordanka Díaz, director of the Cuban Postal Service Habana-Centro, in the Plaza of the Revolution municipality. “It is necessary to satisfactorily complete a 3-day course, after which the contract is made and then the worker must go to the National Office of Tax Administration (ONAT) to try to obtain his license.”

The official director added that, in the municipality under her management, there are at least three vacant places to negotiate a newspaper stand. So far, those who have filled the previous vacancies are retired workers or housewives returning to the workforce.

Although the vendor at the Avenida 26 location has misgivings that make him seem unwilling to reveal many details, it is obvious that he is more satisfied with his new status as self-employed, than that of his former status as an employee of the State. “Before, the State paid me a salary of 120 Cuban pesos a month, now I must pay 10 pesos a day. The price of a newspaper is still 20 cents in national currency, so I would have to sell 300 newspapers to earn 3 pesos, but people ‘help me’, some leave me a peso or 50 cents The state does not have to pay me a salary, but it charges me 300 a month; they win, I earn more now …and everyone is happy.”

The State will not distribute the newspapers to the sellers working as “self-employed,” which is another advantage, as it frees itself from transportation costs

The vendor does not reveal that, in fact, his greatest gain is in the established practice of selling wholesale to unlicensed street dealers, or informal home delivery, where there is a fixed minimum monthly rate of 30 Cuban pesos, which may be higher if the customer receives more than one daily newspaper. It is not a business that yields significant profits, but it does not require much effort or investment, and it helps to put food on the table.

Something else that’s new is that the State will not distribute the papers to the sellers working as “self-employed,” rather it will be the responsibility of the vendors to pick up and transport the papers to their individual stands, which is another advantage for the State, since transportation costs from the printing locations to the stands throughout the city are no longer the State’s responsibility. There is also a fixed allocation of newspapers for each seller, in order to avoid hoarding.

The vendor becomes more talkative as the conversation progresses. “They say they are going to repair the kiosks, which are in very bad condition, they are going to fix the ceilings and paint them, but I’m not sure about that. The stands are theirs, the sales, mine.”

Sign placed at the Avenida 26 Post Office in Havana, with guidelines to follow in the distribution of number of copies of publications to be delivered to self-employed newspaper vendors. (14ymedio)

“But I can only sell newspapers, no magazines, no books, no calendars or anything like that,” the old man explains. “But it’s okay, I don’t complain. It’s always easier to unload newspapers; people buy them more readily than they do magazines. They even buy old newspaper… imagine, of course they’ll sell, seeing how difficult it is to get toilet paper!”

At this point, everything has a certain logic, though it would seem, at least paradoxical, that the airtight press monopoly – so pure, so anti-capitalist, so Marxist – has consented, at least partially, to the commercialization of this important “trench” to the private sector, even if it is such a humble and low-profit activity as the sale of newspapers, usually taken over by retirees or other low-income workers.

However, taking into account the calamitous economic situation and the high costs arising from this archaic way of disseminating information, the State is compelled to exploit any way of lightening the load that results from the maintenance of a printed press monopoly in a country where limited and costly internet access, coupled with the Government’s imperative need to control information, prevents the absolute digitization of the media.

This way, the government is tied to its own Gordian knot: the monopoly of the press and the country’s laughable internet access are musts for the regime if it wants to keep the population uninformed or ill-informed, without other alternative sources of information about what is happening in the world or even within the nation, and without the possibility of comparing the news offered by the official media. But this, in turn, forces the government to sustain an unaffordable industry of the press in the middle of an economic crisis that produced negative numbers in 2016 and threatens an even more unfortunate 2017.

Allowing the sale of newspapers as a non-state activity, the government has simply legalized another black market item, since, for many years and to date, the private (illegal) sale of the official press has existed

In reality, the rationing process of the official press machinery has been showing signs for a long time. Recently, the country’s main newspaper, Granma, with only eight pages (four flat sheets) renewed its old and recharged design, not so much to improve its print quality and presentation – which remain aesthetically deplorable – but to save ink. For a long time there has been only one national edition in circulation.

Now, by allowing the sale of newspapers as a non-state activity, the Government has simply legalized another black market item – a phenomenon that has marked the entire “list” of what is regulated for the private sector – since for many years and to date the private (illegal) sale of the official press has existed, carried out by elderly and needy people who, not trying to disguise the act, and with their face uncovered, loudly yell out the headlines and sell without fuss in the middle of the road, buying the papers at 20 centavos and selling them at the price of one peso in national currency. In short, the black market of the official press has been legalized.

Curiously, this new form of self-employment has not been reviewed by the official press, although it is news of a clear symbolic meaning.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Ten Years of Raulism: From “Reformism” to the Abyss / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro (caraotadigital.com)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 27 February 2017 — As the second month of 2017 comes to a close, the Cuban panorama continues to be bleak. Material difficulties and the absence of a realistic economic recovery program – the ineffectiveness of the chimerical Party Guidelines has been demonstrated in overcoming the general crisis of the “model” – in addition to the new regional scenario, the socio-political and economic crisis in Venezuela, the leftist “allies” defeated at the polls, the repealing of the “wet foot/dry foot” policy of the United States and, with it, the closing of Cubans’ most important escape route, Donald J. Trump’s assumption of the US presidency, and his having already announced a revision and conditioning of the easing of measures of the Embargo dictated by his predecessor, Barack Obama, are increasing the fears for an eventual return to the conditions of the 1990s, after the collapse of the USSR and the end of the so-called “real socialism.”

At the social level, one of the clearest indicators of the deterioration and inability to respond on the part of the government is, on the one hand, the increased repression towards the opposition, and, on the other hand, the increase of controls on the private sector (the self-employed) while the economy and services in the state sector continue to collapse. The most recent example is in the area of passenger transportation, one of the most active and efficient in the non-state sector; the State’s response to this efficiency has been to impose a cap on fares, which now cannot exceed 5 Cuban pesos for each leg of the trip. continue reading

Weeks after this measure was implemented, transportation in the Cuban capital has plunged into a lamentable crisis, demonstrating the great importance of the private sector for this service. The measure has resulted in not only a noticeable decrease in the numbers of cabs for hire the “almendrones” as they are called, in reference to the ‘almond’ shape of the classic American cars most often used in this servicein the usual or fixed routes formerly covering the city; but also in their refusal to pick up passengers in mid-points along their routes, which could be interpreted as a silent strike of this active sector in response to the arbitrariness of the government’s measure.

As a corollary, there has been increasing overcrowding in the limited and inefficient state-operated buses, and the resulting discomfort for the population, which now must add another difficulty of doubtful solution to the long list of their pressing daily problems.

Far from presenting any program to improve its monopoly on passenger bus service, the official response has been the threatening announcement that it will launch its hordes of inspectors to punish with fines and appropriations those private sector drivers who intend to conspire to evade the dispositions of the Power Lords.

For the olive-green lords of the hacienda, the “cabbies” are not even independent workers who are part of a sector to which the State does not provide any resources nor assign preferential prices for the purchase of fuel or spare parts, but simply driving slaves: they and their two-wheel open carriages are at the service of the master’s orders.

The infinite capacity of the Cuban authorities to try to overcome a problem by making existing ones worse and more numerous is the paroxysm of the absurd. For, assuming that in the days to come a true avalanche of inspectors is unleashed on the hunt for private carriers who don’t comply with the established prices, the outcome of such a crusade cannot be less than counterproductive, since, as is well-known, the inspectors constitute a formidable army of corrupt people who, far from guarding the funds of the public coffers, the fulfillment of the service of each activity and the health of the tax system, find the possibility of lining their own pockets in every punitive action of the State against every “violation,” through the extortion of the violators.

For its part, the National Revolutionary Police (PNR) which serves as “support” to the inspectors, is another leech also dedicated to bleeding the private workers dry, who are, in fact, the only useful and productive elements in this chain. So, every governmental offensive against “the private ones” means a juicy harvest for the pairing of inspectors-PNR, who usually feed like parasites on the most prosperous entrepreneurs and, invariably, the final harvest results in the deterioration of services and an increase in their prices – because whatever the private workers lose in compensation paid as bribes must be made up for by an increase in prices – and the “normalization” of the corruption in the whole society, generally accepted as a mechanism of survival in all spheres of life.

The cycle is closed when, in turn, the passenger, that is, any common Cuban, is forced to perfect his mechanisms of resistance that will allow him to equate the increase in the cost of living, and seek additional income sources, probably illegal, related to contraband, thievery, or “diversion of resources” (a fancy term for stealing) from state-owned enterprises and other related offenses. Anything goes when it comes to surviving.

And, while the economy shrinks and the shortages increase, the General-President remains alien and distant, as if he had no responsibility for what happens under his feet. Cuba drifts in the storm, with no one in command and no one at the helm, approaching, ever so close, to the much talked about “precipice,” which Raúl’s reforms were going to save us from.

Paradoxically, given the weakness of civil society and the lack of support for it by most of the democratic governments of the world, busy with their own internal problems, the salvaging of Cubans depends fundamentally on the political will of the dictatorship in power.

But Castro II is silent. Apparently, he has virtually retired from his position as head of government well before his announced retirement date of 2018, and after the final death (as opposed to the many announced but not real deaths) of his brother and mentor, has only loomed from his lofty niche from time to time, not to offer his infamous directions to the misguided “ruled” of the plantation in ruins, but to serve as host at the welcoming ceremonies for distinguished foreign visitors. At the end of the day, he is another native of these lands, where almost nobody cares about the fate of one another… Isn’t it true that, for many Cubans, the world begins beyond the coral reefs?

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Subtle Dissent of Revolutionaries / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Image of Fidel Castro at the Union of Cuban Journalists UPEC (cmkc.icrt.cu)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 February 2017 — An editorial piece published February 14th on the Havana Times website under the title “Official Journalism in Cuba: Empty Nutshells,” revisits a recurring issue that has been going around in the Castro media and is threatening to become fashionable: to be or not to be a dissident.

In fact, several young journalists of these media have shown themselves to be discreet critics, not only of the current Cuban reality, but also of the dullness of the press, the censorship that is often applied to their work, the lack of access to certain spheres of public administration that should be held responsible for the mismanagement of services and of the economy and of the sanctions imposed on colleagues who openly question public media editorial policies or other issues that officials consider “sensitive” to the security of the socio-political system. continue reading

That is to say, in recent times there has been a kind of juvenile anti-gag reaction on the part of the new generations of professionals of the press, to whom the narrow limits of “what is allowed” are too narrow.

Perhaps because they clash against the challenge of narrating a triumphalist and intangible reality in the media that in no way resembles the harsh conditions they experience on a daily basis. Or because of the contrast between their meager income as journalists of the official press and the much more advantageous income that can be derived from collaborating with alternative digital means. Or because they belong to a generation that has distanced itself from the old revolutionary epic of “the historical ones” whose original project failed.

Or because of the sum of all these and other factors, the truth is that young journalism graduates integrated into the official media are showing their dissatisfaction with the ways of antiquated journalism a la Castro of (not) doing and (not) saying.

The response of the champions of the ideological purity of Cuban journalism has not dawdled; thus, the more fervent ones have chosen to accuse the bold young people of being “dissidents.” And it is understood what that demonized word means, the worst offense to a Cuban revolutionary, as well as certain punishment: marginalization and ostracism.

For its part, the counter-answer of the reformist sectors – let’s call them that, the ones who defend a new type of official press, let’s say kindly, more truthful and transparent – is the defense of their right to “dissent”… or, better yet, to diverge, because when it comes to nominalism, they prefer to move away from the dangerous definitions that have been applied to “others.”

And there’s no need to transgress because of excesses in expectations. They are barely subtle dissenters. For if there is any positive initiative that tends to refresh the arid informative world of the Cuban official media or to push the limits of what’s allowed by the ironclad censorship – understanding that, given the long-lived government press monopoly, any break in the immobility could eventually have a favorable result in an aperture process, currently unthinkable – this does not mean that the official journalists who are claiming more rights for their self-expression are defending the true right to freedom of expression endorsed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not only because they conceive the free expression exercise just from positions of “socialists” or “revolutionaries from the left,” but because – as a remedy to the very monopoly of the press that silences them – they insist on disqualifying (for being “stateless, mercenary and anti-Cuban”) any proposal or opinion that differs from the socio-political system by which eleven million souls are supposed to be ruled ad infinitum, and which was chosen, without consultation, by a privileged caste almost six decades ago.

The article referred to at the beginning of this text – which is authored by Vicente Morín Aguado – quotes two very eloquent phrases from a young journalist from the newspaper Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth). According to her, “the issue is not in being a dissident, but what an individual is dissident against.” And later: “We have allowed those who understand little about principles and patriotism to snatch our words.”

This way, she misses twice. One is a dissident or not, beyond the program, proposal or belief we disagree with. Being a dissident is an attitude in the face of life, it’s questioning everything, including what we have ever believed in, which presupposes the most revolutionary of all human conditions. Therefore, one cannot dissent “from immobility, demagoguery, from those who are complacent and from the hypercritical, from inertia, from limited commitment, from hollow discourses” and from the whole long list that the young woman quotes, and at the same time, remain faithful to the system and to the government that generated those evils. One cannot be a half-way dissident.

On the other hand, it is not explicitly stated who those who “understand very little of principles and patriotism” are, but we know that such is the stigma usually pinned on all the dissidents that make up the Cuban civil society, including Independent journalists, such as this writer. I cannot share, as a matter of principle, such a narrow concept of Motherland conceived as the exclusive fiefdom of an ideology. It is a sectarian, exclusive, false and Manichean concept.

Unfortunately, Morín Aguado falls into similar temptation when he says that “every day the real dissidents increase within the universe of Cuban information.” Not only does he suggest the existence of a “non-authentic” dissidence, which he never quite mentions- perhaps for reasons of space, or for mere lack of information – but that also leaves us with the bitter aftertaste of feeling that what is at issue in this libertarian juvenile saga is substituting an absolute truth for another… just as absolute.

Official journalistic dissidence, then, is chemically pure. It is not mixed with any other. It is subtly dissident, which determines that, until now, it results in just an attempt at a struggle for partial freedom of expression. They seek to replace the “freedom of expression” of the official press monopoly for their own freedom, to improve the so-called Cuban socialism “within the revolution.” That is to say, a subjection of the whole press to an ideology as the only source of legitimation of “the truth” is maintained, which – it must be said – limits the whole matter to a simple generational little war.

However, this is good news. Of wolf, a hair, my grandmother used to say when things brought at least a minimal gain. We can never tell what any slight movement can generate in a mechanism that has been immobile for so long.

Personally, I will continue to exercise dissidently my most irreverent right to express what I think, not obeying ideology or any political fashion. My homeland is much more than 110,000 square kilometers of earth, more than a flag, an anthem and a coat of arms, and far more than the defense of the interests of a cohort of authoritarian elders who not only kidnapped the nation, but also – painfully – the willpower of several generations of Cubans. Let it be known that I will also defend the right of expression, under any circumstance, of those who think very different than me, communists and socialists included.