High Prices and Greater Control: An Old Formula for A Renewed Crisis

Officer watches as Cubans line up to shop (Reuters)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 April 2019 — It’s Saturday morning and The Carlos III Shopping Plaza in Centro Habana recently opened, but already the butcher shop, in the interior of the establishment, is packed with people while, beyond the windows of the front door, another crowd swarms, expectantly waiting their turn to come in.

The customary shortages, made worse during the final months of 2018, have become chronic in hard currency stores, so that in the few markets where there is some assortment, large crowds gather. People in Cuba devote a large part of their time to the search for and acquisition of food.

“This is the only place I’ve found chicken and ground beef after looking in lots of other stores”, says a mature woman while placing the desired products in her shopping cart. Like her, dozens of people lean over the refrigerators gathering food to buy and take home. continue reading

In comparison with the empty shelves of previous days, this weekend the market has released products of dubious nutritional quality but of popular acceptance, due to their more modest prices: beef burgers, meatballs, sausages, various types of chopped meats, mixed with soy and starches — all of them imported — and artificially flavored and sweetened yogurt produced domestically. Chicken, which has become an obligatory character at the Cuban table and enjoys great popular demand, has reappeared after being absent for several days in this market. Nobody knows when the food supplies will be restocked, so everyone tries to hoard food as far as their limited finances will allow.

The endemic food shortage in Cuba has been joined by a subtle but steady increase in the prices of some foods. At the back of the butcher shop, next to the glass case, a blackboard displays what looks like science fiction for the Cuban pockets. The notice board is insulting: Marbled, bone in Beef Loin 20.25 CUC* / Kg (equivalent to 506.25 CUP). The same boneless product is also offered at 19.30 CUC / Kg (equivalent to 482.50 CUP), in addition to “super” ham at 10.25 CUC / Kg (256.25 CUP), bacon at 3.00 CUC / 250gr (75.00 CUP), Siboney brand processed cheese 4.95 CUC / Kg (123.75 CUP) and several types of sausages produced nationally with mixed capital of State companies and Spanish partners, in tubes of 500 grams whose prices range between 4.65 CUC (116.25 CUP) and 7.10 CUC (177.50 CUP). Most customers are buying only processed cheese, while a large stale piece of beef worth 88 CUC (2,200 CUP) continues to age, dark and forgotten, behind the vitreous refrigerated showcase.

Concerning the agricultural markets, they have joined the upward prices spiral that, usually high, continue to shoot even higher without mercy in the agricultural demand and supply (i.e. unrationed) markets, whose products are of greater variety and of superior quality to the ones offered in the small kiosks of other private sellers. As for the agricultural markets of state cooperatives, they usually have a poor supply, and their products, with some exceptions, are usually of the worst quality, and even their more modest prices do not have a realistic relationship with the purchasing power of the common Cuban.

Although not everyone is aware of the complexity and depth of the economic crisis that grips them and threatens to worsen in times to come, the perception of the deterioration begins to be felt on the minds of the people. The uncertainty about the near future continues to grow, along with the certainty that the government does not have a viable alternative to address the growing problems of the economy and society.

The most recent meetings of the Councils of Ministers have uncovered some of the huge cracks through which finances disappear, as well as other serious ills ailing the national economy that have forced the government to make public certain deficiencies that years ago would have remained hushed. However, far from implementing reforms to end with damaging centralism and to free up the productive forces leading to the development of private initiative, the authorities have opted for the formula, largely unsuccessful, of “control increases,” savings “as source of income” and the eternal calls for the productive efficiency of workers.

However, in crisis situations nothing is as useful to the official script as a villain. And, since the “blockade” (the embargo) is still useful but no longer enough to justify internal failures, in recent issues the television news program has been focusing precisely on the “hoarders-speculators”  — that fauna, the natural daughter of scarcity and unproductiveness — as if it were about a new phenomenon and had not been a permanent character of our existence for at least the last half century.

Thus, in order to remedy the shortages, the hot potato has been launched at the population by the Castro media: “the people” have been invited to go onto the National Television News (NTV) website and other lampoons to present their proposals as to what measures the authorities should take to curb this scourge of parasites that make the lives of the most humble Cubans so expensive by appropriating large quantities of basic goods and then reselling them at multiplied prices in the informal market.

With that amusing touch of modernity — a sign of the new style of media-focused governance with which they have been refreshing the image of the failed Castro experiment in the hands of the “young” commander without command — the power cupola not only evades its direct responsibility in the economic catastrophe into which it has plunged Cuba, and its obligation to present a proposal to mend it, but suggests to the servants of the ruinous medieval village to disburse a part of their already meager pockets to connect to the Internet (also with the onerous prices of its connections) and declare on the official page of the NTV what to do with these lesser delinquents, that is, the hoarders.

What the plan is really about is to set an example by punishing, not the true and biggest hoarders-speculators who have been squeezing all of us for 60 years, but to chastise those petty rascals who engage in small-scale mercantile fiddling and who, in the last instance, also survive, protected by the general corruption of the system.

Because, in a good fight, the State-Government-Party is the first link of the chain of speculators dragging Cubans to poverty. They are officials of the Castro regime — many of them proven corrupt over the years — who are responsible for the ever increasingly insufficient purchases of food at the lowest price abroad later sold for prices that are multiplied several times in the state retail trade networks, in which Cubans must necessarily buy to survive, and it is the economic paralysis of state centralism that fosters the proliferation of those markets and these speculators, in a system that reproduces its own basic vices time and again.

The inefficient and unproductive State-Party-Government is the parasite that sets low prices for food production by peasants, imposes what kind of crops they must develop, monopolizes harvests, which often deteriorate or are lost in the fields or in storage warehouses, and thus pushes producers to sell to intermediary speculators, who offer better prices for the farmers’ harvests, but raise consumer costs.

Thus, by diverting attention to the effect to mask the causes of evil and, at the same time, manipulate national public opinion, the leadership creates a false impression that popular participation is part of the decision-making of the economy and in the solution of the problems that afflict the population, at the same time that it increases the time to implement the essential apertures that, sooner or later, would mark the route towards the inevitable end of the socialist experiment in Cuba.

*Translator’s note: The CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) is roughly equivalent to one U.S. dollar. Monthly wages in Cuba average roughly 17-30 CUC a month, thus this price for 2.2 pounds of beef is more than many Cubans’ monthly wage.

Translated by Norma Whiting

What Did Their Royal Highnesses Come For? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Source: radioreloj.cu

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 26 March2019 — Despite the publication by the Castro press of each of two decaffeinated official biographies of their Royal Highnesses, the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall — who arrived on the afternoon of the same day at the Cuban capital, fulfilling a visit announced months ago, in response to an official invitation from the Cuban government — and the brief mention on TV news of the activities and tours of the distinguished couple during their short stay in Havana, the modest profile granted by the government media to guests of such vintage ancestry makes one stop and think.

Being such an unprecedented historic event, which some foreign media tried to view as a visit which will draw closer or improve the relations between Havana and London, the cold discretion of the Cuban authorities and the scant media coverage offered to the event are striking. If, in truth, the objective of this visit was so favorable to the leaders of the Government, they would not have missed the enthusiastic receptions and the mobilizations of the faithful, perhaps carrying posters in the style of: “Welcome Your Royal Highnesses” or some other similar tacky ploy.

Needless to also mention that the visit of the representatives of the British monarchy — or of any other of old Europe’s crown heads — is as unusual as it is foreign and distant to ordinary Cubans. Irreverent and plebeian by nature, anti-monarchists — earlier by inherited tradition from the independence wars; later, due to communist ideological indoctrination — and culturally refractory to any royal pedigree or palatial label, the idiosyncrasy of the inhabitants of this other archipelago has nothing in common with representatives of any royalty. continue reading

And so alien is the British royalty to Cubans that most do not even know of the scandals carried out in their day by the infidelities of the Prince of Wales who now visits us, his controversial divorce from Princess Diana, and the role the current wife of the heir to the throne, the former lover of the once restless Charles, played in those entanglements. Absorbed in the urgencies of daily survival, Cubans are not interested in this pair of aristocrats. To be sure, the heroes of the tearful regional telenovelas and their avatars are much closer and more familiar to the natives of this island than the intrigues of Buckingham Palace.

So, in perspective, it can be said that the presence of their British Royal Highnesses among us is a rather folkloric event which, at most, will awaken some curiosity among the plebes, but that will barely pass with neither sorrows nor glories and will be forgotten as soon as the visitors go back to where they came from.

Stranger still than this extemporaneous visit is that it is taking place in the midst of another turn of the screw in Cuba’s eternal economic crisis, when the deficiencies worsen, migrations abroad continue to show a growing trend and we can glimpse (literally) a grim horizon at the possibility of the loss of Venezuela’s oil subsidies in the near term.

If we look at them from the point of State relations, the links between a European monarchy with a long tradition and a rich lineage and a communist-cast dictatorship do not seem to be very consistent either. It is hard to believe that a politically influential personality such as the heir to the British throne can lend himself to offering friendly support to the Palace of the Revolution, especially when it is not usual for European royal houses to mark very clear political positions with the governments or mis-governments of the world.

Less credible still is that their Royal Highnesses should have taken the trouble to land in Cuba just to place a wreath to honor José Martí, visit the Palace of the Captains General, attend a function of the children of La Colmenita and another of the Alicia Alonso Ballet at the Gran Teatro de La Habana. They are princes, not dumb-asses.

On the other hand, despite the fact that Prince Charles ignored US Senator Rick Scott’s request, when in February he asked him to change his travel plans to Havana and visit Florida instead, where, as Scott wrote, he could ” to learn firsthand the six decades of atrocities, oppression and misery that the regime inflicted on Cubans”; and although the Prince’s agenda in Havana did not include any meetings with the dissident sectors or statements about the situation in Venezuela and the important role of Cuba in the military and intelligence support in that South American country, there are no indications of any kind so far of compromise or alliance between the unelected President of Cuba, Miguel Díaz-Canel and his geriatric conga line with the representative of the British monarchy.

Rather, everything indicates that the presence of Charles and Camilla in Havana responds more to an agenda related to aspects of financial interest and exploration of possible investments than to issues of a political nature, although protocol and appearances may suggest otherwise. Maybe, behind the scenes, the prince has also come to air the debts to the United Kingdom on the Cuban side. In any case, historically, English policy has maintained its independence with respect to Washington and has drawn its own agenda — as was demonstrated when it carried out the Falklands War — but when it comes time to cut the cake, London knows where its allies are.

For now, the details of the meeting of the Prince of Wales with Díaz-Canel and the real purposes of this visit of the British Royal House to Cuba are wrapped in a halo of mystery about which we can only speculate. In any case, on Wednesday, March 27th, the royal couple will leave Cuba to visit their former Caribbean island colonies. They will leave behind the same poverty and despair that have become the sign that marks the reality for Cubans.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cancellation of the B2 Visa: Another Parting of the Waters Between Cubans

Photo taken from the Internet

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 21 March 2019 – The recent announcement by the US authorities of the cancellation of the five-year visas (B2) for Cubans, as of March 18, 2019, has fallen like a pitcher of ice water on those who have, so far, benefited from this type of visa that grants to those who wished to obtain it stays of up to six months in the US and the possibility of multiple entries.

It is not surprising, then, that almost everywhere these days this has been the unavoidable subject in Cuba: bus stops, shops, queues, work centers or the usual groups of friends and acquaintances. The impact of the news for the common Cubans far exceeds any other event that has taken place in recent times, including the very controversial constitutional referendum on February 24th, and it seems to have produced a desolation effect similar to that caused by the tornado that devastated a large swath of the Cuban capital just several weeks ago.

Once again it has become clear that the dispositions and the policies dictated by our Northern neighbor with respect to Cuba weigh more on the national mood and cause greater effects on the life of Cubans than any guideline that comes from the dome of power inside Cuba. continue reading

In spite of the so-called “independence and sovereignty”, after six decades of “communist” dictatorship, only the opposite results has been achieved: today  ̶ and increasingly ̶  the survival of a large part of the inhabitants of this island depends in some way on the US, either because of the family ties that intertwine both shores, because of the life-saving remittances, because of the flow of the kinds of articles that are scarce in Cuba and that reach Cuban families through the parcel agencies that proliferated as a result of the thaw of the Obama era, or because the US is an important source of supply for small businesses and the supporter of informal commerce, through the constant trips of an entire army of “mules”.

From now on, instead of the B2 visa, Cubans will be able to apply for a visa valid for only three months of stay in the US, which they can use for a single entry, which significantly increases the formality of the paperwork and visa payments for frequent travelers  ̶  that must necessarily be made through a third country since the closure of consular services at the American Embassy in Havana in response to the “acoustic attacks” on embassy personnel ̶   adding additional expenses for tickets, accommodations, food, etc.

This leads directly to the consideration of other possibilities that will begin to emerge in the new scenario going forward, such as greater number of Cubans who might decide to stay in US illegally, once their legal three month stays expire, until they reach the time needed to apply for status under the Cuban Adjustment Act and, eventually, obtain a permanent residence permit.

Another consequence will be the impact on ticket sales of the airlines that offer regular flights between Cuba and the US, of which a good part of the customers are Cuban residents on the Island. It is expected that, in the short term, by decreasing the number of travelers, the cost of these fares will become more expensive, directly affecting the Cubans who reside in the US who commonly pay for the trips of their relatives who live in Cuba. Logically, the shipment of parcels to the Island will become more expensive as well.

Despite this new thrust, and leaving aside the March 16th Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs hypocritical statement, where the authorities reject what they cynically consider “an additional obstacle to the exercise of the right of Cuban citizens to visit his relatives in that country” since, among other issues, “it also imposes high economic costs on family trips and exchange in multiple areas”, it is surprising the virulence and the merriment with which not a few Cuban emigrants living in the US have applauded a measure that so much affects their compatriots on both sides of the Straits of Florida.

“It’s good,” some say, because that’s how the dictatorship will stop the influx of dollars, the flow of snitches and State Security agents who have been entering the US, and the internal pressure on the Island will increase until a social explosion takes place that overthrows the puppet Díaz-Canel. They do not seem to care about the cost of family separation between parents whose children emigrated, between close relatives and close friends, a heartbreak that they themselves had to endure in the past.

“They get what they deserve”, others affirm, who feel chemically pure and politically enlightened, although there is no lack among them of those who participated in marches, were members of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the Young Communist Union (UJC) or the Cuban Communist Party (PCC), those who felt afraid to express themselves freely and even applauded at the Plaza de la Revolución.

Both do not seem to be disturbed by the material needs of their compatriots inside Cuba. The grudges accumulated by their own pain have degraded their souls, and in response to so much inexplicable sense of revenge, many Cubans on the Island respond with distrust. Are these “paladins of absolute truth” those who pretend to trace the common future? Do they feel so elevated that they will be an imitation of the Castro leadership, from the antipodes? No, thanks.

Obviously, the anthropological damage that the well-known Cuban intellectual Dagoberto Valdés defined so clearly does not limit itself to Cuba’s territorial boundaries, but rather – like a plague that corrodes the spirit of solidarity that should exist between nationals – extends beyond a large part of the exile community.

Because, while it is true that the US government and its institutions have the sovereign right to decide and dispose of what they consider best or more appropriate to their interests, although the laws of that country have no obligation to look after foreign interests  ̶ in this case those of Cubans ̶  and if, indeed, the (un-)government of Castro-Canel is the one responsible for the national crisis and the only one from which we must demand accountability and demand rights, it speaks much and very badly of us as a Nation and as fellow citizens that we should rejoice at the misfortune of one or the other.

Personally, although my condition as a “cubañola” (Cuban of Spanish citizenship) did not harm me in particular with regards to visa issues, I feel a real embarrassment before the witches coven unleashed on the networks, pitching Cubans against Cubans, with ridicule, hatred, contempt and resentment, as if we were not already sufficiently fractured and divided, as if we had not consumed enough tons of hatred inculcated from the dictatorial power. And there are still arrogant people who dare to call out Cubans living in Cuba because of our spiritual miseries and the loss of values that, according to them, we all suffer from!

We definitely a lot of growing to do as Cubans and as human beings before we can overcome the trauma of the Castro regime and find the good and the kind that should unite us beyond our differences … Or we will simply be condemned to disappear as a Nation.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Declaration of the “Revolutionary Government”: Late, Murky and Mendacious

Raúl Castro and Miguel Díaz-Canel. Archival photo

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 March 2019 — Under the strident title of “Cuba condemns terrorist sabotage against the Venezuelan electric system”, the monopoly of the Castro press disclosed on Monday, March 11th, an official declaration of the “revolutionary government” where it directly accuses the US government of unleashing “an unconventional war” against the government of Nicolás Maduro.

Needless to say, in the 20 tedious paragraphs that make up this statement, although there are many accounts based on the official mythology of the last 60 years of Cuban history, as well as the disqualifying epithets against many current and bygone figures in American politics, the official declaration does not offer proof or a single piece of evidence that the colossal electrical failure that began in Venezuela last Thursday, March 7th, whose effects continue as I write these lines, is the result of “terrorist sabotage”.

And they could not provide any evidence, because as far as several highly experienced electrical engineers have assured – including some who are very familiar with the “sabotaged” installation and the system that produces electricity for 85% of the entire Venezuelan nation – there isn’t the least chance of hacking the Venezuelan electrical system because it is not digital but analog; and on the other hand, the damage that caused the service interruption took place within an area strongly protected by the army and the chavista special security forces. continue reading

This means that no external agent could have been the cause of the disaster and that the Cuban government has no basis to describe terrorist sabotage as an event that, according to Nicolás Maduro himself and other vociferous roosters in his corral, is still under investigation, though they already have some “guilty” detainees and, in the days to come, there will be no shortage of “confessions” and accusatory fingers for sure, pointing against the usual villains.

However, the aforementioned statement by the Cuban government wouldn’t have been so outrageous if it were not for its shocking clumsiness and the fear and concern that transpire throughout its lines. The text is confusing, hazy, and obviously mendacious. It is clear that no preacher or druid of the Palace of the Revolution inherited Castro I’s twisted talent; it is fair to acknowledge that in his glory years he was master among masters in the questionable art of lying convincingly about any event and manipulating the crowds at his whim.

To this should be added that different times and different popular moods are now circulating. Many Cubans today question the double standard of the official discourse that is made clear in the Declaration. How can the Cuban authorities justify accusing the US government of “lying” in the case of the sonic attacks on Cuban officials in Havana because “they do not present evidence of this”, but in turn allow themselves to denounce a “terrorist sabotage” led by the US government against Venezuela, without providing evidence to prove it?

How to explain the selective amnesia of the Castro leadership and its spokesmen, capable of enumerating a multitude of historical examples of Yankee interference in the world and accusing the United States of meddling in the internal affairs of Venezuela, while conveniently forgetting also the numerous military intromissions of Cuba in armed conflicts in Latin America and Africa, as well as the Cuban interference in Allende’s Chile or in the Venezuela of Chávez and Maduro, just to mention well-known and documented examples?

But, returning to the official text, it is obvious that the current scribes of the “continuity” of the Castro sign are emotionless, lack conviction, are dull and forget that more and more Cubans have some access to other sources of information and social networks and, as if all this were not enough, the officials can’t express themselves in writing, as evidenced by this indigestible bundle of useless paper – i.e. “declaration” – where events and characters from different periods and from the most diverse world geographical points are mixed chaotically, and where, in an angry jumble, one sentence attacks Juan Guaidó and in the next, Cuba’s “solidarity” with Venezuela is extolled, the American military bases in the region are enumerated, the participation of Cuba in the operations of the Venezuelan National Armed Forces and in its Security Services is denied (which, paradoxically, seems to reaffirm it) and – as is inevitable – unfeasible figures are mentioned about the achievements of Cuba’s medical services in Venezuela, while inflating those of the victims of the evil US interference in the entire planet.

Obviously, the lords of the cupola look down on Cuban intellect. It would seem that they are writing for that amorphous and hypnotized mass, isolated from the world, uninformed, grateful and credulous, that decades ago applauded the false Messiah, convinced and happy, and not for the people we are today: disenchanted, unbelieving, cynical, irreverent and deeply frustrated. The lords of the power caste do not understand that the corrosive effect of 60 years of deceit makes us distrustful and sarcastic—if not with calculated indifference—of everything that comes from the summit.

So, reading in reverse, now it has been confirmed from the huge Castro press monopoly that the days of Maduro at the Miraflores Palace could be numbered. If something we’ve been taught by these six decades of informative obscurantism is that when the whistles and cymbals of the Plaza de la Revolución replace triumphalist slogans and bravado with warnings and accusations it is because they are already giving up the battle. More than a denunciation, the declaration of the Cuban government tastes like an obituary. Soon or later, Maduro will fall, and, with him, the Cuban dictatorship will lose its main energy sustenance and who knows what and how many other revenues. Diaz Canel’s bad luck is past being a simple streak … and there is more to come.

Cuba and the Castro Constitution: To Vote ‘No’ or To Not Vote?

Ballot boxes in Cuba (EFE)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 10 January 2019 — We are less than two months away from the referendum that will be submitted to Cuban citizens to consider whether to “ratify” or not the constitutional reform already approved unanimously by the National Assembly. Social networks have been the scene of a bitter controversy among those who encourage the campaign for a massive vote against the “new” spurious constitution written by the scribes of the Castro regime and, at the opposite extreme, those who advocate a massive absence at the polls.

Each one of the proposals has its own arguments. Those who support not going to the polls (an option that in electoral terms equals abstention), consider the exercise of the vote as a “legitimation of the dictatorship,” assuming that both the newly drafted Constitution and the official electoral apparatus constitute a fraud in themselves — which does not cease tobe true — and that to vote in such conditions is to “play the game” of the government. At the same time, several of those who lead in the support for abstention state that the “legitimate” alternative would be to take to the streets and march against the Castro regime. continue reading

However, would the option of “street march abstention” be viable? It does not seem so. At least, past experience does not favor it. It is acknowledged that — beyond supposed political compromises with the “Revolution” — the overwhelming majority of voters in Cuba go to the polls for fear of “finger-pointing” and retaliation. For decades, the pressure of the authorities on the electorate has been felt both through the enormous and suffocating Castro propaganda and in the figure of minor “agitators,” be they elements of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution or little pioneers (children) sent door to door to urge the more morose to vote.

Nor is it a secret to anyone that, if fraud is involved, the authorities may well use the ballots of those absent in their favor by marking them with a resounding “Yes,” which makes it clear that abstaining does not constitute a guarantee of success.

Not to mention achieving a chimeric popular mass march in rebellion against the elections or against the regime. It is unthinkable that an electorate fearful of the simple act of refusing to vote will have the courage to take to the streets to march and face the fury of the Castro repressive forces. Leaving aside other essential considerations such as the lack of sufficient convening power to mobilize a critical mass of Cubans, or the absence of leaderships adversarial to the regime that are recognized by the crowds, it could be affirmed that the option to abstain and/or march is (almost) absolutely unfeasible.

Meanwhile, the proposal to attend and cast a NO vote has some elements in its favor. In principle, the initial call was born from civil society through social networks, not from opposition political parties or organizations of any political tendency. It is an authentic citizen reaction that has been drawing more consensus than dissent among Cubans from all shores, whose campaign has been so fast and viral that it was even anticipated, and put the dictatorial regime on the defensive, forcing its powerful propaganda machinery to a hasty campaign for the YES vote.

As an additional benefit, the spontaneity and speed of the “YoVotoNo” (IVoteNo) campaign has prevented leaders or groups of any denomination from monopolizing its leadership and from “assuming” or taking credit for its course. This seemingly insignificant detail favors the participation of Cubans who do not feel identified with the opposition or who are suspicious of leaders they are not familiar with, but who also reject the dictatorship and aspire to changes within the country, without suggesting the rejection of opponents or the participation of dissidents.

The official discourse – that the YoVotoNo option is a “proposal of the enemy” – collapses with the mere fact that it does not require external financing or financing of any nature: it is the simple, voluntary and straightforward exercise of a citizen’s right, the right to vote, one of the few that we still have and that, judging by the virulence of the Castro regime’s discourse, now stands as a threat to its totalitarian reign, based on unanimity in obedience.

And that is another indisputable strategic advantage of the negative vote: it does not suppose risks of repression, since it is founded on citizens’ right to the secret vote recognized in the Electoral Law. It is impossible to prohibit or hinder the participation of every the Cuban voter on the Island in the referendum, contrary to what happens with street demonstrations that may end up dissolved or simply prevented from being carried out by the repressive forces of the dictatorship.

As for the alleged “legitimation of the tyranny” and of its Constitution, it is just the opposite in this case: the NO strategy is based on using the weapons of the system itself, not to legitimize it, but to empower the citizen vote. That is to say, that the citizen himself legitimizes his rejection of the aforementioned Constitution through his vote, not thanks to the Castro electoral law, but in spite of it.

A strategy whose closest antecedent was – saving the differences – the Varela Project, promoted from the end of the 1990s by Oswaldo Payá, who advocated political reforms based on the Constitution itself, and whose repercussions ultimately meant a political cost significant for the dictatorship, although by virtue of legal subterfuges the initial objective of its promoters was not achieved.

In the current case, however, we are facing a different scenario with very objective favorable circumstances to confront the regime in its own ballot boxes. First, because the referendum call is official, which would make each ballot a legitimate vote, and secondly because almost two decades of failures have accumulated in the system. The shortcomings, despair and frustrations of the population have multiplied, the historical leadership has disappeared, we are at the beginning of another economic schism, the failure of the system is evident after 60 years and the “Revolution” does not have the minimum capital of faith among the majority of Cubans.

Add to this the disenchantment of those who created some expectation around the so-called “popular consultation” and whose suggestions or dissatisfactions were not taken into account in the final result: the LGTBI groups that were literally mocked with the suppression of Article 68; the artists who have rebelled publicly against Decree 349 – now in moratorium but not abolished; and the private transporters who recently staged a sit-down strike in the Cuban capital.  An approximate idea of all the popular discontent that is growing within the island will be apparent.

This suggests that, although it is difficult (though not impossible) to impose the “no vote” at the polls, due to the oiled propaganda machinery and electoral Power fraud, the current conditions are propitious to reach a considerable number of negative ballots against the Castro regime, which means a triumph in itself, because not only would the authorities be forced to commit the most scandalous of frauds, but because the larger the quantity of negative votes the more it would make it virtually impossible to alter all the scrutiny processes, and they will have to at least accept a significant part of the votes opposing the proposal.

Some detractors of the YoVotoNo initiative have suggested that the Castro regime would only accept, at most, the existence of 20% of negative votes. If that is so, they forget that we would be talking about almost two million voters with adverse votes. Recognizing them officially would open the door to future steps and legitimate claims of that broad social sector that does not feel represented in the Constitution and that, consequently, would push for new spaces and freedoms. Almost two million adverse votes mean a deep fissure that would disprove the official discourse of the “unity of the people around their Revolution” and place the true Cuban civil society on stage. The social strength would be greater if the results were higher, in the case where a massive poll turnout to cast NO votes occurred.

It is worth noting, in addition, that contrary to all apparent logic, the Castro regime, in its infinite arrogance, has always relied on fear, apathy, indifference, the fatigue of ordinary Cubans, and also on the eternal internal divisions between the different dissident groups and the opposition. That is why capitalizing on that confidence of the power’s claque in the abject national inertia, and turning it against itself is even more feasible than trying to capitalize late popular discontent in terms of political interests of particular sectors or groups.

A force that multiplies with the support of many emigrated Cubans, who have been encouraging the campaign YoVotoNo from the outside, which indicates that it far exceeds the “legal” limits of the simple exercise of the vote – a right that emigrants lack – to become an axis of unity in rejection of the Castro regime. Probably no opposition proposal had managed to attract so much solidarity and cohesion among Cubans from such different sectors and thoughts as this simple citizen initiative, and that fact alone indicates that in Cuba a before and after may be possible, even from the ballot box.

 (Miriam Celaya, residing in Cuba, is currently visiting the U.S.)

Translated by Norma Whiting

Seamen, Invisible Victims of the Cuban State

Motonave ‘Huntsville’, built in Japan in 1971 which was part of Cuba’s Merchant Navy. (Webmar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach | 20 December 2018 –Health professionals were not the first to suffer a slavery system organized by the Cuban government itself. Long before, and without the media noise caused by the controversial departure of Mais Médicos from Brazil, sailors have been the invisible victims of the same abuses on the part of the State.

This peculiar “legal” network of human trafficking is attested to by Rolando Amaya (a fictitious name), an ex-seaman with a long history. A Mechanical Engineer who graduated from the Naval Academy, Rolando worked for several years as a machinist in the merchant fleet belonging to the Mambisa Navigation Company, the large shipping company created by Fidel Castro to transport goods to and from Cuba, mainly based on the active trade that existed at that time with the now defunct Soviet Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (CAME). continue reading

“In the contract, it is clear that my salary stated what I should earn, what I was paid on board and what was sent to Cuba as ‘family remittance’, which was the euphemistic term they used to call the money they kept and that ended up in the government’s coffers, or who knows where or who benefitted from it,” he tells 14ymedio, under the condition to keep his true identity secret.

“’Family Remittance’ was the euphemistic term they called the money they kept and that ended up in the government’s coffers, or who knows where it went or who benefitted from it”

Over the years, Rolando has kept some of the documents or contracts he signed with the state company Selecmar, in order to support his testimony and “so that the truth of the exploitation suffered by seamen is known.”

The “family remittances” and other discounts reflected in Rolando’s documentation constituted no less than 80% of the monthly salary paid by the foreign company for the sailor’s work. Therefore, both he and the rest of those contracted had access to the remaining 20%.

In the 70’s and 80’s, Cuban sailors were considered a privileged caste. On the one hand, they had the possibility of traveling around the world, while most of the locals lived the obligatory insular confinement. On the other hand, somehow, they managed to import (smuggle) clothes, shoes and other products of the capitalist world that the majority of the population could not even dream of.

In 1982, it was established that a minimum part of a sailor’s payment be made in foreign currency. Since then, recalls Rolando, the sailors began to see US $1 per day of navigation, a figure that has approximately doubled since 1985.

At the end of each trip, the hard currency was deducted from the salary in national currency and, if they did not spend that allowance, they could collect it in the form of “certificates” (chavitos) that allowed them to make purchases in several specialized stores to which foreign technicians also had access.  These technicians were mostly Russians who resided in Cuba temporarily. These establishments were banned to the rest of the population and, in fact, they remained closed and with thick curtains behind the stained-glass windows, so that it was impossible to glimpse at those products to which common mortals had no access.

Former sailor Rolando Amaya’s contract document. (Courtesy)

This payment system was maintained until the loss of the Cuban merchant fleet, in the 90’s, when, with the disappearance of the USSR and the Eastern allies, the subsidies suddenly vanished and commerce became dramatically depressed. Cuba fell into the deep economic crisis from which it has not recovered to date, and the merchant fleet that had been Castro’s pride became a burden, as useless as it was difficult to sustain.

Finally, after several failed experiments to try to save the ships – including a process of merger and separation of the national shipping companies, the ephemeral association with recognized entrepreneurs of foreign shipping companies and the creation of short-lived joint venture companies – the ships were sold to the highest bidder or destined to be scrapped after remaining idle for a long stretch of

However, that did not mean the total extinction of the state bureaucratic apparatus. Mambisa survived as a niche that would direct the lobbying and business necessary to achieve foreign exchange earnings. There were no ships, but there was still a very valuable resource: the sailors. Paradoxically, the shipping company, already without vessels, found a way to become productive without the need to invest to renew or maintain a very expensive and inoperative fleet.

There they were, within reach, desperate to earn money, hundreds of sailors who were “available,” as the unemployed are euphemistically called in Cuba.

“It is then that Agemarca (Maritime Employer Agency of the Caribbean) and Selecmar are born, among other agencies in charge of subcontracting Cuban sailors to foreign shipping companies. Of these, the best known among us sailors, was Boluda, a Spanish company named after its owner, Vicente Boluda, with whom the Cuban government still conducts business,” says Rolando, who – like many others – emigrated years ago and has not returned to Cuba.

In order to mask the violation of the rights of these workers before the world organizations, the Cuban Government launched a fraudulent ploy

“There were also contracts with other companies in Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. I know of some of my colleagues who were hired by those companies, who were as poorly paid as I was. In their cases, the Government received most of the contract money, although I don’t know the exact details, since I haven’t had access to their documents,” he explains.

To mask the violation of the rights of these workers before the world bodies responsible for ensuring their compliance – especially the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) as a qualified authority to represent seafarers before the International Organization of Labor (ILO) – the Cuban Government launched a fraudulent ploy.

The ruse consisted in having the seafarer sign a document, a copy of which he would not receive, in which he would state that he was earning a salary of between US $3,000 and $4,000 or more, depending on the position; that is, a figure much higher than what he really got. “This (false) document is the one that is shown to the international authorities that require it,” denounces the ex-mariner, who, although he emigrated over 10 years ago and has lost contact with his former work companions, has no doubt that “the exploitation continues.”

“It was customary to receive a some boss or company official who checked and corrected anything concerning the documents, inventories and everything related to the Quality System (by virtue of which each sailor must have updated the certifications that guarantee his ability to perform the work for which he was hired) who always somehow reminded us how bad the situation was in Cuba, the number of unemployed in the company, how poorly dressed they were, going through tough times, waiting to occupy our positions,” he continues.

“Many believed, and I dare say that even today they still believe that they are privileged even knowing that a significant part of their salary is being taken from them. It’s sad”.

This “worked as a kind of warning that you had to behave yourself or you would be out on the street.” Intimidation was always present, in a veiled or open manner. Many believed, and I dare say that even today they still believe that they are privileged, even knowing that a significant part of their salary is being taken from them. It’s sad,” says the former sailor, who is now almost 60 years old.

“One of the big problems that I had in the last years with the fleet was the age of the crew. It was an aging crew and, as far as I know, there was no way to replace them in the short term.”

Rolando believes that this, added to the fact that many of the sailors left Cuba in different ways and for different reasons, has led to the loss of trained personnel. “It has been a constant leak. Today I find some of them in the social networks, living in all parts of the world, much of that skilled labor that Cuba lost, and nobody stole it, Cuba lost it because of its exploitative politics.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

____________________________

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Requiem for the Payret Theater / Miriam Celaya

Payret Theater (historiacuba.wordpress.com)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 14 December 2018 — The recent news about the possible transformation of the iconic Payret Theater into a five-star hotel has fallen like an icy shower over Havanan moviegoers, especially the residents of the municipality of Old Havana, where the building is located, as well as the residents of the adjoining municipality of Centro Habana, which for years had yearned for the restoration and reopening of this classic jewel, unique among the first-run movie theaters of the capital and all of Cuba.

Located in what was then known as “Barrio de las Murallas” (Neighborhood of Ramparts) the area with the greatest cultural and recreational activity of its time, the Payret was inaugurated in January 1877 by a wealthy Catalán who resided in Cuba, who gave it his surname. It was also one of the first theaters to become a cinema hall and one of the favorite places of the most select society of Havana at the time.

During the years after its inauguration, and the years of the Republic, the Payret Theatre had several owners and underwent a number of renovations. It was finally demolished and re-erected, and in 1951, it acquired the architectural image that turned it into today’s iconic structure: neoclassical lines of successive arches, pillars and awnings in its exteriors, combined with eclectic elements typical of the buildings in its surroundings.  Its refined interiors include the elegant lobby with the sculpture known as The Illusion, the work of the Cuban artist Rita Longa, and the famous high reliefs representing the nine muses – done by the same sculptor – on both sides of the stage of the once majestic hall of projections, where the intense red color of the curtains, the carpets, and the upholstery of its chairs stood out. continue reading

In short, the Payret shone among the best in luxury and comfort in a city that had more cinemas than New York in 1958 and was known as one of the capitals with the best equipped cinemas in the world. After 1959, with better and worse moments, the Payret was kept regularly elegant and went through a couple more restorations until the crisis of the 90’s arrived and this beloved icon of Cuban movie enthusiasts deteriorated by leaps and bounds because of material deficiencies and official neglect, until several years ago, when it finally closed to the public in order “to make repairs.”

Surprisingly the alarms are now sounding with rumors about this untimely hotel project, whose details were published on this page last Tuesday, December 11th, giving an account of the ambitious construction plan of the Business Group of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR), Gaviota SA, which would confiscate the whole block occupied by the old theatre, the “Kid Chocolate” room – a true architectural aberration, conceived and built in a hurry to function as a boxing chamber during the Pan-American Games held in Havana in 1991 – and several residential buildings in precarious conditions where more than a hundred families coexist.

The reports on this project and the final destination of the Payret have not yet been announced by the official press, but information is circulating informally among the group “in the know,” especially among neighbors close to the area and culture groups involved with the capital’s cinematic industry. There are many who feel “betrayed” by the turn of events because, until relatively recently, “what was known” was that the Payret was being subjected to a highly expensive capital restoration which, as has become customary, had been stopped for prolonged periods on several occasions, both for lack of materials and lack of financing, which explains, to some extent, the delay in the long-awaited reopening.

“They said that a budget had been earmarked for a complete restoration, then it was said that it fell short of the initial amount and that between the ICAIC and other entities committed to the work, new funds were being allocated to finish the work. It has even been said that the space will be transformed into a multiplex, when two smaller rooms in the old area are converted,” says Amelia González, an enthusiastic photographer and passionate Centro Habana filmmaker who lives very close to what she still calls “her favorite movie house.”

Like her, hundreds from several generations of Havana inhabitants who reside in the surrounding neighborhoods have the Payret as a reference of better bygone times, when visiting the dark room in this comfortable and beautiful cinema to enjoy a premiere was a pleasant and cultural experience all at once, an outing within easy reach of any pocket.

“I used to come here with my wife often, while it functioned as a movie house to show new movies and as one of the subsidiaries of the Latin American Film Festival, because on my income I can’t afford to go take her a date to a restaurant or to enjoy a show at a nightclub. So every time I passed the Payret, closed for so long, I would ask the custodians if they knew of a reopening date for the cinema, but none of them could tell me, nor was there a sign that indicating anything about it,” complains José Antonio, a fifty-something native of Old Havana who has kind memories of this place. And he adds: “Likewise, there was not even a notice indicating it was being restored, as they do with other works by (Eusebio) Leal (Havana City Historian)… We just chose to believe what the newspaper said”

Because it turns out that the new hotel project that would change so dramatically the function of the Payret is inserted in the construction plan promoted by the Office of the Historian with a view to celebrating the half-millennium of the Cuban capital in November 2019. When it comes to obtaining foreign exchange not even the Historian himself stops to reflect on such nonsense as the maintenance of the Patrimony. In any case, it has already been shown that the architecture of the facades can always be preserved, if the forms are kept. For its part, the plebs will be kept at a distance from the new spaces, because a luxury hotel does not count the proletarian rabble among its clientele.

So far it has not transpired that any official or personality of the world of cinema and national culture has issued an opinion for or against the projected cine-cide.

The proposal to turn the cinema into a hotel, however, is flagrantly contradicted by an article published more than three years ago in the official Granma newspaper “on the subject of the situation of cinemas and video rooms in the capital and other regions of the country.” (” Cuba: do you lose the magic of the movie houses?”, 11 June 2015), where it was stated: “The Payret case is separate (from the rest of the Havana cinemas) because, being an institution of high patrimonial value, it was decided it would be a target of investment, and its financing is much greater.”

The aforementioned article affirmed, citing words of Danae Moros, official at the head of the Provincial Film Directorate in Havana, that in 2015 “1,800,000 pesos in national currency and 700,000 convertible pesos for equipment purchase had been raised. That amount is already running out and we are going to request an increase because it is taking a lot more money.”

The same official assured that the restoration works of the Payret had begun the previous year (2014) with a “first stage” that included the roof, the hydro-sanitary network and the Alhambra room. The latter would be what he called “a polyvalent space” (?). The total reconstruction should be concluded before December of the same year, 2015, “because we want it to be ready for the Film Festival.”

However, three years and three film festivals later, not only has the Payret, which continues to be closed, not been restored, but there is no public information about where the funds allocated to that work ended up and, for greater uncertainty, now the death certificate is taking shape for a movie theater which, for over a century was the pride of Havana and certainly a space of great patrimonial value.

But the fact is that if the force that pulls the strings of this ambitious construction project – which is said to include other emblematic buildings of that strip of the capital – is the all-powerful Gaviota military company with the French company Bouygues Batiment International, and the romantics of nostalgia and inveterate capital film buffs can kiss their dreams of recovering a renewed Payret goodbye. The designs of the military consortium created by the power elite have two essential features: they are conceived in secret, like conspiracies, and they are – in keeping with the classic spirit of the cinema of yore – as definitive and unappealable as the thread of the Fates.

Thus, and probably in less time than we imagine, the Payret will disappear from Havana’s geography to give way to the overwhelming machinery of the state capitalism monopoly under the baton of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (FAR) leaders. Without further ceremonies there will be another decline in the narrow list of 42 cinemas that, according to official figures, still existed in 2015, in a capital that in its past glory days boasted of having more than 150 dark rooms.

Of those 42 spaces (not “cinemas” properly speaking) that miraculously survived in 2015, only 13 continued in precarious operation, 8 of which presented construction problems; while the 29 “closed ones” were going to be delivered to other “cultural institutions” because – always in the words of the official Danae Moros – “it is a policy of the Ministry of Culture to maintain in each municipality at least one or two rooms, but they must be comfortable and have good equipment.” It goes without saying that this policy has not been met either.

It remains only to point out such paradoxical and relevant detail in this requiem for the Payret cinema, pride and patrimony of Cubans, and that their loss occurs precisely as a result of the confrontation between artists and the officials in charge of high culture around the application of the controversial Decree 349, within the framework of which the latter publicly insisted in the media that the administration of national culture “is in good hands.”

The fate of Payret, in particular, and the depleted real estate of Cuban cinema in general, confirm the exact opposite.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Between Strikes and Demands: From Obedience to Rebelliousness / Miriam Celaya

Massive protest in Havana, September 13th, 2017 (Photo Liu Santiesteban / Facebook)

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 9 December 2018 — Judging by the winds that are blowing through Cuba, those people who say that nothing changes on the Island should begin to reconsider such opinions. It is a fact that some changes have begun, and not precisely those from the seat of Power – which are the kind that skeptics expect – but the most important and authentic: those that occur from the autonomous sectors of society.

The outbreak of citizen rebelliousness started several weeks ago by independent artists with their campaign against Decree 349 that seeks to restrict the freedom of creation and dissemination of the various artistic manifestations. The private transportation workers strike has been added this December 7th, protesting grievances and against the smothering regulations that the government has imposed arbitrarily.

Despite the threats, the harassment and the detentions suffered by several of its main organizers, or perhaps strengthened by it, the strike has begun with British punctuality, and the capital is feeling it. On Friday morning, to spite the “reinforcement” buses which – according to unconfirmed information – were destined to mitigate the effects of “El Trancón” (The Huge Traffic Jam, the nickname given to the strike), the bus stops continued to be mobbed, while numerous “almendrones”* (i.e. taxis, Havana style) circulated empty, not making any stops along Havana’s main arteries. continue reading

Both in the case of artists and in the case of private carriers, the common denominator is the unprecedented nature of the challenge to a government that until now did not admit questions, and much less organized actions, against the designs of its power. Another shared feature is the spontaneous and open nature of their demands and strategies of resistance against the gigantic official institutions.

This time it is not about a small group of conspirators gathered within four walls while the repressive pack blocks accesses and exits. Nor are we facing a response to opposition calls or subversive programs plotted by political strategists from all sides. No. Both the announcements of the masterminds of the peaceful rebellions and their actions have been open public manifestations. Nor does there seem to be a competitive attitude among the strikers or protestors, but an evident coordinated and shared responsibility towards the common goal. Nothing could cause greater confusion and concern to the ruling elite.

Another peculiar fact is the setting in which the events are taking place: months after the retirement of Raúl Castro from his position as President and the assumption of the successor appointed by him, Miguel Díaz-Canel, the first president without generational or family ties with the so-called Historical Generation – therefore, without the legacy of “natural legitimacy” of the participants in the Revolution of ‘59 – in the midst of an insurmountable internal economic crisis, with the pressure of an asphyxiating external debt and of a growing social discontent.

Complicating the panorama, the suspension of the United States’ wet foot/dry foot policy, which allowed for permanent stay in the US of Cubans who managed to step foot in that country in an irregular manner if they were not intercepted at sea, and which functioned as an escape valve to the system, is having a harmful double effect on the regime. On the one hand, it has spewed the migratory tide from Cuba to other destinations in the region, causing conflicts at the borders of several countries of the area, and focusing on the reality of the supposed Cuban socialist paradise, while on the other hand, it is increasing the social pressure in Cuba.

And as if that were not enough, it coincides with the arrival of Internet service to Cubans’ cellular phones. That is, any incident or event can be reported in real time by any witness and disclosed to the world instantly. It is already known that “the wild colt of the Internet” is indomitable.

For the first time in 60 years, many Cubans are perceiving that emigration has ceased to be the most expeditious option to flee from perpetual poverty, and they finally seem to understand that if they want to change the state of affairs in Cuba, the change must be done by their own hand and within the national territory.

The peculiarity of a society marked by extreme politicization is reflected in that, although the artists’ movement against Decree 349 is not clearly political, essentially, it turns out to be because it establishes a vertical rejection of the government’s cultural policy. The same happens with “El Trancón“, which started this Friday, December 7th, with the private transportation workers’ strike, which does not identify itself as a political protest, but essentially it is challenging the omnipotence of a dictatorship that has governed the country by controlling even the smallest details for too long.

When days ago that same power was forced to retract the new arbitrary provisions that were going to be imposed on the “small business owners” – a reversal which, in its basketful of euphemisms is not called that, but rather a “rearrangement” of the allowed activities – the myth of the invincibility of the power was crushed, and showed that this new force, the private sector, which is more productive and efficient than the parasitic State, has been called to play a fundamental role in the changes that must take place in Cuba.

It most probably will not be a quick or easy process. In some ways, there may even be setbacks. The next step should be for these sectors to be grouped into independent trade unions or associations to strengthen themselves and increase their organization and reach.

However, the truth is that the government, and especially the President (not elected by those who demand rights today) is trapped in the absurdity of a system that he did not create, but agreed to represent. There is no way to get out of this test: if the government yields to pressure, it will be the signal to unleash a flood of demands that will begin to emerge from all corners of Cuba, of the millions of Cubans who have waited decades to voice grievances and the young generations that demand spaces for participation. A gesture of governmental capitulation would stir up a feeling as subversive as it is dangerous, which is hope, and that would precipitate the changes.

On the other hand, to quell the demands with greater repression, as has always been the case, would only serve to multiply the discontent, the rebelliousness and the audacity of the demands, provoking a spiral of violence where the government itself would end up losing the game.

It’s too early to predict an outcome, but a positive balance has already been won for the rebels of these journeys. Beyond the results of the demonstrations of the artists and the transportation workers’ strike, for the first time in six decades Cubans will have demonstrated their capacity and willingness to stand up to the power. Finally, the scab of fear has given way. Let’s see if, after all, it will turn out to be true that the Castro regime will not survive the Castros.

*Translator’s note: Almendrones is the name given to the classic American cars still circulating in Cuba, commonly in use as taxis. The word is a reference to their “almond” shape.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Through its Doctors, Cuba Influences Global Health Programs

Cuban doctors equipped for emergency missions. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 21 November 2018 — Perhaps never before has a Latin American leader been able to raise such a stir before his inauguration as the newly elected Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has done. His proposal is to grant work, with full salary and permanent residence for them and their families to the doctors who work in the Mais Médicos (More Doctors) program, after they revalidate their credentials in Brazil, has provoked a drastic response from Havana, which has announced the departure of Cuba from the program and has ordered its health professionals to return to Cuba.

The fate of Cuban doctors in Brazil has become one of the most prominent issues in numerous media and social networks. It has, once again, focused on the many dark stains of the humiliating exploitation system that has been systematically applied by the Cuban Government to these professionals, and it has also stirred passions between the critics of the Castro regime and some of the faithful who – in spite of all the evidence – still justify and defend it.

Thus, while a growing chorus calls for the doctors’ insurgency, urging them to defect and to continue offering their services in the communities where they have been working so far – this time receiving all the advantages offered by the new Brazilian president – certain voices of the radical left regret what they consider a low blow to a program that has brought primary health care to the most impenetrable and poor places in Brazil where it did not exist before. continue reading

The questionable decision of the Cuban regime to withdraw the doctors has exposed the true interests behind the Castro pantomime of solidarity, altruism, cooperation and Latin American brotherhood. The fate of millions of poor Brazilians who receive basic care thanks to Cuban professionals is completely irrelevant to the Palace of the Revolution.  Their concern is the irreparable loss of the more than 300 million dollars it has been receiving annually, lifted from the doctors’ salaries.

The questionable decision of the Cuban regime to withdraw its doctors has exposed the true interests behind the Castro pantomime of solidarity

The loss of such lucrative income constitutes a devastating and possibly irreparable blow for the Castro regime. And for greater injury, the Island masters would also lose a good part of the supply of skilled workers in conditions of semi-slavery that have brought them so much wealth over the years.

In the middle of the political tug-of-war from this or the other side, the future of doctors and patients gets decided. On November 19th, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the new specialized agency of the inter-American system, the intermediary between the Mais Médicos program promoted in 2013 by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and the Cuban Government, launched a statement that reflects an identical instrumental perception of Cuba’s medical personnel and reinforces the customary congratulatory position towards the Cuban authorities. At the same time, it distances itself from the conflict and avoids committing itself to the free hiring of Cuban doctors, by clarifying that “the Organization has agreements with the governments of both countries (Cuba and Brazil, in this case) for Mais Médicos, but it does not enter into contracts with doctors…”

“Cuba has the highest number of physicians per one thousand inhabitants in the world, 7.5,” said the note, pointing out where their sympathies are by mentioning that the lack of doctors in Brazil motivated the signing of the agreement, since Cuba has “extensive experience in providing doctors.”

Nothing else is needed. It is clear that PAHO needs the Cuban dictatorship as medical personnel guarantor to cover the programs of the organization. The fact that Havana uses its doctors as semi-slave labor, both in this and in other international programs in which it participates, in open violation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of the International Bill of Human Rights created to watch over the guarantee, among others, also of the labor rights of these doctors and other Cuban health professionals, is only a minor detail for PAHO, despite its being a body affiliated with the World Health Organization (WHO)

It becomes clear that PAHO needs the Cuban dictatorship as guarantor of medical personnel to cover the programs of the organization

Thus, and without detracting from the importance of the existence of agencies that promote cooperation between countries and governments in favor of primary health care for all, and the undeniable ability of these to promote general policies aimed at preventing epidemics and chronic diseases, develop vaccination programs and reduce child mortality among the most vulnerable population groups, among other commendable functions, both PAHO and WHO have left their serious limitations exposed.  By applying the maxim “the end justifies the means” they manage to fulfill their functions with relative success, and justify their own existence, but they violate important legal instruments established by the UN and become accomplices of a long dictatorship.

Thus, the essential remains in the background. The Mais Médicos program was created, at least on paper, to provide medical services to millions of people from the poorest social sectors of Brazil, not to fatten the coffers of the Cuban dictatorship. Therefore, both international organizations, PAHO and WHO, in their roles as coordinators, should not be limited to being just intermediaries between the party that pays for the services (Brazil) and the one that provides the labor and benefits from the highest gains (Cuba), let alone take sides with one of these parties and, consequently, political interests that have nothing to do with the health of vulnerable populations.

Perhaps this is a good time for both organizations to reconsider their commitments and assume a more coherent vision in the future between the fulfillment of their programs and the basic principles that justify the very existence of the United Nations. Perhaps it is time for the competent organizations to remind Cuba that the UN Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights are still waiting to be ratified by the Cuban government.

There is no doubt that Bolsonaro’s proposal has been more effective and forceful than the US embargo itself

In the case of the crisis of the Cuban doctors in Brazil, the ideal would have been if, from the current crisis, they had established a new contract in which Cuban doctors were acknowledged with the sacred labor right to collect their salaries in full and, in return, fully carry out their duties in places needing their services. But the PAHO statement has closed that door. The bureaucrats coordinating world health know that wherever financial resources appear to apply the health programs that justify their own existence, qualified manpower is usually scarce to carry them out. Hence, they tip the scales in favor of Havana.

Only Cuba, possessing an army of poor and poorly paid physicians, subordinate to the will of political power in exchange for ridiculous salaries, can guarantee the necessary human capital for such missions. International organizations try not to irritate the owner of the only resource they lack with uncomfortable demands or suggestions.

And so it is that we will have to continue the saga until the curtain falls on this new soap opera that is capturing the attention of the regional public. Meanwhile, and in spite of the accolades, the Cuban regime continues fanning the flames. There is no doubt that Bolsonaro’s proposal has been more effective and forceful than the US embargo itself, and that 2018 is probably proving to be the worst year endured by the Castro regime since the fall of the Soviet Union and the disappearance of the Eastern Europe socialist bloc.

Translated by Norma Whiting

____________________

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Havana: Return to the Bicycle Era? / Miriam Celaya

> Cubans on bicycles. Photo taken from the Internet

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 19 November 2018 — The eternal transportation problem in the Cuban capital and the intricacies of the ever-impossible solutions of the official agencies in charge of the matter have just led to a new proposal for Havana residents. According to Guadalupe Rodríguez, an official of the Cuban Ministry of Transportation, via the Havana TV channel, a new public bicycle rental transportation system will be inaugurated in Old Havana on November 24th.

The popular evening show Hola Habana, on the aforementioned channel, was the platform for launching an initiative that brings us back to the memory of the 90s, when pedaling on Chinese bicycles that were distributed at workplaces was practically the only means of transportation for ordinary Cubans.

As always, it happened under the then “undefeated” Chief’s baton, one ill-fated day when decided for us, almost by decree, was the option to ride bicycles. In fact, far from assuming it as an effect of the crisis, which it really was, the eternally hallucinated man declared, without ambiguity, that this would put us at the same high level of countries as developed as Holland and Belgium. Ergo, the imposition of the cycle was not a setback, but an extraordinary advance. continue reading

That is why those of us who lived through the terrible experience of those years and survived to tell the story, cannot help but feel a sort of scary deja vu and seeing it as a warning sign. Especially when the outlook around us promises (more) difficult times ahead for those of us who inhabit the battered island. It is almost impossible not to see in this “solution” an obvious sign of worse times ahead in the short term.

Returning to the referenced subjec, it is curious that the inauguration of this mode that is now returning with updated variations will be carried out at the Muelle de Luz, (Wharf of Light) point of embarkation/disembarkation of Havana’s very well-known icon, the little Regla motor launch, in proximity to the site where a private establishment known as “Cuba 8” existed until 1968, dedicated to the rental of bicycles and tricycles for recreational purposes that delighted kids, especially on Sunday mornings, when the flock of children happily crowded the nearby Amphitheater.

The details of the “new” system have not yet been disclosed and, as is usual in Cuba, it will be experimental in nature, with the intention of gradually extending it to other municipalities of the city according to its “acceptance” level. However, the aforementioned official reported that this service will be activated from a system of “associates”, which will allow access to it by prior contract arranged at a designated location in Old Havana proper. Also announced was the creation of several points located in the Historic Center, already selected, where associates can access a bicycle or return it once they have used it.

At first glance we must admit that the use of bicycles could be not only a partial solution to the acute crisis of traffic in the capital, but it could also provide recognized benefits to the health of those who take advantage of it. It is also true that it will benefit the environment of a city that is already sufficiently polluted by the emissions of an old, obsolete and inefficient vehicle fleet.

However, the stubborn reality is imposed on this initiative disguised as ecological intentions, preventing it from being feasible. In fact, the difficulties for the effective functioning of the cycling alternative in the capital are numerous and well known. Unlike many towns and cities in the interior of Cuba, Havana has never been characterized by an extensive use of bicycles as a means of transport, except in the bloody years of the “Special Period” when not only was it compulsory but also an inevitable imperative.

But Havana is essentially a city designed for cars and most of its residents have always dreamed of cars, not bicycles. The roads were never conceived for this type of vehicle, including the very poor state that they are in – emulating the craters and unevenness of the lunar surface — together with the scarcity of traffic signals and the proverbial disrespect for the rules of road by drivers of both cycles and motor vehicles. Havana cyclists are the most fragile element of urban geography. Not coincidentally, accident rates skyrocketed during the 90’s, when cyclists were the main victims of traffic-related fatalities.

To all of this, we could add the absence of a network of repair shops and bicycle parking to effectively sustain the development of cycling as a more general alternative than the current official proposal.  Other objective material limitations are also present, such as the scarce supply of cycles and replacement parts in commercial networks, high retail prices in stores and low personal income of the population that hinder the proper maintenance of bicycles, just to mention the most obvious obstacles.

But the difficulties do not end at this point. The accelerated aging of the population and food deficiencies are both factors to consider when designing strategies of this nature. This means that bicycle use would not only be limited to a minority segment of the population, but it would increase the dangers for the elderly when they move about on public streets.

For its part, the “experimental” municipality chosen, Old Havana, is characterized by its narrow streets, the frequent crowding of its also thin or crumbling sidewalks and the terrible state of disrepair of its many balconies and eaves.  Because of this, Old Havana’s residents have developed the habit of walking in the streets, rather than on the sidewalks, in order to avoid the dangers of a collapse and of broken sidewalks, but increasing the risks of traffic accidents.

It is assumed that those responsible for carrying out the new experimental plan have taken into account these risk factors, including an efficient control system that prevents the theft of bicycles or their parts at the different “stations”, an impossible mission in the Cuban social landscape. However, the “master plan” has already been born with an obvious flaw: the cyclists are hardly circumscribed to ride on the only two bike lanes enabled for this purpose. It is obvious to any person who knows the area in question that these will not be sufficient to allow the “associates” to access their multiple destinations without leaving the original layout.

There will be plenty of stubborn optimists willing to face these “small subjective details” who will believe in very good faith that they will be resolved in the course of the test. That is how forgetful Cubans can be after 60 years spent accumulating failed experiments without ever having worked out even one of them.

Or maybe it’s that, in the background, in the national spirit, the specter of the father of all the impossible nonsense continues to dwell, the one who was once photographed jumping from a war tank in simulated heroism, but never sweating and panting while pedaling on a Chinese bicycle, under the torrid sun and the dust of the merciless city. Perhaps that would explain why many of those who did not live through the hardships of the last century and other incurable enthusiasts — those who are so abundant among us in all occasions — today embrace this old novelty with the expectation and naïve illusion of children on the eve of the arrival of the three Wise Men.

As for me, I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news, but something tells me that the experiment is not going to work this time either.

Translated by Norma Whiting

What “Armaments” Can the Castro Regime Buy in Russia? / Miriam Celaya

Defense Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergei Shoigu, visits a tank unit in Havana, Cuba

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, West Palm Beach, 4 November 2018 — When, at the end of last October, it was learned through various media outlets that Russia would grant 50 million dollars to the Cuban government for the purchase of weapons, alarms went off.

Immediately, nervous headlines began to appear, stirring the old unburied ghosts of the Cold War: Russia was preparing to “rearm” the Havana regime, the credit would allow the dictatorship to buy from the Russian military industry “all kinds of weapons and military material”, and – of greater concern – the event is taking place in the context of increasing tensions in the relations between Cuba and the United States, and it is accompanied by the announced return of military units to the Cuban territory as part of the narrowing of “Russian-Cuban” collaboration relationship that has been taking place recently, which includes the signing of 60 Russian capital investment projects in Cuba.

Thus, the aforementioned loan credit contract for the alleged “re-armament” and military modernization of Cuba was signed in Havana at the bilateral meeting held on October 29th and 30th, in which the Deputy Prime Minister of Defense of Russia, Yuri Borisov, participated, and on the Cuban side the Vice President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba, Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz. continue reading

Now, beyond the suspicions and the resentments – not exactly unfounded – that the intermittent love affairs between the Kremlin and the Palace of the Revolution can awaken in us, a credit of $50 million is an absolutely ridiculous figure if it is a question of a “re-armament”. Suffice it to note the real costs of current military technology to conclude that the aforementioned figure would barely be sufficient to replace the exhaust pipes of some obsolete armored vehicles from the magnificent Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces.

In other words, it is absurd to seriously believe that with such a meager loan Cuba could acquire modern military equipment and materiel, especially when the Russian side lists a fabulous list of potential purchases for its miserable Caribbean allies: tanks, armored vehicles, ships (we don’t know if aerial or marine) and maybe even helicopters. Technologies that, objectively, would be possible to buy for $50 million only if they were from World War II.

Although the Cuban-Russian flirtations are neither novel nor exceptional – remember that the military cooperation agreement signed between the two for the period 2016-2020 is in force, which was preceded by other agreements related to the “defense” of Cuba, including the granting of credits – the facts don’t need to be magnified.

Traditionally, the confrontational rhetoric of the US administration has had as its response these Havana warlike headlights, which – except for the distances – mimic the thorns that The Little Prince attempted to defend himself with, against a tiger that came close to attacking him. Because it is known that US troops have no intention of invading Cuba, that in the very unlikely case that it did the US firepower would overwhelmingly prevail against Cuba’s, and that, finally, Cuba is not anywhere near such an important element for Russia or the United States as to unleash a war between both giants.

So, is it wise to be alarmed? Maybe it is. But not because of the supposed risk of an international war confrontation that is not going to happen, but because of what the dictatorship would be able to acquire with $50 million and what it would mean for Cubans here if in fact that amount were invested in repressive equipment with a view to controlling possible outbreaks of discontent in the face of a worsening economic and social crisis in the interior of the country.

Because it is not a secret for the power elite that every day a collective feeling of frustration grows among Cubans of all sectors, in the face of a scenario that condemns the population of eleven million human beings to poverty and despair as they face the impossibility of building a better future, in particular because of the lack of political will on the part of a government that refuses to allow the development of their capabilities.

Paradoxically, the process of “popular debate” of the constitutional reform proposed by that same dictatorial power has exposed the fracture of the “unanimity” and the alleged “close connection of the people with the Revolution and its leaders”. For the first time in 60 years, there have been strong questions from all sectors about some of the proposals endorsed in the Constitution project, many of which directly attack what had been the “sacred” foundations of the system until now: the single party system and the supremacy of the Communist Party as “superior leadership force of society”.

When we are almost at the second anniversary of the definitive death of Fidel Castro and only seven months after the symbolic departure of his brother from his position as Head of State and Ministers, both the criticisms and disagreements, as well as the demands for participation in Cuba’s destiny cover all social strata, from retired people who live on miserable state pensions to workers, artists, entrepreneurs, LGTBI groups, the clergy, young journalists graduated from Cuban universities, doctors who have completed missions abroad and, more recently, the “revolutionary intellectuals”.

This time the demands don’t start from the opposition groups and other dissident voices that can be accused of being “mercenaries” or “sellers of the motherland” by the propaganda machinery of the official press monopoly. Ordinary Cubans want to know why they cannot directly elect their President, why they cannot invest in their own country, why they cannot acquire more than one license to work as self-proprietors, why they cannot import consumer goods and products from abroad, why freedoms are not recognized as citizens’ rights, such as those of association, free hiring and freedom to remain abroad for an indefinite period, among others.

The weariness seems to have spread throughout society along the whole Island, and the Power knows that better than anyone.

And this puts us back at the starting point. What if, as has happened in the protest demonstrations in Venezuela and Nicaragua, the Cuban regime decides to impose itself through blood and fury against the defenseless Cubans? How much anti-riot weaponry, gas, or other repressive devices against the crowds can be acquired with $50 million? Undoubtedly, in this case the figure would not be so negligible.

A reflection that does not aim to alarm, but to alert about a drift that can be extremely dangerous. We can only imagine how far the late stage Castro Regime is willing to go to preserve its power. It is more prudent to follow the signs in advance and drink from the experience of others. Venezuela and Nicaragua are there to show us the price of trust. Let us not be too trusting.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Bolsonaro Harvests the Failure of the Politics of the PT*

Jair Bolsonaro followers celebrate his victory in Sao Paulo. (EFE / Fernando Bizerra)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 29 October 2018 — Just as the surveys indicated, Jair Bolsonaro achieved victory in Brazil’s presidential elections. A few weeks ago, Brazil’s former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, had called on the Brazilian people to vote massively for his comrade Fernando Haddad, the Workers’ Party (PT) candidate, belatedly thrown into the ring in a desperate attempt to retain political power for his party.

“Haddad is Lula,” the popular leader wrote to his supporters, urging them to support the PT’s new ace at the polls, in a letter written from jail, where he remains locked up awaiting trial for corruption allegations.

However, the poll results this Sunday, October 28th, showed, beyond a doubt, that either Lula’s message did not go down as well as expected in an electoral mass that until recently seemed inclined in his favor, or the dissatisfaction generated by the corruption scandals that have undermined the standing of the political leadership, the increase in violence in recent years, the decline in social standards and in the economy, the specter of poverty that has once again spread through the most humble sectors and the loss of faith in leadership have finally caught up to politicians of the left. In fact, the voters voted for a change in the most radical sense of the word. continue reading

It will probably never be known to what extent the weariness of a difficult socio-economic and political panorama or simply the desire to punish the PT caused more than 55% of voters to vote in favor of the opposite extreme.

It may never be known with any degree of certainty to what extent the weariness of a difficult socio-economic and political panorama or simply the desire to punish the PT – more than real sympathy for Bolsonaro – resulted in over 55% of the millions of Brazilian voters going to the polls, but they voted quite in favor of the opposite extreme – the Social Liberal Party – thus blurring, once and for all, the few hopes that the most stubborn advocates of the regional left had in terms of demonstrating their popular roots at the polls.

An icy editorial published in the digital version of the Sunday evening edition Cuba’s main state newspaper Granma, under the meddling title of “Jair Bolsonaro won, and Brazil?”, reflected the displeasure and impotence of the Palace of the Revolution for “a result that represents Brazil’s return to the extreme right at the end of the 1985 dictatorship.”

And the Castro regime’s contrariness is not a small thing. Since his election campaign, the Brazilian elected president, who will take office on January 1st and who will complete his term January 2022, had announced his intention to send back to Cuba doctors who are serving missions in Brazil, and by virtue of whose semi-slave work the Cuban Government realizes juicy profits.

The suppression of another source of income in foreign currency can be a serious blow to the Cuban government in the midst of an economic situation that the authorities themselves have defined as “very complicated”, after the decrease in Venezuelan oil subsidies, in addition to the accumulation of external debt, the slowness and inadequacy of foreign investment and the pressures imposed by the U.S. embargo, among other adverse issues.

That beloved people – always hostage to extreme policies – now suddenly ceased to be “the hope” that would demonstrate through voting, their lucidity and their confidence in the leadership of the PT, to become a kind of amorphous and confused mass, easily deceived by the siren songs of “the far right”, manipulated by the “smear campaign” against the PT and its historical leader, a whole herd of imbeciles who did not know how to defend, as should have been done, incredible achievements of the PT, at the head of the Government between 2003 and 2016.

The most rancid liberals do not realize that the worst they can reap from this election day is that many of the voters voted, not so much for Bolsonaro as against the PT, which implies a much more adverse scenario to the left than they are capable of acknowledging.

The suppression of another foreign currency income source can be a blow to the Cuban government in the midst of an economic situation that the authorities themselves have defined as “very complicated”

Unquestionably, with its usual bad loser attitude, that left will send to the defendants’ bench the social networks, the interests of the national oligarchies, the “extreme right wing and conservative” press, the Yankee imperialism, with Donald Trump at the helm, its villain par excellence, the people’s information deficit, and even WhatsApp used as a means of misinformation of the masses, which they have taken to calling methods of “alienation of progressive thinking.”

In spite of everything, it is an announced defeat. It is worth remembering that just hours after finding out the results of the first electoral round on October 7th in Brazil, which was also favorable to Bolsonaro, one of the “genius analysts” of the Cuban official press summarized the criteria of some intellectuals of the Latin American left on the issue of the leadership retreat suffered by the progressive ideology in the region, and came to the conclusion that the left has underestimated the change that the internet implies “as the main instrument of the so-called new economy and of communication and relationships between human beings”.

That innocent slip, and not its terrible performance, seems to be its biggest sin, and the supposed reason for its regional political breakdown. Perhaps that schematic, childish and reductionist view of the matter alone explains the electoral result of this October 28th.

*PT:  The Workers’ Party (Portuguese: Partido dos Trabalhadores) is a left-wing democratic socialist political party in Brazil. Launched in 1980, it is one of the largest movements of Latin America.

Translated by Norma Whiting

________________

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Migration Crisis: Authentic Caravan or Managed Maneuver?

Honduran immigrants charging the first security border gate by force and entering Mexican soil. Internet photo.

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 24 October 2018 — The new Central America migratory wave that has resulted these days in violent actions at the Mexican southern border, where the migrants forced the official fence and invaded that country’s territory by force, is monopolizing the media’s attention and threatens to become the new crisis point of the already complex relations between the US and its southern neighbors.

This Monday, October 22nd, the US President has considered the advance of the migratory caravan as a “national emergency” and has warned about the possible use of armed forces, if necessary, to prevent the passage of illegal immigrants into US soil.

Simultaneously, as a response to the passivity of the governments of the region, which have not stopped the migrant movement, the US president has also announced, through his Twitter account, a cut or substantial reduction of the aid that Washington allocates to Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. continue reading

Meanwhile, social networks are a hotbed of debate these days, most of them moved by prevailing emotions. No one seems indifferent to the images of men, women and young children crossing vast distances, dragged into the uncertain adventure of a journey full of risks and hardships that is a hard experience even for any young adult. The fear reflected in the innocent faces, helpless victims of both the misery of their lives in their countries of origin and the manipulations of unscrupulous politicians and their parents’ irresponsibility, is truly moving.

And in the absence of coherent explanations or sufficiently verified information in the meantime, there has been growing speculation about the origin of this new migratory avalanche – organized and apparently led by certain characters in regional politics – which, like a stubborn herd, continues its march towards a destination, though it knows the doors will be closed. It is really hard to believe that so many people have spontaneously succumbed to what, by all accounts and beyond the real deprivations that afflict millions of the poor in Latin America, is revealed as a political maneuver.

As often happens behind each human drama, passions are polarized among those who ask to allow the caravan march to continue and be offered entry to the US, for humanitarian reasons, and those who are vertically opposed to the avalanche. The former invoke the human right to emigrate and find better living conditions, and appeal to their own experience as argument (“we were also immigrants, the US is a country built by immigrants”, etc.); while the latter point out the dangers of uncontrolled immigration, the overload that immigrants pose, as recipients of benefits that, in the long run, will affect taxpayers, etc. And, of course, there is no shortage of cries from xenophobes and racists, ready to put their poisonous note on the matter.

Bridge at the international frontier between Guatemala and Mexico. Internet photo

The worst part of the case, however, is that regardless of the reasons that everyone believes they have, there isn’t the slightest possibility of escaping this crisis. That is, there is no politically correct way to solve such a problem. Because allowing the passage of this migration wave not only creates a succession of crises in the economies of the host countries – where even without receiving this large a number of immigrants, numerous social ill exist for their nationals, such as unemployment and poverty – but it creates political tensions in the relations between these countries and in the relations between of all of them with the US.

On the other hand, if the US accepted such a situation and allowed entry to this (other) caravan, it would be setting a terrible precedent, since it would open the possibility that similar successive invasions would continue to become an unstoppable torrent.

Not even an economy as powerful as the one in the US could withstand such pressure or escape unharmed. This, without mentioning that it would open the doors to racial violence in the interior of the country, in a spiral of hatred from which nobody – neither nationals nor immigrants – would come out as winners, but quite the contrary.

The European experience with migrants from Syria and other nations involved in violent conflicts, which have entangled the political and social environment in that small continent, is a pattern that shows the economic as well as political consequences that such an uncontrolled and constant migratory flow that has ended up turning the borders into areas of tension can produce in the receiving countries. At the same time, they have been causes of social confrontations, of tensions in the relations between countries, and between the governed and governments.

Until now, the crisis arising from the heat of this migratory avalanche towards Europe shows no signs of ending, but continues to stir hatred and rejection in open confrontations with the most permissive and tolerant positions.

And it is also not possible to deny the impact that the clash of cultures produces when it happens massively and on a large geographical scale. Because, while we are in an era where everyone talks about “globalization” – on the basis of human solidarity, tolerance, respect for differences, etc. – the truth is that there is no ideal recipe that minimizes the adverse effects of what already seems more a phenomenon of continuous and infinite stampedes than a natural and gradual process of migrations, where cultural insertion and mutual enrichment takes place between those who emigrate and the society that welcomes them.

Hondurans on their way toward the United States in the migrant caravan. Internet photo

Without wishing to tilt the scales in favor to one or the other side, we must understand that the human right to emigrate cannot ignore the right of receiving nations to establish the rules of the game, to choose what immigrants and how many of them will be accepted in their country and how many will not, according to their own interests and the administration of their own economy and social order. No one allows the expedited entry into their home, or dispenses its resources to anyone who demands them just because of the decisions someone else makes.

And this brings us to another important point of the case in point: the current migration from Central America to the USA, the violence at the outposts of this human torrent, added to the demands that the US government be responsible for solving a problem they created, are elements that suggest the work of third parties, cleverly hidden behind the scenes.

There are those who say that it is a dirty maneuver plotted and managed by the villains of the region: the failed regimes of the Castro-Chávez alliance (Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba) with the intention of diverting the attention from public opinion and the forums of international organizations of the deep crisis in those countries, reflected in the growing migrations of millions of people who are fleeing, frightened by the trail of misery of “XXI Century Socialism”.

The truth is that these continuous avalanches from south to north – and always with only one final destination: the USA – are not plainly and simply explained as a result of the congenital poverty of our nations or as the always romantic dream of conquering the American dream; but as the sum total of the failure of the Castro regime experiment, expanded to the continent, and the manipulations of a defeated ideology that refuses to go away.

Because what all this convulsive and difficult scenario overlaps is the intention to create a crisis of great magnitude between North and South and not the vindication of the rights of the “exploited and dispossessed” peoples, which regional radical leftist ideologues so often proclaim. These are, in short, the dangerous throes of a twisted system that tried to conquer the continent and that now agonizes, victim of its own inefficiency. Possibly, the best thing for everyone would be to help it die.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Spanish President Pedro Sánchez Doesn’t Raise Expectations Among Cubans

Presumably, during his visit, Sánchez will meet with businessmen or representatives of the many Spanish companies present in Cuba. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, 18 October 2018 — The Spanish language version of the online American newspaper HuffPost has just published its own vision about why the upcoming November 22nd and 23rd visit to Havana by the Spanish President, Pedro Sánchez, is important.

Judging from the note, there are several reasons that give importance to the bilateral meeting on the Island between the leaders of Cuba and Spain. All of them refer to expectations on the Spanish side – in this case, the entrepreneurs of the European country present in Cuba and of their own Government – and in no case to the benefits that Cubans should expect as a result of this exchange between the two governments. continue reading

To some extent, this could be reasonable, given that, when it comes to meetings between politicians, each defends his own interests. Hypocritical speeches only work in protocol rooms.

Thus, in the effort to enhance this visit, the HuffPost uses the unoriginal resource used by so many other foreign newspapers: to falsify the Cuban reality by recreating it from the stereotyped vision of someone who absolutely ignores the scenario in which the action is moving. Or about whom, deliberately, chooses to ignore it. This explains the reference to “the new Cuba, which does not have a Castro in its government since April, which is committed to openness even with the United States, its classic adversary.”

Judging by the note, there are several reasons that lend importance to the bilateral meeting between the leaders of Cuba and Spain on the Island. All of them refer to the Spanish-side expectations

A “new” Cuba, and in the midst of a transition, described as a place where there are all kinds of openings, which now Spain regrets having distanced itself from, compared to other countries which have “taken the lead,” despite – and this is the way that the Spanish foreign minister, Josep Borrell refers to it – Spain having “strong historical, cultural, and human relations with this Island,” which makes it a contradiction that Spaniards “have nothing to say or nothing to contribute.”

About the latter, it must be admitted, Mr. Borrell is somewhat right: it does not seem that until now the Spaniards have contributed much to the Cubans.

Thus, suddenly, Sánchez’s trip acquires a sense which is “not only political but also historical and cultural”. And, incidentally, “it can serve as an outpost and pave the way to possible royal status in November 2019”, the date when “the fifth anniversary of the founding of Havana will be celebrated”.

Obviating the small error of the American media – let’s call it “errata” – of so drastically reducing the Cuban capital’s age (which, far from reaching the age of five, is approaching half a millennium since its foundation), nothing would seem more counterproductive than having the condescending presence of their Spanish Majesties at the celebration of such a relevant date.

Not only because of the strangeness of the monarchical origins of the informal plebeian Cubans, natural enemies of the label, but even without it, the sufficiently humiliating impotence of having contributed, for the last 30 years, to the recolonization of the Island through Spanish investments, while those born on this land are deprived of that right that is naturally theirs. It is not very delicate that our status as neo-subjects should be emphasized so incisively more than a century after having reached our independence.

Meanwhile, La Moncloa* has declared that the objective of the trip of the Spanish head of government is “to intensify the relations between both countries and their economic and commercial exchanges”

The HuffPost assures that this visit will be “like Spring rains” for Spanish businessmen in Cuba. Presumably, during his visit, Sánchez will meet with businessmen or representatives of the numerous Spanish companies present in Cuba, including nine hotel chains, due to the “high economic component that is to be imprinted on the visit”.

On the other hand, the note says that, “according to ICEX (the Network of Economic and Commercial Offices of Spain Abroad), Cuba was the #2 country in the Caribbean (with a total of €899 million) receiving Spanish exports in 2017.

The note adds that “Spain maintains commercial and investment relations with Cuba of a great tradition, evidenced by being the country with the most joint venture companies and most branches established in Cuba, and with an outstanding presence in the tourism and services sector”. A fact that, nevertheless, shows an asymmetry in the benefits of these relationships, since it does not reflect in any way an increase in the consumption capacity of Cubans.

Finally, the fifth and last important reason for Sanchez’s announced visit to Havana are the approximately 140,000 Spanish citizens living in Cuba, to whom The HuffPost refers in terms of “Spanish colony.”

‘Granma’, the official newspaper, barely just published, simultaneously, a brief note in the section Hilo Directo (Direct Thread) announcing, without much fuss, Sanchez’s imminent visit

It is about none other than Cubans who have acquired Spanish citizenship under the Law of Historical Memory – better known as the grandchildren law – who perhaps should be called “Spaniards of convenience”, not only because Spanish citizenship is useful for certain practical purposes, especially easing travel by making use of a passport that opens doors to numerous destinations without the need for a visa, but because the “Cubanish”, usually treated as lesser carnival dance processions and undesirables at the Spanish Consulate in Cuba, are recognized as fellow citizen by the Spanish authorities when it’s convenient. Now it seems to be the case, so that, as if by magic, they have been transmuted into “a great Spanish community”.

This way, The HuffPost affirms that “Sánchez will have an opening to meet with Spanish colony in Cuba”, which means that he will meet with those Spanish groups that have been acknowledged and promoted by the Cuban authorities in terms of their own political and economic interests.

And while the most enthusiastic are rubbing their hands and making plans to share in the benefits of the new resumption of relations between Spain and Cuba, Havana has not given the same relief to the fact. The official newspaper Granma just simultaneously published a short note in the section Hilo Directo (Direct Thread), announcing the next visit of Sánchez, without much ado.

Perhaps the hierarchs of the caste of the insular Power, who do know exactly how tense the social vibration in Cuba is, favor keeping a low profile? Or, more traditionally stated, the oven is not ready for cookies here.

 Translated by Norma Whiting

*Translator’s note: Moncloa Palace is the official residence and workplace of the Prime Minister of Spain

___________________________________

The 14ymedio team is committed to serious journalism that reflects the reality of deep Cuba. Thank you for joining us on this long road. We invite you to continue supporting us, but this time by becoming a member of 14ymedio. Together we can continue to transform journalism in Cuba.

Apples of Discord, Corruption and Selective Punishment / Miriam Celaya

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 September 2018 — For some unknown reason, apples have had an extraordinary role in the cultural imagination of the West. For better or for worse, this fruit has marked milestones that have transcended the passage of time and geographical borders.

For example, in Greek mythology, a golden apple sowed discord between the goddesses Pallas Athena and Aphrodite, a discrepancy that would dramatically influence the Trojan War. For its part, in biblical mythology, an apple was the temptation that drove Adam and Eve to the original sin, for which we have all been punished (blessed sin!).

An old Swiss legend tells that the national hero William Tell had to skewer with an arrow, accurately shot from his crossbow, an apple placed on the head of his son by the tyrant oppressor of his people; while another fable explains how the wise Isaac Newton discovered the law of universal gravity, one of the most important physical-natural phenomena, thanks to an apple that fell directly on his head. continue reading

The apple is a kind of cult object sown in our consciousness since earliest childhood. What child did not know Snow White’s apple? And, as adults, who has not dreamed of visiting that other “Big Apple”, New York, at least once in his life?

The surprising thing is that in XXI Century Cuba these fruits again have become not only central characters, but in the body of the sin of one of the many sagas of corruption that cross Cuba’s harsh daily reality. In recent days, the sweet apple, or to be more exact, 15 thousand apples, have evolved into a temptation much more dangerous than that in the Holy Scriptures.

The case has been sufficiently disseminated by the official press, but it is appropriate to briefly summarize the facts. It is about the allegedly illegal sale, in a retail market in Havana (La Puntilla market in Miramar), of a large number of apples (15 thousand) to “a group of tough youngsters” – according to an aggressive commissioner (allegedly “an exemplary revolutionary journalist”, in the words of the hand-picked President) which aroused the suspicion of the referred to writer, who, unfortunately for the offenders, personally witnessed the transaction.

For a greater sin, “a good part” of these young people were “uniformed” with the American flag. It would have been better if they wore fig leaves, like the primal sinners of the earthly paradise. The President’s favorite journalist was not going to stand for an insolent provocation, such as that of displaying a symbol of the Evil Empire.

That might explain, far from facing the youths to give them an educational talk and prevent the “hoarding” and “the misuse of state resources”— since the buyers bribed the driver of a state minivan to transport their merchandise – this intransigent revolutionary spied on their movements, followed them, carefully pointed the license plate number of the vehicle that transported the 150 boxes of apples “at 100 CUC (roughly $100 US) each box” (what grief this detail caused the combative reporter!), and demanded a copy of the receipt as proof of purchase from the store clerk. Both photographs, the minivan and the copy of the receipt, were published on his personal blog. (“The …something…pupil”), where “someone is watching” becomes evident).

As a result, sanctions proliferated. Two employees of the store were fired as an administrative measure. Their names were published in the press though they were not subject to criminal sanctions. Some were lectured, and all other members of the collective were warned and reprimanded. As far as some of the aforementioned young apple addicts, they have been accused of “illicit enrichment”, among other causes, have been arrested and must face court trials.

The case is not exactly a novel incident, and it’s not less true that corruption is a scourge which must be fought, has metastasized throughout Cuban society, and now covers all areas of daily life. Corruption has reached such colossal dimensions in Cuban society that it not only touches all of us in some way, but it’s an indispensable part of survival. Given that the system itself generates and replicates it, it’s not possible to eradicate it by attacking its effects, but by eliminating the cause: the system, which is essentially corrupt. Ergo, it’s a problem with no solution.

However, what is more alarming is that the scapegoats are always anonymous people, opportunistic peddlers, marginals of all sorts, mules, the self-employed, or any propitious victim of the social subsoil that the authorities deem handy to use to intimidate the population through a collective lesson.

What the official press does not publish is the most dangerous of the chains of corruption thriving under the protection of official institutions, in particular those responsible for ensuring compliance with the laws: the bodies of inspectors, the national police (including the “revolutionary” also, let it be known) and a bunch of officials available at various prices.

So it goes that, curiously, also around the days of the apples of discord there has been a case of police corruption that, despite the silence of the government press monopoly, is circulating informally through some neighborhoods of the Cuban capital. According to rumors, a policeman arrested one of the many Venezuelan bachaqueros*, who swarm with relative impunity, especially in Old Havana. The policeman seized his merchandise, a backpack loaded with flip-flops. It is worth remembering that in Cuba almost everything is marketable and profitable.

The “cheating” agent, like so many of his colleagues, decided not to report confiscation of the merchandise, appropriating it instead to profit from it himself. However, also like most, he did not have enough smarts to secure his booty. The Venezuelan, meanwhile, feeling injured – or perhaps appealing to the protection he enjoys in Cuba – decided to complain at the Calle Zanja police station, so that when the superiors ordered a review of the agent’s belongings, not only did they find all the seized merchandise in the backpack, but an additional unexpected find: a bundle of marijuana. That sealed the fate of the clueless agent.

According to an informal source and unconfirmed rumors, the Office of the Prosecutor is asking for 25 years in prison for the agent – it has not been made clear if for being an idiot or for being corrupt – and it has not transpired if the Venezuelan involved has received any punishment or if he has been deported to his country.

Very likely, these rumors may contain part truth and a lot of fantasy. But, in any case, the national experience of decades of fraud and corruption, and knowing the administrative mechanisms and government press monopoly’s lack of transparency, everything points to much more reality than fable in this matter.

I have been visiting the blog of the President’s zealous journalist, so combative, so revolutionary, to see what he thinks of such an audacity, but for some mysterious reason he has not published anything about the matter. It must be because the police are also supposed to be a body of “revolutionaries” and one does not air our dirty laundry among members of the brotherhood…

*bachaquero Venezuelan slang meaning hawker of goods bought at government-set prices

Translated by Norma Whiting