Danse Macabre / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

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cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, West Palm Beach, Florida, 13 April 2016 — The video has gone viral in the internet in just over 24 hours — between Monday afternoon, April 11th 2016, and the early hours of Tuesday night — it had been shared 42,000 times, it had been viewed almost 4 million times, and the count continued to rise exponentially. The images speak louder than words: children as young as 7 or 8 years old, in school uniform, contort in the frenzy of a lewd dance in what is obviously a Cuban elementary school. Around them, voices can be heard (their teachers or some other adult in charge of their care and their education?) encouraging them cheerfully, obviously enjoying the spectacle.

The kindest adjectives that could describe those responsible for this act are aberration, atrocity, perversity and depravity. Continue reading “Danse Macabre / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The children’s bodies curl and bow with spasmodic thrusts to the rhythm of music. The girl raises her slender leg up to the boy’s waist or she turns back, bringing her child’s buttocks close to the boy’s pelvis, who also rhythmically imitates sexual gestures characteristic of adults in full intimacy. At one point in the dance, the boy lays on the ground while his “dance” companion crouches down with her legs open as she continues her writhing over the boy’s lower abdomen, while the general revelry reaches its highpoint all around them.

Such unusual entertainment, worthy of a brothel or a nightclub of the worst category, goes on for five and a half minutes to the distress of any decent spectator, and to the delight of those who continue to encourage the dancers, with not one teacher or school authority putting an end the lustful dance.

These innocent children, with their bandanas around their necks, their white shirts and their scarce few feet in stature are most likely the very same ones that swear each morning to “be like Che,” sing the national anthem or salute the tri-color flag. It is difficult to imagine what other, more responsible parents, who are committed to their families might think about the peculiar “recreational and cultural environment” that their children are being brought up in, and of the benefits offered by the highly praised free education, supreme jewel of the Cuban educational system, much hailed in international forums and organizations as the role model to be followed, even by developed countries.

Here we have a single video that stands as irrefutable testimony to the truth that the many voices of the independent civil society have been reporting for years: the colossal loss of moral values in Cuban society, the shocking deterioration of schoolteachers and “educators” that directly affects the deformation of the younger generations, the immorality invading countless homes and Cuban families, whose members welcome their children’s precocity and shamelessness, children who are being deprived of the gentle naïveté of childhood before of their first decade of life. Will defenders of the Castro regime reiterate this time that this is a fabrication of the enemies of the revolution?

There are certainly numerous factors that have contributed to all this moral collapse: the appalling housing conditions that make tens of thousands of families live together in the greatest promiscuity — where adults and children share the same tight spaces and sometimes even the same beds — perennial material deprivation, despair, widespread social corruption and the fight for survival. A characteristic degenerative process of the socio-political system imposed on Cubans for nearly six decades.

There might be some who will shrug their shoulders or label as prudes those of us who have become disturbed and felt disgust at the images displayed in the video, but these young children, thus exposed, have actually been innocent victims of those who should look out for their care and their education: their parents, their teachers and their political system that hypocritically portrays itself as the guardian of childhood.

The children’s rights have been stripped of the protection of adults, as have their rights to grow in a safe and dignified environment, to not be exposed publicly, and to receive an appropriate education within the parameters and universally recognized moral behaviors. Without exaggeration, we are witnessing the consecration of a crime that should be judged and condemned by peoples of all decent and civilized societies. What do agencies and institutions responsible for protecting children have to say now? Will they keep silent before this atrocity so they can continue applauding condescendingly the amazing Cuban official statistics and the fabulous “achievements” of revolutionary education?

However, the matter is not lacking in a strong symbolic charge. The danse macabre of these lewd schoolchildren seems to embody the funeral ritual that had had once been a solid educational system shaping generations of professionals with highest qualifications and the broadest of educations.

As for the Cuban authorities, we’ll have to wait and see this time how they will manage to endorse this despicable crime to some twisted “maneuver of the right in collusion with Imperialism”. Their work is cutout for them.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Epitaph for a Party / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Cuban president Raúl Castro speaking last Tuesday at the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (EFE)
Cuban president Raúl Castro speaking last Tuesday at the 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Miami, 20 April 2016 – I ask for a minute’s standing ovation, gentlemen: the Communist Party of Cuba has died. The internment, which will be known to future generations of Cubans as the 7th Congress of the PCC, held its memorial service Tuesday, 19 April 2016, exactly 55 years after the dazzling “first great defeat of Yankee imperialism in America.”

Due to those whimsical paradoxes of history, the “Socialist Revolution,” proclaimed in those days of pure popular enthusiasm, has finally succumbed, but not by any action of the imperialist enemy warrior, but by the arrogance of its own makers. Continue reading “Epitaph for a Party / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

The death of the PCC, after a long and painful illness, was authenticated with the election of the “new” Central Committee, headed – but for unavoidable exceptions – by the same crested brains of the revolutionary gerontocracy, irresponsibly clinging to power counter to the country’s deterioration. The octogenarian party has not had the capability to renew itself to make way for a new generation of leaders trained to meet the challenges of these times.

Nevertheless, there were earlier signs of the inevitability of this death. In the last five years, the Cuban “political vanguard” allowed itself the luxury of wasting one more opportunity to reverse the state of national calamity , and elected instead the path to stagnation, if not retrogression. Cognition of its own frailty and the fear of losing control over society paralyzed the once powerful PCC, which ended up losing its last shreds of credibility among Cubans.

In the last five years, the Cuban “political vanguard” allowed itself the luxury of wasting one more opportunity to reverse the state of national calamity, and elected instead the path to stagnation, if not regression

Some of these signs of weakness and decay are the lack of programs of reform that would allow for the beginning of a process of changes and overcoming the persistent poverty; the disconnect between the ruling elite and the social base; the inability to move beyond the experimental phase of the few and insufficient economic openings; the improvisation of insufficient and ineffective measures designed to alleviate the consequences of the crisis rather than eliminate its causes; and the constant and growing exodus that further impoverishes the nation. The capital of popular faith which rallied briefly at the beginning of the transfer of power from F. Castro to his brother (the “pragmatic reformist” Raúl) has died.

Over a year after being announced with much fanfare, and after a process of secret meetings where only a select group of anointed ones “discussed” the documents to be analyzed in its sessions, the conclave that supposedly would trace the fate of 11 million souls not only ignored the national drift, it squandered the additional time in an attempt to counteract the harmful effect that, according to the leaders of the geriatric caste, the imperialist enemy has injected into the soul of the nation.

Behold the political power that has consecrated Cuba’s destiny according to a new turning point.

In short, there will not be a Cuba before and after the 7th Congress of the PCC, but before and after the restoration of relations with the US, specifically, after the visit of the American president, Barack Obama, to the Cuban capital. This is the implicit recognition of the failure of the Castro-communist project.

In short, there will not be a Cuba before and after the 7th Congress of the PCC, but before and after the restoration of relations with the US

Thus, the issues that would occupy de jure the discussions, namely, the conceptualization of this absurd unreality called “the Cuban socioeconomic and political model,” the problem of the dual currency, feeding of the population, constitutional reform, the highly vaunted foreign investment program and an endless list of other emergencies related to ordinary Cubans, are left hanging. The PCC has no answers to social demands.

Instead, the leaders have opted for entrenchment, and, as if current generations of Cubans believed in symbols of the past, the leadership decided to play as trump a devalued card: it dusted off and preened as much as possible the former President, former First Secretary of the Central Committee of the PCC and former Undisputed Commander in Chief, and placed him before the monastic convent’s plenary session – after also cloistering the doors to the tabernacle, safe from the inquiring inquisitorial foreign press – in an attempt to legitimize his new ideological war against the Empire.

With all certainty, a war with not enough followers, unless the new Cuban soldiers could be called that: the migrants who are invading the enemy by land, sea and air in robust legions to defeat the enemy by occupying his territory, triumphantly and permanently. Memories of the old ex-warrior’s battle and moral victories, whether real or imagined, have been left way behind in our national recollections.

Now it becomes clear that the PCC has died. The so-called 7th Congress was not that at all, but a swan song. Just the sad spectacle of a group of recalcitrant elders addicted to power and their cohort busybodies (buquenques, in good Cuban). If there is any honest communist left in Cuba – if in the imaginary case such ever existed – he must be plunged into the deepest mourning. Had our half a century of history been different, the late Party might deserve a minute of silence. But we don’t need to be hypocrites, at any rate; we Cubans have been silent for way too long.

Translated by Norma Whiting

An Encounter with Barack Obama / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Miriam Celaya seated next to President Obama during his meeting in Havana with representatives from independent civil society.
Miriam Celaya seated next to President Obama during his meeting in Havana with representatives from independent civil society.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 March 2016 — This past Tuesday, March 22, 2016 was, without doubt, a memorable day for us, the 13 representatives of a portion of the independent civil society who had the opportunity to meet with President Barack Obama at the US embassy in Havana.

During the previous days, we had been invited to participate at a “high level” meeting in the framework of the US President’s visit to Cuba, and on our arrival at the embassy, what we all had expected was confirmed: Obama would meet with us behind closed doors, away from journalists’ cameras and microphones.  The media was only present for a photo-session, moments before the start of the off-the-record exchange between the American president and the Cuban invitees. Continue reading “An Encounter with Barack Obama / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

Also present were other senior US officials, who were not involved in the dialogue between Obama and Cuban activists and independent journalists.

At the meeting, which lasted over an hour and 40 minutes, all guests had the opportunity to express different views on issues related to the new policy of dialogue and rapprochement between the US government and Cuba, and to advocate how some activists think this new relationship could benefit progress in the empowerment of the Cuban people and the consolidation of the civil society more efficiently.

Despite the different positions and projects represented, the great majority of Cubans at the meeting expressed openly their support for the policy of rapprochement and dialogue initiated by President Obama

Despite the different positions and projects represented, the great majority of Cubans at the meeting expressed openly their support for the policy of rapprochement and dialogue initiated by President Obama on December 17, 2014. However – and contrary to what the government discourse is spreading in its smear campaigns against the internal dissidence – none of the activists asked for any funding or material support for their projects.

Obama, meanwhile, made a show of good humor, intelligence, sensitivity and a skill in listening to everyone, though some activists went over the time allotted for their presentations, which limited further exchange with the US president, as many of us had hoped for. However, his frank interventions and the use of his usual direct language, devoid of unnecessary grandstanding, constituted a lesson in politics that left no doubt about his assertion that he is on the correct path.

This meeting demonstrates the willingness of the US government to maintain open communication channels with all participants of Cuban society, regardless of political beliefs, ideologies, dogmas and programs

Obviously, there is always much left to discuss at such encounters, but at any rate, this meeting demonstrates the willingness of the US government to maintain – as has been its tradition and political practice to date – open communication channels with all participants of Cuban society, regardless of political beliefs, ideologies, dogmas and programs. This position does not refute the importance of continuing the current dialogue with Cuban officials and should be emulated by governments and representatives of all democratic societies in the world, which are always eager to ignore the dissident sectors and to deny their corresponding role in the process of change that has begun to be carried out in Cuba.

Obama honored the activists of the independent civil society in devoting a generous portion of his time during his brief visit, and he showed absolute respect for Cubans, for our sovereignty and for the pro-democracy projects. His idea summarizes the essence of his policy: the future of Cuba and the construction of a democratic society are the sole responsibility of Cubans on the Island and in the diaspora.

Personally, this meeting with Obama left me with the impression of what an unaffected person he is, of his extraordinary intellect, his knowledge about Cuban history and the relationship between our two countries. A great man, whose name will ultimately be linked to the Cuban process of transition, just as he will be known by future generations of the offspring of this Island.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Dissidents Call Meeting With Obama Positive And Give Him A List Of Political Prisoners / EFE, 14ymedio

Barack Obama meeting with dissidents in Havana on Tuesday. (14ymedio)
Barack Obama meeting with dissidents in Havana on Tuesday. (14ymedio)

14ymedio biggerEFE (14ymedio), Havana, 22 March 2016 – Several dissidents who met with President Barack Obama in Havana this Tuesday, assessed the meeting as “positive” and “frank,” and one of them delivered a list of 89 political prisoners recorded by the group he leads.

Elizardo Sanchez, spokesman for the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), said Obama was “very clear” and reiterated to the participants at the meeting “his commitment to the cause of human rights and democratic freedoms.”

Sanchez explained that during the dialogue with the US president, he handed him a copy of the list of 89 political prisoners prepared by his group, Continue reading “Dissidents Call Meeting With Obama Positive And Give Him A List Of Political Prisoners / EFE, 14ymedio”

the only one that undertakes an ongoing documentation of these cases in Cuba.

For veteran government opponent, the balance of Obama’s visit to the island was “favorable to the cause of bilateral democracy” but he lamented that far from encouraging an “atmosphere of calm” the Cuban government unleashed “a wave of political repression” which, according to the records of his group translates to between 450 and 500 arrests across the island between Saturday and today.

For his part, the former political prisoner of the 2003 Black Spring “Group of 75,” Jose Daniel Ferrer, one of the thirteen government opponents invited to the meeting, described as “very positive” the meeting because “it was a show of solidarity with those of us who are fighting for the reconstruction of the nation.

“We talked about the process initiated with the Cuban government to normalize bilateral relations, also about his visit, and we also had the opportunity to make suggestions and give opinions on issues that we believe should continue to be pursued and what should not be done in this case,” said Ferrer, leader of the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU).

Miriam Leiva, also invited to the event, considered it “very open” because the president listened to the participants who “could express their views on the current situation of repression and human rights in Cuba” and also he made comments.

“There were some who raised positions contrary to the policies of President Obama, but in the end he expounded on his views about what he is doing and what he can do to benefit the Cuban people,” said the independent journalist.

In her opinion, the fact that Barack Obama set aside a space in his busy schedule of about 48 hours in Havana for this meeting at the US embassy, ​​represented “recognition and support” for the Cuban opposition.

Antonio González-Rodiles, who heads the Independent Estado de Sats (State of Sats) project, said the meeting was “very frank” and led to a debate in which “everyone raised their point of view and President Obama heard the different positions.”

Rodiles, critical of the new US approach to Cuba, said he told Obama his doubts about the process of normalization of relations and the “enormous level of violence and repression” in recent times.

He also criticized that “we have not heard from their government a clear condemnation regarding these excessive violations against the dissidence.”

Also at the meeting dissidents and activists such as the leader of the Ladies in White, Berta Soler; Guillermo Fariñas; Manuel Cuesta Morua, of the Progressive Arc; and the critical intellectual Dagoberto Valdes.

In brief remarks to reporters about the meeting, Obama said that one of the objectives of the normalization begun with Cuba is to be able to “hear directly” from the Cuban people and ensure that they also “have a voice” in the new stage initiated between the two countries fifteen months ago.

Note: Cuban dissidents, independent journalists and human rights activists present at the meeting were: Angel Yunier Remon, Antonio Rodiles, Juana Mora Cedeno, Jose Daniel Ferrer, Laritza Diversent, Berta Soler, Dagoberto Valdes Hernandez, Guillermo Fariñas, Nelson Alvarez Matute, Miriam Celaya Gonzales, Manuel Cuesta Morua, Miriam Leiva Viamonte, Elizardo Sanchez.

The Independent Voices Obama Will Hear From / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar

Counterclockwise from top left: Jose Daniel Ferrer, Dagoberto Valdes and Miriam Celaya.
Counterclockwise from top left: Jose Daniel Ferrer, Dagoberto Valdes and Miriam Celaya.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, 21 March 2016 — A group of government opponents and activists from independent Cuban civil society have scheduled a meeting with President Barack Obama on Tuesday morning. This newspaper has contacted three of them to ask them what they plan to say at that meeting.

Jose Daniel Ferrer is one of the eleven former prisoners of the 2003 Black Spring who remains in Cuba and is also the leader of the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), one of the opposition organizations with the most members and one that maintains permanent action in support of human rights. Every time he crosses the capital city he has to do so almost clandestinely because State Security pursues him to deport him to Continue reading “The Independent Voices Obama Will Hear From / 14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar”

the province of Santiago de Cuba where he has permanent residence.

“In UNPACU we greatly appreciate President Barack Obama’s gesture of inviting us to a formal meeting at the United States Embassy in Havana and we also appreciate the gesture of solidarity of having invited colleagues from diverse civil society organizations, the opposition and independent journalists who have as a common cause the fight for the respect for human rights and for a free, just, democratic and fraternal Cuba.”

Jose Daniel Ferrer brings a charge from his comrades in the struggle. “This time that we are with the distinguished visitor we will use first to congratulate him for his bold decision to start this process of normalization of relations that has led even to his visiting the island. We are going to also congratulate him for the incredibly novel initiative he took to talk with the Cuban humorist Pánfilo which has had a tremendous effect on the population.”

I will ask that this position of solidarity that he is taking with the Cuban people be maintained even beyond his term as president, because being a high-ranking figure in the world, and even a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, he can continue to positively influence relations between the two nations and move others to support the suffering Cuban people who lack rights and freedoms and are living in deep misery.

Dagoberto Valdes is an agronomist who likes to present himself as a “yagüero” for the years he was sentenced to perform the humble work of collecting the “yaguas” (fronds) that fell from the palms in his province of Pinar del Rio. He is the director of the Coexistence Project, and the magazine with the same name, and of a Study Center that professes to be an authentic group of thinkers on Cuban matters.

“In the first place, I believe that the meeting with President Obama puts things in their place. It opens a new stage in which the historic enemy, necessary for these totalitarian systems, is turned into a visiting friend and therefore attention begins to focus on the real problem which is nothing more than the normalizations of democratic relations between the Cuban people and their government,” he told 14ymedio by phone.

He says he does not intend to ask for anything at the meeting. “The time our meeting lasts, at least the part that involves me, I will use to tell the president of the United States about the possibilities, the abilities, the projects with which the Cuban people are capable of being the protagonists of their own history.”

Miriam Celaya worked for a long time as an anthropologist, but obviously was born to be a journalist. She moved into the profession by way of blogs and now her byline is solicited by diverse media who request her penetrating analysis of Cuban society.

She says that the fact of being invited to a meeting of this kind, at this level, is an exceptional opportunity: “In addition to being a historical event, it is an opportunity to share with very valuable people about paramount topics.”

Asked if she has already noted what she wants to say this Tuesday, she clarifies, “I know that others will focus on repression, and the general issue of human rights and many other problems, including mentioning the concern that many have about how this rapprochement has advanced on the American side without seeing advances on the Cuban side. But I would like to concentrate on something that seems fundamental in the work of re-weaving our civil society and that is the issue of freedom of expression.

“It is not about our going there to ask for funding, like the official propagandists believe, but helping us with the desire to raise awareness about the need to support independent Cuban journalism. To empower the people they have to empower themselves with information, to be well informed at this stage when the government has an almost absolute monopoly on the media. And for people to know in depth the real scope of the measures the United States government is taking now, it is essential that an independent press has the ability to reach the citizens.”

Barack Obama Seduces Cubans / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Barack Obama with his family on their tour around Old Havana (Yenny Muñoa / CubaMINREX)
Barack Obama with his family on their tour around Old Havana (Yenny Muñoa / CubaMINREX)

Barely a few hours after his arrival in Cuba, President Barack Obama stole the hearts of Cubans.

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 21 March 2016 — First, there was an accomplice rain that intensified as the presidential plane taxied down the runway after landing at the airport. The initial image that Cubans had of the president of the most powerful country on Earth turned out to be a gentle and solicitous father, holding an umbrella to protect his wife and daughters from the cloudburst as they descended the plane’s steps together, while offering his hand in greeting and a wide, warm smile to the welcoming group.

Shortly thereafter, around six in the afternoon, during his televised visit to the Cathedral in the historic center of Old Havana, the first cheers were heard from the humble people in the surrounding neighborhoods, expressing their admiration and affection towards the visitor. The links of militants of the single party and other faithful of the Cuban regime were not adequate to avoid real contact between Obama and the people: this charismatic leader seems to exert such a natural power of seduction over the crowds that it causes them to upend the blockade of the official control. Continue reading “Barack Obama Seduces Cubans / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

The scene was repeated when Obama went to the Ceiba tree at the Templete, one of the symbols of the capital’s traditions, and later, when he unexpectedly dined at Restaurante San Cristóbal, an eatery located in the popular district of San Leopoldo, in the heart of Centro Habana. Soon, word that he was in the area spread, and immediately, a crowd spontaneously swarmed around, just to see and greet the American president. “Obama, Obama, Obama!” chanted a crowd of all ages, while the presidential car and his accompanying entourage retreated to the Malecón, and a smiling and happy Obama waved through the window.

It is clear that the 48 hours that Barack Obama will be among us are going to be more loaded with adrenaline than the Cuban authorities had anticipated. Now it seems obvious that, while high-level visitors, popes, presidents and others, have always complacently adhered to the script prepared by the choreographers at the Palace of the Revolution, the man in the White House has his own agenda, which he’s determined to carry out. It is clear that, though Obama will condescendingly participate in the official part of the altarpiece he’s required to perform, he is determined to feel his way around the Cuban people’s beat for himself. No one should be surprised if at some point he suddenly appears in the central courtyard of some dilapidated rooming complex in Havana.

This charismatic president appears to exert such power of natural seduction on the crowds that it causes them to upend the blockade of official control.

In fact, the talk in Havana is Barack Obama’s daring appearance in the comedy show with the greatest TV audience in the country, Deja que Yo te Cuente, with Epifanio Pánfilo as its main popular character, played by comedian Luis Silva. No doubt it is the most original way he has conceived to reach every household in Cuba, and Cubans are fascinated with that perspective. The natural and easy way Obama has chosen to mingle with Cubans contrasts stridently with the distant and hardbound historical leaders and their claque. It is known that autocrats not only remain isolated in a world that is unattainable for the ordinary Cuban, but that they also don’t know how to smile.

By now, Obama’s detractors here and yonder must be tasting their own bile. It turns out that the US President’s visit to Cuba is not really “legitimizing the dictatorship,” but those who some in the media have taken to calling “ordinary Cubans.” One can also imagine the bitterness and the powerlessness of the gerontocracy, that arrogant “historic generation,” witnessing Cuban’s sincere show of affection and admiration for the highest representative of what was, until barely fifteen months ago, the enemy Empire that hated us and was trying to smother us.

Two full days remain to see how many and how unforeseeable are the cards our visitor has up his sleeve, but one may ask if we should expect other surprises. Without a doubt, today’s emotions let us expect that, this US presidential visit to Havana leaves no room for doubt, even if only to show the world how much Cubans approve of the newest White House policies towards Cuba. It constitutes a resounding success for Obama.

Translated by Norma Whiting

‘Moviecide’ in Havana

Edison Movie House, converted to apartments and now in danger of collapse. (14ymedio)
Edison Movie House, converted to apartments and now in danger of collapse. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 March 2016 — In its primetime broadcast on Tuesday, The Cuban Television National News (NTV) released a report by journalist Milenys Torres about what were once called “neighborhood theaters,” most of which are entirely shut down or intended for other “social functions.”

With that deviousness that characterizes official journalism and allows reporters to skirt the periphery of the information without committing to the causes or the solutions, Torres briefly interviewed several locals and showed pictures of some of the theaters that once proliferated in the Cuban capital. Since the latter part of the 20th century, they have been closed and have been turning into unsanitary landfills that are infecting neighborhoods and creating sources for disease. Continue reading “‘Moviecide’ in Havana”

Rats, cockroaches and other vermin swarm among sewage leaks and all kinds of filth in places where we Havana citizens used to enjoy an occasional movie, a wholesome entertainment that was cheap and accessible in our own neighborhoods.

No movie theatre management, regardless of the causes, was able to decide, unilaterally and without consultation, on closing down the theaters and throwing away the key

During the Republican era, the great American influence made us avid movie buffs, and we were used to “keeping up” with all film production, not only from Hollywood, but also from Europe and Latin America. From then until the 1980s, the general public in Cuba had the same access to a first-run American movie, a Mexican drama or a French comedy, while the most demanding would enjoy New Wave, Swedish or German movies, among other treats. Of course, Soviet and other Eastern European cinematography also had its glory days in Havana movie theatres.

Although many times, and over a long period, the independent press has dealt very critically with the issue of vanishing Havana movie houses, the recent NTV report tries to present it as a priority of the official press and as if the event had taken place only yesterday and not three decades ago.

Milenys Torres introduces the news almost candidly from the landfill that the old Duplex and Rex Cinemas have become, in the midst of a boulevard in Centro Habana, using an ambiguous phrase that diffuses responsibility in a vacuum: “It is said that it all began when the air conditioning broke down and the movie house was closed.”

But it so happens that all Cuban movie houses have been state-owned since the Revolutionary government nationalized them, also monopolizing film production. No movie theatre management, regardless of the causes, was able to decide unilaterally and without consultation, on closing down the theaters and throwing away the key. Neither should the responsibility be shunned by the Comunales (the local People’s Power organizations), municipal political management entities, and instances of Public Health – all of them State-run institutions – for the loss of those cultural places and the steady accumulation of all kinds of refuse that affect not only the physical aspect but the health of such a densely populated environment.

Making an incomplete list of some neighborhood movie theaters that have been closed, just in the municipalities of Habana Vieja and Centro Habana, the list speaks volumes.

Spirituality and culture did not put food on the tables of a population uniformed in poverty

Besides the movie theatres mentioned above, the following movie theatres no longer exist in Centro Habana: The Majestic and The Verdún (Consulado Street), and The Neptune and Rialto cinemas (street of the same name), The Caprí – later renamed Mégano – and the The Campoamor (corner of Industria and San José, the last one in ruins). The Cuba and The Reina (Reina Street), this last one being used by a dance group, The Jigüe and The América (Galiano Street), currently used for musical shows, The Pionero (San Lázaro Street), The Findlay (Zanja Street), and The Favorito, the current headquarters for another dance group.

The moviecide is repeated In Old Havana, although this municipality never had the large number of theatres that Centro Habana had. Movie houses Guise, Negrete and Fausto (Prado Street) disappeared, as did The Ideal (Compostela Street). The Actualidades (Monserrate Street) remains in operation, but is markedly deteriorated, while The Universal (Bernaza Street) is a ruin converted into a parking lot, and The Habana (Mercaderes Street, Plaza Vieja) was rescued and converted into a Planetarium by intervention of the Office of the City Historian.

While new technologies have brought to households the opportunity to enjoy movies at home, in the rest of the world they have contributed to the closure of old, big theaters which have been transformed into smaller spaces to accommodate fewer spectators. The initial causes of the closure of Cuban cinemas run counter to technological developments, although multiplying the offerings.

The deep unprecedented economic crisis that followed the collapse of socialism and the sharp drop to a situation of survival took precedence over cultural and recreational matters. All of Cuba, and especially the capital, were overwhelmed by emergencies such as food, health and material shortages of all kinds. Spirituality and culture did not put food on the tables of a population uniformed in poverty.

On the other hand, political power began to be questioned in homes and even in public spaces, whether in a covert way, as in the isolated outbreaks of public discontent. Many of these outbreaks occurred precisely in cultural places. On one occasion, when images of Fidel Castro appeared in newsreels, viewers broke out chanting a popular hit song – just released in a Cuban rock-opera – whose lyrics repeated in crescendo “That man is crrrazzzy!” The movie house ended up being emptied by police, though there were no arrests, and no subsequent showings of the newsreel were aired.

The theaters were centers of potential disorder and anti-government political expressions

The authorities thus found out that movie theatres – being public places, where the public congregated and were protected by the anonymity of darkness – were potential centers for disorder and anti-government political expressions, which could easily get out of official control, so they stationed plain-clothes State Security and uniformed police agents in all movie houses.

Deliberately, as the cinemas were deteriorating, they were closed “for repairs” that never took place, until the theatres were sacrificed on the altar of ideology.

Years later, when a handful of private entrepreneurs started up small theaters, they were quickly forced to shut down by the authorities. The State was not able to meet the demands of Cuban moviegoers, but it would not allow public movie transmission out of its exclusive control: nothing could escape the Revolution’s rigid sieve of cultural policy arranged in 1961 by its supreme leader.

Currently, a few State projection rooms have been renovated and adapted to new trends. These are, for example, The Multicine Infanta in Centro Habana; or The Fresa y Chocolate Theatre in the heart of El Vedado. Yet the feverish movie-goer activity that developed in the shadow of the lavish theaters of Havana seems to have disappeared forever. Only, unlike countries where new technologies have brought the glamour of movie viewing to domestic spaces, Miledys Torres’ report is hypocritical and inopportune, when she questions the calamitous state of this or that movie house.

The official journalist seems to be asking naively: “Who shut down the movie houses?” She might find the answer parodying playwright Lope de Vega, but inversely. Because, in this Cuban movie-buff drama we are not only before the consecration of abuse of power, but the culprit was not Fuenteovejuna*, but precisely the Commendador.

*Translator’s note:Fuenteovejuna is a Lope de Vega 1614 comedy of the genre “Comendador” depicting conflict between villains and noblemen, abuse of power and finger-pointing.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The New York Times, a Branch of Granma / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Headquarters of The New York Times (Photo: wikipedia.org)
Headquarters of The New York Times (Photo: wikipedia.org)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 9 March 2016 – The New York Times (NYT) has just dedicated a new editorial to Cuba. Or, to be more accurate, the article, signed by Colombian Ernesto Londoño, makes a whole accolade about what he — and perhaps the executives of that influential newspaper — depict as the beginning of a process of freedom of expression on the island.

And the unusual miracle of opening up which was announced triumphantly has been taking place just “since the United States began to normalize relations with Havana in late 2014.” So, magically, by the grace of Barack Obama’s new policy, “Cubans have begun to debate subjects that were once taboo, and to criticize their government more boldly.” (Oh, thank you, Barack. Cubans, always so incompetent, will be forever grateful to you!). Continue reading “The New York Times, a Branch of Granma / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

Unfortunately, such sublime journalistic purpose is truncated because of the obtuse ignorance editorialists and publishers have about Cuban history and reality. In fact, from his first paragraph, Londoño’s forced rhyme to “illustrate” Cuban advances in matters of freedom of expression could not have been any more unfortunate: “In the past, when a Cuban athlete disappeared during a sporting event abroad, there was no official acknowledgement or any mention of it in the State media.”

Then he refers to the recent extent of athletes defecting, starring with brothers Yulieski and Lourdes Gourriel — two young baseball stars who escaped the Cuban delegation during its stay in the Dominican Republic — as “an episode that illustrates how citizens in the most repressive country in the hemisphere are increasingly pushing the limits of freedom of expression”.

This New York Times apprentice is either misinformed or totally clueless, because all Cubans on the island, especially those of us born soon after that sadly memorable 1st of January 1959, are aware of the numerous official statements of the National Institute of Sports, Physical Education and Recreation (INDER), a repudiation of what the Cuban government qualifies as defection of athletes who sell themselves to the powers of capital. Who in Cuba does not remember the deep voice and the indignation of the newspaper commentator and sports broadcaster, Héctor Rodríguez, now dead, reading passionately those intense pamphlets against the traitors?

Such official statements have certainly not been released each time a desertion has occurred, but definitely every time they have turned out to be extremely outrageous and blatant, as with the recent case of the Gourriel brothers.

Another noteworthy aspect is the NYT’s overvaluing of the role of the U.S. government “to reduce the culture of fear and the obedience that the State has long-used to control its citizens,” which has resulted in, “Today, a wider section of Cuban society is speaking with less fear.” It would seem that the efforts of opponents, dissidents, independent journalists and other civil society organizations, as well as the natural wear and tear of a whole society subjected to decades of deprivation and deceit by a ruling elite, has achieved absolutely nothing.

Of course, nobody with a modicum of common sense would deny the influence any political change of a U.S. administration has on Cuba, especially when all of the Cuban dictatorship’s foreign (and domestic) policies have based their central axis on its dispute with the U.S. Personally, I am among those opponents who support a policy of dialogue and reconciliation, since the conflict of over half a century did not produce any results, and it is still too early for the Obama policy towards Cuba to be classified as a “failure.” In political matters, every process needs a time period to reach fruition, and we should not expect major changes in just 14 months of dialogue between parties to a half a century of conflict.

However, to grant the new position of the White House the ability to open democratic spaces of expression within Cuba in that short period of time is wrong, irrational, and even disrespectful. Not only because it distorts reality and deceives the American public, but because it deliberately fails to acknowledge the work of many independent journalists who have pushed the wall of silence that has surrounded the island for decades, reporting on the Cuban reality, and who have suffered persecution, imprisonment and constant harassment for their actions, by the repressive forces of the regime.

Nevertheless, the real latent danger in the biased NYT editorial is its presenting as champions of freedom of expression those who are useful tools of the regime in its present unequivocal process of mimicry: the pro-government bloggers, a group that emerged in the shadow of official policy as a government strategy to counter the virulent explosion of independent bloggers that began in 2007 and that two years later had grouped in the Voces Cubanas blogger platform, the access to which from Cuba was immediately blocked by the government.

Blogger Harold Cárdenas, who is Mr. Londoño’s chosen example of a critic of the Castro autocracy, is actually what could be defined as a “Taliban-light,” equivalent to a believer convinced of the superiority of the Cuban system, disguised as a critic. If the Castro dictatorship has any talent, it is the ability to adapt to each new circumstance and survive any political upheaval, a quality that allows it to manipulate the discourse and elect its “judges” at each new turn.

In the present circumstances of non-confrontation with the Empire, Hassan Pérez, an angry and hysterical beefeater, now disappeared from the scene, would be out of the question. Instead, someone like Harold Cárdenas is ideal: he is reasonably disapproving, moves within government institutions (so he’s controllable) and knows exactly where the line that cannot be crossed is. Additionally, sensible Harold remains safely distant from all the independent press, and he uses the same epithets to refer to it as does the government: “mercenaries at the service of imperialism,” or “CIA agents.”

Another dangerous illusion is the alleged existence of a “progressive wing” within the spheres of power in Cuba, to which — according to what Londoño stated in the NYT — Harold Cárdenas is closely related. On this point, the utter lack of journalistic seriousness of the NYT is scandalous. The myth of a “progressive” sector as a kind of conspirators — which is actually a host of opportunistic individuals — close to the tower of power, waiting for the chance to influence changes in Cuba, has been spreading in the media outside the island for a long time, but, so far, this is mere speculation that has no basis whatsoever.

In addition, it is unacceptable to limit the hopes of a better future for Cubans from the inferred recognition of those who are the currently close supporters of the regime. No change in Cuba will be genuine unless it includes as actors, in all its representation and variety, the independent civil society and all Cubans on the island and the diaspora. Nor will there be true freedom of the press as long as the dictatorship is allowed to select its “critics” while it punishes independent thinking of any fashion.

As for the imaginary meetings at all the universities in the country to discuss the political future of Cuba, this is the most fallacious thing that could have occurred to Mr. Londoño, and it exposes a huge flaw in the credibility of the NYT. Could anyone seriously believe that the Cuban dictatorship would allow questioning of the regime within its own institutions? Could it be perhaps that Londoño and the NYT managers have shattered in one fell swoop the Castro principle that “universities are for revolutionaries”?

But none of this is really a surprise. The prelude started in October, 2014, when an avalanche of NYT editorials was written by Ernesto Londoño, noting that it was time to change U.S. policy towards Cuba, an idea I share in principle, but for very different reasons and arguments as those the NYT advocates. Two months later, the restoration of relations would be announced.

By then, Londoño and his employers didn’t remotely have a clue of the Cuban reality; neither do they have any now. But what has become a conspiracy against the rights of Cubans cannot be construed as naive or as good intentions gone astray. Perhaps it is time that this Latin American, whose will has been tamed so appropriately to the old northern colonial mentality, that which considers the people of the subcontinent incapable of self-achievement, should write about the serious conflicts of his own country of origin — which, paradoxically, are being decided in Cuba today — if he at least knows more about Colombian reality than Cuban.

Meanwhile, it appears that the peddlers of Cuban politics have managed to weave much stronger ties with the NYT than we imagined. No wonder NYT editorials seem to have turned that newspaper into the New York branch of Cuba’s State and Communist Party newspaper, Granma.

Translated by Norma Whiting

21st Century Socialism: Rest in Peace? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro, Nicolas Maduro, evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Daniel Ortega (clockwise from upper left)
Raul Castro, Nicolas Maduro, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, Daniel Ortega (clockwise from upper left)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 25 February 2106 — The crisis of the ghostly 21st Century Latin American socialism has been demonstrated once again with the negative outcome of the referendum on the reform of Bolivia’s constitution that sought to legitimize the candidature of Evo Morales in the 2019 elections. The controversial petty king aspired to remain screwed to the presidential armchair at least until 2025… but most of his countrymen, including native ethnic groups, have given him the brush-off.

So far, and despite the maneuvers that — according to what opposition sectors of the Andean country claim — the Morales government is taking advantage of to reverse its resounding defeat, everything indicates that the NO vote is irreversible.

Within a few months, the decline of the leftist leadership — which started in Argentina with the fall of Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner in the presidential elections, followed by the loss of Chavismo in last December’s parliamentary elections in Venezuela and now with the refusal to allow Evo to hijack power in Bolivia Continue reading “21st Century Socialism: Rest in Peace? / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

— shows plainly that the lifetime aspirations of the leaders of XXI century socialism are being left in the lurch.

With this new knockout to the Hemisphere’s progressive leaderships, it has been demonstrated that, in actuality, populism movements with Castro-Chávez-Marxist leanings are neither all that popular nor have they brought with them the changes that voters were hoping for, including the poorest sectors, the supposed “beneficiaries” of “the model.” The rejection by the majority of citizens of the new and, paradoxically, the already exhausted paradigm, makes clear a truism: the neoliberalism of the ‘90s deepened the schism between the richest and the poorest of this continent, heightening the deep social conflicts and ruptures that have historically marked relations between governments and the governed. This gave way to the emergence of socialism of the XXI century, but, before long, it became clear that it is not the holy ointment to heal all of the region’s ills. Instead, it makes them worse.

The late Hugo Chávez was the highest representative of the model he attempted to implement, and it is expected that, together with his model, another ghostly excrescence will also disappear: ALBA, the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America, currently unmentioned, as a relative who has brought disgrace to the family. ALBA is a colossal pipedream, devised by the leader from Barinas himself in a recipe inspired by unadulterated selfishness, a mixture of leftist ideology, anti-imperialism, egotism, messianic in nature and spiced throughout with plenty of corruption. A pipedream stirred into the sea of ​​oil taken from Venezuelans for more three decades with the sole purpose of artificially supporting allies in the region, something that has become unsustainable in the current economic crisis in Venezuela, the largest in its history, born in the shadow of the doctrine of the new socialism.

Without a doubt, the matrix of the radical left has been taking on setbacks of late, almost without pause: scandals involving corruption, drug trafficking, influence peddling, patronage and other similar bits and pieces that keep many leaders under the magnifying glass of public opinion. It’s not so easy to keep people’s eyes under wraps. It is no wonder that the effusive president of Ecuador, Rafael Correa, has discreetly lowered his profile, putting away his fervent speech for some other symbolic occasion. The Central American drunkard, Daniel Ortega, is also not being seen around much these days. It’s not a good time for the leaders of the operetta.

However, it is still too early to place the tombstone on the tragic fate of 21st century socialism. At least we Cubans know very well how not to underestimate the capacity for survival, not of populist-type ideologies, so entrenched in Latin American veins, but in its “idiocrats” (or should I say idio-rats).

Behold smart aleck octogenarians of the Palace of the Revolution in Havana, who have had so much to do with the harmful leftist regional epidemics. They have been keeping anti-imperialist trappings under their thrones to enter into friendly lobbying ­precisely with “the natural enemy of the people,” Yankee imperialism.

And so, while Cristina has vanished from the political scene, Maduro continues his hysterical tantrum in the swampy Venezuelan panorama, and Evo seeks solace for Sunday’s setback, ruminating one after another his coca leaves in the Palacio Quemado, [The Bolivian Government Palace], the druids of the olive green gerontocracy are decked out in their finery, ready to receive the highest representative of the brutal capitalism whose hard currencies leftist leaders are so attracted to.

Of course, we should not be suspicious. Perhaps it is not a betrayal on the part of Cuba’s General-President and his claque of Marxist and Castro-Chavista principles in Our America, as claimed by some of the ill-intentioned, but a reshuffling of the action in view of the new circumstances. Over half a century of experience as successful pedigree conspirators supports the survivors of these chameleonic “Marxists.” We’ll see how they will recycle slogans and anthems of the proletarian Internationale as soon as leaders of the Castro regime succeed in laying their hands on dollars, since, when it is all said and done, it seems that the end does justify the means.

Because, without exaggerating, the so-called “socialism” with an autocratic soul is like a disease that cannot be cured and often kills. It’s like a mutant virus that changes in appearance and succeeds in multiplying in order to continue making human societies sick. The bad news for Cubans is that such an infection is cured only with a strong dose of democracy, a medication that has been in short supply in Cuba for more than six decades.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Guidelines: Prolonging the Scam / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

President Raul Castro at the inauguration of the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.
President Raul Castro at the inauguration of the Sixth Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba.

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 1 March 2016 — A few weeks before the much heralded 7th Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), and half a decade since the Guidelines for the Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution were adopted on 18 April 2011, only 21 % of the 313 Guidelines have been “implemented,” while 77% “are in the process” of implementation.

These figures were announced during the 13th Plenum of the Central Committee of the PCC (Granma, 15 January 2016, front page), within the framework of the “assessment of the documents to be discussed” at the Seventh Congress, and the information does not specify which Guidelines are now in effect, nor in which sphere of the country’s life one can see the results, nor which are “in process,” nor how much time it will take for the complete consummation of this theoretical-spiritual guide destined “to guarantee the continuity and irreversibility of Socialism, Continue reading “The Guidelines: Prolonging the Scam / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

the economic development of the country and the living standards of the population, combined with the necessary formation of the ethical and political values of our citizens,” quoting verbatim from the text of the Resolution approved by the 6th Party Congress.

Five years later the economic development of this country continues to remain an unattainable aspiration, people’s standard of living is declining every day, and the only thing that is irreversible is the poverty and loss of values in society. Few Cubans have any idea of the content of the Guidelines and virtually no one is interested in them.

While those 313 points were, in their time, the closest thing to a government program, ordinary Cubans have their own individual agendas, and barely two specific guidelines – not necessarily mutually exclusive – have been complied with, without the need of any guidance from the PCC and or the need to contain them in the official text: survive and migrate.

However, despite the tedium provoked by the comically hackneyed syntax of the official document, it is critical to read and analyze it if you want to follow with some degree of approximation the erratic voyage of this shipwrecked vessel, still nicknamed the Cuban Revolution.

In fact, the Guidelines, which the general-president presented at the time as the recipe for success of the much vaunted updating of the model, are currently the written acknowledgement of the irreversibility of the crisis of Castro-style socialism.

It is sufficient to review subheadings I and II relating to the domestic economy – Model Economic Management (Guidelines 1 to 37), and Macroeconomic Policies (Guidelines 38-71), respectively – to confirm the inability to achieve progress based on the renewal of the obsolete “model” and the now dead-in-the-water principle of centralized state planning, that turns its back on the natural mechanisms of the market.

Meanwhile, following a logical principal, one might assume that the Guidelines had been structured following a priority order, taking into account first the issues most urgently in need of solutions to begin to overcome the current problems of the Cuban reality. That is, it would be rational to assume that the first Guidelines to be stated should also be the first to be implemented.

But in practice, this is not the case. Strictly speaking, it should be noted that other problems of the utmost urgency have not been solved, and appear to be enunciated at the bottom of the list. For example, transport policy is formulated in sub-heading 10 (Guidelines 269-286), while the 11th and penultimate subheading contains the thorny and critical issue of housing (Guidelines 292 to 299).

We could talk until the end of time about the 313 Guidelines and their demonstrated ineffectiveness, although no Cuban with a minimum of common sense placed the slightest hope in that bulging declaration of government intentions. Nor could the general-president have been so naïve as to believe in his own scam.

In reality, the Guidelines have never ceased to be the script of a government pantomime to entertain public opinion and gain time. What’s more, one can anticipate with zero margin of error that, given their irrelevance, the upcoming 7th Congress of the Cuban Communist Party will not be given a detailed report or a balance sheet regarding the completion of that insignificant (and doubtful) 21% of the Guidelines applied to date.

Today, when the cost of living continues its unstoppable ascent, making the differences between Cubans’ purchasing power and the price of food and basic necessities irreconcilable, and while government pandering intensifies as it sells to the highest foreign bidder – provided they pay in cold hard cash – that beautiful but poor prostitute that is Cuba, one must ask the general-president when he will implement at least Guideline 55, the one that will finally unify into a single currency the two false ones that divide Cubans into two well-defined groups: those who have and can, and those who don’t. A distortion whose only present purpose is to mask the colossal inflation that exists on the island for which there is no solution proposed in any of the 313 Guidelines.

The Fable of Miguelito and His "Haier" Chinese Refrigerator / Miriam Celaya

Old fridges being taken away (Claudia Cadelo)
Old fridges being taken away (Claudia Cadelo)

Miriam Celaya, Sin Evasion (Without Evasion), 15 February 2016 – This Sunday in February, Saint Valentine’s Day, my neighbor Miguelita was overjoyed, although it was not exactly because of it being day of love. He had just finished paying for his Haier refrigerator, made in China, that he had acquired almost a decade earlier by the work and grace of the last sub-revolution orchestrated by the Revolutionary-in-Chief, Castro I shortly before he abandoned the podiums and microphones for good; this particular sub-revolution was known as the “Energy Revolution.”

Admittedly Miguelito, an exceedingly honest type, has not skipped even one of the payments for this “drizzle” refrigerator, as these appliances were popularly baptized due to the continuous streams of water that flood their interiors. It is said that no one, of those who “benefited” from one of these cold artifacts, finished paying the modest bill for the equipment, barely 6,000 Cuban pesos (equivalent to 250 Cuban convertible pesos – CUCs), paid through direct withholding from the monthly salary of those who work for the State. It is also said that there were exceptional cases of those who paid cash for the new equipment, in order to further reduce the cost of the appliance. Continue reading “The Fable of Miguelito and His "Haier" Chinese Refrigerator / Miriam Celaya”

As was common in project spushed by Castro I, the scenic unfolding of his delusions amply justified any waste. So, as long as the energy campaign lasted there was a gigantic mobilization of inspectors, police, social workers, delivery trucks, members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, student helpers, carting stuff off to the dump – how many other 21st century Alladin fans – in the replacement of old equipment for new.

The purchase of electrical generators that were placed in different localities, as well as the distribution of rice cookers, electric stoves, and other equipment, to thousands of nuclear families, along with the substitution of old Soviet- or US-made electrical appliances, for new more energy efficient Chinese equipment, unleashed a kind of modernizing frenzy throughout the capital.

Those were the times in which tens of thousands of incandescent bulbs were collected from Cuban homes by contingents of “social workers” – the standard bearers of the occasion, today extinct – and “energy-saving bulbs” were handed out. Meanwhile thousands of Soviet air conditioners were dismantled, even though they were still working, and their owners were given new Chinese equipment.

And as also used to happen in all Castro I’s out-of-control campaigns, speculation broke out and we saw traffickers proliferate – especially among the social workers and inspectors assigned to the sacred mission of the moment – dedicated to the illegal sale of those old Russian and American refrigerators, which were collected from homes. For an additional “under the table” payment, you could even switch out a refrigerator or air conditioner that had been broken for a long time.

No one knows exactly what that last Delirium-of-the-Unnamable cost in hard currency. It is true that the old appliances were large consumers of energy, and at that time with Venezuela’s generosity Chavista oil flooded the Cuban horizon, allowing the government a populist campaign of great magnitude. However, still today the cost of such a mass mobilization is unknown, as is the amount of debt acquired from China, provider of new equipment, or the payments committed to this Asian nation, usurer par excellence.

Nor is it known the fate of tens of thousands of wrecks removed from homes and transported, with few controls, to dubious warehouses by flotillas of state trucks.

Either way, and as had happened with the massive handout of bicycles at the beginning of the ‘90s, Cubans’ enthusiasm for the Haiers was boundless, although most prefer not to remember that.

And given that Miguelito’s meager income, as in so many other Cuban homes, did not enable him to pay the total for the refrigerator in cash, he chose to pay for his Haier in installments. With the natural mischievousness all natives of the island are believed to possess, and taking into account the age of the Great Orator – he assumed that “the process” of payment would last as long as what remained of that person’s life – the refrigerator would be extremely cheap: a period of a little more than eight years seemed so long to him, that Castro I would never end up collecting it, nor would he – Miguelito – end up paying it.

Simply, “there is not enough life span left for this.” And with a knowing wink he urged all the neighbors to choose this type of payment. “Don’t pay cash, don’t be dumb, this isn’t going to last that long!” Although many of the Haier refrigerators haven’t lasted that long either. In fact, Miguelito’s has already been repaired twice.

But this Valentine’s Day Sunday my neighbor just had a bitter surprise: as he was just leafing through the Juventud Rebelde (Rebel Youth) newspaper, where a photo on the front page showed the former Undefeated Commander, today a stooped old man with an perplexed gaze, next to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia who was visiting Havana, the motor of his Haier quit. His Chinese refrigerator stopped working – this time for good, according to a friend of his, a refrigeration technician, who came to look at it – exactly when had he made the last payment, of 60 Cuban pesos monthly over more than eight years, withheld from Miguelito’s salary at the bank.

Now, while lamenting his bad luck, my neighbor has found comfort in the teaching: “I should have known that old trickster wasn’t going to invest in anything that was capable of surviving him.” And he went to his mother’s house to pick up a Westinghouse American refrigerator, which she never wanted to exchange, and which she lent to her son to “resolve” things, until Miguelito could buy his own.

And from Claudia Cadelo on TranslatingCuba.com: More Refrigerator Stories

Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 1: Cold Water and Eternal Debt / Claudia Cadelo

Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 2: The arrival of the refrigerator / Claudia Cadelo

Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 3: The coming of the refrigerator (II) / Claudia Cadelo

Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 4: They finally arrived / Claudia Cadelo

Fun (or not!) with Fridges, Part 5: Rendering of Accounts (and refrigerator gaskets) / Claudia Cadelo

 

The Wrong Interlocutor / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

US President Barack Obama, this February. (WhiteHouse)
US President Barack Obama, this February. (WhiteHouse)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 February 2016 — More often than reason dictates – since the announcement of the restoration of relations between the governments of Cuba and the United States – statements, newspaper articles and even open letters have appeared taking to task president Barack Obama for a decision that some consider a political mistake, an excessive concession to the longest dictatorship in this hemisphere or, at best, naïve. There have even been those who have gone so far as to accuse the American president of orchestrating “a betrayal of democratic Cubans,” even if unaccompanied by arguments to support such an affirmation.

Without wishing to discuss the sovereign rights of each person to say what their own intellect dictates, it is noteworthy that the angriest complaints rest on questions that are not attributes exclusive to the president of the United States. Let’s take, for example, the issue of the relations themselves. Has this political rapprochement been more beneficial to the Cuban government, perhaps, than the acceptance and recognition it has had from other democratic governments? That is, countries such as Germany, Great Britain, France and Spain, among others, that have maintained relations with the Cuban dictator for years, and yet to date their governments have not received so many complaints on the part of those who indict president Obama for the same “crime.” Continue reading “The Wrong Interlocutor / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

Another interesting issue is the wave of anxiety over the lifting of restrictions on Americans’ visits to the island, and trading between US producers and Cuban companies, when for decades we have received millions of European and Canadian visitors and have traded with businesses in numerous democratic companies without, so far, raising so many hackles.

In fact, foreign investors have been active on the island since the nineties – among them the well-known entrepreneurs from our stepmother country, Spain, which have exploited native labor ad nauseam in flagrant violation of the laws of international entities that defend the rights of workers – and have offered the Cuban government greater profits than all the relaxations of the embargo pushed by the US administration.

I wonder why Cubans’ democratic longings have never been directed toward the politicians and businessmen of that nation, culturally and historically related to the island, and why it has never offered vertical and openly declared – or at least convincing – support for the struggle for democracy on the island.

Is the critical approach of Barack Obama to the Castro dictatorship morally more reprehensible than the flirting of Madrid’s Moncloa Palace with the Palace of the Revolution, or than the entertainment received by the general-president Castro II during his recent stay in France, cradle of modern democracy?

Was it not the Holy Father himself, the humble Francis, who gave major honors to the island satrapy by favoring the ex-president Castro I with a personal visit, while deliberately ignoring the repression of the dissidents, avoiding a meeting with representatives of civil society, and conveniently omitting any criticism of the deplorable state of human rights in Cuba?

However, with a persistence worthy of better causes, the critics of the current US administration maintain a moral blockade against Barack Obama, as if he should take responsibility for the history and destiny of a people that has been sufficiency irresponsible as to allow itself the sad eccentricity of supporting the longest dictatorship in memory in the Western world.

Recently in this newspaper, a letter was published where a Cuban directed four personal questions to President Obama (Four Questions For You, President Obama). These four questions summarize approximately the same complaints and demands of a great number of the resentful, who do not understand why the president of our northern neighbor “has taken no [effective] actions” to force the Cuban dictatorship to respect the democratic rights of Cubans, or why he has not done enough to guarantee the quality of life of the islanders since 17 December 2014, as if some of these issues were priorities or key issues for the president of a foreign country and not matters that we Cubans are capable of resolving ourselves.

Paradoxically, this young Cuban who says he “does not want to emigrate and dreams of a free, independent and democratic Cuba” has clearly subordinated Cuba’s national sovereignty to the will and decisions of that foreign government. Indeed, some patriots show themselves to be so passionately naive that one doesn’t know whether to give them a round of applause or burst into tears.

But this is how things are in these parts. There are also others abstractly flying an exacerbated civicism that falters, however, when they try to apply it to daily life. I wonder if this young man and so many other “demanding” Cubans here – in particular those who attend the meetings to nominate candidates or the so-called “Accountability Assemblies” – have had the courage to ask their representative what he or she is going to do to guarantee the human rights, freedom and prosperity of (at least) their neighbors and the community.

And taking the matter to a more individual level, how many of them ask themselves what they are doing to change the state of affairs in Cuba.

Personally, I have no demands of President Barack Obama nor to any specific foreign government. Most likely if I were in his shoes I would do the same: seek to safeguard the interests of my nation and my compatriots, as well as the safety of my loved ones. It is what I aspire to in a future Cuban president, when we live in a democracy. I suppose that Mr. Obama has every right from his own discernment to think: If Cubans in great enthusiasm applauded the installation of a dictatorship from before I was born, if they have chosen to escape it or to tolerate its excesses ad infinitum, who am I to assume the role of redeemer?

It seems cynical, and may be so, but if you look at it coldly, it’s reality. The Cuban dictatorship has done exactly what we have allowed it to do. And it will remain on the throne of power as long as it wants, not only for its own absolute power but because Cubans consent. For an autocracy to succumb there doesn’t have to be an assault on barracks or the unleashing of a war; it is enough to stop obeying it.

Until that happens, we can bombard Barack Obama or the next occupant of the White House with any questions we like; the truth is that the real answer is among ourselves.

The Dangerous World of Cuba’s Pushcart Vendors / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Pushcart vendor on a Havana street (CC)
Pushcart vendor on a Havana street (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 13 February 2016 — There is a great poster of general-president Raúl Castro on the façade of a private building in the heart of Central Havana. In the image, he is saluting, dressed in a military uniform, accompanied by the memorable phrase, extracted from one of his promissory speeches he made during his era as an imitation reformist: “Those who are committed to demonize, criminalize and prosecute the self-employed chose a path that, in addition to being mean, is ludicrous because of its untenable nature. Cuba is counting on them as one of the engines of future development, and their presence in the urban landscape is clearly here to stay.” As it is customary to those among his caste, the general was lying, and of those intended engines of future development only a few remain, trying to survive with much difficulty and almost furtively.

However, under the mantra placed in the shadow of their modest Havana trade, those mistaken sellers believe they will be protected from the whims of a regime well versed in denying its own creations, either because they don’t properly subordinate themselves to the interests they were created for, or for considering them to be a potential threat to its supremacy. Is the same simulation game that propelled thousands of self-employed to join the apocryphal official union, which has turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the abuse of their members by the most powerful boss on this island, the State-Party-Government, from which no one is safe.

To hold such a conclave amid a starving population would be too cynical, even for the Cuban Government Continue reading “The Dangerous World of Cuba’s Pushcart Vendors / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

While there are fewer operations of confiscation and persecution against the merchants in the squalid private sector, in particular the popular vendors engaging in street selling of agricultural products, an occasional cart starts to appear timidly, usually at dusk, when the inspectors and heads of sectors of the uniformed police have concluded their workday.

According to unconfirmed rumors from official sources, many of the pushcart vendors affected by the crackdown in late 2015 and early 2016 have been informally allowed to trade again, though “quietly and low-key.”

A survey conducted in several districts of the populous municipality of Central Havana is able to prove the effect of the bellows technique — stretch and loosen – that the authorities usually apply, where each raid is followed apparent tolerance, under the careful eyes of the guardians of system, in part to control both the boom of the emerging sector sellers who have proven to be highly competitive against the State sector, and partly to lessen the great popular discontent triggered by the sudden decrease in the flow of food available to feed families.

Some cell phone video images uploaded to the internet which were recorded by ordinary citizens, witnesses of the official crusade against pushcart vendors, have shown the public the true nature of the so-called “Raul reforms” the people’s disdain in the face of official abuse and of its repressive forces, and the spontaneous popular solidarity towards the sellers. New communications technologies, even in a country as disconnected from the web as is Cuba, make it increasingly difficult to peddle the old discourse of “good and fair government” and “happy Cubans.”

On the threshold of the Seventh Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba nothing is more inconvenient than to implement unpopular measures, particularly when the State is incapable of emulating, in terms of production and food trade, even the fragile self-employed sector. To hold such a conclave amid a starving population would be too cynical even for the Cuban government.

In Cuba, there is a diffuse band of tolerance between legality and crime, as the authorities see fit

For that reason, and without making much fuss, agents and government control officials have notified several pushcart vendors that they can once again sell their products, though they have not yet returned the licenses to the more obstinate ones from whom they were seized.

Yasser is one of them. Although he’s only 30, he has great work experience. He began working as a teenager, after quitting his studies at a technological institute due to poor economic conditions at home, where the only sources of income were his mother’s salary and his grandmother’s pension, a story that has become extremely common in Cuba.

“First I started as bicycle repairman, but I soon discovered that it was more profitable to buy and sell bicycles and spare parts than to be getting my hands dirty and breaking my back repairing old clunkers. That’s where I learned that my true calling was trade: the buying and selling and the constant and hard cash profits. I do my best work in trading,” he smiles, sure of what he is talking about.

When the bicycle business began to decline, he went to work with his uncle at a State agricultural cooperative, in the countryside. “I did not intend to work the land forever, but the agricultural trade interested me. After I stopped working in bikes, I had managed a vegetable stand for a while, through my uncle’s contacts, but it was risky and the profits were low, so I decided to learn more about the countryside and production management first hand. Meanwhile, I would develop a good network of contacts to use later, when I could have my own little business, which was my set idea.”

So that’s how it went. And Yasser, the young man from Havana did so well in that State cooperative he even got a license which legally certifies him as “delegate of the National Association of Small Farmers (ANAP),” a document that allows him to stock up on products sold in his pushcart as a self-employed person.

Now, with his peculiar charisma and his skills as a merchant, Yasser buys directly from a private producer and ships the products home using private transportation services. To avoid having the goods confiscated, he uses his card as “delegate of the ANAP” and an authorization from a bribed manager of a State co-op “that produces absolutely nothing” but that certifies that his products were bought from that co-op and are destined for a State Agricultural Market (MAE), or to some workplace, or any other place. With these papers of safe passage and his getup as producer, wearing a hat and high water galoshes up to his knees, embedded with mud from the furrows, Yasser has managed to survive in the dangerous world of private business.

General corruption in Cuba is, at the same time, the real support of the “economic model” and of the social balance, the trap that standardizes all Cubans as transgressors of the law

However, he knows perfectly well that he is teetering on a tightrope. In Cuba there is a diffuse band of tolerance between legality and crime, as suits the authorities. Simply put, if an administrator who signs his “passage” falls into disgrace, the chain of beneficiaries will also fall, including Yasser. General corruption in Cuba is, at the same time, the real support of the “economic model” and of the social balance, the trap that standardizes all Cubans as transgressors of the law. Anyone can end up in a dungeon.

“When this business with the pushcarts started, I thought it might be an opportunity for me. I really believed in the premise that, this time, we were really going to be respected as contributors, though my uncle kept telling me that the government was going to change gears and go in reverse, as always. I went as far as owning two carts, which my uncle and my cousin took care of, because I am the owner and the go-between at the same time, and I’m always going between the country and the city, getting the products. Now I only take this one out – he points to a simple chivichana [a rustic skateboard] loaded with the best tomatoes around town, at 12 Cuban pesos – and I am putting out the goods gradually. I do not want evil eyes on me, because, in the end, this business will also go bust, it will be one more deception. As my grandmother says, these people are a lost cause.”

It’s only been a few years since the false blessing of the self-employment industry workers, and the very Government has taken it upon itself to demonize, criminalize and prosecute them, belying its own discourse. “They do not even respect themselves, that’s why nobody believes them, nobody wants them and nobody respects them anymore.” says Yasser with what seems more like a pessimistic old man’s view than the words of a young 30-something. His disillusionment is, by far, the most authentic symbol of a society which has succumbed to the fatigue of almost 60 years of hypocrisy.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Twenty Independent Communicators to Consult in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas

ndependent Journalism. Illustration from "Another Waves" website
Independent Journalism. From “Another Waves”

Luis Felipe Rojas, 1 February 2016 — This list is not intended to be a “Top Ten,” as is so common on internet publications. The list of names that follows carries the history of the men and women who believe in words and images as a tool of liberation.

The independent journalists that appear below do their work in Cuba under the microscope of the apparatus of repression that we know as State Security.

Most of them suffer arbitrary arrests, they have spent long years in prison, they are violently detained, vilified and — paradoxically — are non-persons in government media. In the case of Jorge Olivera Castillo, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison in the “2003 Black Spring,” but he continues, unrepentant, to do alternative journalism. Continue reading “Twenty Independent Communicators to Consult in Cuba / Luis Felipe Rojas”

Another of those on the list is the blogger Yoani Sanchez who, among numerous international awards, holds the 2008 Ortega y Gasset Prize, given annual by the Spanish newspaper El Pais. Confirming her commitment to the journalism in which she believes, she founded the digital newspaper 14ymedio and 2014.

These are “ordinary” rank-and-file reporters, who get up each morning looking for news and accompany the victims of state bureaucracy — a way of doing journalism that has already gone on for three decades in the country, under the derision that arises from within the regime’s prisons.

I wanted to include here those who have specialized in the genre of opinion, thus helping to clarify what goes on within the country, but also preserving the sharp wit that has been missing for years in the journalism published on the island. The blame for this drought in opinion pieces is due to the jaws that are greased every morning in the offices of the Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba.

Good health for free and uncensored journalism!

Here is the list:

Regina CoyulaBlog “La Mala Letra”. BBC Mundo. La Habana.

Iván García. Diario de Cuba. Martinoticias. Diario Las Américas. La Habana.

Augusto C. San MartínCubanet. La Habana.

Serafín Morán. Cubanet. La Habana.

Ricardo Sánchez T. Cubanet. Bayamo, Granma.

Miriam Celaya14yMedio. La Habana.

Alejandro Tur V. IWP. Cienfuegos.

Juan G. Febles. Dtor Semanario Primavera Digital. La Habana.

Yoani Sánchez. Directora Diario 14yMedio. La Habana.

Iván Hernández Carrillo. Twittero. @ivanlibre Matanzas.

Yuri Valle.  Reportero audiovisual. La Habana.

Jorge Olivera Castillo.   Columnista opinión. Cubanet. La Habana.

Luz Escobar. 14yMedio. La Habana.

Luis Cino A. PD. Cubanet. La Habana.

Roberto de J. Guerra P. Dtor Agenc. Hablemos Press. La Habana.

Ernesto Pérez ChangCubanet. La Habana.

María Matienzo. Diario de Cuba. La Habana.

Bernardo Arévalo P. ICLEP. Aguada de Pasajeros. Cienfuegos.

Roberto Quiñonez H. Cubanet. Guantánamo.

Alberto M. Castelló. Cubanet. Puerto Padre. Las Tunas.

The Cuban Adjustment Act is not the Problem / Miriam Celaya

A foreign law is being held responsible for the solution of problems that are clearly national in their nature.
A foreign law is being held responsible for the solution of problems that are clearly national in their nature.

Miriam Celaya, Cubanet, Havana, 22 January 2016 – The imminent arrival in the US of thousands of Cubans stranded in Costa Rica has, once again, unleashed the debate whether the Cuban Adjustment Act its right or not, its original foundations, and opinions on whether Cubans who are exiting today should be considered political immigrants and, because of it, deserve to benefit from that law.

The subject stimulates strong feelings, as is always the case among Cubans, clouding objectivity and making it difficult to demarcate between legal matters, political interests, personal resentments and the purely human issue, which is ultimately what motivates all exodus, beyond particular circumstances marked by politics and economics. Continue reading “The Cuban Adjustment Act is not the Problem / Miriam Celaya”

Positions are usually polarized, unqualified and exclusive: they either favor the infinite arrival of Cubans to the US – particularly to Miami, the offshore capital of “all Cubans” – and the ‘irreversibility’ of the Cuban Adjustment Act, as a sort of divine right inherent to those born within the Cuban Archipelago’s 110,000 square kilometers, or they advocate the repeal of the law and limiting or cutting off aid to all those who arrive.

And, since anything goes when it’s time to taking advantage of the situation, the new migration crisis has also been seized by some Cuban-American politicians to stoke the embers against the move towards the warming of diplomatic relations with the Cuban government initiated by the White House, creating uncertainty about the possible disappearance of the Cuban Adjustment Act, and with it, the privileges Cuban immigrants to the US have enjoyed.

Unfortunately, this approach overlaps the real cause of the growing exodus out of Cuba: asphyxia, decay, and condemnation to eternal poverty under an obsolete and failed sociopolitical system thrust on them almost 60 years ago. With or without the Cuban Adjustment Act, Cubans will continue to emigrate, either to the US or to any other destination, which is evident in the existence of communities of Cuban emigrants in countries where there are no Adjustment Act Laws from which they might benefit.

Ergo, the controversial Law – which, by the way, the Cuban authorities did not even mention during the honeymoon days with the Soviet Union – is an undeniable part of the problem, but not the most important one, so that its repeal will not constitute the solution to the unstoppable flow of people from Cuba.

In fact, we can categorically state that if the legislation should disappear, Cubans will not give up on their desire to enter US territory, and, once in the US, they would survive in illegality, just as millions of “undocumented” Latin-American immigrants have done.  Haven’t we been trained for decades here in Cuba, where everything good seems to be prohibited, to survive in illegality in a thousand different ways?

The “legitimate” children of the Cuban Adjustment Act

It is difficult to objectively review a legal tool that has protected so many fellow Cubans. But when we talk about the Cuban Adjustment Act itself, we inevitably recall the causes and circumstances that gave rise to it.

Enacted in 1966, the Act gave legal status to a large number of Cubans who had been forced to flee Cuba, many of whom had been affected by revolutionary laws or had serious accusations hanging over them, either for real or alleged collaboration with Batista or other crimes considered ‘against’ the triumphant Castro revolution.

We must recall that, back then, the firing squad was still the usual sentence applied to “traitors” by the guerrilla gang that took power in 1959. Punishable categories could equally include being members or supporters of the former dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, and being participants in the revolutionary struggle that opposed Fidel Castro’s turn to communism, some of whom returned to armed struggle as a form of rebellion and were defeated.

Cuban exiles of the ‘60s were mainly families of the upper and middle classes of the bourgeoisie who had been economically affected by nationalizations and other “revolutionary” measures, and whose interests were incompatible with the political line taken by the Cuban government.

And it must be noted that when they left Cuba they were stripped of all their rights by the Cuban revolutionary laws.  From a legal point of view, returning to Cuba was not an option for them. Thus, the Cuban Adjustment Act was created to resolve the legal limbo in which these early Cubans were living, when, seven years into the Castro regime, all indications were that their return to Cuba would be more protracted than previously anticipated.

The rest of the story is well known. A law arising for the benefit of Cuban political exiles in the heat of the Cold War evolved into a standard when it extended to every Cuban who sets foot in the US, even though most of them arriving today do not consider themselves as politically persecuted by the Castro dictatorship.

 “I’m going there to do my own thing”

None of the phases of the long Communist experiment in Cuba have been without migration. With its peaks and valleys, the outflow was an important sign of the history of the Cuban nation in the last 57 years under the same government and the same political system.

Current circumstances, however, are not the same as those that existed as the backdrop of the migration of the 1960’s, the spectacular Rafter Crisis of 1994 or the colossal Mariel Boatlift of 1980, when the abuse of repudiation rallies, humiliation, and beatings promoted by the government, organized by the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) and the mass organizations are etched forever in the memories of both those who left and those who stayed.

Cubans who fled in the early years of the Revolution suffered a complete break with what was their way of life in Cuba and were stripped of property and rights as nationals. They endured the condemnation of those who are exiled without the possibility of returning to their homeland for decades, by which time many of them or their family members who stayed behind had died, without even being able to say goodbye. They were the direct victims of the political system that some of them had even helped bring to power. What is clear is that in the last four or five years the reality has changed, and so has the perception that the current emigrés have about their own situation.

Cubans who emigrate today not only define themselves mainly as having economic motives, but under Cuba’s migration reform of 2013 they preserve both the rights to their property and the right to enter and leave Cuba within 24 months, plus at least the minimum rights that are enshrined in the Cuban Constitution.

A great part of them have declared that their intention to emigrate was so they could improve their material living conditions and help their family in Cuba – that is precisely the same aspirations of millions of Latin-Americans – and they even repeat that everlasting, all-knowing phrase, so often heard around here: “I don’t care about politics, I’m going there to do my own thing.”

And, indeed, once they have obtained their legal residence (the famous “green card”), they begin to travel to Cuba before the expiration of the two-year grace period granted to them by the Cuban government to preserve their rights as natives of the dilapidated island hacienda. “Fears” of reprisals from the Castro regime that they were experiencing when applying under the Cuban Adjustment Act abruptly and magically disappear, once they qualify.

This is a triple benefit: for Cuban emigrants because they get favored twice, with the Cuban Adjustment Act and with Raul’s immigration reform, and for the Cuban government, because migration has become one of the few sources guaranteeing steady net income and constant foreign currency inflows.

After that, privileges to fast legal access to work, a Social Security number, food stamps and other benefits received because of their alleged condition as “persecuted,” in reality becomes a kind of legal scam of the public treasury to which taxpayers contribute, especially Americans who have nothing to do with the Cuban drama. This is the essential argument used by those who believe that the time has come to – at least – review the Adjustment Act and modify it so that it can accommodate only those who can reasonably be regarded as “political refugees.”

But the biggest trap of the Adjustment Act does not lie exactly in tending to reinforce the intangible (and false) Cuban exceptionalism, or in its current ambiguity or discretion that some future modification might grant it, but – just like happens with the embargo – its real inconvenience resides in making a foreign law responsible for the solution of problems that are clearly national in their nature.

Once again, the quest for solutions to the eternal Cuban crisis is placed on the shoulders of legislators and other foreign politicians, a reality that is indicative of the pernicious infancy of a country whose children are incapable of seeing themselves as protagonists of their own destinies and thus, with a change in the rules of the game in their own country, opt to escape the miserable Castro paternalism in order to benefit from the generous kindness of US paternalism. Cubans, let’s stop going around in circles; the problem is not the Adjustment Act or the clique of politicians here, there, or yonder, but in ourselves.  It’s that simple.