Slaves in White Coats / Miriam Celaya

Cuban doctors arriving in Brazil. The joy of the escape.

Cuban doctors arriving in Brazil. The joy of the escape.

In the nineteenth century, slave crews were rented out after the harvest to other landlords, providing the slaves a few trifles. 

HAVANA, Cuba, Feb 12 — The recent “defection” of Cuban doctor Ramona Matos Rodríguez, who provided services in Brazil under an agreement signed between that country and Cuba, part of the program “More Doctors for Brazil” once again brings to the forefront the controversial topic of the exploitation of health professionals by the Cuban regime in its desperate race to obtain hard currency.

Matos’s claims are based on the deception which she stated she was victim of, since she was not aware of the two countries’ agreement providing for a monthly royalty payment equivalent to about $4000 per physician, of which Cuban doctors would only be paid $1000 each month, that is, approximately 25% of the total of the original contract.

Medical Sciences graduates. Professionals to export

Medical Sciences graduates. Professionals to export

In addition, the Cuban government would have violated the contract signed by doctors in Cuba prior to their departure to Brazil, since, in practice, they get just over $300 per month, while the Cuban bank holds back $600 to be accessed by the doctors with the use of a debit card on their return to Cuba three years after completing their “mission”.

A Longstanding Trick

The subcontracting system of Cuban doctors to other countries has become one of the most important sources of hard foreign currency for the Cuban government, plus an instrument of political manipulation for electoral purposes by some populist governments. In this sense, the olive-green caste behaves like the old slave-holding landowners in the nineteenth century Cuban sugar industry aristocracy, whose crews were rented out after the harvest to other landlords for dissimilar tasks, providing the slaves with a few coins of some other trifles. Continue reading

Raul Castro on a Tight Rope / Miriam Celaya

raul-castro-mano-en-el-cuelloRaul Cast has the choice to either deepen the openings or go backwards. In both instances, he will have to face the consequences.

HAVANA, Cuba, January. According to Castro II, the General-President, the seven years he has spent as head of government have been, according to his own express desire, barely a “period of experimentation”, in which he has been forced to relax existing laws in an agonizing effort to “update” — not reform — a model that had demonstrated obsolescence since its inception.

At first glance, it would seem that we are in a continuation phase of the experiment that started in January 1959, and the period between July 2006 and December 2013 is just “more of the same” as some like to repeat. But there are certain details that dramatically change the setting, inconsistent with the intentions of the official plan and the results of the experimentation.

Self-destruction

The fact is that the “Raúl” phase of the experiment surrendered the foundation over which Fidel’s revolution was erected (except, of course, the power of historical and social control mechanisms, such as the monopoly of the press, information and repression), placing us in front of a curious process of self-destruction of the system from which, subsequently, the same class would emerge at the helm, but in a different political system. We would be thus helping an “experiment” called sweeping the last remains of the paradigm of Marxist breath by the same class which imposed it, to reinstate a market economy, paradoxically intended to perpetuate the power of the supposed enemies of capitalism. Continue reading

ETECSA, the Beggar Phone Company / Miriam Celaya

clip_image002HAVANA, Cuba Just months after Graham Bell patented the telephone, an invention of the Italian Antonio Meucci, Havana hosted the first telephone conversation in Spanish, an event that took place in October 1877.

137 years after the event that would favor the island with the use of a device that definitively contributed to global development, and 132 years after the inauguration of the first telephone service in Havana, the monopoly of the totalitarian system of more half a century over communications and control of the telephonic infrastructure – besides being insufficient — has taken the Island to a brutal technological underdevelopment in this area.

On the other hand, cellular phone service, which has been implemented globally with all the features offered by the development of new information and communication technologies, remains a primitive and embryonic service on the Island, and despite that, extremely costly for most people.

Such a technological gap is not due entirely to the objective lack of capital on the part of the owner/State for investing in the necessary infrastructure to develop communications, but also to a policy bent on keeping Cubans outside sources of information and rights which in today’s world technology enhances. Continue reading

Spain Preaches Democracy in her Underwear / Miriam Celaya

ppcubaespana091112-300x192HAVANA, Cuba, December 2013 www.cubanet.org.- Some insist on denigrating us based on the longevity of the Castro dictatorship and our supposed inability to free ourselves from the yoke.

It is noteworthy that our most stubborn critics tend to be Spanish, which demonstrates not only faulty historical memory, but also the persistence of the type of the controversial love-hate relationship between Cuba and Spain, born centuries ago between a small colony that was able to thrive and generate great wealth thanks to Cubans’ tenacity, talent and labor and a decadent metropolis that -though one day it managed to own an empire “on which the sun never set”- never stopped being one of the poorest and most backward countries in Europe, an encumbrance lingering to date.

ManuelFragaFidelCastroRansesCalderio-300x217Perhaps the loss of Cuba in 1898, which marked the end of the once-great empire in whose dogged defense Spain squandered more resources and young Spanish lives than in the rest of the independence wars in other parts of Latin America, left a mark in its national psyche as the failure of the last stronghold of the Iberian symbol on this side of the Atlantic and the blow to her pride, finally defeated by the intervention of a nation that always valued work and technological advances more than titles of nobility, crests and coats of Arms: the United States. Continue reading

Vulgarity: The Revolution’s Bastard Child / Miriam Celaya

Acto-de-repudio-1“Reagan wears a skirt, we wear pants, we have a commandant whose balls roar! (revolutionary slogan made famous by Felipe Pérez Roque)

Sunday, January 19, 2014 | Miriam Celaya

Havana wakes up early, and before 8:00 am and there is a swarm of voices and movement. Old cars and buses rattle around the city, people crowd at bus stops and at the curb, the new day of survival sizzles. Just one block from Carlos III, a main avenue, dozens of teenagers huddle around the “Protest of Baraguá” middle school staving off morning classes as much as possible. Regardless of gender, lively, haughty, irreverent, almost all speak loudly, gesticulating and shouting from one group to another, from one sidewalk to another.

A neatly dressed and beautifully groomed student stands on her toes while she places her hands on either side of her mouth, like a megaphone:

“Dayáááán … Dayáááán ! Hey, you, don’t pretend you can’t hear me…I’m talking to you, what the f… is it with you?!”

The kid in question, half a block away, turns to the girl and laughs:

“Hey, Carla, what’s the problem? Did you catch the hash? Now you can’t stop itching and I gotta go and “scratch” it?”

“Oh, honey, you wish! You aren’t man enough for that!”

The brief dialogue is accompanied by exaggerated, lewd gestures.

Dayán approaches and they greet each other with a friendly kiss and much fondling. They join an adjacent group of classmates chattering among themselves. Every once in a while, strong words fly, like the morning sparrows in nearby trees. I look carefully at the big picture. Greetings among these young people can be a spank on the bottom, a kiss, or an expletive straight from a tavern of pirates, with an ease borne of habit. Continue reading

Happy 2014. And Sin EVAsion Turns Six / Miriam Celaya

Although several days late, I take advantage of a brief opportunity to connect to wish all readers a happy New Year and to wish them every success in 2014. As a special note, this blog is turning six years old around these days, so I intend to renew it in the coming weeks. I have been a bit away from this website due to other work commitments.

I was very busy during 2013 but greatly satisfied, including seeing the book Cuba in Focus published, which was co-edited by my colleagues Ted Henken and Dimas Castellanos and has come out in its English version. We aim to have it published also in Spanish, for better circulation in Cuba.

At any rate, we will continue move forward with our work, hopes and optimism.  I wouldn’t know how to face life in any other way. I will return soon, eager with new passing pursuits. Thanks and a big hug.

Translated by Norma Whiting

3 January 2014

The Continuity of Raul Castro / Miriam Celaya

fidel_raul_castro_JUNTOS-300x195HAVANA, Cuba , December, www.cubanet.org – After more than seven years since Castro I’s famous “Proclamation”, which marked his departure from the management of the government, Castro II’s performance has failed to find a path capable of leading to a happy port to end the cruise of a shipwrecked revolution.

A look at the socio-economic and political Cuban landscape lets us discern a confusing scenario in which no significant economic progress is taking place that allows for overcoming the permanent crisis, while the social sphere continues its decline, reducing the performance and quality of services, particularly in the areas of health and education, while, politically, the totalitarianism of the military elite continues. New regulations are being established that will attempt a “more flexible” system in order to wash the regime’s face and offer a gentler image outward, at the same time as repressive methods are increasing and extending inward, against dissident sectors and the general population.

The failure of the system has been sufficiently demonstrated after 55 years of dictatorship. However, the situation does not seem to point to its finale — in the face of the erratic government policies, the absence of independent institutions capable of influencing the most relevant changes and the lack of freedom of the press and information, among other factors — the reality provides an inaccurate picture in which the urgent need for radical change and the uncertainty about the future coexist simultaneously.

generales-1It is known that social transformations take place independent of the will of governments. However, these can slow or accelerate said processes. In Cuba, the tower of power has convincingly demonstrated its willingness to defer, as much as possible, a transition that would end up snatching its political power, so it is betting on a different type of strategy that will allow for its continuity beyond the changes that the system may undergo. A difficult challenge, but perhaps not so unlikely if -given the weakness of domestic civil society to prevent it- the international scenario feels complacent towards the regime or deems it propitious.

Post Totalitarianism

Many analysts agree in pointing out the unequivocal symptoms of the breakdown of the Cuban socioeconomic system as it existed under Fidelismo. Others, more optimistic, even claim that we are in a stage of post-totalitarianism. Right or not, the fact is that the Cuban reality is not the same as it was five years ago, and there is the impression that we are witnessing the end of a long period that will give way to a new era. For better or worse, Cuba is changing, but the relationship between the regime and society remain despotic and power at the top remains intact. What’s more, the historical gerontocracy seems to have found a way to perpetuate itself as a class by having mutated on itself, while avoiding a social mutation. Thus, two simultaneous and parallel systems are currently presiding in Cuba, wherein the rules of market economies, which benefits only the elite, coexists with a “socialist” distribution, which endangers the rest of Cubans. Such is the “transition” conceived by the government.

generales-2-300x237Now then, in its linguistic meaning, transition is the change from one mode or state to another one which is qualitatively different. In politics, it is the equivalent to the process of transformation from one system into another, and it has been widely used in the definition of a transition towards democracy after dictatorial governments or systems, independent of its duration and its varying repressive signs. Therefore, in the case of Cuba, it would mean a transition towards democracy, whose fruit would be the rule of law, with an inclusive constitution, not governed by political parties of ideologies of any kind, with separate powers and respect for social and individual rights, inasmuch as public power would be subordinate to a set of laws.

Autocracy in Perpetuity

Assuming this definition, it is obvious that the changes implemented based on the roadmap (“The Guidelines) born of the VI Congress of the PCC, don’t point towards a transition, but seek to legitimize the perpetuity of the autocracy. This is really an official strategy for sui generis continuity, where changes regulated by the government do not seek to preserve the system (so-called “socialist”) itself, but the political power and privileges of an elite class.

The success of this strategy would depend on the behavior of several factors, among which stand out, on the one hand, the growth and strengthening of the opposition and of independent civil society groups to the point of representing an alternative to power, and, on the other hand, the policies of democratic nations in their relation with the dictatorship or with the opposition. At present, the wear and tear of the regime and its lack of credibility are undermining its profile, both inside and outside Cuba, while the slow consolidation of the opposition and its related sectors does not indicate that foreign or domestic support will become more effective. This is equivalent to a relative stagnation in the overall situation, reflecting a precarious internal balance consisting in increases in social discontent, the growth of the opposition and its activities, and an increase of repression in varying degrees, from coercion to beatings, arrests and imprisonments.

In a general sense, and with Raul-style power nearing the end of its fifth year, the advances promised by the government have not taken place. Instead, Cubans feel that the grip of the general crisis of the system has worsened, while the government continues to score new failures in its main objectives: stopping and eradicating corruption, creating a strong inflow of hard currency and pushing forward the domestic economy, which not only makes an negotiated transition impossible to attain, but it also seriously undermines the aspirations for the continuity of the dictatorship.

Translated by Norma Whiting

From Cubanet, 17 December 2013

North Americans Eye Opener in Havana / Miriam Celaya

norteamericanos-dusfrutan-bandera-cubana-al-fondoHAVANA, Cuba, December, www.cubanet.org – During the days when the cruise ship Semester at Sea was anchored on Cuban territory, over 600 visitors, including students and teachers -mostly Americans– carried out a tight schedule of “meetings” with Cuban university students and toured “sites of historical and cultural interest”.

The December 11th edition of Granma published some of the opinions of the young northerners during “a brief meeting with reporters”: “I had never been so well received by the population as we were here,” commented a student from the University of Nebraska, while another one from the University of Virginia said that “Cubans are very welcoming”.
CUBA- UNIVERSITARIOS NORTEAMERICANOS DEL CRUCERO  SEMESTRE AT SEA VISITAN LA UNIVERSIDAD DE LA HABANABut according to some in Havana who tried to contact the visitors, there was a strong undercover operation, with agents dressed as fruit vendors, pedicab drivers and even “pompously attired mulatto women” -those who dress in costumes around Old Havana to entertain tourists- monitored the area the whole time the cruise ship was anchored at port.

Other undercover individuals were posing simply as regular Cubans. However, Cubans’ sense of smell was not fooled when it came to identifying members of the pack of hounds.

Cubans who were interviewed by the visitors in each of the official program activities were selected among the most loyal communist militants, while Castro journalists covered the visit with their usual triumphalism, as if this were about another one of Castro’s achievement.
Norteamericanos-escalerilla-cruceroBut despite the careful planning of the visit’s programming by the Cuban authorities in the interests of the government’s political promotional agenda, and despite the students’ lack of contact with the population or with the diverse independent civil society, a group of them, despite controls of the political police, attended songwriter Boris Larramendi’s concert offered at the home of Antonio Rodiles (Estado de Sats), where they held a live dialogue with those in attendance, according to testimony of blogger Walfrido López, who was later detained at a police station after being violently arrested along with Rodiles and other activists and dissidents.

These students heard first-hand testimonials from those who are vying for a new Cuba, and they learned of repression and terror. They were also witnesses of the repudiation rally organized outside the home of Rodiles, in which the authorities had no qualms about using elementary school children, high school teens, and musicians who are eager to keep their perks and travel privileges, as in the case of Arnaldo y su Talisman. Arnaldo may need a huge talisman someday to explain his criminal complicity with those who repress other Cubans.
norteamericanos-morro-al-fondoThere may probably be other trips and exchanges with these and other American students. Many of them reported the lack of information they have about the Cuban reality and about the true nature of the dictatorship. Hopefully these visits, laden with messages to the free world will recur. Totalitarian regimes don’t have antidotes against openness, and the satrapy will definitely not be able to keep hidden any longer the slavery and repression it has imposed upon Cubans for 55 years.

Miriam Celaya.

Translated by Norma Whiting

From Cubanet, 15 December 2013

Mandela: My Belated Personal Tribute / Miriam Celaya

Photograph from the Internet: No Comment.

Time goes on and the funeral of the famous first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, still occupies the pages of the press. Almost everyone feels indebted to praise the infinitely glorious Madiba, re-editing, in countless paragraphs, the deceased leader’s life and seeking to enhance his virtues persistently, to the point that we no longer know for sure if Mandela was a human being or a saint on earth. It is praiseworthy to remember with admiration and respect people who have realized valuable deeds, but I don’t personally react well to icons, paradigms or however they are defined.

Well, then, for all good things Mandela did for his people, for his example of relinquishing power when he could have retained it, due to his charm and charisma, his ability to forgive, so necessary and lacking among us, and all the good things he did throughout his long life, but I prefer to remember him as the man he was, an imperfect individual, as all of us human beings are, which puts him in a closer and more credible position in my eyes.

So, in the presence of so many stereotyped speeches and so much politicking brouhaha deployed at the funeral of a deceased who may have wished less fanfare, I decided to honor him in my own way: celebrating his existence because he lived to fulfill such lofty mission as freedom and justice for his people, during the pursuit of which he suffered repression and imprisonment, just as Cubans aspiring to the same ideals for their people are still suffering, as those who have lived in the confinement and injustices of a dictatorship not just for 27 years, but for over half a century.

But I will allow myself a special tribute to Madiba by modestly imitating him in forgiveness and reconciliation: I forgive you, Nelson Mandela, for the friendship with which you paid tribute to the vilest dictator my people has ever had, and for the many instances on which you exalted him and gave him your support. I forgive you for having been wrong in granting privilege to the oppressor instead of the oppressed, for placing your hand –redemptive for your people- on the bloodied shoulders of the one who excludes and reviles mine. I forgive your accolade to the myth that was built on violence, although you were a symbol of peace for humanity. I forgive you for having condemned us though you hardly knew us, forgetting the tribute in blood that my people made in Africa for which you, like a fickle mistress, thanked the satrap, who has never had the dignity to sacrifice himself for us, for you, or for your kind.

I forgive you, then, and I am reconciled with your memory to keep remembering and respecting the best in you. I know many, with vulgar hypocrisy, will demonize me for questioning you, but they won’t hurt me, because my soul is hardened by virtue of having been attacked and criticized before. It is my hope that this time my detractors will be so consistent with your preaching of kindness they seem to admire so much that they will eventually forgive me. May you also forgive this Cuban’s audacity and irreverence, who believes in the virtue of the good works of men, because she has no gods, but I was not able to resist the temptation to also utter what’s mine in the hour of your death.

And if either you or the mourners of the day won’t forgive me, I don’t care. At any rate, it will be further proof that, deep down, you’re not perfect; at least we’ll have that in common. Don’t take offense, in either case, you were a great person, and I will never match any of your many merits. Rest in peace, sincerely.

13 December 2013

CUBA IN FOCUS – New Book in English from “Our” Bloggers and Independent Journalists

CUBA IN FOCUS – New book edited by Ted A. Henken, Miriam Celaya, and Dimas Castellanos

Article by Ted Henken, from his blog, El Yuma

Those of you who follow me on Twitter @ElYuma will already know that just over a month ago ABC-CLIO published a new book about Cuba, called Cuba in Focus, that I am proud to have co-edited with Miriam Celaya and Dimas Castellanos. In 2008, I wrote a book entitled Cuba: A Global Studies Handbook, also published by ABC-CLIO.  However, when they approached me three years ago wanting to do a new edition, I responded that I had already said my piece on Cuba but that I would be interested in recruiting and collaborating with a group of Cubans from the island to do a new volume that would give voice to their own analysis of the Cuban Revolution and the heady changes (from above as well as from below) that have taken place there in the last five years.

This volume is the result!

Starting young with Uncle Ted!

We benefitted from the collaboration of a host of perceptive and pioneering authors and activists, most of whom actually live on the island today.  A full list is below in the table of contents, but some of the more notable writers included in the volume are the late Óscar Espinosa Chepe, his wife Miriam Leiva, Yoani Sánchez, her husband Reinaldo Escobar, Armando Chaguaceda, Regina Coyula, Henry Constantín, Marlene Azor Hernández, Rogelio Fabio HurtadoMiguel Iturria Savón, and Wilfredo Vallín.

Of course, Dimas and Miriam did their share of stellar writing as well.

Each of the book’s seven chapters is made much more vivid and memorable by the breathtaking photojournalism of Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, supplemented by photos by Tracey Eaton, Luzbely Escobar, and Uva de Aragón (all provided complementary).

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

You can learn more about the book and purchase your very own copy here and here.

What follows are the book’s PREFACE, ACKNOWLEDGMENTS, and TABLE OF CONTENTS.

***

Writing and coediting a comprehensive reference book on a country with such an intricate history and rich culture as Cuba has been both a challenge and a pleasure. Cuba is literally bursting with a diversity of voices and competing perspectives. However, the internal media monopoly and rigid ideological parameters regulating the island’s writers, artists, intellectuals, and scholars often make it difficult for outsiders to hear or make sense of these many voices. Moreover, outside coverage of Cuba often deals in shallow stereotypes and wishful thinking, uninformed by serious, sustained examination of how life is actually lived on the island itself.

Fortunately, this study has been prepared as the island undergoes an unprecedented period of change—coming both from above and below—challenging traditional limits on critical expression and creating more space for independent analysis. In an effort to seize this special moment, the editors of this book (two of whom, Miriam Celaya and Dimas Castellanos, currently live in Cuba) recruited more than a dozen others to give their independent, internal voice to the many topics examined here.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Apart from the three co-editors, the authors include the historian and political scientist Armando Chaguaceda, the late independent economist Óscar Espinosa Chepe, the independent blogger and photographer Henry Constantín, blogger Regina Coyula, Fernando Dámaso, the independent journalist Reinaldo Escobar, Dayrom Gil, the sociologist Marlene Azor Hernández, the historian Maritza de los Ángeles Hidalgo-Gato Lima, the poet Rogelio Fabio Hurtado, the artist César Leal Jiménez, the activist and independent journalist Miriam Leiva, the photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, the blogger and independent journalist Yoani Sánchez, the historian Miguel Iturria Savón, and the lawyer Wilfredo Vallín.

All of these authors are Cuban and nearly all continue to live and work on the island today. Most are also both experts and hands-on practitioners in the fields about which they write, including history, anthropology, law, politics, economics, migration, religion, racial and ethnic relations, class structure, literature, dance and music, theater, film, civil society, human rights, the media, and the Internet.

The editors would like to recognize these authors who—each from his or her particular point of view—took the risk of making their knowledge and analyses public. Given that their analyses are often at odds with both the “official story” promoted by the Cuban government and the often ill-informed one coming from abroad, their effort to show this other, often hidden face of Cuba while continuing to reside there is particularly valuable and commendable.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

Writing a balanced, accurate, and original overview of this unique and fascinating island-nation has been a daunting task. How does one describe the innumerable ways in which Cubans have embraced and, indeed, internalized much of U.S. culture during the island’s century of independent existence, while at the same time recognizing the fact that the United States has often wielded its power and influence in a manner ultimately harmful to Cuban sovereignty?

Likewise, how does one do justice to the enormous initial popularity and impressive social achievements of the Cuban revolution, without ignoring the suffering endured by the Cuban people both on the island and in exile as a result of the Cuban government’s internal rigidity, intolerance, and paternalism?

As Cubans like to say, No es fácil (It ain’t easy)!

Luzbely Escobar

Although writing and teaching about Cuba can be a political minefi eld of sorts, even for the most enterprising and sensitive of scholars, the country of Cuba, with its unique culture, and the people of Cuba, with their contagious charisma, passionate convictions, and gracious generosity of spirit, make the never-ending task of understanding the country and its people inestimably rewarding and enriching.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

This book is the fruit of more than five years of collaboration among its three coeditors and many authors, often thanks to our strategic use of the Internet and social media to share, edit, and translate the book’s various chapters. Thanks are due to the Swedish, Dutch, and Swiss Embassies in Cuba for opening their doors to the Cuban coeditors, enabling the free flow of uncensored information back and forth between Havana and New York necessary to make this book a reality. We even managed to convince a few brave (and happily anonymous) souls to help us by spiriting author contracts and payments back and forth between Cuban and the United States. We thank them here as well.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

The volume provides an up-to-date overview of historical, political, economic, and sociocultural development of Cuba from the pre-Columbian period to the present, with an emphasis on the Cuban revolution, U.S.-Cuban relations, Cuba’s impressive cultural achievements, and the country’s current socioeconomic reality. The book contains seven narrative chapters, on (1) geography, (2) history, (3) politics and government, (4) economy, (5) society, (6) culture, and (7) contemporary issues.

Augmented by a total of 76 brief vignettes on various historical, political, cultural, or biographical topics of special interest or importance such as the Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, the Platt Amendment, the U.S. Embargo, the writer Reinaldo Arenas, the film director Tomás Gutiérrez Alea, the artist Wifredo Lam, or the human rights activists The Ladies in White. While the history chapter focuses almost exclusively on prerevolutionary Cuba, the bulk of the other chapters are dedicated to chronicling the economic, political, social, and cultural changes that have taken place in Cuban society since 1959 under the revolution.

Tracey Eaton

The editors would like to give special thanks to our two intrepid student translators, Michael Prada Krakow and Natalia Pardo Becerra—both natives of Colombia. With key financial support from Baruch College’s Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, Mike and Natalia worked together with the book’s lead editor and translator—Ted A. Henken—for over a year rendering the various authors’ original Spanish-language chapters into an English that would preserve the content of their ideas and the beauty of their language. We also thank Regina Anavy for stepping in at a key moment with her own expert, emergency, volunteer translation of a few sections of this book. Its readers will judge how well we succeeded.

The editors would also like to thank Archibald Ritter, Yoani Sánchez, and Reinaldo Escobar who first introduced us to one another physically. We also acknowledge M. J. Porter, Karen Chun, and Aurora Morera, whose intrepid, behind-the-scenes work setting up portals to host their blogs allowed us to more easily collaborate virtually. Baruch College professor and top-flight literary translator Esther Allen also deserves nuestros más sinceros agradecimientos (our most sincere thanks) as she was a key link in the translation chain at an early stage of this project.

El Yuma with El Chagua & OLPL.

The writer, blogger, and photographer Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo also deserves our gratitude for graciously allowing us to raid his stunning trove of digital images of today’s Cuba, 15 of which illustrate the book’s pages. Queens-based graphic designer Rolando Pulido assisted with getting these photos camera-ready. Also, journalist Tracey Eaton, poet Uva de Aragón, and Cuban photographer Luzbely Escobar each generously contributed a wonderful photo of their own to the book.

Kaitlin Ciarmiello, ABC-CLIO’s acquisitions editor for the Geography and World Cultures series was especially instrumental in shepherding what unexpectedly became an unwieldy coedited, dual-language, and multi-author project through various stages of completion. Likewise, both James Dare, the book’s illustrations editor, and Valavil Lydia Shinoj, the book’s project manager were exemplars of resourcefulness and professionalism.

Finally, we would like to acknowledge the assistance of Cuban scholars Samuel Farber, Domingo Amuchástegui, and Eusebio Mujal-León, each of whom provided extensive comments on Chapter 3 “Politics and Government.” Likewise, Dafnis Prieto, the virtuoso Cuban percussionist and MacArthur “Genius” grantee, performed a similar service by thoroughly reviewing the section on Cuban music. Arch Ritter kindly did the same for Chapter 4 “Economy.”

We hope the published book reflects some of their extensive knowledge and editorial care. Of course, all errors, omissions, and oversights are our own.

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1 GEOGRAPHY, Ted A. Henken and Miriam Celaya

2 HISTORY, Dimas Castellanos, Ted A. Henken, and Miriam Celaya

3 POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT, Wilfredo Vallín and Ted A. Henken

4 ECONOMY, Óscar Espinosa Chepe and Ted A. Henken

5 SOCIETY
Religion and Thought, by Rogelio Fabio Hurtado and Ted A. Henken
Ethnicity and Race, Class Structure, and Inequality, by Dimas Castellanos and Ted A. Henken
Family, Gender, and Sexuality, by Miriam Celaya and Ted A. Henken
Education, by Miriam Celaya
Migration and Diaspora, by Dimas Castellanos and Ted A. Henken
The Media, by Reinaldo Escobar
Internet, Social Media, and the Cuban Blogosphere, by Yoani Sánchez

6 CULTURE
Language and Literature, by Miguel Iturria Savón and Ted A. Henken
Dance, Music, and Theater, by Regina Coyula and Ted A. Henken
Cinema and Photography, by Henry Constantín and Miriam Celaya
Cuisine, by Maritza de los Ángeles Hidalgo-Gato Lima and Ted A. Henken
Art and Architecture , by César Leal Jiménez
Popular Recreation and Sports, by Rogelio Fabio Hurtado
Popular Culture, Customs, and Traditions, by Regina Coyula and Fernando Dámaso

7 CONTEMPORARY ISSUES
Raúl Castro’s Reforms: Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, by Dimas Castellanos
Agricultural Reforms, by Dimas Castellanos
Political Reforms and Rising Corruption, by Marlene Azor Hernández
Recent Cuban Elections , by Armando Chaguaceda and Dayrom Gil
Cuba’s Demographic Crisis, by Dimas Castellanos
Recent Migration Reforms, by Ted A. Henken
Cuba’s International Relations, by Miriam Leiva
The Catholic Church, Dissidence, Civil Society, and Human Rights, by Dimas Castellanos and Miriam Celaya

Glossary
Facts and Figures
Major Cuban Holidays and Festivals
Country-Related Organizations
Annotated Bibliography
Thematic Index
Index
About the Authors and Contributors

 

Warning to Investors (2) / Miriam Celaya

Foreign Investment

Foreign Investment

HAVANA, Cuba, November, 2013, www.cubanet.org.- The present and the immediate future does not look very encouraging for the Cuban government. The socio-political and economic instability in Venezuela after 14 years of populism, the death of the partner leader and the arrival to power in that country of a president of proven ineptitude, signal a dramatic conclusion to the romance between Caracas and Havana. In fact, oil subsidies have declined because of the economic crisis in the South American nation, and collaborative programs with Cuba have also suffered significant cuts.

Castro II has failed at his attempt to implement economic reforms without the slightest change in the political system and without surrendering one iota of power and control. In fact, he has strengthened the ruling military class by granting it extraordinary economic powers, and by placing his most senior, loyally proven members on the forefront of all strategic development sectors.

The regime’s great deficiency, however, is the capital to finance a sustainable dictatorship, so that the ace up the sleeve of the General-President is to once more attract foreign investments. Hence the ZEDM and new legislation to “legalize” the satchels of capitalism in a system that declares itself as Marxist, to have unsuspecting investors feel a mirage of legal safety.

Legality and transparency

But, what kinds of guarantees could investments hold in a country that not only has repeatedly seized property and finances, but whose government also dictates and repeals laws and is, at the same time, partner in the investment, judge, and a piece of the business? Thus, what today is allowed could be eliminated whenever the government decides, according to its own interests and in the interest of international situations, whether or not they are favorable to the regime.

And when it comes to legality and transparency, potential investors should consider that conducting business in Cuba today also implies the violation of relevant international laws that condemn the working conditions of Cuban workers in those companies.

On the other hand, in an authoritarian system, and in the absence of rights for Cubans, investments are not only an important financial risk and a moral commitment to a military dictatorship, but reflect deep contempt toward Cubans and the genuine hope for change of large sectors of Cubans of all shores, who remain excluded from both, participation and the economic benefits of such investments, even though the émigrés capital supports Cuban families and yields permanent revenue to the government’s coffers, a factor that should be considered by foreign entrepreneurs seeking a long and prosperous stay on the Island.

Translated by Norma Whiting
Cubanet, 25 November 2013

The “Forbidden” and the “Mandatory” / Miriam Celaya

Rafters - Picture from the Internet

Rafters – Picture from the Internet

In numerous conversations with Cubans, émigrés as well as those “on the inside” (I share the experience of living every day under this Island’s sui generis [unique] conditions with the latter) surfaces a phrase, coined through several decades, whose credibility rests more on repetition by its own use and abuse in popular speech than on reality itself. “In Cuba, whatever is not forbidden is mandatory”.

I must admit that the former is true enough. If anything abounds in Cuba it’s prohibitions in all its forms: those that truly are contained in laws, decrees, regulations and other provisions of different levels, all aimed at inhibiting individuals and controlling every social or personal activity, what the coercive nature of the system imposes on us, even if not legally sanctioned, (for example, male students can not wear long hair, music of any kind may not be broadcast through radio or TV, people may not gather in certain places, etc.) and those we invent, that is, the self-imposed prohibitions of people who since birth have been subjected to fear, indoctrination, permanent surveillance and to the questionable morality of everyday survival that forces one to live thanks to the illegalities, that is, violating injunctions established by the government beyond common sense. It is natural that transgressions abound most wherever greater number of taboos exist.

Now, the “mandatory” is another matter. It is rather about a total legend that, be it through ignorance or for another number of reasons (irrational at that) it’s a legend that serves many Cubans to unconsciously justify their behavior and to embed themselves in the civic mess that is choking us. The list of “obligations” would be endless, but some of the handiest can be summarized as follows: belonging to organizations that are pure pipe dream, such as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, the Federation of Cuban Women, Territorial Militia Troops, Cuban Workers Central, Pioneers Organization, High School Student Federation, University Student Federation, etc., all of them with payment of dues and attending different rituals according to the agendas, also supposedly of a “mandatory” nature.

But many Cubans seem to consider it mandatory to vote for the Delegate, attend meetings and accountability meetings, to shout slogans, sing the National Anthem, salute the flag, honor the martyrs of the revolutionary calendar, to sign political commitments, other documents and a very long list.

Actually, there is the assumption that failure to comply with these “obligations” would result in some reprisals, such as the loss of one’s job, our children not being accepted in some study centers, not being eligible for certain child-care or semi-boarding services for children of working mothers, etc.. However, many of us have found from experience that none of the above mentioned is in truth mandatory, but it constitutes the general answer to the fundamental prohibition that weighs over this nation: it is forbidden to be free.

Oh, Cubans! If ever the courage that drives so many to brave the dangers of the sea in an almost suicidal escape, to create a new life away from here, to survive in such precarious conditions inside, and to succeed against all obstacles outside of Cuba, could be turned into overcoming the fear of the regime, how different everything would be! If so much energy could be directed towards changing our own reality, we would make the world of prohibitions disappear in no time, that world that has kept us in chains for half a century, and we would stop feeling compelled to be slaves forever.  It is not mandatory, but it is also not prohibited.

Translated by Norma Whiting

25 November 2013