Cuba and the Vatican: the Miracle that Never Arrives / Miriam Celaya

John Paul II and Francis (internet photo)

John Paul II and Francis (internet photo)

Cubans will continue to leave for places where they believe God has placed his hand beyond the intervention of his Holiness

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 July 2015 — It’s been 17 years since a head of Vatican State visited the Island for the first time. John Paul II arrived in Cuba in 1998, preceded by his well-deserved reputation. He had played an important role in the Polish transition – his native country — where democracy was finally achieved after decades of subordination to Soviet communism.

Such credentials of the Pilgrim Pope aroused expectations among many Cubans still being hit by the deepest economic crisis in its history, and also hopeful about the possibility of an eventual transition derived from some “easing” of the rigid centralism of the economy and politics in the Island. They reasonably assumed that after so many shortages and scraping out a living, all that was left was for things to improve. In addition, it was unusual for a pope to honor us with his presence. National vanity reached unprecedented levels, and optimists of the day hoped that Jozef Wojtyla’s appeal would positively influence the goodwill of the Cuban government towards openness.

For even more reverie, the discourse of John Paul II before a square filled with a mixture of the faithful and the dilettante, and facing Che Guevara’s gigantic image, made an overt reference to the need to break the isolation endured by Cubans as a consequence of our political system: “Open Cuba to the world”, he said in his inspired homily to the delirious crowd listening, captivated and hopeful, as if, just by the Pope’s suggestion, the miracle of freedom and democracy for Cuba were to happen by osmosis. Continue reading

Cremata Expresses an Artist’s Bellyful Against Cultural Repression / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

El Rey se Muere [The King is Dying] (Martinoticias)

El Rey se Muere [The King is Dying] (Martinoticias)

“What right does anyone have to rule over everyone’s thoughts?” The question, deeply subversive towards the Cuban reality, is at the heart of the open letter that artist Juan Carlos Cremata recently sent to an unknown Culture officer by the name of Andy Arencibia Concepción after a commission of the National Council of Theatre Arts (CNAE) suspended the theatre season which, under Cremata’s direction, was presenting the play The King is Dying*, the work of Eugene Ionesco, at the Tito Junco Auditorium of the Bertolt Brecht Cultural Center. After only two shows – Saturday July 4th and Sunday July 5th — the play was abruptly suspended by art officials.

Cremata’s letter, harsh and unadorned, was sent via e-mail to several friends and to 14ymedio for wider dissemination, in a gesture that calls to mind the phenomenon that took place more than eight years ago, termed “the little war of the e-mails” or “intellectual debate” initiated by a spontaneous reaction of artists and intellectuals to the introduction on national television program of the notorious censor-author “Papito” Serguera’s process of “parametración” that ostracized dozens of artists, writers and other creators. Continue reading

Wi-Fi crashes at La Rampa / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Wi-Fi antenna in Havana. (14ymedio)

Wi-Fi antenna in Havana. (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 July 2015 — Contrary to what one might expect in a country where communications are almost a luxury and not a right, the announced opening of a public network access at Havana’s La Rampa, which would expand Internet access in the capital starting July 1st, did not generate significant crowds.

In the morning hours, the iconic El Vedado stretch, from 23rd Street, between L and El Malecón, showed its usual liveliness. Just a few, mostly young, would-be Internet users roamed the corner of 23rd and L, manipulating their mobile phones in vain: there was no Wi-Fi signal.

The almost total absence of foreign media at the location seemed a bad omen. One of the most important complaints of the Cuban population has been specifically about the Internet. That is why every occasion relating to the expansion of communications and the creation of cyberspace is an event that brings out the media. Continue reading

Independence Day / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Celebration of Independence Day (14ymedio)

Celebration of Independence Day (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 3 July 2015 — The traditional celebration offered by the US Interests Section in Havana, on the anniversary of the Independence of the United States, had on this occasion a special connotation for being the first one to take place following the announcement of restoration of relations between that country and Cuba, and the last one before the reopening of the US embassy in Havana, scheduled for July 20th.

A large turnout of members of the independent civil society participated in the festivities on Thursday July 2nd, sharing the space with known artists, other cultural figures, scholars, and representatives of the Catholic Church, led by Cardinal Jaime Ortega. As usual, there were numerous officials of the diplomatic corps present at the event.

After listening to the national anthems of Cuba and the US, Mr. Jeffrey De Laurentis, Chief of the US Interests Section, delivered a brief speech by referring to the importance of the date and the events that are taking place at this new stage of dialogue between the two governments, while expressing his hopes that soon the ties between our two countries will deepen and consolidate. Continue reading

Drug Consumption in Cuba…”Benefits” of Globalization? / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Among consumers of alcohol combined with psychoactive drugs are users as young as 12 years old. (CC)

Among consumers of alcohol combined with psychoactive drugs, the youngest users average around 12-years-old. (CC)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 June 2015 — Juventud Rebelde’s extensive report (Alas Trágicas para Volar (I) [Tragic Flying Wings I], of Sunday, June 28th addresses the controversial issue of drug use among adolescents and young Cubans. Putting aside that the presence and alarming spread of this scourge in the Island’s population has been previously revealed on numerous occasions by the independent press and foreign media – which were accused at that time of distorting reality with the deliberate intention of tarnishing “revolutionary” Cuba’s image – it is no less commendable that the official press has finally recognized the existence of this evil in the supposedly exemplary Cuban society.

The article in question also notes other flaws, no less serious, such as increasing alcoholism from an early age and the growing illicit trade in psychotropic and other drugs controlled by the Ministry of Public Health. A string of corruption often starts with theft at the very factories producing the pills and its saga includes shorting at the warehouses, overpricing at drugstores and even at doctors’ offices where some unscrupulous physicians prescribe them, be it for lack of ethics or patient bribes.

A psychologist at the Community Mental Health Center in the Havana municipality Plaza de la Revolución declares that, among consumers of alcohol combined with psychoactive drugs the youngest users average around 12-years-old, a fact that reveals the extent and depth of the problem. Continue reading

“The Revolutionary Offensive” Has Returned / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

(Photo from Internet)

(Photo from Internet)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 11 June 2015 – There is no doubt that we are witnessing a new “Revolutionary Offensive*” in Cuba. This time, it is not that cumbersome operation that wiped out the small private property and, in 1968, gave the coup de grace to whatever mom and pop businesses, stands or cafes barely making ends meet at the beginning of the early socialist plateau and destroyed the services that the State was never able to meet. The methodology has changed, we can all agree on this, but the purpose is about the same.

Now, when the government takes a conciliatory stance and desperately seeks the arrival of capital that it has so demonized, it tries to retract to a minimum, but without fuss, the glimpses of private initiative. All this, given the danger posed to the olive green autocracy by the coexistence of relatively autonomous sectors within the island with the avalanche of businessmen and foreign tourists that are expected to flood the country as soon as the restrictions imposed by the embargo and the Helms Burton Act begin to disappear.

However, it cannot be said that, with Raul’s offensive against the small private sector, we are either facing a circumstantial situation or that it is about the regime’s improvisation. In fact, the circumstance was the initiation of the “self-employed” initiative that constituted an escape valve for the government, needing to move the domestic economy, and the creation of new jobs that would lighten the load for the State. Continue reading

Cuba: Capitalism has Won the War / Miriam Celaya

jovenes1cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 8 June 2015 — In the beginning, there were the cassettes, first the ones we viewed on ancient Betamax equipment, and a bit later on VHS. In those dark years in the 90’s, the illegal dealers, better known as “messengers” would arrive with their backpacks, pedaling their inseparable bikes, from customer to customer. They charged of 5 or 10 Cuban pesos rent per cassette, depending how many movies were on each tape and the quality of the recording.

Video equipment was not readily available among Cubans, so the happy owner of one of these was not only privileged, but he would become the host of friends and nearby neighbors who eluded the harsh reality of the so-called “Special Period,” taking refuge in some colorful Hollywood product or another, usually recorded by the even more restricted group –favored among the favored- who owned a DIRECTV antenna.

Sharing a show or a movie was also a matter of affinity and solidarity at a time when almost all Cubans suffered the brunt of an economic crisis which, in the same way as the system that generated it, seemed to have no end. So some fellow invitees would agree to rotate the expense for renting the cassettes or contribute some snack to improve the get together, such as tea or coffee or another beverage, duly accompanied by roasted chickpeas. Continue reading

“True Intentions”: Brief Sketch of a Long Relationship / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro with Barack Obama at a press conference at the Summit of the Americas

Raul Castro with Barack Obama at a press conference at the Summit of the Americas

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 14 May 2015 — Few sentences of the Cuban official discourse have been as well-worn as one that refers to “the true intentions” hiding behind the actions of the US government.

This explains the discomfort that the “Paused General*” feels about the American Interests Section in Havana teaching courses to independent journalists or when they hold teleconferences about digital journalism, among other activities. These “illegal activities” that the US government promotes through its Havana Section even award certificates of studies to its graduates. Because “the true intentions” of the government of that country is for these journalists to undermine the strength and ideological unity of our people, piercing it with the intimidating US influence. Continue reading

The Reconversion of the Devils / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 12 May 2015 — Yesterday, Tuesday May 11, 2015, the front page of Granma, the official organ of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), showed a photograph of the Cuban President General amicably shaking the hand of Pope Francis in Vatican City. Quirks of politics, to convince us of the survivability of the Castro regime, represented by another member of the same caste that in the decade of the 70’s and 80’s harassed members of religious orders, reviled priests and marginalized the faithful. Now, just like that, the Castro regime perfumes its stubborn Marxist conviction with myrrh and frankincense, and it is almost hard to believe that this seemingly respectable octogenarian who visits with the Pope is one of those guerrilla leaders of that Revolution that was anticlerical, antireligious and church-phobic even before declaring itself Marxist.

In retrospect, the war against religious faith in Cuba was not just a momentary attack, but a policy of systematic and ongoing state-sanctioned persecution or discrimination against individuals for reasons of their religious beliefs, while, at the same time, Marxism-Leninism, that other fake religion, kept spreading with the aid of the Kremlin’s petro-rubles. Continue reading

“Return to Ithaca” or the Magic of Censorship / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Scene from the film "Return to Ithaca"

Scene from the movie “Return to Ithaca”

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 4 May 2015 — The reunion of five friends on a roof terrace in Central Havana is the thread on which Return to Ithaca’s plot rests. Leonardo Padura wrote the screenplay and Laurent Cantet directed this French film about Cuban topics.

The film is currently circulating underground among Havana moviegoers, preceded by the best possible presentation: the official censorship that prevented its showing during the latest edition of the Latin American Film Festival, held in Havana in December, 2014. However, Return to Ithaca has been shown at the Charles Chaplin auditorium in Havana, in the framework of the French Film Festival, being held throughout the month of May.

The film has become the cultural phenomenon of the moment, largely “by the grace of” the official censorship in a country where direct or veiled criticism of the system remains an event, even when — as in this instance — it makes use of worn-out clichés and platitudes. Continue reading

Self-employed…That Damn Breed / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Traditional business of a self-employed. Slushy making with an ice-grating machine in Pinar del Río. (Juan Carlos Fernández/14ymedio)

Traditional business of a self-employed. Slushy making with an ice-grating machine in Pinar del Río. (Juan Carlos Fernández/14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 May 2015 — Few sectors have been so viciously beaten in Cuba as the one grouped under the generic name of “entrepreneurs”, or, according to the informal term, “cuentapropistas” (“self-employed”).

The backgrounds of the self-employed have their roots in small business, family business owners and street vendors that swarmed throughout the Island until their extermination by the revolutionary guillotine called The Revolutionary Offensive of 1968. However, this is a breed that will sprout from the ashes, at any opportunity, a quality that is, at one and the same time, the secret of its survival and its curse because if there is anything that totalitarian power distrusts it is individuals with aspirations of independent entrepreneurship, especially if they have demonstrated their ability to thrive outside the “protection” of the flock.

Thus, at the smallest fissure in the system’s monolithic structure there would follow a fast flourishing trade with glimpses of prosperity for the most daring children of that wicked caste, whose autonomy allowed them to distance themselves somewhat from the political-ideological commitments hanging over the rest of society, and the respective official raids would then follow. Continue reading

Who Are the “Rich Cubans”? / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Many immigrants come to Havana from the provinces, hoping to expand their narrow horizons (14ymedio)

Many immigrants come to Havana from the provinces, hoping to expand their narrow horizons (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 16 April 2015 — It is a fact that permanent poverty creates distortions in perception. The most obvious example is the value judgments we Cubans place on the supposed “riches” of some, based on a comparison with our own poverty, which is the general state of the nation.

It is common for people from the towns and cities of the provinces to see, in the country’s capital, the wealth that they themselves do not enjoy. Viewed superficially, any observer would say that Cuba is no exception in this, because it is well-known that the capitals of all countries absorb a great deal of the immigration from the diverse points of their own national geographies, attracted by better job prospects, cultural options and the many other possible opportunities that more developed and cosmopolitan cities have to offer. Continue reading

The seventh summit showed that we are not alone / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

President Obama speaking at the Civil Society Forum at the Summit of the Americas in Panama

President Obama speaking at the Civil Society Forum at the Summit of the Americas in Panama

The Summit of the Americas legitimized our right to exist as civil society and as an alternative to dictatorial power. It was a victory of democracy over the empire of totalitarianism.

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Panama, 13 April 2015 – With smiles, handshakes and the usual “family photo” of all the presidents, the Summit of the Americas ended in Panama. This time the hemispheric event had the distinction of hosting, after a half century of absence, the visit of the prodigal son: the representative of the longest dictatorship of the continent, as well as a varied delegation from the Island’s civil society.

Apart from the numerous irregularities, related to the organization of the event, and the almost obvious complicity of local authorities with the obstacles that tried to sabotage the participation of alternative civil society representatives in the various forums of the summit — including power cuts, credential problems, and the well-known repudiation rallies orchestrated by the delegates of the Castro regime’s “civil society” and its continental acolytes — one could conclude that the balance of the conclave was positive for Cuban democrats. Continue reading

The Latin-America I Acknowlege / Miriam Celaya

Latin American Youth for Democracy at the Summit of the Americas in Panama responding to Cuban government demonstrators trying to block the civil society forum

Latin American Youth for Democracy at the Summit of the Americas in Panama responding to Cuban government demonstrators trying to block the civil society forum

Miriam Celaya, 13 April, 2015 — The Americas Summit in Panama will remain in my memory in the form of many images. Six intense days, which, for better or worse, strengthened and delighted me, all things considered, for I had the privilege to witness to a historical event: the Cuban presence at the most important hemispheric gathering, to have the honor to participate in it as part of independent civil society on the Island.

I won’t repeat the unhappy episodes brought about by government groups disguised as civil society, led by Mr. Abel Prieto, former Minister of Culture and current adviser to the General-President, who undertook to prove, beyond all doubt, the reactionary and exclusionary nature of the regime they represented. Let this minutest amount of data infer what kind of “superior” culture includes the public (and offshore) show of rudeness and violence of the indoctrinated and blinded Castro pack against a differing opinion. Continue reading

Mission Accomplished, General / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

A group of members of the official Cuban delegation will hold a protest at the entrance of the Civil Society Forum. (EFE / Alejandro Bolívar)

A group of members of the official Cuban delegation will hold a protest at the entrance of the Civil Society Forum. (EFE / Alejandro Bolívar)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Panama, 9 April 2015 – Just as expected, April 8th was D-day for Castro’s troops in Panama, with the Forum of Civil Society in the framework of the Summit of the Americas. The physical and verbal aggression and the “revolutionary violence” unleashed in all its public display of barbarism before the astonished eyes of those who were involuntary witnesses of the shameful act, demonstrate how long the arm of the dictatorship of the Island is, and how disrespectful they are willing to be at international democratic venues.

It would have been naive to expect any other conduct, after preludes that foretold the climax. The Castro clan was initially flattered in its infinite vanity, after half a century of being expelled from the OAS, to have been one of the first invitees to the Americas’ Summit, only to have to swallow the bitter pill, soon after, of tolerating the independent civil society’s presence at the regional event. These are appropriate games of democracy, but a humiliation that the Antillean olive green caste was not willing to accept.

Now we were able to prove that it was not by happenstance that several activists of the Cuban independent civil society were harassed on our arrival at the Tocumen airport, some detained a relatively long time and interrogated, as if we were terrorists or criminals, by authorities that report directly to the Panamanian government. “We do not want disturbances or provocations at the Summit,” was the warning we received before allowing us to continue, and following that, a polite phrase that was almost cynical: “Welcome to Panama.” No doubt this is a peculiar sense of the hospitality and the official image this country is offering these occasional visitors. Continue reading