Cuba in Crisis: the Pressure is Building / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raul Castro
Raul Castro

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 15 July 2016 — Some claim that “nothing ever happens in Cuba.” However, the signals we have been receiving of late indicate otherwise.

The price increases at the produce markets since the last quarter of 2015, accompanied by periodic (and frequent) cycles of shortages of food and other basic items in the TRDs,* accompanied by fierce raids against the self-employed – and particularly against the well-known pushcart vendors – the closing down of the only wholesale produce market in Havana, and the accumulation of problems without solutions, have been increasing the pressure inside Cuba. The most expeditious solution has been the exodus stampede, which has already turned created a crisis in some areas of South and Central America. Continue reading “Cuba in Crisis: the Pressure is Building / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

As if such a scenario were not enough, during the sessions of the Seventh Ordinary Period of the current legislature, the National Assembly has once again begun to thresh the usual litany of failures: lack of completion of building plans and housing repairs, aqueducts and sewage system networks, insufficient food production, the new debacle of the last sugar harvest, the insurmountable difficulties in public transportation, the drought problems, the climate’s ill turns, the chronic lack of liquidity as an essential feature of the national economy, and even the damages we are encountering because of low world prices for nickel…. and oil (!?!?).

Reports presented by ministers and other Cuban senior leaders in the ten working committees, as well as “debates” that have been taking place among deputies, are proof of the healthy and uninterrupted march towards a national debacle, under the experienced guidance Castro II.

It is a well-known fact that we are living in the midst of a disaster. What’s new is that now the dark prophecy of the impending advent of (more) difficult times is being delivered by the official spokesmen themselves, not by the ‘counter-revolutionaries’ from here and over there.

The report presented to the Economic Affairs Commission by Economy Minister Marino Murillo referred to – without much fanfare – saving measures and adjustments that have been taking place to combat what he called “a tense liquidity situation.” He noted that the expected revenue in the economic plan did not materialize for this period, and that it is unlikely that the well-heralded 2% GDP growth will take place by year-end 2016.

As usual, such “predictions” are not only made when the national drama is in full swing, but they are not accompanied by a package of solutions. Instead, the “measures” of the highest echelons of power to alleviate the crisis had preceded the omen. For several weeks they have been cutting working hours, transportation service for workers, “subsidized gasoline” and other perks, such as lunches or snacks – in the few centers that belong to “strategic sectors” the state still has – of the workplaces of the capital.

Air-conditioning service is being reduced at the TRDs, from 2 PM until closing. They have also started to increase the blackout periods in different areas of Havana.

The new savings plan includes the elimination, starting the week of July 11th, of night shifts in several orthodontic offices, including at the Orthodontic School.

Shortages in oil and regular gasoline at the gas stations (Cupet), where they are sold, is another factor being felt in the transportation systems, both state-owned and among private carriers. Assignations to the state fleet have been dramatically limited – including those intended for the transportation of goods from warehouses to the TRDs, thus aggravating the shortages – while the private service has been decreased, suggesting an upcoming transportation price hike.

Almost simultaneously, meetings have been held with the militants of numerous Cuban Communist Party (PCC) base organizations to alert them to the need for increased vigilance and support for the institutions responsible for maintaining order, and also to be ready to counter manifestations of violence, increased corruption and other criminal activities characteristic of crisis situations.

The communist base is being warned about the importance of being vigilant against any outbreak of discontent that could lead to an anti-government revolt likely to be exploited by the enemies of the Revolution. Everything indicates that what is worrying the power elite is not exactly “what’s going on” but what might happen in the short term.

And since – in direct line with the worsening crisis choking the lives of Cubans – discontent is what continues to grow most in the country right now, and militants can’t rest in their mission to safeguard the interests of olive-green caste.

Meanwhile, in the interior of the island frustration increases and the migratory stampede continues to assume cyclopean dimensions. With the capital of the masses’ faith drained to the dregs, power will be forced to multiply its spending to sustain the formidable repressive forces needed to repress an entire people, a task that will not be as easy as beating, arresting and imprisoning peaceful dissidents.

In the interior of the island frustration in creases and the migratory stampede continues to take cyclopean dimensions (photo: AP)
In the interior of the island frustration in creases and the migratory stampede continues to take cyclopean dimensions (photo: AP)

Paradoxically, the government’s stubbornness and political clumsiness impel the outcome it is seeking to avoid. An insistence on trying to lead the nation as if it were an army in the full campaign of war, rather than promoting a broad and deep economic opening that cleanses the domestic economy, allows the development of the potential of the private sector, and gives a break the national anoxia, shows the meanness of a caste that prefers the sacrifice of an entire people before losing power.

To accentuate the absurd, the leaders of the Palace of the Revolution have the effrontery to launch this new report of forced austerity at the same time they are debating strategies and the government’s economic plans out to the year 2030. No moderately reasonable government would announce a period of energy cuts and other unpopular measures while running a public consultation of such importance. Undoubtedly, the General-President and his claque rely excessively on the powerful social control they have exercised so far, and the gentleness of a people who have forgotten how to assert their rights.

However, although no one doubts that Cuba is navigating toward a major disaster, one cannot rely too heavily on the accuracy of official reports. Especially if there is no access by citizens and independent institutions to primary sources or macroeconomic data, which remain the secret patrimony of the State-Party-Government and its most faithful servants. This means statistical figures are not reliable even when they are unfavorable to the country’s leadership.

We can’t forget that just days before the gloomy reports of the National Assembly, official media reported optimistically the increasing numbers of foreign visitors who are bringing hard currency in the tourism industry, and rubbed their hands with glee over the numerous signings of technology exchange agreements and declarations of intent from foreign investors.

For this reason, and without denying the great influence of the Venezuelan situation on the Cuban economy – which has a profound impact on a country as dependent on aid and subsidies as is Cuba – it cannot be affirmed with a scientific certainty how much of a real urgency there is in the “complex scenario” of the island’s economy, and the political blackmail maneuvers by the Castro regime’s highest levels of power, intended to pressure the United States government, and it congress and political forces for a final lifting of the embargo, which would allow the dictatorship quick and direct access to credits, a flood of foreign investments and a flow of hard currency that would guarantee its permanence in power.

Thus, to magnify the effect of the virtual collapse of Chavismo in Venezuela and that country’s economic crisis as the main source of the current Cuban crisis is to place (once again) the causes of Cuba’s problems beyond its frontiers, when in reality the key to all our ills is found in the inefficiency of an elite of cunning bandits who have hijacked lives and property, looting the nation at will for decades.

Because with or without Venezuela – as before with or without the Soviet Union, with or without the “Socialist Camp,” with or without foreign investors – the truth is that the Castros have done more damage to Cuba than all the epidemics and wars this nation has faced throughout its history, and will continue to be a hindrance for all Cubans regardless of who remains in the seat of power.

This summer, then, promises to be very hot and not because of the greenhouse effect. The compasses of tens of thousands of Cuban continue pointing to the promising north and the stampede from the island is expected to once again take the maritime route. If this is the General-President’s strategy to ease the internal pressure and achieve his interests in perpetuity, he should know it is a risky game and could be counterproductive for everyone, especially for those who have more to lose.

At this point, we could rewrite as its inverse that bombastic phrase of a certain chimeric allegation, which could well serve as an epithet on the tomb of Castroism: “Absolve them. It doesn’t matter. History will condemn them.”**

Translator’s notes:

*”TRD” is the acronym for the official name (in Spanish) of these government stores which does not even attempt to hide their intended function: Hard Currency Collection Stores.

**Fidel Castro concluded his four-hour speech in his own defense at his trial for his leadership of the 1953 attack on the Moncada Barracks with the words: “Condemn me. It does not matter. History will absolve me.”

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Blackboard Mafia / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

High School Students in Havana (14ymedio)
High School Students in Havana (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 5 July 2015 — “Everyone knows which teachers accept money,” a group of young people tells me. In fact, some not only accept, but clearly require it from students who know they would not be able to pass the exam on their own.

The final days of the 2015-2016 school year are here, and once again the recurring theme of fraud by students and teachers surfaces, poor preparation of students, low quality of education and the shocking loss of values among not a few education professionals.

A group of five 10th and 11th graders of the pre-university Gerardo Abreu Fontán, of Centro Habana, agreed to offer their testimony on the subject under conditions of anonymity, in an interview that lasted more than two hours and uncovered before me a broad and deep network of corruption. Continue reading “The Blackboard Mafia / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

“You know you are going to have to come straight with me…” says a professor to a bad student, in a full classroom and in the presence of all other students. A phrase that, from a pure semantics point does not say much, but that in marginal code says it all. The aforementioned understands and abides: the game’s move is set.

Around this sunspot there is a whole system of tariffs and strategies that work seamlessly interlocked with the precision of a Swiss watch. Impunity in this maze of fraudulent trickeries is almost absolute.

The teacher acting as proctor will charge 5 CUC for each student thus strategized in the case, of which he will pay a portion of the professor who teaches the subject and another to the person in charge that year.

There is a kind of unwritten agreement In Havana that stipulates an approximate rate, depending on the type of examination (whether oral or written), the period evaluated (if the test is partial or final), the neighborhood where the school is located (which is usually indicative of the purchasing power of the student’s family) and quality and/or experience of the professor.

Thus, to achieve a good grade on a mandatory mid-term (known as a “Partial Control Work” with the initials TCP), a student from a relatively solvent family who is generally behind must pay between 2 or 3 CUC (Cuban convertible pesos) to the subject’s teacher. Some teachers, however, charge at a rate of 4 CUC per grade per question, so, considering that a TCP contains three questions; the cost can go up to 12 CUC for each TCP for each core subject.

Meanwhile, the final exam contains five questions, but the system and the going rate in this case vary, depending on what manoeuver is used. For example, a variant is that a certain number of students previously disclose to the subject’s teacher their interest in paying for the proctor during the exam so he will let the students cheat, whether it is looking up each correct answer in books or notebooks or copying among themselves.

The proctor, in turn, charges 5 CUC for each student involved in the plot, from which he will pay a portion to the professor who teaches the subject and another to the person in charge that year, who will turn a blind eye when he makes the classroom rounds to guarantee the transparency of the evaluation process.  So the circle of what we might call a blackboard mafia is closed.

Assuming that there are four subjects with written finals—Spanish, Math, Biology and History—and that there are an increasing number of students interested in using this negotiated evaluation process, it is easy to conclude that the dividends to these “educators” stemming from fraud far exceed their paid wages.

Dividends obtained by these “educators” through fraud far exceed the amount of their wages.

Another variation, usually applied when the teacher has a close relationship with the student and his family, is to conduct the review of examinations at either the home of the student or teacher, where the professor will dictate the correct answers to the student, thus allowing for corrections of mistakes made in the classroom. In these cases, payment is not in the form of cash, but masked in the form of a more or less expensive gift, accompanied by the corresponding eternal “gratitude” of the adolescent’s family.

Finally, there is also the old trick of altering official assessment records, so the teacher gives the student a higher grade than the grade received in the evaluations, which raises the student’s rank so he will have easy access to better university career choices once he finishes high school.

However, the juiciest peculiarity takes place at the provincial level, where the tests are prepared and the final exams and revaluations are “guarded.” According to the students interviewed, both can be bought for a price of about 30 CUC, although the student or his family must know the right person to contact, because otherwise it could mean severe sanctions.

Meanwhile, the new form of oral assessment for subjects like Physics and Chemistry in pre-university education, which was established in the 2014-2015 school year to “facilitate” student grades and elevate their advancement, has only managed to diversify the corruption behaviors of teachers to defraud the system.

These tests are performed through paper forms known as “ballots,” developed at the provincial level. The procedure is simple: the “paying” student will speak to that subject’s professor, who in turn will coordinate the gimmick with some member of the hearing panel to whom he will deliver a list with the names of those students who will pay for their grade in advance. Meanwhile, on the date of the exam, the corrupt faculty panel member, once he has verified the student’s name on the list, gives the student a ballot containing the answers, or he points out the answers to the incorrect ones written by the student, in cases when the student chooses to fill out the ballot himself.

Another variation is to conduct the review of examinations at either the home of the student or teacher, where the professor will dictate the correct answers to the student.

Each subject has a different price, depending on its complexity. A Physics test, for example, costs 15 CUC this year. Chemistry is often cheaper, 5 to 10 CUC, or a gift, which can be anything from perfume, a wallet, or any article of clothing to a bottle of rum.

Evaluations of subjects that are “not important,” such as Political Culture, English, or Computing, almost always are bought, because they are cheap and almost everyone can do it, and so you get it off your mind easily with 2 or 3 CUC or a modest gift, if it is a TCP”.

For a final exam, those who can will pay 5 CUC so they won’t have to make a presentation at the evaluation seminars, which is how they are evaluated. “Sometimes you pay the teacher to give you seminar from a previous year, and you can then transcribe it, as if it was your own work.”

“And all that without taking into consideration that, in addition, on Teachers Day, they get lots of presents,” says M, the most lively of the students interviewed.

But the corruption of the education system is not limited to the evaluation process. According to testimonies from students and parents, access at the end of the ninth grade (secondary school) to a pre-university slot higher than the student’s rating would entitle them to, costs about 100 CUC, paid directly to the school board, or it is “negotiated” through some municipal official with the Ministry of Education (MINED) responsible for the “grants.”

Judging by these statements, corruption is decaying the previously formidable Cuban educational system and it is sprinkling into everyday life, so much so that even students who have not succumbed to the mechanism of fraud—whether for moral reasons or their family’s financial limitations—perceive it as commonplace, perhaps a questionable issue, but not a crime at all.

Each subject has a different price, depending on its complexity

“It’s normal to some extent,” states G, an 11th grader who dreams of making a career in design. “It’s not that I feel respect for those corrupt professors, but I don’t care. It’s not my problem.”

In the case of R, an adolescent with beautiful features and pleasant manners who wants to be a doctor, he believes that what these educators do is not right, but “each person is worthy of respect, that is their livelihood.  If we had a different economy, other wages, different teacher training … perhaps it would be different.”

Once again, M intervenes with a sharp reflection for his young age.  He expresses himself with ease: “The problem is that the Government doesn’t pay them enough. It doesn’t invest in professors or their training, because they don’t produce immediate gains, as in the case of doctors, for instance, who go to foreign assignments and the government takes almost all the money they get paid abroad. Of course teachers are looking for any way to make money, especially the younger ones, who want to go out, have fun and buy fashionable clothes and shoes, just like us.”

All the teens assent in tacit agreement, while something akin to despair invades my being. These youngsters have offered me a glimpse of the true dimension of the damage inflicted to the spiritual body of Cuban society, not just to the economy. I am impressed by the colossal task that will be entailed in rebuilding the moral fragments of our nation, once the long nightmare of the Castro regime has ended. Of course, I don’t accept defeat in advance, but, for now, corruption is continuing to spread its tentacles and threatening to win the game.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Cuban Migration Crisis: Neither Economic nor Humanitarian / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Cubans demonstrating in Ecuador (14ymedio)
Cubans demonstrating in Ecuador (14ymedio)

14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 29 June 2016 — About 400 Cubans who remained ensconced in front of the embassy of Mexico, in the city of Quito, Ecuador, demanding an airlift to allow them entry to the United States, were violently evicted from the place by police in the early hours of Sunday, 26th June. It was the culmination of a protest that began on Saturday 18th

Days earlier, the Mexican authorities had informed the thousands of Cubans in Ecuador that there is no possibility for its government to establish a new airlift, which leaves unresolved this chapter of the immigration crisis for the Cubans fleeing the questionable benefits of Raul Castro’s socialist model. Continue reading “Cuban Migration Crisis: Neither Economic nor Humanitarian / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

Mexico, through whose mediation several thousand Cubans managed to arrive in the US this year, has noted the need for a solution through “dialogue,” without specifying who would take part in it or when it would take place. It is fair to point out that Mexico is not responsible for solving the Cuban migratory crisis. During the month of May, more than a thousand Cubans in Ecuador had been mobilized for the same reason: to find a safe exit to follow their route to the US, with no results.

Some leaders in the region have attributed responsibility for the steady stream of emigrants, especially those coming from Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia, to the existence of the Cuban Adjustment Act

As usual, the official Cuban press has stayed tight-lipped about this drama, part of that stream of refugees that continues to flow silently, as a kind of plebiscite without polls, very clearly showing how insignificant the performance of their government is to Cubans and where their real hopes for the future reside.

While the Cuban government remains mute and deaf, Cubans continue to invade the forests of South and Central America or to defy the Gulf Stream on rickety boats in the unpredictable waters of the Florida Straits to reach US territory, spraying the Cuban crisis throughout the entire regional geography.

Much has been argued about the causes of the current Cuban migration. Following the crisis sparked last April by the constant arrival of Cubans in Costa Rica and the closing the Nicaraguan border, which caused a traffic jam of refugees and strong diplomatic frictions between the governments of Central America, some leaders in the region have attributed responsibility for the steady stream of migrants, especially those coming from Ecuador, Venezuela and Colombia, to the existence of the Cuban Adjustment Act

Some analysts, while deploring the preferential treatment of US authorities towards Cubans arriving in their territory, have indicated that the fears among Cubans that the Act will be repealed after the restoration of relations between the governments of the US and Cuba is the main source of such a constant and increasing exodus.

The preferential treatment includes immediate legal protection and access to the Federal Program for Refugee Resettlement, thanks to the 1980 amendment of the Cuban Adjustment Act. In addition, in just over a year, most get their permanent residence, regardless of their reasons for leaving Cuba.

Other migrants are returned to their countries of origin, despite the real violence of the situations they suffer in their countries, related to wars or drug trafficking

In contrast, migrants from South and Central America, Mexico, and elsewhere, are returned to their countries of origin when they are caught, either at any of the border crossings or by immigration authorities within the US, despite the real violence of the situations they suffer in their countries, related to wars or drug trafficking, criminal gangs linked to drug cartels, murder, kidnapping, the aftermath of the guerrillas, paramilitaries, poverty and other situations that Cubans within the Island do not endure.

The Adjustment Act has thus been turned into the alleged determining cause—and, therefore, the obstacle to eliminate in solving the problem of migration from Cuba—when the real causes for the Cuban exodus are the hopelessness, the absence of opportunities, the generalized poverty and the failure of the “revolutionary project” of Castro-communism.

In fact, the government’s economic program stemming from the VII Congress of the Communist Party of Cuba under the guise of the documents Conceptualization of the Cuban Economic and Social Development Plan and National Economic Development and Social Plan until 2030, are, all by themselves, a stronger incentive for the national stampede than a hundred Adjustment Laws.

However, to focus the discussion of the migratory drama in the search for the alleged responsible villain, be it the Cuban Adjustment Act or the olive-green caste enthroned in power, not only masks and delays the solution of the problem, which undoubtedly is in the hands of Cubans themselves, but diffuses the explanation of the basic issues, which are not the mere existence of a particular foreign law that rules the personal future of émigrés from the island, but the fundamentals of the existence of a dictatorship in Cuba that has dominated the destiny of a nation for over almost 60 years, largely thanks to the acquiescence of Cubans themselves.

It is, therefore, about a vicious circle that seems to not have an end, because, though the main cause of the Cuban exodus is a situation resulting from a suffocating, long-lived dictatorship that nullifies the individual—and not a law enacted 50 years ago by a foreign government—it is Cubans’ incredible capacity for tolerance that has allowed the survival of the system to date that drives them to look for their future beyond the horizon.

It is the Cubans’ incredible capacity for tolerance that has allowed the survival of the system to date that drives them to look for their future beyond the horizon

The mobilizing ability of some bargain-basement “leaders” among Cuban émigrés is extremely noticeable. They are ready to demand from foreign authorities what they were not capable of demanding from the Cuban government, and implicate in such demands significant numbers of individuals including families with minor children.

It is also hard to believe that several hundreds of Cubans can organize themselves, demand a solution to the crisis they have provoked, and prepare themselves to make statements to the press and cameras that will show their faces to the world.

Are they the same individuals who remained silently acquiescent to the abuses of power in Cuba? Are they the same ones who accepted the ideological indoctrination of their children, the ration card, the dual currency, the high prices, the most miserable wages, the blackouts, the government-sponsored marches and all the existential humiliation under dictatorial conditions?

How can so much political willpower to demand rights in a foreign land that are not theirs be explained, when they were stripped of natural rights in their own land and accepted the humiliation in fearful silence? Is it less dangerous to traverse jungles and mountains riddled with dangers and drag their people into such an unpredictable adventure than to simply refuse to cooperate with the Castro regime that condemns them to eternal poverty?

The issue deserves a thorough anthropological study of the nature of the Cuban people and the catastrophic effects of more than half a century of dictatorship, beyond any logic of solidarity with their cause or wishes for the successful outcome for the efforts of those fleeing the Island.

There are signs that also indicate how deeply the uprooting from their land has infiltrated so many Cubans. For over half a century, the Castro regime has stripped the Cuban people to such a point that a significant number of Cubans don’t even feel the impulse to defend in their own country what is theirs by birth, history and culture.

The native moral duality becomes more evident especially when it comes to seeking immediate solutions to current problems, carefully avoiding any political involvement and placing on the shoulders of others the weight of problems that are ours.

This is what is happening now, when refugees stranded in Ecuador are defining their situation as a “humanitarian crisis,” though the issue is not about groups fleeing from a war, or about the politically persecuted, or about survivors of a natural disaster, of a famine, or ethnic conflict. Paradoxically, they are making demands in countries already facing their own national crises, without the need to put up with the Cuban crisis.

Paradoxically, they are making demands in countries already facing their own national crises, without the need to put up with the Cuban crisis.

What is more, these Cuban migrants do not risk jail or death if returned to their country of origin. They even declare: “We have nothing to do with politics and we are not against the Cuban government. Our aim is to reach the U.S.”

It is about generations shaped in the philosophy of survival, brought up in permanent simulation, of “pretending to go along,” where anything goes, in a society where the principle of every man for himself reigns, so they resort to any means to reach their objective, in this case, reaching the U.S. That is why they present themselves as subjects trapped in a “humanitarian situation” that, nevertheless, they have chosen not to associate with the political situation in Cuba.

Of course, there’s no denying the humanitarian principles of support for the needy or remaining indifferent to the fact that most Cuban migrants caught in transit to the US—just like other hundreds of thousands of migrants of so many countries in the region—lack the means and resources to survive, have no access to health care and other essential social benefits, such as a secure roof, basic housing conditions, water service, appropriate hygienic food and clothing, so they depend essentially on the solidarity of others. But they have voluntarily placed themselves in that situation.

We are facing a situation which doesn’t seem to offer any short-term answers, and, in any case, whose ultimate solution depends on surmounting Cuba’s internal crisis, whose essence is markedly political, though, by their irresponsibility, the government and those governed continue to pretend to ignore it.

Translated by Norma Whiting

About False Taínos and Alleged “New Trends” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

In the "Taíno" village “Guamá” blowing into a conch shell (photo Martí News)
In the “Taíno” village “Guamá” blowing into a conch shell (photo Martí News)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 7 June 2016 — I recently read an internet article published by Martí News (Bogus Taíno1 Dance in Cuba Shocks an Intellectual Canadian Native), which — as the title indicates — is about a Canadian tourist’s experience during his stay in Cuba. He witnessed an imaginary Taíno show, choreographed in the Matanzas province by a group of dancers “with bare-breasted women, painted skin and wearing wigs,” who “talked about a dubious native Cuban rite on the force of a river.”

The scene that the tourist describes was a mixture of contemporary dance movements and alleged ritual representations, performed by… artists(??) supposedly dressed in Taíno costumes, including white bullseye circles painted on the women’s bare breasts. Continue reading “About False Taínos and Alleged “New Trends” / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The greatest indignation of the Canadian tourist, who is himself a native North-American, was the amusement of his fellow travelers, who were so pleased with the scam that they even took pictures with the fictitious natives. The Canadian regarded – and with reason — that this ridiculous representation conveyed a false image of “a Caribbean Indian culture.”

On the subject, Martí News comments that this “picturesque” show was previously criticized by the “Castro regime’s organic intellectuals” but that now, “cash is king, and so is the tourist industry, which the authorities want to turn into a locomotive to drive the economy, taking advantage of the murky waters of the thaw with the US.” So the government “does not hesitate to use the pseudo-culture as bait for unwary tourists.”

This, however, is only a half-truth. Ancient culture farces is a universal practice and not exclusively Cuban. In addition, the use of nonexistent native expressions in Cuba as a tourist hook to catch foreign currency is a reality, but far from being a novelty. In fairness, it predates the current avalanche of American tourists and, without a doubt, existed for a long time before President Barack Obama decided to restore relations with the Castro dictatorship. Though some find it hard to understand, not everything that is taking place in Cuba today stems from the new framework of relations between the two governments.

The interest in selling an “indigenous” tourism product beyond rum, cigars and the most affectionate prostitutes in the world has numerous precedents, ranging from apocryphal legends -like the love stories of Hatuey and Guarina in the eastern region of Cuba or that of the Indian lovers of Jagua, to chimeras, such as the treasure of Guamá, which, according to the oral folkloric tradition, lies at the bottom of the lake by the same name, in the current Matanzas province, where it was thrown by the Taíno rebel so the Spanish conquistadores could not find it.

In fact, Matanzas1 is one of the provinces with the highest record of aboriginal legends, even though it had low Taíno presence compared to the south-central and eastern regions of Cuba. There is, for example, the legend of the Yumurí — another romantic saga of love between a young Taíno couple — and the massacre of Spaniards by natives (or of natives by Spaniards, depending on who’s telling the story) which took place in the ample bay. Both the province and the bay were named after the incident.

All these sagas, more or less whimsical, come from pre-1959 Cuban traditions, and were compiled from the work of archaeologists, anthropologists and other scholars of pre-Columbian Cuba from the country’s practices. In particular, stories on these topics collected by members of the National Board of Archaeology around 1940 and 1950 stand out.

Such traditions, like so many others considered by the Castro regime as hoaxes and unenlightened thinking, typical of “colonialism and neo-colonialism eras” were almost completely erased from popular memory by the overwhelming thrust of decades of “revolutionary” indoctrination, but quickly unearthed starting in the 90s’, when the boom in tourism from foreign capital investments — mainly Spanish — took place, which saved the Cuban regime from asphyxia in the early post-Soviet crisis.

And it was precisely during that period in the 90s’ when the debauchery in search of dollars made possible the miracle of the existence of nothing less than a whole “Taíno community” in eastern Cuba, specifically in the town of Caridad de los Indios, in Yateras, Guantánamo province, whose population, though predominantly descended from the ancient Taíno people of the same region and with the same visible physical traits of that original ethnicity has not preserved the Arawak language of their native ancestors, nor their customs, arts, traditions, or belief systems.

In fact, residents of Caridad de los Indios, as in other remote villages in the region, have mixed equally with peasants of Spanish and African descent, and do not differ substantially in habits, customs and standard of speech of any other peasant population in the eastern region.

However, this did not prevent the cultural authorities and other astute provincial officials from recreating a semblance of a Taíno village with all the components of the stagehands out of those very poor locals in order to attract foreign exchange earnings for themselves and for the province in the depths of the 90s’.

Thus, they built caneyes2 in the modest village and created spaces. From the dressing rooms, they invented body adornments (necklaces made of shells and stones and polychromatic paintings on the skin), and even the feathers to be worn by locals, imitating the style of the colorful headdresses of certain continental native cultures. The animators staging the scenes probably copied from old Cinemascope western movies that were once shown on Sunday matinees at any neighborhood cinema.

So that nothing is missing and tourists will enjoy the unforgettable experience of an encounter with the true Taínos of Cuba, in the cacique4 village, there were medicine men [behíques], drugs smoked through the nostrils [cohoba], “Taíno princesses,” ceremonial dances and rites [areítos], bows and arrows (just props, of course) and even songs in an unintelligible “Arawak” language that probably made more than one venerable ancestor of the new Taínos of pastiche turn in his grave.

Arawak names also became more frequent — though they retained their Castilian surnames — so “Hatueys” and “Guamás” and even some “Atahualpas” and “Monctezumas” proliferated. At the end of the day, when it comes to profits, chauvinist concerns are non-existent.

Incredibly, the Taíno fraud worked for a while, and there was more than one visitor who, amid the obligatory areíto ritual — in which foreign tourists participated alongside the natives — was possessed by the spirit of some bellicose aboriginal great-great grandfather and fell in a kind of trance, in the style of spiritualism that is practiced in the eastern region of Cuba. Of course, this was very Taíno-like emotional and truthful.

The locals played their new roles with enthusiasm worthy of better causes, and got used to wearing their Taíno costumes before each group of visitors, and embodying the ambiance of what they believed would be a typical Taíno village, plenty of musical gourds, [guayos], feathers, loincloth, stoves for cooking cassava bread, campfires and a battery of artisanal tools created for this purpose. Everyone was happy: the new Taínos felt important for the first time in the history of their community; cultural and tourism dollars flowed into the official coffers — and especially into their thirsty pockets — and collaterally, the “Indians” also benefited financially and materially. They had discovered that it was more lucrative and less fatiguing be a Taíno than a peasant.

But behold, the unwary villagers came to believe they were genuine Taínos. So, when at one of the annual meetings of the Caribbean Festival — hosted in Santiago de Cuba, one of the sources with the most tourism influx to the “Taíno” village of Yateras — a group of similar “Taínos” appeared from Puerto Rico, representatives of a so-called “Taíno Nation” created to vindicate their rights as authentic West Indian natives and to demand compensation and return of land seized from their ancestors from the time of the Conquest, those from Yateras didn’t want to be left behind and decided to join the aforementioned pipe dream.

Numerous forms were filled out, with photographs and personal details of the alleged Taínos, and each were obstinate to “prove” tenaciously their aboriginal pedigree, to have the honor of belonging to the intangible nation and to have access to the appropriate compensation. The foreign press, meanwhile, had unleashed a whole tendentious campaign on the existence of “ethnic minorities” in Cuba, thus triggering the demons of censorship and repression on the Island.

It was, without a doubt, a “political problem” and a counterrevolution crime to encourage these Cuban peasants to acknowledge themselves as members of a particular ethnic group, and especially encourage them to claim ancestral rights. It was a crime to thus divide the Cuban nation and manipulate so perversely the goodwill of the people of Yateras.

As might be expected, there were purges. The official heads of those in charge rolled, provincial political authorities pretended to ignore the “diversionary” phenomenon that had developed in the face of the unsuspecting ideologues of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC); villagers were visited and warned by the censors about the dangers of such temptations of autonomy. As quickly as it had sprouted, the myth of the aboriginal village in remote eastern Cuba vanished.

Or, rather, it was transformed, since, even today, tourist excursions to Caridad de los Indios remain, so that foreign visitors may get to know the descendants of the original inhabitants of Cuba close-up, and see how much the Castro revolution has benefitted them. It is rumored that “areíto” rituals are carried out discretely. That is a peculiar spiritualist ceremony in which – in the afternoons — the spirit of mythical Hatuey comes to dance among the living, of which the locals are very proud, because, since now nobody deceives them, the leaders of the PPC have made it very clear that they descend from him: “the first Cuban revolutionary.”

1-The Taíno were an Arawak people who were indigenous to the Caribbean and Florida. At the time of European contact in the late 15th century, they were the principal inhabitants of most of CubaJamaica, Hispaniola and Puerto Rico in the Greater Antilles, the northern Lesser Antilles, and the Bahamas They spoke the Taíno, one of the Arawak languages.

2-Matanzas in Spanish means massacre

3-Caney (plural, caneyes) Village chief hut

4-Cacique: Tribal chief

 

Legal Framework for the Enemy / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Source: eltiempo.com
Source: eltiempo.com

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 2 June 2016 — The phrase uttered by Castro I a few years ago, when he confessed that no one knew how to build socialism, remains in the minds of many Cubans. Most of us, stunned and unbelieving, wondered back then what they had been doing for all previous decades, when the official discourse specifically maintained that we were immersed in the construction of this idyllic “society, qualitatively superior to capitalism”.

However, the successor to the throne, Castro II, apparently does believe to know how socialism is built, not socialism as the soviet manuals indicated, but something similar to it: a gestational namesake that, in reality, would only be the consumption of the State capitalist monopoly, the absolute eldest son of the Galician-Birán caste, his close followers and their offspring. Continue reading “Legal Framework for the Enemy / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

In fact, the General has even calculated even how much “prep time” will elapse until we can view this wonder: exactly 13 years, i.e. from the year 2017, when the new National Plan for Economic and Social Development (PNDES) will be defined and approved until 2030, when the “successful” implementation of the Guidelines has fertilized the field for “socialist development”. The PNDES is the complement and the tool of the Conceptualization Project (PC), as discussed in a previous article.

Let the new bricklayers get ready, the ones that will stir together the new mixture that the Castro regime brings us, if we assume the folly as a certainty, the promised “socialism” could start to be built just 70 years after the takeover of power by the guerrillas who are still in the warpath from the heights of comfort of the Palace of the Revolution, far removed from ordinary people’s daily hardships.

Of course, we’re dealing with an amazing accumulation of chimeras. First among them is the assumption that there are Cubans who are ready to read and seriously analyze documents flowing from last April’s secret conclave of the Druids. The other — no less dreamy — is that anyone (including their own promoters) will take seriously the contents that are summarized in them. And, finally, there is the alienation of the ideal “model” from where we diverge to project the future of a country that doesn’t even have a present, in which the predominant demographic features are the low birth rate, the rapid aging of the population and the unstoppable emigration abroad. It is unlikely that the ruling caste will have enough slaves in the endowment to build another “revolutionary” lie of such magnitude.

But it is not my intention to dwell on another analysis of senile — though not naïve at all — utopias, but to focus on some shady elements which, paradoxically, are part of a kind of glossary, presented under the title Meaning Of Terms Used In Documents Presented At The Seventh Congress Of The CCP, which establishes, in 33 categories, the new battery of Castro concepts “over property and socialism,” so that the most educated population on the planet might fully understand the scope of such illustrious pages.

But, just like the bedsheet that’s too short to cover your toes, the glossary in question does not mask the demons that the Castro regime is trying to conjure. An example that jumps out is that the concept of “private property” – acknowledged as one of the forms of property for the Cuban Model (subsection d of point 120 PC) — is not included in the list of glossed definitions for either document.

Instead, ersatz categories, such as Non-State Ownership, Personal Property, or Common Proprietor of the Basic Means Of Production, euphemisms intended to blend for the sake of a purported “common interest” the rights of individuals to manage, control, inherit or dispose of their property. In Cuba, such an interest has already be determined by “the leading role of the socialist State in the economy” and that stands for “State-owned” – the so-called “socialist property of all the people” — in “the backbone of the entire system of property of the socialist society”(point 123, PC).

This guiding character of the State, in turn, is strictly based on “the principles of our socialism,” therefore the “projects of personal life, family and collective” are also selected by free will and responsibility “of each person, but within the political-ideological framework outlined by the CCP, and, in any case, the individual and family projects can be conceived “as counter or antagonistic towards the collectives.” In this equation, “collectives” equals people-society and, especially, State. Contradictorily, individuals or entities defined as “common owners” are included among the “non-State forms” of property.

If the reader has not understood a thing, this is the purpose of the official tabloid. I will simplify it to a minimum: the State (Castro and his conga-line) is the representative of the people (everyone else who is a native of Cuba) and as such, he is the one who controls everyone’s property, including assets that presumably do not belong to the State. As a corollary of this legal-theoretical aberration, the “people” own everything but every day is more deprived in assets, capital and rights; while the State collects and manages all the wealth and benefits of the nominal owners, it establishes production strategies (although they not produce anything) and it launches the legal and political order of the “owner-people.”

Another notable omission in the glossary is the latest type of property mentioned in section 120 of the CP, “property of mass political organizations and other forms of association” – implicitly understood in these institutions created by the government-State-party to ensure its control of society, which fittingly overlaps within the generic concept of “socialist civil society” (glossary term number 10).

Interestingly, unlike other forms of property, “political organizations of the masses, social, and others …” (Sub-paragraph e, point 120 of the PC) enjoy a special privilege, as these associations “have legal personality and work in the established framework “(point 188 PC) and “can receive State or other support, in the interest of the country’s advancements and its well-being” (section 190 PC).

There is no need to be an accomplished analyst to discover the Castro trick. When organizations created for the State’s own service — such as the CDR, FMC, CTC, FEEM, FEU, OPC, UPEC, UNEAC* and a whole long list of “foundations” defined as “socialist civil society” — are acknowledged as “properties” with legal personality and independent from the State and then the rights of these organizations are legitimized to receive “help” (financing? donations?) from the State or from “others” (institutions, organizations or other foreign actors?). This not only justifies the permanence of a monstrous unproductive and parasitic institutional structure within a country in debt and in perennial economic crisis, but frees the State-Party-Government from the burden that support for them implies, and in addition converts them into potential tax contributors to the State itself.

Taking this analysis a step further, it is difficult not to relate the category “socialist civil society” and the official recognition of the form of ownership of ” political organizations of the masses, social, and others …” — defined in the glossary as a “form of non-State ownership” — with the easing measures dictated by the US government regarding the approval of bank loans and other benefits for non-State entrepreneurs. It would not be surprising if socialist civil society becomes the entrepreneurs of the future. Suffice it to remember that the origin of the capital of many of the tycoons of today’s Russia stems from the workings of the institutions created by the Soviet State. If this seems a bit twisted to the readers, be aware that, in effect, it is.

And since everything seems to be thought out, not by chance, concept number 6 of the glossary (forms of non-State-owned property) literally states in paragraph 4 that “the possibilities of different non-State forms for the effective management and efficient use of resources” must contribute “to the development of the national economy, instead of being a burden to the socialist State.” That is, all must pay income taxes to the State.

Obviously, regardless of the unworkable nature of almost all Castro plans, we must not lose sight of the obvious intention of making a comprehensive legal framework for the whole society, which is to be favorable to its interests as a military and political enterprise. Such a framework would cover both the minimum formal requirements to satisfy legal scruples for the sake of appearances from abroad and to legitimize the Castro transition to State capitalism disguised as socialism.

So it is that we finally know that, hereinafter, when the power elite speaks of how to “construct socialism” it will actually be referring to how to best consolidate the private emporium founded by the two most illustrious sons of… Birán**.

There will be no shortage of those who think that this is causing too much worry, that the absurdity of the official plans is, in itself, the warranty of its failure. Those who think that way might be forgetting how much damage it has caused us as a nation to underestimate the mimetic and survival skills of the Castro regime. Personally, I agree with those who believe that we would be better off if we kept our enemies under close scrutiny, even if we are convinced that they are in agony. And I don’t know anyone who is more deserving of the title of enemies of the Cuban people than the Castro brothers.

Translator’s note:

*The acronyms stand for: CDR – Committees for the Defense of the Revolution; FMC, Federation of Cuban Women; CTC, Cuban Workers Center; FEEM, Federation of High School Students ; FEU, Federation of University Students; OPC, Cuban Patriotic Organization; UPEC, Cuban Journalists Union; UNEAC, Cuban Writers and Artists Union.

*The birthplace of Fidel and Raul Castro

Translated by Norma Whiting

The New Gospel, According to the General / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Raúl Castro has slipped the designs of the PCC into a tabloid with documents analyzed and approved during the VII Congress of the Cuban Communist Party
Raúl Castro has slipped the designs of the PCC into a tabloid with documents analyzed and approved during the VII Congress of the Cuban Communist Party

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 26 May 2016 — The Cuban Party-State-Government has just published a tabloid containing two of the root documents analyzed and approved during the VII Congress of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) last April, 2016. These are the Project for the Conceptualization for the Economic and Social Model of Socialist Development Project and for the National Project Plan for Economic and Social Development Until 2030: Proposal Of Country’s Vision, Core And Strategic Sectors.

No doubt this is a case of “partial declassification”, considering that the four documents adopted in April’s occult ritual were of a strictly secret character. The discussion and approval, produced in covert conditions, involved about a thousand of the anointed (so-called “delegates”) and, according to official figures 3,500 “guests.” Continue reading “The New Gospel, According to the General / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya”

The two remaining mysterious scrolls have yet to be declassified, namely, the Report on the Results of the Implementation of the Guidelines for Economic and Social Policy of the Party and the Revolution, with the Update of the Guidelines for the period 2016-2021, which contains the Working Party In Compliance With Those Approved At The First National Conference Objectives And Guidelines Of The First Secretary Of The Central Committee, i.e., the sacred commandments of the General-President himself.

The first thing that draws attention to this tabloid’s disclosure is the indifference of the Cuban population, which has not given any importance to a document where, presumably, the destiny of the nation was plotted and established. In contrast, some foreign news agencies have unleashed a wave of comments that tend to magnify those documents as if they were the creation of a miracle, focusing the spotlight on what they consider the big news: the alleged acknowledgement of “private property” by the PCC, including medium size and small businesses in that category. At the same time, the media’s most audacious analysts suggest the Cuban government has employed certain political will to enhance or enable the development of this type of economic management.

Such a mirage, agitated by the “co-responsible” of Havana’s accredited press–so diligent in legitimizing the official discourse of the ruling elite as refractory to delve into a serious and thorough investigation of the Cuban reality–part of a misinterpretation of point 91 of the “Conceptualization…”, which textually exposes “another transformation that will contribute to the economy, employment and well-being of the population is the recognition of the complementary role of private ownership over certain means of production …”.

However, it is known that true private property is only possible in societies where individuals, groups or business entities are able to exercise the right to own, control, inherit, manage and produce their goods and capital in order to achieve wealth. Those rights include the possibility of developing their properties according to their abilities, or acquiring (including importing) raw materials, machinery, equipment and all documents necessary for the development of their commercial or productive activity, which implies the existence of a lawful framework providing legal guarantees to the “owners.” That is not the case in Cuba, as should be known in the circles of the accredited press.

In fact, the newly published document endorses the opposite of what can be expected where real private property exists, as described in point #104: “the concentration of property and wealth in natural or legal non-State persons or entities is not allowed, in accordance with what has been legislated, in a manner consistent with the principles of our socialism,” and, if this were not enough, they hammer another nail on the coffin of the illusory “private property” in section 201, when it dictates: “the state regulates the constitution, dissolution, liquidation and restructuring of legal entities of all forms of property. It defines their areas of policies and principal activities.”

But the most relevant value of “The Project of Conceptualization …” is the huge number of conflicting and mutually exclusive elements, which clearly reflects not only the extent and depth of the Cuban socio-economic crisis, but the impossibility of getting it resolved from the political and legal framework established in the last 57 years.

This is evident throughout the entire document, but a few key issues that contradict the ideological assumptions on which it is intended to build the “Model” are more than sufficient. Suppose we look at the case of foreign investments, a kind of property that is currently being officially acknowledged by the government as “a source of development and means of accessing capital, technology, markets and managerial experience, which contributes production clusters and in the resolution of major structural imbalances…” (Item #90).

On the other hand, the principle that the economic system is planned, regulated and controlled by the State is sustained. The State also controls relations with international economies (point 203).

So the solution to the structural crisis of Cuba’s socialism is found in the forms of capitalist production, but the distribution of wealth stemming from market relations through foreign trade and foreign (capitalist) investment will be exerted by the socialist state. Then the wealth from capitalist production capacity would be state-socialist property, since, as stated by paragraph 124, “the State acts as a representative of the owner, which is the people.”

The colossal nationalization of the economy continues to be maintained, since, in its capacity as representative of the owners, the State decides and controls the destinies of the corporate profits of socialist property of all the people, after [the owners’] fulfillment of tax obligations and other commitments, (point 148).

This “representation” includes the regulation and control of institutions, companies and communications media as a strategic resource of the State–which is to say, the state monopoly of the media–“according to the policy designed” by the CCP, “preserving technology sovereignty, in compliance with the legislation established on matters of defense and national security” (points 110 and 111), in which it presupposes ratification of Law 88 (Gag Law).

Of course, the role of the State (government and one-party at the same time) as “patriarch” manager of wealth and properties under “representative of the people” is more than questionable, in a nation where presidential elections have not been held in over 60 years, and where more than 70% of the population was born after 1959 and has never had the opportunity to legitimize such paternity.

This is precisely what determines that the “new” proposal–absurdly futuristic, but almost identical to all the discursive rhetoric of the preceding decades–from the same octogenarian and retrograde ruling elite, does not arouse the interest of ordinary Cubans in the least. Why “debate” about the same old fait accompli? they ask themselves with the same apathy that dominates Cuban society.

Few have stopped to think that, with the popular “debate” which, it’s rumored, will take place around these documents, the ruling caste aims to “legitimize” the consecration of state capitalism for their own benefit, and will continue to cling to power beyond the biological possibilities of the olive-green banditos. This seems to be expressed in the presentation of the behemoth in question: we are facing the strategic legacy of the “historic generation” to new generations.

It is not possible to exhaust in a single article all the ambiguous rabbit trails that slither along the 330 points of the Conceptualization Project. For now, let’s summarize that they are the “good news” that Saint Raúl, of the olive-green, bearer of a truth that has certainly been revealed to him by his predecessor, the Great Orate: if we stick to the concept of “Revolution” of that wise old man, if the “Guidelines” are met and if the results of the implementation of these are effective, in the year 2030 Cubans will be in a position to “build a sovereign, independent, socialist, democratic, prosperous and sustainable nation.”

Let no one be surprised if, in the coming weeks, the number of emigrants from this impossible island increases exponentially.

Translated by Norma Whiting

The Step-Motherland’s Droit de Seigneur / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo and Minister of Development, Ana Pastor, greeting Raúl Castro. (EFE / Estudios Revolución)
Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel García-Margallo and Minister of Development, Ana Pastor, greeting Raúl Castro. (EFE / Estudios Revolución)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 23 May 2016 — Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo, Spain’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, recently made his second visit to Cuba. Unlike his first, in November 2014–when the general-president did not deign to meet with him—this time his “highest excellency” Spanish Foreign Minister was emphatically welcomed by the upper echelons of power.

This new attitude between both sides is not so strange, since García-Margallo was in a “democratic” mode in 2014, triggering the olive-green gerontocracy’s suspicion and displeasure. Now, the Chancellor has come solely in a business mode, with the mission to strengthen and expand as much as possible Spain’s investments in Cuba before the resources of the powerful northern neighbor intrude (for a second time) in the territory of the former Spanish colony, once again depriving Spain of its devalued Crown jewel. Continue reading “The Step-Motherland’s Droit de Seigneur / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

This time, the Castro’s media monopoly reported cryptically, in a brief note, the exchange with “the distinguished visitor,” who was accompanied by senior officials in the fields of Development and Cooperation of the Spanish Government and by the Ambassador of that country in Cuba, citing “positive relations between the two nations” and “the recent signing of agreements in Madrid regularizing Cuban’s intermediate and long term debt,” which “creates favorable conditions” for strengthening of relations between the two countries.

There is no doubt that the current scenario proved advantageous for the Spanish Chancellor when talking business with the satrapy

On Cuba’s side, the meeting was attended by the Foreign Minister, a Deputy Chairman of the Council of Ministers, the Minister of Foreign Trade and Foreign Investment, and the Foreign Affairs Deputy Minister. It was obviously a business visit that was took place in greatest secrecy.

So, as usual, details of interest did not reach the public about bilateral economic issues, debt terms and repayment of potential Spanish investments, although it is known that Spain is one of Cuba’s main trading partners and has maintained a strong business presence for more than two decades in Cuba, especially in the tourist and hotel field. Therefore, these should be topics of importance for the population, in the midst of the deep Cuban crisis.

In another sense, but equally secret, there were the activities carried out by the same Spanish Foreign Minister during his previous visit. Less than two years ago, the now “most excellent” visitor raised great distress at the Palace of the Revolution when he delivered the keynote On Living through the Transition: a Biographical View of Change in Spain–also behind closed doors and in the presence of a handpicked audience—in such a government space as the Higher Institute of International Relations. The piece established a comparison between the Spanish reality at the end of the Franco era, the beginning of the process of democratic transition, and the Cuban reality today, under the late Castro regime.

In retrospect, it is fair to concede that—although García-Margallo’s speech in November 2014 in Havana did not reach the national media—none of the governments and representatives of democratic nations who had visited us until then had so boldly expressed criticism towards Cuban official policy nor had they spoken about the importance of freedoms of speech, press, assembly and association.

However, on his first visit, the Spanish Foreign Minister did not enjoy the same privileges as US President Barack Obama, whose speech–directed to all Cubans and not to a select group of Castro’s faithful—was broadcast in real time through Cuban media, and it made a deep impression in the minds of ordinary people. Of course, the US president is not one to be provoked.

It is as if favoring the protection of the interests of Spanish business in Cuba must necessarily involve forgetting the exclusion Cubans live under, so exploited by those same entrepreneurs

That explains why Cubans did not learn about the audacity of García-Margallo, the first representative of a democratic government who mentioned, before an official venue’s microphone, ideas as subversive as the importance of political party pluralism as a pillar of democracy and national harmony, efficiency of peaceful political transitions in order to achieve true lasting changes, and the regaining of freedoms violated by long lasting autocratic regimes.

On that occasion, García-Margallo referred to the need for monetary unification and acceleration of changes in Cuba, decentralization of decision-making, ratification of the United Nations covenants on civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights, and freedom of association, among other topics that are also taboo for the Cuban government.

In short, we would need to point that, when comparing the Spanish foreign minister’s approach on his first visit to Cuba with his second, there is no doubt that there was a setback in terms of defense of human rights and democracy for Cubans, as if favoring the protection of the interests of Spanish business in Cuba must necessarily involve forgetting the exclusion Cubans live under, so exploited by those same entrepreneurs. All this goes against the grain of the hypocrisy of officials of that country, who, when it is convenient for them, make reference to “the close historical, cultural and blood ties that bind our two nations.”

Now it turns out that García-Margallo has even chosen to be the interpreter of the wishes of the Cuban people, so his purely business mission in Cuba is not only justified by the large presence of Spanish capital in the former “always faithful island of Cuba” but because “the Cuban people now primarily want progress and economic development, and we will help in that change.” Unfortunately, we do not know how he will manage to do that. For now, freedom and the ratification of the covenants, blah, blah, blah … is still pending. Ah, Spanish politicians, always so fickle!

If Cuban rulers of the past 57 years are so very “Spanish,” it is not surprising that things in Cuba are so very topsy-turvy

However, the current considerate stance of the Spanish authorities towards Castro once again addresses the question of “roots,” no matter the tree. According to media allegations, Mr. Garcia-Margallo recently stated “in Cuba, apart from human relationships, Fidel’s and Raul’s father was a soldier who fought on the side of our troops during the [War of] Independence, and he later changed sides,” so the dictator brothers “are very, very Spanish.”

Well, finally! That explains everything: if Cuban rulers of the past 57 years are so very “Spanish” it is not surprising that things in Cuba are so very topsy-turvy, and even less strange that now—in the midst of the transition from Castro-communism to Castro-capitalism—the step-motherland’s claim for a certain droit de seigneur is being encouraged from La Moncloa*, especially when history, always so whimsical, seems to be closing another cycle that–bridging the gaps—mimics that episode over a hundred years ago when Spain and the US were quarreling over the spoils of the Island-in-ruins.

*Official Madrid residence of the Spanish Prime Minister

Translated by Norma Whiting

Rules to Prevent Debate / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya

Merchants at El Trigal protested closing of the market. (14ymedio)
Merchants at El Trigal protested closing of the market. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 May 2016 — A small protest convoy and a demand by a group of bicycle taxi (pedicab) operators at the Plaza of the Revolution; indignation and astonishment among producers and traders about the arbitrary and unannounced closing of the wholesale market for agricultural products in the capital; irritation of several citizens who verbally attacked the policemen who were trying to maltreat a blind and helpless beggar, who was at the Carlos III marketplace; a sit down strike led by workers at a cigar factory in the city of Holguín over wages… These are some of the events that demonstrate both the state of dissatisfaction and frustration that are taking shape in Cuba’s population, the emergence of a sense of questioning the system and the incipient rebellion against the power and the authorities that represent it.

It is without a doubt, good news. The bad news is that social balance becomes dangerously fragile in a society where rights and prosperity have been banned, where institutions respond fully to the interests of the parasite power, where any opposition to the government is illegal and where public debate and dialogue between the power and “governed” are non-existent. Continue reading “Rules to Prevent Debate / 14ymedio, Miriam Celaya”

As the social tension grows and the government increases the obstacles, uncertainty becomes greater as to ways a conflict could be unleash that would elude institutional control.

If the power caste did not suffer from the colossal blindness of its proverbial arrogance, it would have enough lucidity to interpret the current signs

It seems that the above facts are insignificant and isolated amid the general acquiescence of Cubans with respect to their government. However, such events were unthinkable just five years ago, and even less so during the period prior to July 30, 2006, when the “Proclamation” was made public, which declared Fidel Castro’s supposed temporary withdrawal from the presidential chaise lounge, which he had intended to be his for life. The proclamation gave some hope to the people about improvements in their living conditions.

If the power caste did not suffer from the colossal blindness of its proverbial arrogance, it would have enough lucidity to interpret the current signs, especially when the still timely efforts of the people’s protests are taking place just weeks after the conclusion of the last Congress of the Cuban Communist Party, where presumably national economic and socio-political strategies were drawn for at least until 2030. A moderately insightful Government would at least have the perception that the social acceptance of its eternal monologue had ended and that the urgencies of the national reality far outweigh the temporary and strategic limits set by the Party Guidelines.

Like it or not, the lords of power must understand that the Cuban crisis demands changes dictated from social slogans, not from the Palace of the Revolution, and that such changes must occur willingly–that is, starting from a real national debate from which a transitional covenant might emerge–or by force, when an undesirable social explosion could take place due to the unstoppable deterioration of the population’s living conditions, with unpredictable consequences.

It turns out that autocracies are not designed for public scrutiny. Far from establishing a national dialogue which would, in principle, act as an escape valve for frustrations, the last page of the Party newspaper Granma on Tuesday May 17th, 2016 contained an article which is the absolute denial of this possibility. The article is titled Rules for Debate or Matter of Principles, signed by a (let’s use the term they prefer) “revolutionary intellectual” by the name of Rafael Cruz Ramos, which establishes two simple “rules” for an imaginary debate which, by the way, the reader never catches a glimpse of.

In Cuba, we know, all money is cursed, unless it is blessed and managed by the leaders of the Castro-cracy

Summarizing a substantial verbal extraction that fills an entire page with what might have been said in a few paragraphs, Mr. Cruz tries unsuccessfully to enunciate a first rule, designed not to establish the basis or topics for that nonexistent debate-monologue of his, but what will not be included in it, under any circumstances.

We should not ever debate with “those who come to us carrying a political fragmentation grenade ready to have it explode in the heart of the country, of the Republic, of the motherland, in order to destroy the socialist system under construction and restore the archaic and worn-out capitalist system” Cruz Ramos assures us, though no one knows what authority or supranational power this unknown subject has that he can issue such categorical guidelines.

The second rule is also set from denial, and validating the same old Castro-style singsongs: “We will not deal with anyone who is funded, backed, or supported by the terrorist anti-Cuban money from Miami or any other nation, including those of old Europe”. Because in Cuba we already know that all money is cursed unless it is blessed and managed by the leaders of the Castro-cracy, who will later distribute some loose change or other prizes among its most faithful servants. This may well be Mr. Cruz Ramos’s case.

The article is extremely emotional and perhaps because of that it is extremely vague. It is hard to figure out what he means by “we,” what topics would be subject to debate, who would participate, who would carry the dangerous “political fragmentation grenade” or what it consists of. Instead, it can be assumed that there will be no debate with anyone who is not on the side of the political power. Therefore, from this point any possibility for debate is null.

Cruz Ramos could have saved his efforts. Because if we are talking about a debate, it would be a discussion between two or more individuals, groups, etc., on topics or issues of public interest, in which a moderator and audience would also participate. It may be oral, written, or take place in an internet forum, but in all cases certain rules and recommendations must be observed that will allow for the development of the discussions, and, in the best of cases, making agreements.

The standards and recommendations are universal and unavoidable for the development of any discussion, and consist of observing principles as basic as not imposing one’s personal views, making a point through argument and counter-argument, listening carefully to others, without interrupting or underestimating their criteria, being brief and concise, respecting differences, speaking freely, expressing ourselves clearly, using appropriate vocabulary, avoiding verbal or physical attacks as well as mocking and other behaviors that might disqualify the antagonist, among others.

Cruz Ramos does not propose a debate, but total commitment of Cubans to the Government

But Cruz Ramos violates every one of these rules, ending exactly in the opposite corner: he disqualifies a priori the potential antagonist, he refuses to listen to arguments other than his own, he has no argument but argues, criticizes in the abstract without offering concrete proposals, he extends unnecessarily without managing to explain or make himself clearly understood. Cruz Ramos does not propose a debate, but total commitment of Cubans to the Government

On the other hand, his convoluted discourse mixes dissimilar topics and out of context references, distorting facts, history, characters and his and others’ realities. An apparent inconsistency which is, nevertheless, perfectly consistent with the system he defends. So, to refute each and every one of the passionate lines of Rules for Debate… would be as extensive as it would be unproductive, especially when it becomes obvious that this is his intention: to distract from the essence, which is the failure of the Cuban sociopolitical system imposed on Cubans more than half a century ago.

But, at least it is useful to note what is unable to be concealed of the conjunction of two great fears of the Government cupula: the real possibility that popular protests might become more generalized–which is not or does not have the same political costs to strike dissident demonstrations or repress poor people for whom, de jure, the Revolution was created more than half a century ago–and the impossibility of further delaying, without consequences, a broad and inclusive debate over Cuba’s destinies.

It becomes clear that if the Castro regime does not feel capable of withstanding the test of a national debate, then its weakness is as great as its arrogance. But if, in addition, the best of its think-tanks, in order to deal with that eventuality carry the same argumentative-theoretical baggage as Rafael Cruz Ramos, the debate can already be considered lost.

Translated by Norma Whiting

Danse Macabre / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 7.56.35 AM
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