About the Civic Manifesto / Miriam Celaya

Since the publication of the Civic Manifesto addressed to Cuban communists, reproduced in this blog after it first saw the light of day on December 13, 2010 in the new digital site “We Ask to Speak” to which I created a link, many regular readers and other friends inside and outside Cuba have expressed their interest in signing the document. Originally, said Manifesto was not designed to collect signatures, so it shows only the eight signers who participated in its first debate and composition. However, due to the reception it has had among many readers, it has been replicated in several other digital sites as you have requested, and this January, the option for anyone wishing to sign it, independent of their nationality, ideology or political affiliations,will be added. This is a civic message, not of a partisan stance.

You can also contribute to the dissemination of the ideas presented in the referenced document by e-mailing it to friends and relatives within and outside Cuba. I will inform you as soon as possible when it is available for signing on the website cited above, where it was published initially. As co-author of the Manifesto, I appreciate the support you have given it, and I encourage whoever shares the proposals and ideas it contains to sign it. Thank you for your invaluable solidarity and support. A hug to everyone. Miriam.

Translated by Norma Whiting

December 28, 2010

Basic Means and Human Rights / Miriam Celaya

Perogrullo is right in that we Cubans are basic means for the government; we are used or ignored, according to how useful we may turn out. As if this alone were not enough, we have an “inventory number” inscribed on our identity card which we are required to carry around, and, more important even than your face or name, is that pretty long number including your birth date, followed by another sequence indicating even your gender. I, for example, am not Miriam, but 59100900595. The identity card in question also has one’s fingerprints. Just by looking at that small card encased in plastic, the message is loud and clear: “I’m watching you”, which, of course, is one of its main purposes.

While it’s true that in other parts of the world people tend to have a document that identifies them, from a driver’s license to a dry cleaners card, no written gadget replaces the human person as in Cuba. Unless we are talking about a criminal, who, nevertheless, also has his rights. And this is the word around this issue: rights. Because in these last few days the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was celebrated, and the press in my (my?) country, with the touching modesty that they have us so accustomed to, once again harped on the extraordinary achievements on such rights that the revolution has introduced for us – the native basic means — and for tens of thousands of people around the entire world. They harp, above all, on health issues.

Just my bad luck that around that same time I had visited an old relative at the Altos clinic at the Calixto Gracía Hospital, and I was able to evidence, alive and directly [in the flesh], as we say in Cuba, the conditions in which basic means are warehoused in such as a place. A ward where, in unabashed promiscuity, patients of both sexes share their stay, even the same cubicle, so that if they need to use a bedpan or a urinal, or if a patient (yes, you have to be patient) has to be catheterized, or if someone who is not ambulatory has to be given a sponge bath, it has to be done in the presence of others, because the ward does not even have devices that allow curtains to be drawn discretely to isolate patients from each other when it is necessary or desirable. The highest aspiration of the poor flesh and bone pieces of furniture, “cared for” in this manner, is for the roommate and his visitors, and even the patient’s own visitors, to discretely look away while they the patient uses the bed pan, while he gets washed, or simply while the doctors’ or the nurses’ treatment requires that their bodies be exposed.

It is a very bleak spectacle indeed. It is overwhelming to just think that a human being might stumble into a situation in which dignity and respect are stepped on like this and, to top it all off, that they have to be grateful that “at least we have free and guaranteed medical attention”.

In the midst of all this, I am wondering if the embargo is responsible for an individual who is ill to be subjected to expose his intimacies and his miseries in such as crude manner. I wonder if, at any time, someone had the rare privilege of sharing his in-patient cubicle with any of our olive-green dinosaurs or with any other member of the upper caste, or if any one of the executives or other foreign visitors that are always bragging about the Cuban health system has ever seen these hospital wards, or if they would like to be cared for with these “attentions”. I wonder, above all, how we can cure someone while at the same time lacerating his sense of personal dignity. Definitively, this December 10th I have discovered another one of the dirty corners of Castro-style Human Rights.

Translated by Norma Whiting

December 14, 2010

Bitter Candy / Miriam Celaya

Orlando Luís photograph

Old Rubén is over 80 years old, but he is one of those whose “suckling pigs will not die in his belly,” so, since he retired more than a decade ago, he has always sought ways to round out his meager pension and increase his income. So old and already infirm, he must spend a fortune on his meds every month, but he won’t complain or veg out in a rocking chair, so every day around noon and in the afternoon he leaves his house and walks toward some school’s entrance so he can sell candy.

Rubén has thus found a way to stay active and, at the same time, make some extra money, though a few times he has had to run away as fast as his tired legs will allow because the police harasses all “illegal activity”, even the small escapade of an old man struggling to survive this shipwreck. At times, they have caught Rubén and he has lost his profits and his “merchandise”; on more than one occasion they have “warned him” that if he continues the activity, they will apply “other stronger measures”, but it would not be honest of me to deny that on several occasions the agents have let him go with his candy and his few little pesos… “Old man, behave yourself and stay put at home!” “I don’t want to see you with candy or anything, OK?” But, after a few days, when the wallet starts to wane, Rubén once again fetches the candy and peers cautiously around the school. One has to make a living!

However, these days Rubén has received bad news. Lalo, his candy supplier, as old and worn as Rubén, has decided to submit the license application to manufacture the goodies. Police and inspectors will have declared war on him, and he feels a constant watch on his home, making it difficult to work; sugar is difficult to obtain, and has greatly increased in price… He already has a tired heart and is not up to these sudden shocks. The problem is that we now Lalo will have to do twice the work: cook up the candy and go out and sell them, because – according to the “new reforms” implemented by General Raúl (a little old man who doesn’t have to sell candy) — if Lalo contracted with Rubén and other sellers of his products, he would have to pay social security taxes for each “employee,” which would reduce to a minimum his own profits and make his efforts completely inoperative.

Now Rubén is scheming to see what new market to explore. He might accept the proposal of a numbers bookie in his neighborhood and may become one of his runners. Rubén has always been good with numbers, knows thousands of tricks, and the old man is very lucid. On the other hand, he has the air of a semi-orphan which could serve to dispel the suspicions of distrustful neighbors. He would have preferred not to get into this mess, but he knows that he “cannot stop” because his legs feel more awkward with every passing day; the day may come when he is confined to a wheel chair, and “by then, I must have saved my pennies.” Besides – and this is what I admire most in Rubén — “One has to make a living!!”

Translated by Norma Whiting

December 10, 2010

About Dining Rooms and Diners / Miriam Celaya

Luis Orlando photo

Several days ago, I was reading some works published on a site that switches between the informal and the official. Contrary to what many may believe, it is interesting to meet views opposing to one’s own, especially if they provide elements that force us to tune-up the arguments, or – as in this case – when it deals with personal testimony that allows us to face facts that, no matter how you look at them, affects many, independent of their individual political preferences or ideology.

I do not intend to hash out an article, but to comment on one of the topics to be addressed: the elimination of workplace lunchrooms as a way to alleviate the extreme “subsidies” hanging over this indulgent father they call the State. The “measure” was announced loudly over a year ago in the national media and was implemented experimentally in several work places, whose workers would now receive the sum of 15 pesos (national currency) in place of each lunch. Many of these workers received the news of the end of their mess halls with real pleasure, and with good reason: those who worked all 24 workdays of each month would receive a total of 360 pesos under this model, in addition to their salary. In some cases, taking into consideration that the amount was the same for all workers regardless of salary scales or complexity and responsibility of their positions, lower-income employees would have a substantial increase in income over their own salaries. It goes without saying that the workers who were not chosen for the experiment hopefully and anxiously awaited the measure to be extended to everyone in the work centers.

With the enthusiastic immediacy that characterizes any revolutionary initiative in this country, the experiment began with the purpose of verifying the results in order to extend the measure to all workplaces. However, though the matter has not been mentioned again, the lunchrooms have gradually been disappearing from countless workers centers without workers getting any compensation in return, since they were not among the elected at the start of the great experiment. The ones who were excluded, therefore, do not have lunchrooms or the benefit of the redeeming 15 pesos, though compliance with the rigorous 8-hour workday established by law is maintained. It must be noted, by way of parenthesis, that these laws also state that a 9-hour shift without a lunch break cannot be fulfilled, so – with their wicked skill — management of each work center has been careful to maintain an hour of recess intended for workers’ lunch breaks, when they must find a way of eating, be it by reducing their meager incomes to buy whatever “street” food seems cheapest (therefore devoid of any quality) or by eroding their no less flagging household food stocks, with all the inconveniences that entails. By the way, in spite of the problems it causes, I don’t have any information that the slightest workers strike has taken place… nor will it ever. You can take that to the bank.

Beyond the small gastronomic and financial tragedy, however, isn’t it truly cynical that the government’s experiment decided to allocate 15 pesos to each worker to buy his own lunch? As I see it, if the officials themselves conceived that that amount was essential for an individual to obtain a simple lunch; if, in addition, it is well-known that a median Cuban income is approximately 300 pesos, isn’t it tantamount to official recognition that an individual’s income in Cuba is barely enough to guarantee one meal a day per person? This is, from my view, the crux of the problem. The drama lies not, as seems to be projected in the opinion of some who are affected, whether or not they are granted 15 pesos for each lunch or whether they maintain a trough (not “lunchroom”) which guarantees a miserable and generally bad food ration in their workplace at a nominal price. The real tragedies are that the salary earned after a month’s work is not even enough to satisfy the most basic feeding of an individual, let alone of a whole family; that the State Chiefs — aware of this — should wash their hands of the matter and that the ever-victims should continue to suffer in silence the scorn and arrogance of these XXI century slave drivers.

Translated by Norma Whiting

December 7, 2010

A Superfluous List / Miriam Celaya

In late November, a kind reader wrote to me suggesting I prepare a list of all dissident groups and political parties on the Island. Since the proposal has appeared publicly in the comments on more than one occasion, I propose –in turn- to answer publicly and take the opportunity to share some impressions, given that other Cuban friends inside and outside the country have shown interest in the subject.

I, for one, decline the privilege and the overwhelming responsibility of that task for many reasons. The first and strongest one is that I am part of this varied set that is grouped under the generic name of dissidents, truly diverse in interests, proposals, projections, performances, stories, successes, failures, etc., not to mention the human components and personal nuances that dot all these aspects. It is against all ethics to be judge and party to any process. It also happens that, in order to compile a list of this nature, basic concepts would have to be defined, such as “political party”, “opposition group” or “independent civil society” (in all its manifested forms today in Cuba). This omission also involves risks that could hurt feelings, or carry value judgments that may be subjective.

I have personally heard criteria that overestimate the strength and organization of Cuban dissidents, and others that undervalue it. In fact, after two decades of what we conventionally call here “the surge of the opposition” — characterized by the emergence of some peaceful organizations under the influx of transformative ideas that swept the former socialist camp, and amid the general crisis known as “The Special Period” — the different groups have yet to achieve enough visibility or roots in Cuban society, despite the efforts they have made and the repression suffered by many of their leaders. The causes and ratings for this phenomenon will be properly analyzed in a conceivable immediate future by political scientists and historians better able to do it than this blogger, so I will limit myself for now to say that –- beyond their successes and failures — movements and opposition groups that have existed and still exist in Cuba have set an important precedent in the struggle for the rights and freedoms of the Cuban people through peaceful struggle, and have also demonstrated the existence of a large segment of the population of the Island that does not share in the ideology imposed by the dictatorship and is demanding changes. Breaking the idyllic image of a false unity and the highly publicized “the people united with its government” was a titanic chore that these opponents had to fight against in the last 20 years, at a high personal cost. At some point, its true value will need to be recognized.

Another factor that undermines the development of a reliable list is the instability of some groups. Many of them have had or have a short life, i.e., they surge around a leader’s nucleus but quickly disappear, either by the loss, incarceration, or departure of the leader, or the lack of strength, civic, or political culture of their members. Sometimes they group under one name and then change it when they merge into other groups, or groups split and give rise to lesser groups in continual multiplication. At times, there seem to be lots of opposition groups or political parties, and there are people abroad who cannot imagine how, if this is so, the groups have not been able to overthrow, or at least weaken the dictatorship. In fact, not even peaceful means can be effective unless parties are consolidated and venues for moderation are found, both among social actors who promote change and society as a whole, as well as between them and the government. The old vices of Cuban culture that push us over and over again toward immediacy, improvisation, the search for the limelight, and leaders who are more or less charismatic are key difficulties that have fragmented basic problems and have weakened opposition movements for many years, hence they have not managed to become alternatives to power or even observers of political processes of interest in half a century, as happened with the recent (and as yet without complete results) talks between the government of R. Castro and senior Catholic hierarchy of the Island. This is so true that the very Cuban government, in the midst of the most serious structural crisis of the system that he introduced, allows itself the arrogance to launch insufficient and ridiculous economic reforms that guarantee him more time in power, at least time enough to finish divvying up the piñata and parcel out the spoils of this poor flattened out hacienda. I believe, therefore, that a “list of opponents” at present, far from contributing, could become another element of discord among some jealous and restless spirits. I really don’t think it appropriate or a priority.

But opponents are not only grouped in political parties. There are also civic organizations, for example, The Ladies in White, the Latin American Federation of Rural Women (FLAMUR), the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, headed by Elizardo Sánchez; the website Desdecuba.com, where multiple blogs share space, including Yoani, and several portfolios that can be considered the cradle of the Cuban alternative blogosphere, the blogger platform Voces Cubanas, with a large group of people of all ages and diverse views and interests, as well as the digital magazine Convivencia, which Dagoberto Valdés manages from Pinar del Río, among other civic groups. The importance of these stems from gradually creating venues for free, open and spontaneous debate, without belonging to any political party or answering to any ideology. Political parties and citizens of the future might someday emerge from these groups, without excluding any current groups. Life is always richer than any human forecast, but some of us Cubans are convinced that developing citizens to democratize Cuba is an inescapable and foremost task. The end of a dictatorship would be of little worth if the danger of an escalating one is sustained. We mustn’t forget that it was we Cubans who placed ourselves in the critical point where we are today.

In conclusion, I believe that Cuba is set to create different venues that will encourage the growth of the alternative civil society, which will, in turn, give way to the emergence of institutions capable of upholding the rights and freedoms of citizens. It’s important to create citizens rather than political parties; to create civic culture, accentuating within it the ethical and juridical culture; to convert complaints into requests, into claims, into positive actions. The Ladies in White, Orlando Zapata and Guillermo Fariñas are the most visible evidence of this. It truly is a very long and arduous road that we will have to travel simultaneously toward the eventual extinction of the dictatorial regime. This imposes the dual action of pushing and forcing the government as much as possible, and, at the same time, of creating civic conscience in millions of slaves. However, it has been plainly shown that when it comes to a common destiny, improvisations are useless. Over one century of being a Republic without citizens has been lesson enough.

Translated by Norma Whiting

December 22, 2010

Brief History of a Perverse Lunacy / Miriam Celaya

To discuss the topic that want to devote this post to, I am forced to tell a bit of history. In 1984, I started to work in the Department of Archaeology of the then Institute of Social Sciences, (ICSO) of the Academy of Sciences, in the National Capitol. In those days, we were a large group whose fundamental mission was scientific research, and we had at our service a very well-stocked library on the second floor, in the room occupied by the Library of Congress in the Republican era, that is, the Social Sciences Library of the Academy of Sciences was the successful heir to a valuable library collection, a treasure of enormous scientific, historical, and cultural value.

In the quiet of the Social Sciences Library I had the opportunity to check out works of classic universal philosophy, encyclopedias, dictionaries, art books, many works of chroniclers and rare literary specimens that were part of an accumulated scientific heritage from the early years of the Republic, exceptionally well-preserved over the years, protected in the safety of their shelves and in the care of specialists.

But it so happened that one sad day the Destructor by Antonomasia laid eyes on the historic Library of Congress. Oh, sacrilege! How could that collection have the arrogance to keep itself intact and to survive his infinite power?! How, when a library like this one had never existed in Birán, could the National Capitol luxuriate in exhibiting, with such great impudence and vanity, the nefarious works of the decadent bourgeois past?! And remembering, with admiration and envy, the burning of the Library at Alexandria and also the ones that the fascist hordes carried out in Nazi Germany, among other pyromaniacs in History, he decided to destroy, once and for all, the Library of Congress. In order to carry it out, he had a brilliant idea, so brilliant that it blinded Dr. Rosa Elena Simeón, the then Minister-President of the Academy of Sciences, who, without hesitation in the least, assumed it with the greatest of enthusiasms: in the area occupied by the Library of Congress and in other areas of the Capitol building she would create the greatest library of science and technology in Latin America; it would be called National Scientific and Technological Library (BNCT). It would have the latest information, and it would extend its services — beyond scientists and specialists — to the entire population.

It was in the last months of 1987 that we saw the old book shelves of the Library of Congress piled up in the Great Hall of Lost Steps, and the books exposed to the voracity of all who would loot the libraries. I cannot ever forget the floor, books tousled everywhere in disarray, thrown unscrupulously by the hordes, who were selecting the rarest to be sold in second hand book stores. We were all encouraged to take whatever books we wanted or could carry. Merchants took away books, so long cared for, in wheelbarrows, full to their very limit. A friend of mine, a reference librarian, had let me know, with tears in her eyes, so that I could also look for a few items that might interest me. Only when I arrived at the enormous room did I understand her grief. I assure you that it was one of the most impressive sights I ever witnessed, a disaster of books scattered, kicked, open, some already destroyed by the rush of the crowds over them: years of knowledge and culture destroyed in a matter of hours in the “most cultured country on Earth”

The dazzling Commander inaugurated the BNCT in July of 1988. It left behind the destruction of the old library, as well as the replica of the Punta del Este Cave, with its aboriginal pictographs perfectly copied with mathematical calculations and artistic patterns, which numerous Cuban and foreign specialists had achieved. Everything was worthy of being sacrificed in the name of the new lunacy. The press did not publish these events, although they orchestrated the fanfare of the inauguration.

The BNCT never had the riches of the Library of Congress. In addition, it never attained the dream of providing the latest scientific information services, not to mention equipment, shelving and furniture, which had nowhere near the quality, comfort and elegance of the old library that was destroyed. It was a short-lived bubble, because ideas based on destruction are doomed to failure. That has been the sign of each of the Orate’s initiative.

It turns out that the Capitol has recently become part of the Heritage under The City Historian’s works of restoration. I found out that, at the end of the day, the BNCT has also fallen into disgrace and it must abandon its current premises. To that end, the most exalted science library in Latin America has been assigned a few small locations where its collection does not fit. Workers have been forced to discard many resources that they have had to pack away, and, evidently, there won’t be space for the BNCT in the Capitol this time around, once it is restored. Thus, the BNCT must also prepare its epitaph. Hereinafter, it will become part of the long list of destruction that the Commander of Perverse Lunacy has left in his passage through life.

Translated by Norma Whiting

December 6, 2010

Some Topics up for Debate / Miriam Celaya

Image taken from the Internet

After a long time without participating in readers’ debates, I am encouraged by comments arising from the post “Cuba: potential exit scenarios”, which, as I stated at the end of the text, was written precisely with the intention of the discussion of the proposals I listed in it.

Doing a general review, some readers coincide on points that one can almost say are in agreement, for instance, preferring changes in Cuba to be peaceful, seeking consensus, eliminating exclusions, overcoming social apathy, giving up positions of hatred, and encouraging participation by the young. Other readers exposed somewhat more complex views; there are also extreme positions and plenty of pessimism (justified, by the way), from those who believe that nothing is worthwhile. I first want to insist that, as far as I am concerned, all criteria is valuable, but I can’t help but disagree with some cases and qualify others. If we want consensus, it must be assembled. I will try to be as concise as possible, although such a long, turbulent and complicated scenario as the current Cuban reality and the circumstances that led up to it cannot be summed up in this small space, nor will it be completed in a forum of such modest proportions as ours. I ask of you, therefore, to be patient with me. I will dedicate two posts (not necessarily continuous) to the issues, to avoid a long write-up.

I will base some of my principles on interesting points that have been made among the commentators. One reader believes that the intervention of international agencies, proposed as a possible solution to a humanitarian crisis should not be considered, since such a case should have occurred before 1994, when hunger and poverty reached high levels in the midst of the worst economic crisis when the socialist bloc collapsed, a phenomenon that was officially and euphemistically called “The Special Peacetime Period”. However, despite the hardships of those years, and particularly between 1993 and 1994, what might be described as a “humanitarian crisis” did not quite take place. It is true that there was a large segment of the population that was more vulnerable, including the elderly without filial support, children from dysfunctional homes, families with lower incomes and, of course, the most vulnerable groups in crisis situations: the physically and mentally handicapped, people with chronic illnesses, the homeless, etc. But at the same time, there were factors that helped alleviate the ravages of the shortages relatively quickly, among them, the legalization of the dollar, foreign capital investment, the proliferation of self-employment and -of course, a very important role- the family remittances. We should also not forget that, back then, the ration card was “more generous”, and we must take into account that a series of products was distributed that –though they were of low quality- they served the poorest tables. I keep those years’ cards, significantly more voluminous than today’s. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t deny the terrible wrongs suffered by most Cubans at that time, but, according to the parameters that international organizations establish, so far, Cuba has not actually produced a humanitarian crisis as it has happened in Rwanda, for example, or the former Yugoslavia, even in Haiti and in many other parts of the world, with the ingredients of massacres, famines that have claimed thousands of lives, permanent epidemics, wars, conflicts (ethnic or otherwise), the absence of social control, anarchy, etc.

On the other hand, the 1994 emigration was massive, but that is not the only or sufficient requisite for the intervention of such organizations.  Previous migrations had also been massive, as in 1980 (Mariel) or 1967 (Camarioca); and in the first few years of the revolution, let’s say between 1959 and 1963, when extreme positions were being defined, both in the Island as well as in its foreign policy, and the process was polarized, which led to the flight of thousands of Cubans who were affected in some measure by laws dictated by the new regime, those who thought that the revolution would be a brief and transitory period, or that they simply did not share in Castro’s politics, among other reasons. There are mass migrations from the world’s poorest countries to more developed and rich ones. Revolutions have also driven migration. It is the story of Humanity, and there is little that international organizations can do about it.

Another position I do not share, but one that encourages a debate of vital importance, is the eternal accusation against the young. The view that young Cubans are apathetic, irresponsible or comfortable with the status quo does not seem very reasonable or realistic. It is true that there is a general crisis of values, that the lack of expectations creates a sense of frustration among the young and that fleeing the Island has become the hope of thousands of… young people? Isn’t that what they have seen and are still seeing their elders do for decades? Hasn’t it been and still continues to be the desire of tens of thousands of Cubans well into adulthood?  Young people have also been leaving for 50 years, ones who did not decide to change the reality they rejected, ones who elected to (sacred word, by the way) create a destiny for themselves away from their country of origin. The “youth of today” are not, then, the ones who circumvent confrontation or the promotion of civil liberties. “Today’s youth” are not exactly the ones who are apathetic. It is not fair, nor can we forget that these young people of today saw us (their parents and grandparents) avoiding responsibility, failing in our professional projects, surviving within the double standard of public compliance and private protest, accepting, lying, often nodding in silent complicity, and always afraid.

It is even less accurate to say that today’s youth lack a rebellious spirit. They may become disoriented or confused at times, but they are in many ways nonconformists and rebellious. Why should we demand from them that which the ones with the most experience, the most reflexive and the best prepared have not been able to accomplish? I’m not saying we should leave things as they are, I say we should infect them with willpower and awaken in them the courage that every young person carries inside; I say we should chart a path of freedom where a lot of them will run us over. The phenomenon of the alternative blogosphere is there, begun by a handful of Cubans, mostly mature adults, which today includes a number of invaluable young people. Involving our youth requires the direct involvement -with positive actions- of the less young, members of all the forces of the emerging civil society, including the opposition, under all insignias, who must work on it.

Young people have been held back for half a century, submerged in the midst of a system that told them the future was a done deal, that destiny had already been charted by a process born of violence. At home, we did not tell them: “come on, let’s change things, let’s demand our rights and let’s make the Cuba we want”.  The fact is that we told them: “stay put, don’t believe them, but shut up so you don’t get hurt; pretend to obey, study, get an education, one day things will change… and if they don’t change, leave. Look for a better world than this death place.  Fighting the windmills is not worth the trouble, the others definitely do not appreciate it nor deserve it”. That has become the national truth.  We haven’t exactly been a paradigm of civility and responsibility to our young people. Even worse, we have failed them. How can we claim from them what we are responsible for? Who made them the way they are? Are we better than they are by any chance? I don’t think so. I am especially grateful that some readers have debated such a crucial theme as the role of the young people in the process of change, because, to win their trust and to engage them at the end of a dictatorship and the nation’s reconstruction, is the greatest possible utopia in today’s Cuba.  In spite of everything, I, for one, will continue to bet on the young.

Translated by: Norma Whiting

November 30, 2010

The Rolling Confessional / Miriam Celaya

Photograph by Orlando Luís

If, as the result of some wonderful spell, lots of Cubans on the island were able to (and wished to) participate with us in this blog, they would agree with me in that there is a phenomenon, as curious as it is widespread, that has been ordained as usual, at least in Havana: taxicabs are a kind of rolling confessional. Anyone wishing to be convinced of this need only have 20 pesos in national currency, that is, the most national; choose any of the longer routes covered by the “boteros” or “almendrones” (shared-ride taxis), and listen to the verbal unloading of almost every traveler who climbs aboard the car. We really could do a study in Cuban society, its needs, aspirations, disappointments, frustrations and despair by only boarding an “almendrón”. But I am slipping: the phenomenon is not confined to almendrones on route.

Any car for hire, licensed or not, becomes an adequate venue and forum –- with no previous agreement — for an analysis of “things” to start flowing between travelers and driver. It is amazing how the simple act of boarding an automobile, getting seated, and shutting the door of such a minuscule space that it even forces physical contact with people who, up to that moment, are absolutely unknown and strangers to us, triggers a kind of magical communicative effect, and people unload a whole universe of complaints, tribulations and disagreements that, as a general rule, are not even heard in labor meetings or Popular Party assemblies.

In a moving vehicle, I have listened to everything, from the deepest analyses to crazy plans for fleeing the Island. Everything exists in the vineyards… of this other guy. No exaggeration. And most relevant is the almost unanimous feeling of discontent and dissatisfaction that prevails among travelers. There is talk of licenses to the self-employed (which most do not intend to apply for) and high taxes, the country’s untenable situation, the countless shortcomings, the market shortages, the horrible state of public transportation services, the poor conditions in hospitals, the overlapping but unstoppable rise in prices of primary (plus secondary and tertiary) goods, talk of “there is no fixing this”, “these people are not going to solve anything “, “how things were before (before the Revolution, before the Special Period, before the dual currency…)”, of the children who have left to live abroad and of those who yearn to leave, of the experiences of 50 years of deceptions expressed by people of diverse ages, backgrounds and professions in a few minutes of fleeting company. The interior of a taxicab is probably the only sincere public space we have left, a microcosm of complicity and consensus that unite us, though, at the end, it might only be an illusion as fleeting as the travelers themselves.

The day this country becomes like any other, in which each person is free and master of her own self and of her destiny — if that idyllic day ever comes at last — we will have to erect a monument to taxicabs. Not just because, overheated, noisy and rattling, they were able to assume the daily and permanent transportation of hundreds of thousands of individuals, or because they are humble substitutes for the psychiatrists’ couches that we see in the movies (our psychiatrists probably don’t have couches), but because they have also been small spaces of spontaneous freedom in which Cubans, when expressing themselves, and almost without realizing it, have played at not being slaves to transform themselves into — though only for a few minutes of their lives — citizens.

Translated by Norma Whiting

November 26, 2010

Haiti: The Two Epidemics / Miriam Celaya

Doctors Without Borders in Haiti. Photograph from the Internet

The media have been reporting the alarming growth of the cholera epidemic that is spreading through Haiti. It began soon after hurricane Thomas hit that very poorest of nations. Each new piece of information tells us of a constant progression in the number of infected and who dead are from the disease, and already cases are being reported in the Dominican Republic –- natural geographic heir of this and other types of Haitian diseases — and they are even talking about one case in Southern Florida, USA.

On another front, the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, in its Sunday, November 21st edition, has just published the total number of Cuban health support personnel found there: 689 in total, including doctors, nurses, health technicians and staff service. This newspaper further adds that 530 of them work full-time on the cholera epidemic, and, so far, have treated 22,123 people, with 253 deaths. Simultaneously, informal rumors by people linked to the Public Health sector in the Island, as well as family and friends of the Cubans who are part of these hundreds of workers, claim that — in addition to the risk of contagion — there is the additional danger that flows from living every minute in the vortex of social cataclysm because, in Haiti, along with the current cholera epidemic, extreme violence coexists, exacerbated by the earthquake last February with its tragic aftermath of destruction, ruin and misery, which worsened after the recent hurricane and the outbreak of the epidemic.

Thus, there are two epidemics involving Haiti these days: cholera and violence. This last one — unleashed since 1791, with its bloody revolution, echo and parody of the French Revolution of 1789 — has been nourished by death, anarchy, despotism and destruction over two centuries, and ended in making the former thriving French colony a lamentable and permanent ruin. Haiti, in its secular poverty, is a paradigm of the work of social revolutions dressed in “liberation.” Not by chance, it is said that we are fraternal nations.

The foreign media gives an account of the numerous groups of Haitian vandals that commit assaults and other criminal acts against groups of UN assistance and other civilians, whom — in their crass ignorance — they consider responsible for the actual epidemic and for the “insufficient aid”, as if the extreme hygienic sanitary conditions were not the result of the brutal lack of culture and backwardness that make this country the poorest and most unhealthy in this hemisphere, or if the whole world had the obligation to assume the consequences of the barbarian state in which these people have subsisted throughout their turbulent history.

The note published in Juventud Rebelde is sparse and inadequate, the kind that abounds in our official press and often leaves us with more questions than answers. We do not know to what extent the Cuban health joint forces are safe in the midst of the epidemic, surrounded by violence, confusion and hatred generated by a people’s hunger, disease and helplessness. Nor do we have any information about plans that the authorities should have regarding their return to Cuba, the security arrangements that might have been taken to preserve their lives or whether necessary conditions of isolation and quarantine have been undertaken to keep under care and observation those who return from Haiti.

Experience has shown us that, when it comes to politics, the government ignores such trivial details as the integrity of our health. We have examples — sadly numerous, by the way — of how the “solidarity” of the revolution has led to the entry of diseases once eradicated or simply unknown to Cubans: AIDS, imported in the 80′s thanks to the military campaign in Angola, as well as dengue and hemorrhagic conjunctivitis, introduced later as a result of hasty programs or health “missions” that brought hundreds of people (vectors) from the most remote parts of Latin America’s geography to Cuban soil in a matter of hours, without any kind of sanitary control. We have also recaptured tuberculosis, currently on the dramatic increase on the Island, just to cite the best known examples of the collateral benefits brought to us by the ill-interpreted and even worse-applied official solidarity that embark on health programs generated by populist politics and interests that have nothing to do with altruism.

Let’s hope that, this time, the alarm is without foundation; that our doctors return as soon as possible from Haiti, safe and sound, and that the terrible cholera epidemic won’t prey on the Cuban population too. Presumably, the Island’s authorities will avoid a new misfortune at all costs that will further complicate the somber panorama that lies before us. It would be best for everyone.

Translated by Norma Whiting

November 23, 2010

Cuba: Possible Exit Scenarios / Miriam Celaya

Preliminary note: This article was originally published in the third issue Voices magazine for the month of October, 2010, and, despite its length, I wanted to post it on the blog in order to facilitate the participation of potential commentators who are interested in the subject.

The temptation to suggest possible scenarios out of the current socio-political and economic situation in Cuba may not be just pretentious, but also risky. It would be even more adventuresome to imagine solutions more or less simple or practical to emerge from the general crisis that has been prolonged by the imposition of such an inefficient and obsolete system that – with its burden of corruption, moral degradation, dislocation and despair — has dragged the country to a critical point that puts in jeopardy even our own nature as a national entity.

This is not an alarmist statement; I limit myself to formulate reality. Just take a look at the past 50 years of national history to ascertain the acute loss of values that has been on the rise in the face of the persistence of living in a precarious state of material survival, on the one hand, and under a dictatorial regime that castrates any manifestation of freedom and civility on the other. To this, add the elusive and irresponsible traits that typifies this human group, originator of what has been termed “Cubanity” (which is just the essence of the ambiguous nature of our character), the general apathy and the permanent exodus, to place us before the bleak picture of a nation that was aborted without having completed the necessary and sufficient maturity for its birth.

However, a bleak scenario is not an excuse to bury your head in the sand or to take off in flight — as is customary among us — but it must stir us towards the stance of knowing where we are, on the road to assume the risks of making errors in our standards and values, and to focus on trying to change course. Today, the dilemma could be for us to pick up our abused and scattered fragments in order to make ourselves whole, or simply to be resigned to stop being.

The speeches of sociologists, historians, economists and politicians from various backgrounds and sectors of society often refer to the current crisis as “the situation” Cuba in undergoing. However, this very concept — situation — contains in itself two immediate implications: 1) Its temporary nature, given that every situation is manifested within a limited period, and 2) it is a turning point for the inevitable move or turn leading to a way out. It is imperative, then, to define what general elements color the “situation” of the Cuban reality today, which for the current analysis, might be the following:

– Economically, a ruined country with a colossal foreign debt, which depends almost entirely on foreign investment, family remittances from Cubans living abroad and subsidies from allies (also situational). There is an explosive increase in the unemployment rate that, as officially announced, will be completed by 2012, when the number of layoffs will have reached over 20% of the workforce. In addition, there is no consideration for the national economy to be sustained by small and medium-sized private companies whose profits would be taxed and the benefits redistributed throughout the country. Agriculture, livestock and any domestic industry are virtually non-existent, and it needs to import 80% of the food consumed by the population.

– Socially, there is a loss of service quality and performance that were once favorite indicators of the “privileges” of the system, such as education and health. There is a general deterioration of the values, and feelings of powerlessness, helplessness, hopelessness, uncertainty and apathy that reach throughout society; loss of faith in the system and its leaders; escapism as a solution; the constant and sustained exodus abroad, and the almost complete absence of independent civil society.

Politically, the monopoly of power in a single party that is, at the same time, State and Government, establishing itself as a dictatorship in the hands of a military elite-turned capitalist business concern (state capitalism); foreign policy that has been marked by confrontation with the great hubs of power (the United States and the European Union) and the alliance with undemocratic regimes. In the interior of the country, groups and opposition parties are not acknowledged, and repression or harassment is ongoing against any outbreak of civic and alternative thinking resistance. On the other hand, due to the repressive characteristics of the system and because of historical and essential factors of Cubans, there isn’t even one proposal by the opposition sectors against the regime capable of uniting or stirring the interest of large social groups, and naming an alternative program for changes.

Other elements color the Cuban crisis, as its permanent character – with deepening cycles — and the fact that it also covers the ruling turret itself and a good part of its former followers. Add to that lack of exercise of rights in a country where lack of civic culture and the absence of freedom of individuals reign, which has led to a pernicious tendency of waiting for solutions from “above” or “from outside”, or the complacent and sickly stance that prefers to delay action until the biological cycle does its thing and takes away, once and for all, the ruling gerontocracy, whose average age is around, or exceeds, 80, as if the disappearance of a group of dictators might mean, by itself, the establishment of democracy.

At the center of this image, the government has taken too long to implement measures capable of addressing the general crisis and does not show any interest in seeking political solutions within the nation. The recently announced government measures that restore mom and pop-type, privately owned small businesses, etc., are superficial, outdated, anachronistic, and inadequate. They fail to meet expectations, and do not contribute to the welfare of the population. The popular reaction, meanwhile, has been as timid as the official proposals. Even the announcement of the wave of layoffs in just over a year, which will drag with it around 1.3 million state jobs, has caused some unease, dissatisfaction and uncertainty, but it has not produced even one public protest, though the beginning of the process of layoffs coincides with increased taxes on the self-employed, the removal of several products “subsidized” by the ration card, an increase in the electric rate, and rumors of the upcoming end of other subsidies and rising costs of services of water supply, sewerage, and telephone. The social landscape, however, shows a deceptive calm that seems subjected to extreme pressure, and is already releasing forces through the worst escape valves: the increase in crime and the rise in the handling of contraband.

All this places us facing the possibility of multiple exit scenarios, not necessarily desirable or inevitably exclusive, that is, several different scenarios may converge towards the same end. Taking into account the premises enumerated, the following can be stated, among other possible ones:

  1. Intensification of the deficiencies, with a corresponding increase in crime and social indiscipline, which can lead to extreme measures from the government, such as using the army to quell violence (violent response to violence, as part of the national history and culture) and the intensification of the persecution of independent civil society groups, which will lead to the emergence of a humanitarian crisis that might cause an international intervention in order to help overcome social instability.
  2. A migratory stampede that will eventually lead to further conflict with the United States and possible military intervention or pressure on Cuba. This scenario could also cause the intervention of an international organization.
  3. The expansion of the measures announced by General Raúl Castro and the acceleration of their implementation could lead, either by potential factors or by the urgency of overcoming the crisis, to a scenario suitable for the emergence of a sector of the population which, on becoming independent of the state, would favor the emergence of self-interest associations and would accelerate the revival of civil society.
  4. The alleged cracks within the top ruling caste and the military could give rise, through the disappearance or weakening of the “historic generation”, to the forcible seizing of power by military sectors most prone to changes, whose actions would depend on the establishment of a governing junta that, in the medium term, might lead to a process of democratization.
  5. In the short-term, the natural disappearance of the historical leaders, together with all the elements that fuel the current crisis, would result in a vacuum of authority and lack of control that could lead to chaos of unpredictable consequences.
  6. The establishment of future alliances, through programs lacking in ideology among opposition groups and the nascent independent civil society, could contribute to the strengthening of a social sector of intermediaries within Cuba, and to laying the groundwork for a scenario suitable for the establishment of effective critical action areas in order to gain status at the social level and begin to drive change “from within” while it garners and validates international support.

These scenarios are purely speculative, but are based on objective elements of reality. Certain events could accelerate or delay the events, for example, the ending of Venezuelan subsidies to the Island following the possible deposing of Hugo Chavez’s government in that South American nation in the 2012 elections, precipitating a collapse inside Cuba; the passing of the historic leaders, which could put us in a sudden or abrupt ending, or the sudden appearance of a new funding source to the dictatorship, which would allow for a respite and a further period of grace to continue in power. A very important element would be a change in the political context of the United States, in view of elections the same year, 2012. The possibility of a takeover by Republicans, supporters of a tougher line with the Cuban government, would significantly alter any scenario in Cuba, and influence its outcome. If the depose of Chávez in Venezuela and the elections of a Republican majority in the US coincided, the Island’s outlook would worsen even further, and the solution for a gradual exit to the crisis could aggravate exponentially. In addition, the dash of urgency and immediacy that Cuban –government, people and the opposition-imprint, as a rule, in each action, could stifle the opportunities to improve scenarios or take advantageous or favorable opportunities which might arise in order to prevent a violent context.

Addressing the issue from another angle, so far, no internal opposition movement has been strong and sustained enough to force the government to implement real change. The release of political prisoners has been taking place, by previous agreement between the government and the top hierarchy of the {Cuban} Catholic Church, is in response to strong pressure from independent civil society groups, which demonstrates the power of these groups when energies are coordinated for the sake of a common goal. It is understood that the present does not pose challenges just to the government. The “traditional” dissidence, in spite of its efforts and its longevity, hast yet to reach the visibility and maturity that the “situation” requires to be counted as a force that the government or national public opinion might have to take into account, so it is urgent for its members to implement new strategies, alliances and programs that offer attractive and viable alternatives, capable of breaking the cycle of social apathy, and move, at least, a representative group of Cubans to force for necessary changes. The task is difficult: never before was the moment more propitious to seek the support of the common Cuban, but neither were we ever so apathetic and displaced

This current analysis — incomplete, naturally — is not intended as a forecast or a prediction about the impending future of Cuba, nor is it immutable or exclusive: many events can occur that may alter or eliminate the scenarios included here, and it could also support the emergence of others. I do not intend to invalidate other opinions or analyses either. The intention that moves me is the development of an approach to establish a debate about the moment we are experiencing in Cuba today, considering the circumstances and nature of the events surrounding the Island now, and, hopefully, try to guess possible solutions. We have reached a critical point and this is a time of urgency, but we must ensure that, this time, the solutions are not limited to simple short-term adjustments or changes in figures. Maybe we do not have the civil forces necessary to conjure all the evils we are suffering and the ones ahead, but I dare to assure that some of us Cubans believe it is worth a try.

Translated by Norma Whiting

November 19, 2010

The Next Congress? Or the Last? / Miriam Celaya

Any Cuban who followed the media on Tuesday, November 9th might have concluded that the Communist Party has suddenly gone underground. At least that should be impression when finding out the news that, next April 2011, the VI Cuban Communist Party Congress, which has been organized in great secrecy, will be the held. To add to the sense of unreality, the announcement took place within the frame of the celebration of the “Act for the Tenth Anniversary of the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement for Cuba-Venezuela Cooperation” (¿?), and with no previous mediation for an official discussion among the membership base to establish the proposed members and the agenda for the Congress.

It has been reported that, this time, the one-party will have one theme, and only one, for the most momentous conclave, “the update of the economic model and social development of the country, whose guidelines — already developed by the paramount chiefs and ready to be digested by the lower membership and the rest of the “masses” — have been published in a booklet which, undoubtedly, was also developed in secret. One should, therefore, ask: can there seriously be a debate on Cuba’s economy without discussing the failed policies (and shod) which have put us in a state of terminal crisis? Is it possible, when tracing the economic patterns, to exclude the critical social situation in the country and to find ways to design their solution? It is clear that the government intends to use the swamp fires, flowing in the form of Chavista subsidies, from that cadaver called ALBA to divert attention from the problems at root level afflicting the nation. On the other hand, we don’t know if a delicate theme will be decided or if it will remain pending until another occasion: Will the First Secretary remain in office or will we have a “new” octogenarian ideologically renovating the model? Or, better yet, will there be elections in this sui generis Congress?

Another satirical touch that can lead to confusion is the provision of a copy of the brochure by the Cuban President to the Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez. Is he a member of the Cuban Communist Party? Does this man by any chance have the right to know, before the Cuban people themselves, the “Guidelines of Economic and Social Policy” that will supposedly chart this country’s destiny over the next five years? After thirteen years without holding the most important meeting, and without the renewal of its top leaders, in clear violation of the statutes of the organization, communist activists have been publicly excluded from its preparation: a just reward for their proverbial servility. After all –- the owners of the ranch in ruins might say to themselves — they always nod and applaud.

But, without a doubt, this time, the political farce that still clings to leadership here have exceeded their limits significantly; it is no longer possible to follow the desperate juggling of the heads of the three-ring circus. However, vigilance is needed, because not one thing of what is happening is by chance. The old dinosaurs are hiding some agreement with their South American pet. Something that may have to do with a new injection of petrodollars that will allow them to soften the blows on the Caribbean plantation slaves, at least for a very short period of time; perhaps the possibility to evade international pressure momentarily by a childish demonstration of proficiency. Time bought with this piggybank called Venezuela that the aspiring dictator continues to gouge at will. The Venezuelan people must have paid dearly for the little pamphlet which, in a false gesture of symbolic submission, the lesser Castro will surrender to Hugo Chavez!

Translated by Norma Whiting

November 11, 2010

The “Decentralization” of Responsibility / Miriam Celaya

We Believe in You, Revolution

Photo: Orlando Luis
“The first time you deceive me, it will be your fault, the second time, the fault will be mine”
(Arab proverb)

One of the skills we Cubans in the Island have developed in the face of the persistent ability of leaders to “speak without saying,” is figuring out official positions and intentions, not from what is expressed, but, just the opposite, from what is not said. The most recent example of this is reflected in the booklet on the guidelines to be adopted — not “discussed” — during the VI Party Congress of April, 2011, a document that, Cantinflas* antics and euphemisms aside, is still interesting, since it summarizes in just 32 pages the obvious failure of the socialist model imposed for 50 years. Finally, though this may not be what is proposed, it puts things in perspective, at least at the level of the root issue: the country is economically devastated.

Of course, this summary does not include official recognition of the national disappointment, nor does it at all imply the acceptance of any responsibility by the government for the critical economic situation in Cuba today. To recognize such a setback would unequivocally mean the resignation of the President, the Politburo, and of the Central Committee in its entirety, including all its carnival-style puppets (of which there are many); something unthinkable, since this operetta is precisely about trying to retain power even at a cost of (ouch!) introducing some minor changes.

It is easier, then, to pass the hot potato of blame to others who, according to what the Draft Guidelines of the Sixth Congress of the PCC suggests, could mean anyone, such as the Ministries of Economy and Planning, Finance and Prices, Labor and Social Security, or who knows what other scapegoat. Replacing the puppets, in short, that will always be expendable and missed by no one; at the end of the day, all the officials of different ranks here are die-cast, simple ventriloquists, and emerge with the label of “disposable”. If anyone doubts this, you just have to remember Lage, Pérez Roque and Soberón, to name some of the most recently removed from the carnival. And, though the regime has centralized all power for decades and has boasted of control over life and property, it has always shown real expertise in applying the “decentralization” responsibility for failures.

Nobody can understand by what discrete method so many economic and financial blunders could be committed over such a long time, mocking the supposedly efficient government controls. I, for one, do not believe it. There are also no guarantees in place to ensure that countless errors committed over half a century will not be repeated. At the end of the day, though they may change the officials du jour, the rules and the referees of this game will continue to be the same. And, since the crisis is systemic, encompasses all spheres of national life and has –- indeed — irreversible properties, there are no guarantees in place that “now” things will be different for the better. We cannot overcome social crises with assemblies, but this is something that, I am sure, the hacienda owners are aware of, so I suspect some hidden conspiracy behind the apparent good intentions and ill-specified good intentions of the government with a sudden celebration of a meeting that is eight years overdue, of a “political party?” that has pertinently demonstrated its ineptitude to govern. By the way, as I see it, the PCC –- just as it happens with the revolution — does not really exist, unless we are calling a “political party” that immense herd incapable of making decisions, designated to pay a monthly fee and, in addition, applauding the antics and commands of the Gerontocrats-in-Chief.

The Supreme Orate recently told the international press that, if there was an official responsible for the persecution of homosexuals in the decades of the 60’s and 70’s in Cuba, he was the one. But the unusual, almost posthumous revelation, cannot even qualify as repentance, because it was not accompanied by the appropriate apologies for the huge share of the suffering that the openly homophobic policy of “the revolution” caused. More than a mea culpa, his was an open, cynical, and boastful expression that almost amounted to saying: “Yes, it was me; I did it… so what?” That is the essential spirit of the dictatorship that is also revealed now, when it intends to “renew the model” not admitting, prior to that, the failure of an experiment that has cost several generations of Cubans so many tears and misery. Does it make sense to renew that which doesn’t work?

Today, despite the failure of the proposed “reforms,” the geriatric caste knows that a precarious card is being played in their runaway bet for more time in power, and they are asking Cubans for a new vote of blind faith. How many will be willing to bet on them?

Translated by Norma Whiting

November 16, 2010

Another Broken Promise / Miriam Celaya

March of The Ladies in White

The deadline that the Cuban authorities established for the release of all 75 political prisoners of the Black Spring, as formally agreed in their talks with the Catholic Church and reported by the media and abroad, expired at the stroke of midnight last November 7th . Thirteen of these 75 Cubans, however, remain in prison. They are, not by chance, precisely those who refused to leave Cuba when they were “liberated.” Obviously, it is very dangerous in the current conditions to have such free thought within the Island, especially with all the moral authority that these prisoners carry.

Once again, the government has proven that it doesn’t know how to honor its commitments. It mocks the public and leaves those who have wanted to wash the face of the most tenacious dictatorship this hemisphere has known standing in their underwear before the international organizations Placing these 75 Cubans in jail in March of 2003 took only a few hours. Four months have not been enough to get them out of jail, while the struggle for their liberation has raged over seven years and threatens to take even longer. Meanwhile, evidencing that the essence of the government is repression, the harassment against private individuals and groups of independent civil society continues. How do we explain such arrogance and stupidity? Because of the impunity the regime has enjoyed for over 50 years of absolute power in the face of the fear of the Cuban people and the world’s patient tolerance.

The imprisonment and the “judicial processes” followed in that painful spring against citizens who had committed no other crimes than to express what they were thinking was a move that took a heavy political toll on the Castro regime, as some of the darkest spots of the system were put under a magnifying glass. It was, in addition, an incentive for other Cubans bent on disclosing to the world the material and moral deficiency of this government. However, used as hostages of government policy, the 75 continue to be a boomerang for the arrogant old men in uniform.

Now, when thanks to those imprisoned journalists and others who live in the relative “freedom” of our streets, much of the world knows about the Cuban reality, the long-lived military cabinet fears that these truths might make their way to the Cubans on the Island. That is why they repress every civic movement, even the small and humane gesture of a mother in the town of Banes visiting her son’s grave, a victim of the dictatorship, able to move solidarity and support from the simple people of her village.

But we know that the government is deaf and mute to the demands of the Cubans, so let’s ask the Mediator: what can the top hierarchy of the Catholic Church, as the official interlocutor of the conflict, tell us about this new broken promise? Do the ecclesiastic authorities deem the inauguration of the new Seminary a sufficient government concession, or will they insist on the government’s fulfillment of the commitment for which the Archdiocese was the spokesman? Can they give us a release date for our brothers and give us guarantees of complying with it, or must we be happy with just praying?

At the present time, it is necessary to keep the pressure on the dictatorship. Governments, individuals and civilized societies should not be in spiritual intimacy with tyrants. The Cuban government must ratify the pacts it signed on February 2008, comply with its principles, and stop persecuting the deserving Cuban people who have the courage to confront it. It is the Cuban dictatorship that must take steps down this path, beginning with the immediate release of all political prisoners.

Translated by Norma Whiting

November 8,2010

Cuban “Steps Forward” and the PSOE’s Warm Washcloths / Miriam Celaya

Wilfredo Vallín, President of the Cuban Law Association

While reading some information on recent statements by the Cuban Foreign Minister in the framework of the UN General Assembly, in which he once again makes charges against the European Union, I join, without hesitation, the side of those who consider insufficient the measure and steps of the Cuban government, and come out in favor of maintaining the Common Position. I see with surprise that some people talk about “the changes that have occurred in Cuba,” and I am almost tempted to remain silent before such disrespect. What changes are they talking about? Perhaps the slow release of political prisoners who should never have been incarcerated? Maybe those changes that a sharp commentator in the on-line newspaper Diario de Cuba has nicknamed “cambios timbiriches”*?

A brief review of certain events that have taken place in Cuba in the last week shows how false the “steps” of the Cuban dictatorship are, and brings out the official incompetence in matters of political and civil rights. In line with the ridiculous arrogance of the puppet up at bat nominally covering the Foreign Affairs folder, there has been an increase in the persecution and pressures on individuals and groups engaging in internal dissent, as in the case of attorney Wilfredo Vallín, President of the Cuban Law Association (not officially recognized) and the arrest of Reina Luisa Tamayo, along with 40 other activists in the eastern city of Banes, to cite only two known and very recent examples.

It’s well known that attorney Vallín, in addition to legal counsel, serves as an independent professor in various fields related to civil law. In his academic program various relevant issues are disclosed, including the laws themselves of the current Cuban Constitution and the Criminal Procedure Act, among others, so often violated by the authorities responsible for ensuring their compliance. The Blogger Academy was honored to have Vallín in its faculty, and several of the groups of civil independent society that have organized self-improvement courses among their members have also benefited from his experience. Since the government feels it is so “dangerous” for the people to learn their rights, on Friday, October 29th, the regular repressors prevented professor Vallín from lecturing at a conference about UN Covenants before a group of citizens from various sectors and trends of thought. An entire operation was deployed to sabotage a completely legal activity, though one admittedly uncomfortable for the government. This is not the first time that elements from State Security have hindered the teaching-information activities of Attorney Vallín. Recently, they prevented him from appearing before the group from Convivencia Magazine, which the renowned scholar Dagoberto Valdés successfully publishes from Pinar del Río, proof of the official will to not just refuse an opening in civic or political matters, but to prevent the population from being exposed to the universal principles of Human Rights which, hypocritically, and as an occasional act of mere formality, the dictatorship has signed, though not ratified.

On the other hand, the arrest of Reina Luisa Tamayo and her colleagues on October 30th in Banes is, in addition to an outrage, another sign of the impotence of the authorities against the growing expressions of resistance of Cubans who insist in speaking out in spite of the repression.

Both cases are the clear government response to the European Union: the centers of world politics should be content with the proposed “patched-together street stand changes” that grocer Raúl Castro intends to implement. Rights in Cuba will not be tolerated. Well, then, we will see what warm washcloths the PSOE (the Spanish Socialist Workers Party) and other permissive organizations will place, mercifully, on the battered face of the Caribbean dictatorship.

*Translator’s note: Impromptu street vendor’s stand, hut, or kiosk. Used to describe the changes, it implies the changes are improvised and unstable.

Translated by: Norma Whiting

November 3, 2010

Who Are The Debtors? / Miriam Celaya

He’s vanishing. Photo by Orlando Luís

A source that I’m not authorized to quote assures me that, on October 30, 2010, the privilege of the SEPSA agency will be withdrawn, by virtue of which the “blue” custodians – so nicknamed because of the color of their uniforms – have been paid a “stimulus” of 48 CUC a month (1,152 in the misnamed “national currency”), an amount that they have been getting since they took away other privileges years ago, such as regular allowances of toiletries and food. As a result of this new cut that will eliminate the only attractive feature of the occupation, many of these guards, who work as custodians at banks and at exchange houses (CADECA) have begun seeking other horizons of employment prospects in a time when having access to a job in Cuba is equal to or more difficult than eating a piece of beef (which is saying something).

Though the wave of layoffs has not reached the status of the tsunami that it will achieve between the first quarter of next year and 2012 – when the final completion of approximately 1,200,000 layoffs, which is said will be the number of unemployed on the Island – social discontent is palpable. Uncertainty, irritation and a slight but steady increase in the crime rate are the notes that make up today’s Cuba. On the other hand, there seems to be a kind of popular consensus to not apply for licenses for the exercise of self-employment (a palliative that the government is trying to implement as an alternative to a crisis of unprecedented labor supply for the revolutionary process) due to excessive taxes, the lack of a wholesale supplier market, the chronic instability of supplies and the high retail prices, the uncertainty about the economic future and – particularly – in the absence of a legal framework of guarantees to investors, among other causes. The experience of those individuals who in the 90’s were victims of official pressure and systematic extortion by the state inspectorate responsible for “controlling” the quality of services and the “legality and purity” of self-employed workers, discourage people’s interest in risking their funds, usually minimal or very limited, in a leap so uncertain and where those who invest their capital are the most helpless of the system: the common Cubans.

The employee at a public office who was complaining a few days ago about the recent loss of her husband’s job and claimed that, because of that, she would stop making payments for the Chinese refrigerator they had given them in exchange for the old Russian home equipment. Little more than three or four years ago, the tropical sultanate took up the eccentric decision to imitate the old story of The Thousand and One Arabian Nights, in which they exchanged old lamps for new, but with more practical sense in the Arab case. “I cannot afford to deduct one cent from my salary”, the woman lamented, and she added: “If they start discounting it, I will also stop working and will use that same refrigerator for the sale of ice pops”.

Which brings up another small detail, forgotten by everyone in the middle of this storm surge: until fairly recently, the Cuban press published, with some regularity, short articles about the huge debt that people owed the state due on overdue payments for household appliances, – mainly cheap Chinese refrigerators that had replaced the old American equipment from before 1959, and Soviet from the 70’s and 80’s – that were distributed on a massive scale with the so called “energy revolution,” an idea thought up by… well, we all know who could have had such a great idea. In short, the newspapers would publish drawings reflecting the movement of such payments through provinces and municipalities, to the extreme that one of the indicators to be considered when granting a province the status of “vanguard” or “outstanding” was based on the performance of that province’s repayment history, a consideration also taken into account in awarding the site of the great celebration for the year’s 26 of July ceremonies.

For several months, the issue of the defaults recurred on TV and the written press, urging people to repay what “the state had acquired with so much effort and sacrifice for the sake of saving energy and raising the living standard of the people”. In order to pressure the debtors the food markets, where products on the ration cards are obtained, displayed lists of “slow paying consumers” who had not yet begun payments. Rumor had it that payments would be deducted from wages and communist party militants would be sanctioned if they had not complied with their payments on a regular basis.

Now, mired in the biggest socio-economic crisis that Cubans can remember, such a debt is not spoken of, nor are the slow payers mentioned, as if, all of a sudden, the debtors had settled their outstanding debts. Or could it be that, half a century behind, the hacienda owners have suddenly discovered that, in fact, we are the creditors?

Translated by Normal Whiting

October 29, 2010