From Discontent to Joy in Twenty-four Hours / Cubanet, Miriam Leiva

reconciliacionCubanet, Miriam Leiva, HAVANA, 18 December 2014 — President Barack Obama announced a new direction in US policy toward Cuba, on December 17. The Cuban population has expressed great joy at the news, both within the archipelago and abroad. It is a brave and historic decision, because it provides the opportunity to finally eradicate the existing environment of confrontation of almost 55 years and initiate fruitful relations to benefit of the Cuban people. The measures taken by the US president have been greeted with enthusiasm and hope by millions, although other Cubans remain cautious, because they commonly face harsh living conditions and repression.

President Raul Castro announced he was open to extensive negotiations with the United States, on all subjects, in a televised appearance coincident with that of President Barack Obama. The reasons to promote the rapprochement with Washington may be very extensive, including the deepening of the Cuban economic crisis, the need for foreign investment for recapitalization and development, social discontent over the socio-economic deprivation, loss of public confidence, and the need to improve Cuban’s international image. To achieve freedom and democracy, civil society will have to traverse the long and difficult path imposed by a totalitarian regime that seeks to prolong itself through its heirs.

The exchange of Alan Gross, imprisoned in Cuba in 2009, for 3 prisoners sentenced as spies in the United States, was a necessary condition for the US government to be able to initiate the process of normalization of relations and to achieve results with new measures directed toward the Cuban people. In addition, the island government agreed to release an American citizen after some 20 years, and 53 other political prisoners. The tradition of the American government is to not abandon any of its citizens, and to provide for their exchange or rescue with military action.

The efforts of lawmakers from both parties, the diplomacy, and members from all sectors of American society have had an important role in these developments. Pope Francis has once again demonstrated his wisdom, aided by nuncios accredited in Havana, and the Cuban Catholic Church, headed by Cardinal Ortega and the Conference of Cuban Catholic Bishops who have continued to accompany the nation and the people with their traditional patriotic and religious vocation.

The measures announced include initiation of talks to restore diplomatic relations; regulatory reform to empower the Cuban people with more efficiency; favoring the expansion of general permits for travel to Cuba and increases in the amount of remittances; expanded authorizations for commercial sales and exports of certain goods and services from the US; authorization for persons living in the United States to import additional goods to Cuba; facilitating financial transactions between the two countries; initiating new efforts to increase access to communications in Cuba and people’s ability to communicate freely; updating the application of sanctions on Cuba in third countries; establishment of negotiations with the governments of Cuba and Mexico to discuss the unresolved maritime boundary in the Gulf of Mexico; beginning of the process of reviewing Cuba’s as a state sponsor of terrorism; discussion of the participation of Cuba in the Summit of the Americas in April 2015; a firm commitment to democracy, human rights and civil society, including strong support for improving human rights conditions and democratic reforms in Cuba (a summary of an extensive Fact Sheet issued by the Office of the White House Press Secretary).

With the Port of Mariel, Cuba Reassesses its Geographical Position / Miriam Leiva

Mariel Port, Cuba

HAVANA, Cuba , January www.cubanet.org – The position of the Port of Mariel has revalued the geographical importance of Cuba, lost with the end of the Cold War. The soldiers who for 46 years were the support of the government, when they began to direct everything in mid-2006 they found a country undercapitalized, productively and humanly.

General Raul Castro has moved the troops towards economic ends to confront the disaster that can not be overcome, despite his straitjacketed reforms that don’t encourage hard work and creativity to supply imports and increase exports.

As his travels through the friendly countries failed to achieve a financial injection for core investments and the replacement for the possible reduction or loss of petrodollars from Venezuela, he seems to have taken advantage of the changes in the XXI century, to preserve the fifty-year revolution, the “unity in diversity” of CELAC, beyond militant ALBA.

The transit of senior officers of the Armed Forces to create civilian businesses in innovative sectors began in the late 1980s and, especially, with the debacle of the “Special Period in Peacetime” and the loss of subsidies from the Soviet Union and other countries of real socialism.

In the early ’90s, Fidel Castro authorized the company Gaviota to engage in tourism, the TRDs or stores for the recovery of hard currency, and Raul Castro sought the implementation of the successful business system in the Revolutionary Armed Forces, but passing into the civilian sector without the conditions of organizational control military did not give the same results. From here much of the current entrepreneurs emerged.

The Port of Mariel is the only great monument built by the Revolution and will remain as a legacy of Raul Castro. Companies of the Ministry of the Armed Forces appear to have met the schedule and built a quality container terminal , inaugurated by the president and his Brazilian counterpart Dilma Rousseff last January 27.

Upon completion of all the works, perhaps it will join the seven wonders of Cuban engineering, like the Albear aqueduct, from the nineteenth century, still in use. Furthermore, the Special Development Zone boost the national economy. Stark contrast to the legacy of destruction across the country, critically wrought over previous decades.

Undoubtedly, President Jose Inacio Lula da Silva and his successor, Mrs. Rousseff,  calculated well the positioning in an economically asphyxiated Cuba. The Brazilians arrived in a big way to “help confront the northern neighbor,” to open American trade and tourism. The companies of the competitive Yankees advance with the best technology in the world.

Of course, it also entered the current priority calculations: Super Post-Panamax vessels, the Panama Canal expansion. In the Cuban press reports it was noted that the top leaders of the works are executives of the Brazilian company Odebrecht — the principal in the project — and Raul Castro said the administration of the container terminal will be in charge of one of the largest port operators in the world. Lamentable guarantee that inexperienced Cubans will not hard the adequate functioning.

As a prelude to the opening, the advantages of foreign investment in the Mariel Special Development Zone have been divulged. Russian, Chinese, German, British, French, Italian and Brazilian companies of course are mentioned as interested. The approach of the Mexican president could follow the same course. However, investors need guarantees that the old law doesn’t offer. Hence a new version has been promised.

As the project only benefits those who desire to hide their problems and arbitrariness, a greatly cultivated style in Cuba for decades, the presence of more European Union countries and the United States could be advantageous to the competence of the best economic opportunities, most advanced technologies, training, sources of jobs and less dependence.

Cubanet, 31 January 2014,

Opening a Line of Credit to Buy a Pressure Cooker / Miriam Leiva

Old (and possibly more reliable US-made) refrigerators being taken away having been exchanged for Chinese-made models.

Old (and possibly more reliable US-made) refrigerators being taken away having been exchanged for Chinese-made models.

HAVANA, Cuba, January, www.cubanet.org – The reader is not surprised. It’s not about bank loans to buy the cars recently “liberated” by the government. Those are available to anyone who has a good backpack to carry many thousand convertible pesos (CUCs). For now, the fortunate can only acquire on credit electric pressure cookers, conventional rice cookers, electric cookers (one burner) and household goods: a saucepan with a lid, a skillet, a pot and a kettle. How poor are people who require a bank loan to cook!

Some years ago Fidel Castro decided the means of cooking had to be “unified.” The harmful kerosene and liquified gas, always in short supply, were eliminated, which would mean huge savings for the country. Simultaneously, with the campaign to optimize energy resources, the elimination of US-made electric stoves and refrigerators was imposed, although these had performed efficiently for decades.

Trucks were loaded with Chinese equipment for exchange, like it or not, and the grocery stores specifically allotted to corresponding ‘modules’ to every Cuban so they could acquire these goods. Such was the rush, that cash payments or credit contracts were extended to much later, sometimes when the shoddy Chinese products were already broken or unusable. Continue reading

The Cuban Economy in 2013 and Perspectives for 2014 / Miriam Leiva

The Council of Ministers met on December 19-20 in conjunction with the National Assembly of People’s Power, to hear information about the fulfillment of the 2013 Economic Plan, approve the Plan for 2014, and the draft State Budget for the coming year, and to release the report about the compliance with the Party’s Political, Economic and Social Guidelines and the Revolution, according to what was reported in the Cuban media.

With regards to 2013, Adel Yzquierdo, vice president of the Council of Ministers, reported only that the Gross Domestic Product grew 2.7%, less than the 3.6% forecast, mainly due to the reduction in revenue from freely convertible currency, manufacturing and construction, but said that most of these activities showed increases compared to 2012. He did not offer data about the results of any sector, which prevents analysis of the behavior of the economy.

However, he highlighted the decline in hard currency revenue, it has already been reported that remittances primarily from the United States have increased and total over 2 billion dollars, plus those from visiting Cubans, Cuban-Americans and Americans, as well as the new revenue from sending around 7,000 doctors to Brazil and other countries, along with those in Venezuela, are the principal export and source of foreign exchange revenues. The hard currency coming from Caracas has probably decreased, among other reasons because of problems with oil and derivatives which Havana re-exports to the world market.
Continue reading

Unification of Dual Currency, but the Economic Future Remains Uncertain / Miriam Leiva

HAVANA, Cuba , December, www.cubanet.org – Monetary and exchange rate unification was addressed by Raúl Castro in his speech at the closing session of the National Assembly and by Vice President Marino Murillo Jorge, on December 21, according to the Cuban media. The interest of calming the population can be seen in the president’s assertion that there will be no affects on those who legally earn income in hard currency and in Cuban pesos, nor on the cash in hand of the population, or on deposits in the national banking system. Continue reading

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

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

Article by Ted Henken, from his blog, El Yuma

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

This volume is the result!

Starting young with Uncle Ted!

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

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

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

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

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

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

***

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

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

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

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

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

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

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

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

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

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

Luzbely Escobar

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

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

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

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

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

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

Tracey Eaton

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

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

El Yuma with El Chagua & OLPL.

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

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

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

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

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

TABLE OF CONTENTS

1 GEOGRAPHY, Ted A. Henken and Miriam Celaya

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

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

4 ECONOMY, Óscar Espinosa Chepe and Ted A. Henken

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

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

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

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

 

Cuba as a Member of the UN Human Rights Council Should Not be News / Miriam Leiva

53004_trnsFeaturedMADRID, Spain  November www.cubanet.org That the Cuban government was elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council has made headlines these days. However, it should not be news, because the first 47 members joined the organization established in March 2006 to supplant the Commission, whose ineffectiveness needed to be addressed. Cuba remained during the allowed two three-year terms, and waited for another opportunity to rejoin the eight representatives from Latin America and the Caribbean.

On this occasion, China and Russia also make up the 14 countries added, with the corresponding international criticism for their flagrant human rights violations. However, it is not strange event, considering member countries like Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Nigeria. Ghadafi’s Libya was part of it until 2011, and Chancellor Treki chaired the 64 sessions of the UN General Assembly in 2009. All UN member countries have the right to be elected.

Venezuela is a member of the Council for the period 2013-2015, which began earlier this year. On 14 November, President Maduro achieves special powers through the Enabling Act approving the National Assembly, saving the voting hurdle necessary. His party has 98 seats and the opposition 67, but to govern at will he needs 99 votes. In an imitation of the full power of Chavez, he revived the accusation of corruption filed against the deputy Maria Mercedes Aranguren, defector from Chavezism, with the intention of lifting parliamentary immunity, he quickly published it in the Official Gazette and replaced her with Carlos Flores, who would have no choice but to give the vote necessary because, as discussed in Caracas, he would be compelled to resolve their dispute with the power that had even expropriated part of his estate.

To the highly-gifted Maduro, Chavez in the form of a little bird recently appeared in an image that was blur for the rest of us, but with his skills as a copyist and the advice of his first lady counsel, he launched an assault for absolute power. However, he lacks the charisma of the caudillo-commander-President, or the unconditional support within the Chavistas. More dangerous still is this man with his threatening supernatural harangues, his disastrous and interventionist economic measures against private property that deepen the shortages, the economic crisis despite the flood of petrodollars, the estrangement of private and foreign investment, and the inflation and massive corruption .

The game with the mechanisms of democracy of Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez did not turn out equally with an heir unsure of himself and completely lacking in talent. But President Maduro will be on the Human Rights Council as Ghadafi was, proof that the agency has not achieved its main tasks and shows that truth can not be covered with votes of friends and violators. In Geneva, they wrapped their representatives with the islanders, while in Cuba went from being frustrated by the mistakes of the heir to intensifying the search for promising economic support, which urgently leads to Brazil.

15 November 2013