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

 

My Friend Chepe / Rene Gomez Manzano

Oscar Espinosa ChepeHAVANA, Cuba , September, www.cubanet.org – I chose to let a few days pass before writing a few lines about the unfortunate death of the eminent Cuban economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, in Madrid last Monday. I knew that many colleagues would write about it but was not intimidated by the idea that my possible arguments would be used before, by these alternative journalists.

Indeed, there were a great number of pieces published about the member of the Group of 75, a prisoner of conscience on parole when he died, still subject to fifteen years in prison. Cubanet, the prestigious digital daily to which he was a regular contributor, published on Tuesday alone six works devoted to the distinguished professional. A deserved tribute.

I met Oscar in the seventies when we both worked together in the architectural complex occupied in part by a body with a long name: The National Commission for Economic and Scientific-Technical Collaboration. It was an old building of luxury apartments, located at the corner of First and B, in El Vedado.

Both of us, having rare second surnames, were known primarily for this. Chepe was concerned with coordinating, for Cuba, the links with several of then socialist countries of Europe, while I served as General Counsel for the participation of our country in the giant factory of meetings and papers known as CAME: the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance.

They were, strictly speaking, two different state agencies, although we were in the same building because the leadership of both entities was occupied by the same director. We dealt with different topics, so that the business contacts between Chepe and me were almost nonexistent. However, as the group was small, we met and interacted, but without much depth.

In time, the decision to live in the truth, that we each made separately, brought us together again in the ranks of internal dissent. In Chepe’s case, the formidable work of economic analysis he performed was punished with imprisonment during the dark Black Spring of 2003.

The inconsistency with which the Castro regime acted in his case is illustrative: Against the defendants at that time they brandished the pretext that they served the United States and supported the embargo maintained by that country against Cuba. It was of no use to Chepe that for years, and until the day of his death, he was a firm opponent of these measures. Castro’s judges punished him regardless.

Those of us who had the honor of knowing him, will always remember his kindness and his substantial conversation, peppered with funny anecdotes of the times in which he grew up believing in the justness of Communist ideas. In these stories, the amazing nature of this absurd system was reflected with precision no less than that of his well-argued articles devoted to the problems of his specialty.

During my recent trip to the U.S., I had the opportunity to observe the immense prestige Chepe enjoyed among his colleagues. At the congress of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy, scholars devoted to these issues — and also highly competent professionals — expressed with one voice their disappointment at the absence of the illustrious gentleman from Cienfuegos, motivated by his illness.

It wasn’t the first time that he had been unable to attend such events in person: the refusal to allow temporary travel of dissidents abroad, kept for decades by the Cuban government and lifted just months ago, prevented him from attending. However, he always collaborated with substantial presentations that were followed with great interest by his colleagues living outside the island.

In death Chepe joins other pro-democracy activists who have suffered in the internal opposition over the years. His name is now joined in our memory with those who preceded him in this passage: Jesús Yanes Pelletier, the Moncada attacker Gustavo Arcos Bergnes, Orlando Zapata Tamayo, Juan Wilfredo Soto, Wilman Villar, Laura Pollán, my father-in-law Bienvenido Perdigón, Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero…

Many have fallen during these decades of peaceful struggle. Not remotely as many as those killed in combat or shot during the early Castro years, but they are closer to us. They make the oldest of us feel like castaways who have managed to survive while they have gone before.

But they also show us the way forward. Their memory and their work inspires us and their work remains as a guide to those who follow in their footsteps in this peaceful battle. In that sense, Oscar Espinosa Chepe was and remains an outstanding example.

From Cubanet

27 September 2013

Eugenio Yanez Remembers Oscar Espinosa Chepe

Miriam Leiva and Oscar Espinosa Chepe

Miriam Leiva and Oscar Espinosa Chepe

Oscar Espinosa Chepe was a person convinced of what he did in life, without any extremist opportunisms or false remorse about his “revolutionary” phase from his earliest youth. A person of integrity, when speaking or writing he did not care about what his bosses (when he had them) would like to hear; or, after breaking up with the regime, what opposition activists and exiles [would like to hear or read], but [about] the analyses needed to understand the Cuban reality. His didactic virtuosity made any topic that he took on look easy and simple, but the rigor of his analysis and the depth of his conclusions showed a professional committed to the pursuit of the truth. As an economist, independent journalist and opposition activist, he is an example to all Cubans on both shores of the Florida Strait.

Eugenio Yáñez. Writer and Columnist. He edits Cubanálisis-El Think-Tank

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

From Cubaencuentro

24 September 2013

Alejandro Armengol Remembers Oscar Espinosa Chepe

mail4-300x168Two qualities, among others, were always prominent in the articles by Chepe that appeared regularly both in Cubaencuentro as well as other publications like El Nuevo Herald.

One of them is that he could achieve the delicate balance that allowed him to present a balanced article or analysis while making clear his point of view.  To this end he would always base his writing on data and reflections free of bombastic criteria, the usual demagoguery and opportunism.

The other quality was the use of data supplied by the Cuban government itself, supported by other from international organizations, to support his analyses. That way he never conceded to the convenient argument that all information from the island is false; an argument that may have some truth to it, but that also brings an easy and complacent negativism among certain groups of exiles. It is not that Chepe believed all that the regime said, on the contrary, he knew what to question and how.  In that sense, he and professor Mesa Lago have set the precedent, and have valuable information where others refused to look.

Personally, and during the time in which I had the pleasure of editing his works for Cubaencuentro, aside from an honor, it was always a pleasure to have such a precise intellectual, both in the numbers he offered as well as his composition and spelling, all of this done with absolute humility.  He was what be said easily, but that is almost impossible to find: an example.

Alejandro Armengol. Journalist.  Editor in Chief for Cubaencuentro.

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

From Cubaencuentro

24 September 2013

Haroldo Dilla Remembers Oscar Espinosa Chepe

indexDespite living for so long on an island so small, I never met Oscar Espinosa Chepe in person. It would have been an honor and an opportunity for me, mostly after discovering him in one of his incisive articles for the late magazine Encuentro during a night of insomnia on a plane in route to Madrid.

Since then, I have read him faithfully. And every time, the acumen of the analyst and the consistency of the democrat, but most of all the integrity of the intellectual, have gratified me. Despite spending several years in prison for doing nothing other than thinking well and differently, Chepe never allowed his emotions to overcome his professionalism.  And, this makes him one of those intellectual figures called to be enduring.  And for that, we will continue reading him for a long time for the good of the prosperous, equitable and democratic that he advocated.

Dr. Haroldo Dilla Alfonso, Sociologist and Historian

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

From Cubaencuentro

Carmelo Mesa-Lago Remembers Oscar Espinosa Chepe

oscar-espinosa-chepe_menuOscar Espinosa Chepe was one of the best informed and courageous Cuban economists. Despite the difficulties to access the internet, he was always up to date on the regional and local [Economics] organizations’ publications; and his works were always well documented and objective.

His criticism was based on publications and official figures, but he also criticized the US embargo as an instrument that had failed to end the [political] system while being used as a scapegoat for all its economic failures.

To me, Chepe was always a source of inspiration, his articles are abundantly quoted in my own publications, and I had the honor of writing the foreword for two of his books.

When he came out of prison in Cuba, due to the bad state of his health’s, I was able to get two dozen prestigious economists from around the world to sign a letter to the Head of Government of Spain requesting his exit [from Cuba], but in the end  he decided to continue writing in Cuba.  He offered his life and his health for Cuba.

We met in person in Havana in 2010, and the tiny and modest apartment that he and Miriam inhabited surprised me; filled with books, magazines and papers, almost leaving no space for daily living.

He was a humble man, frugal and amiable, who loved his fatherland very much. I was able to see him in Madrid this past June and he was staying with Miriam in a tiny room of a hostel. Although already very sick, he attended the presentation of my book at Casa de América and I publicly paid him my last homage. We are going to miss him very much.

Carmelo Mesa-Lago, Professor Emeritus of Economics and Latin American Studies, University of Pittsburgh.

Translated by Ernesto Ariel Suarez

From Cubaencuentro

24 September 2013

Farewell to the Cienfuegan in Love / Aleaga Pesant

Miriam Leiva and Oscar Espinosa Chepe

Miriam Leiva and Oscar Espinosa Chepe

HAVANA, Cuba , September 2013, www.cubanet.org.- He was the most in love Cienfuegan I knew. He was called Oscar Manual Espinosa Chepe, although to most of the people who knew him he was simply “Chepe.” His Dulcinea, Miriam Leiva, was at his side over the last thirty years with a loyalty tested in the harsh conditions imposed by the Cuban dictatorship. Both were driven from their important positions, and later Chepe was condemned to twenty years in prison during the Black Spring.

I met him when he was in his sixties. He was already an accomplished economist. Friend of the truth, he had a small space on Radio Martí to talk about the island’s economy. He was published in Cubanet, Cartes de Cuba, Disidente and CubaEncuentro. He had written a couple of books, and his opinions and judgments were listened to by all analysts of the Antillean situation.

Soft-spoken, like an asthmatic, and unstoppable. Each one of his words and reflections vallued in gold. He never interrupted conversations and loved to tell stories of his trip to Yugoslavia as economic attaché to the Cuban embassy in Belgrade.

Born in an educated cradle in the Pearl of the South, his parents, Oscar and Clara, were degreed professionals and had a pharmacy frequented by the “good” people, who knew the quality and reliability of the service, and popular among the common people, because they knew they would find solidarity and help.

With these virtues in the home, he grew up knowing the potential of republican democracy and took advantage of it. Full of courage and patriotic enthusiasm, he joined the 26th of July Movement. For his actions, he was tried in Santa Clara and absolved by this “cordial republic,” that saw no danger in his ungovernability, and by the good offices of the then attorney and Commodore of the Cienfuegos Yacht Club, Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado, who later would become President of the Revolutionary Government.

The “Revolutionary dawn” found him immersed in the tasks of the “process.” Although he had visited Havana from a young age, he decided to settle in the great city due to a proposal from a fellow countryman to work in the recently created Ministry of Foreign Trade (MINCEX, 1961), an entity supposedly created to meet the needs of the Cuban state to assume the management and control of imports and exports. His knowledge and daring made him stand out, but at the same time they reprimanded him and sent him from his work at the Infanta and 23rd building to rough and complicated places, where he was meant to reform himself. It was in one of those places where he contracted an intestinal illness which marked his entire life.

On returning to his offices, after being “Revolutionarily re-educated,” Chepe revised his scale of values. He continued his economic studies and concentrated still more, and from his own perspective and vision, on the analysis of the national economy. For these efforts he was expelled from MINCEX in 1984, as stated in the act of the trial of the 75, and gradually he became a member of the pro-democratic groups and participated in the independent press as an economic analyst who was a reference point for everyone.

Chepe has died in Madrid, far from his beloved homeland. The generation that knew him will remember him forever. Rest in peace.

By Aleaga Pesant – aleagapesant@yahoo.es

From Cubanet

23 September 2013

Chepe / Luis Cino Alvarez

Oscar Espinosa Chepe in Madrid. Photo courtesy of ABC, Spain

Oscar Espinosa Chepe in Madrid. Photo courtesy of ABC, Spain

HAVANA, Cuba, September, www.cubanet.org – I met Oscar Espinosa Chepe in 2002, at the home of the poet and independent journalist Ricardo González Alfonso, an ideal place to establish good and lasting friendships.

Between dreams and fears, we worked on the magazine De Cuba. I remember the first collaboration Chepe sent to us for the magazine was titled “The splendor and decline of sugar in Cuba.” A few months later, Chepe was one of 75 prisoners of the crackdown in the spring of 2003.

In contrast to his articles on economics, which I always thought it was a rather dry and difficult subject, talking to Chepe was very enjoyable. Even when talking about economics. You were never left with any doubts about issue that would be discussed, however complex and how many figures were involved.

Chepe used to refer to episodes from when he was very young, in his hometown of Cienfuegos, when he enlisted in the fight against the Batista dictatorship; or when he dared to contradict the anti-economics nonsense of the Maximum Leader (Fidel), the punishment imposed was to collect bat guano in a cave, where he contracted an infection that almost cost him his life.

It was there that his disenchantments with the Revolution began, a Revolution for which he had once been willing to lay down his life. But Chepe spoke of his disappointments without rancor. Not even prison could change the character of this noble and generous man. As the poet said, “In the best sense of the word, good.”

But the best was when Chepe told anecdotes about his travels through the socialist countries of Eastern Europe. Especially Yugoslavia. Thanks to Chepe and his wife Miriam Leiva, deeply knowledgeable on the subject, I was able to understand, beyond the self-interested manipulations in the newspaper Granma, the intricacies of the conflicts between Serbs, Bosnians, Croats and Kosovars and the disintegration of that prison of nations artificially created by Marshal Tito.

It gives me pleasure to evoke Chepe, friendly, a good conversationalist, lover of dogs and the music of Sinatra, in the room crowded with books in his tiny apartment in Playa. I’ll always remember him like that.

By Luis Cino Alvarez, luicino2012@gmail.com

From Cubanet

23 September 2013

The Great Chronicler of the Cuban Economic Disaster / Ernesto Santana Zaldivar

chepe cronica 1 ImagenesDinamicas.do_-300x225HAVANA, Cuba , September www.cubanet.org  – I don’t remember the first time I heard or read his name, but it must have been in the mid-90s on Radio Marti, which at that time, despite the strong obstruction of its signal, I could still listen to. I do know that by the end of that decade his name was one of the most recognizable to me among the journalist who were dedicated to disclosing, from within Cuba, the reality we were living in the country, while offering his ideas and opinions that helped to better understand not only what happened, but also why it happened and what could be done to stop it from happening.

For many years Radio Martí was, for me, as it was for many Cubans, the only source of alternative information, and listening to Oscar Espinosa Chepe I learned and understood, from my ignorance in this respect, the value of many of those small and innumerable elements that shaped the economy of the nation.

In fact, I had a more concrete idea of concepts such as methods of production, which always seemed to me like entelechies of Marxist economic doctrine. In general, over the years — also reading his frequent articles published in different media — I discovered the integral thesis of Espinosa Chepe, although I fear this term is reductive; it was that almost all the elements that constituted the entire machinery of the Cuban economy didn’t work or worked badly because, simply, the economic conception that ruled the gears didn’t function in practice, but in a fictional world composed of ideological and authoritarian dogmas, an absurd world divorced from human reality.

Others said this as well, of course, but it was Espinosa Chepe who demonstrated it without stridency or getting lost in the numbers, but with balanced studies on specific topics where the data and analysis formed a convincing and irrefutable body, with what Miriam Celaya, talking about one of the economist’s books, called “the particular accent of documentation.”

In his articles, the variety of themes is so vast that his investigations could hardly fail to be important in the economic field of the country. And in the end, the conclusion this social scientist showed us described the process of how, simply, the Revolution was turned into Involution.

chepe cronista 2 5351B2C6-1024-4C53-BAEF-8AEDB45784A9_mw1024_n_s-300x195But what Oscar Espinosa Chepe communicated to us with a simplicity and remarkable wisdom, came not only from his research and diving into a thousand books and countless theories, but also, and perhaps above all, his own experience of life itself, although he never speaks of that in his writings.

For this man, committed to the pursuit of a better future for his country, was not imprisoned for the first time in the sinister spring of 2003; he had already been in prison in 1957, as a teenager, for opposing the dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista. After 1959, he was among the millions who participated in what they believed to be the building of a dream; he worked in the Central Planning Board, as an economic adviser in the diplomatic service, and finally in the National Bank of Cuba.

The events that began to shake Eastern Europe from the mid-80s showed him the necessity for profound changes in economic and social thinking and, accused of being counterrevolutionary, he had no option but to enter the political opposition, even if it meant passing through Villa Marista prison and the worst prisons in the country, which ended up aggravating his health, by then already deteriorating.

But neither prison nor illness convinced him that he should cease his work, let alone leave his country permanently. He devoted himself to his mission with diligence and conviction of a Jesuit, he felt obliged to give evidence as an expert working in the events. The titles of the books he has published (“Chronicle of a disaster,” “Cuba: Revolution or involution”) illustrate what has been his reason for living: to shed light on the details of a long and gloomy national event that is inscribed in a socio-economic system that he called “the most colossal scam known to history.”

Deep in the eye of the hurricane, Oscar Espinosa Chepe has always been an honest person courageously committed to the progress of Cuba which, dedicating to us with the great generosity of his years and his intelligence without a hint of complaint, never allowing himself to sacrifice professional ethics. This is perhaps the best part of his lucid and illuminating example.

By Ernesto Santana Zaldivar

From Cubanet

23 September 2013

Farewell, My Friend / Jorge Olivera Castillo

Oscar Espinosa Chepe and his wife, Miriam Leyva

Oscar Espinosa Chepe and his wife, Miriam Leyva

HAVANA, Cuba , September, www.cubanet.org – Independent economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe, according to the latest information received, has just died in Madrid.

A former liver disease was the trigger for his vital signs to irreversibly decline.

The trip to the Spanish capital in search of better medical care would not alter the outcome marked by fate. There, far from his homeland and in the company of his wife he has had to say goodbye to an increasingly unsettled world.

Points of views critical of the government that he expressed in hundreds of articles and pithy economic analyses, earned him harassment, smear campaigns, detentions, acts of repudiation and a stint in jail as part of the Group of 75.

Together we remember Cuba’s Guantanamo prison* in late April 2003 after being sentenced to long prison terms for our activities in favor of democracy. He had been sentenced to two decades in prison, and I to 18 years.

From the moment that, handcuffed and under heavy guard, we boarded the bus heading to Guantanamo, more than 900 kilometers east of the capital, His serious health problems were visible. Several times during the trip he required medical assistance. So much so that on arrival at the prison he had to be admitted to hospital ward for provincial inmates.

In the passageway we were barely able to exchange a few words. The Interior Ministry agents forbade us from speaking, but the difficulties in communicating with Chepe were notorious. His ill health made me think that he might come to a fatal ending before reaching the destination fixed by our executioners.

In the solitude of the isolation cell I was able to learn of his transfer to a hospital in the city of Santiago de Cuba a few days of arriving in Guantanamo. I learned later that, because of the severity of his ill health, the political police had decided to take him to a prison in the capital.

Even so,before they granted him parole for health reasons, he had to endure nearly 19 months in prison.

His recovery after returning home was short-lived. The serious impact of his incarceration left traces that contributed over time to accelerate his decline.

Unexpectedly I was also released for health reasons weeks after he left the hospital in Combinado del Este, Cuba ‘s largest prison located on the outskirts of Havana.

Remaining in my memory are sporadic conversations we had on various issues of our national reality.

I was privileged to enjoy his qualities as a host, I can also attest to his ability to take on, with responsibility and integrity, the challenges imposed by the circumstances, and his unwavering virtue in making no concession in what he believed was best for the future the country.

Among his best political qualities I should mention his moderation, his support for gradual changes, and his clarity in dismantling the fallacies of the regime which continues to articulate false statistics and empty rhetoric.

I do not want to fix in my neurons that he will return to Cuba as ashes. The image I have chosen to remember that that of the whole man who did not shy away from debate and who never waned in his convictions, those of that languid but undaunted old man who accompanied me on the bus that distributed us among various prisons in the Spring of 2003.

By Jorge Olivera Castillo — oliverajorge75@yahoo.com

*Translator’s note: Olivera Castillo is referring to the Cuban prison in Guantanamo province, not the one run by the United States.

From Cubanet, 23 September 2013

My Memory of Oscar Espinosa Chepe / Reinaldo Escobar

Óscar Espinosa Chepe

When I heard this morning that Oscar Espinosa Chepe had died, some memories of the prominent Cuban economist came to mind. I had the privilege, the pleasure, of meeting him in person; he offered a master class on the Cuban economy in our Blogger Academy and participated on one occasion in the taping of our show, Citizens’ Reasons.

On several occasions I visited him at home where he always received me surrounded by books and an immense collection of paper, where only he seemed to know exactly how to find each document. Many were the times I consulted with him by phone on the definition of some concept, an exact date, or something even more valuable, his personal assessment of some matter. I always received from him a response filled with wisdom and tinged with a sincere affection.

But among all these memories, I don’t know why, that which stands out is his spontaneous smile when he heard an idea that seemed suggestive, or when he remembered some anecdote from his life filled with accomplishments. His wife, the journalist Miriam Leyva, was his guardian angel, she assisted him in everything and constantly defended him from anything that could affect him. She knows better than anyone what that smile represented.

23 September 2013