Setting the Record Straight* / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

“Sin embargo” (literally “without embargo”) means “however” in Spanish. Image: http://youngsday.com/

In recent years, every time the issue of Cuba comes up, whether in relation to the transition to democratic freedoms or to other topics of a political nature, from any place in the world, our repressed national island passions are unleashed. It doesn’t matter whether it’s about a concert at the Civic Plaza** in Cuba, such as the one held in 2009 by Juanes and other artists, or, as now, it’s about a letter with proposals to the President of the United States on Economic Issues.

The reactions for and against, beyond the extremes, show a plurality of opinions from Cuba’s emerging civil society. And this is logical, since democracy is essential plural, as the peaceful opposition is plural, in opposing the only thought embodied by the half century military dictatorships that remains in power in Cuba.

The letter referenced, signed by forty Cuban and American personalities based outside the island, invited President Barack Obama to east some of the restrictions imposed by the American embargo on Cuba. This set of long-standing laws, in our opinion and in the opinion of the majority of the countries of the international community, have been counterproductive for the Cuban people in every sense, justifying and strengthening in different ways the human rights violations of the Castro dictatorship, such that maintaining it is a difficult case to defend. Continue reading

First Trimester of 2014 / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

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“Cuba looks for money to sustain the regime.” Image from: http://www.teinteresa.es/

The first three months of 2014 and part of April have stood out for the now traditional practice of the government use and abuse of congresses, symposia, fairs, assemblies, etc, from which emanate, almost always, two messages: one for abroad and another for the boring local citizens.

The 20th Congress of the Cuban Workers Center (CTC), in which, as usual, the secretary general was designated by the authorities and not election, as would happen under free, plural and democratic elections by the attending delegates, diminishing the credibility and independence of the Cuban unions is an example.

On the other hand, the National Assembly unanimously adopted the new Foreign Investment Law, which establishes, once again, discrimination against Cuban citizens residing on the island, who can not invest or participate on their own processes of this nature, nor through free association or self employment. That is for state officials, state capitalist, and for foreigners. Again, a state employment office will fulfill the function of providing the labor force to the foreign investment companies, as to not leave any loophole to free employment for Cuban residents.

And it’s as if they depreciate and despise we Cubans who live in Cuba. For a long time we weren’t even allowed to stay in hotels. Now, reviving this examples, Cubans cannot enter the waiting rooms at our own airports. And doesn’t this embarrass the authorities? At the precise point of access of those who visit us they begin the practice of discriminating against locals. In the resorts of Varadero or Boyeros this practice has been institutionalized. It’s humiliating to see how with indifference, without giving it any importance, they humiliate our fellow citizens.

The most recent event ended last weekend: the VIII Congress of the Cuban Writers and Artists Union, UNEAC. In his closing speech, Cuban Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermúdez, among others, spoke of the need to regulate the dissemination of music and audiovisual materials in public spaces. He also spoke about the battle against pseudo-cultural messages associated with the exaltation of consumerism, to get ahead economically, and stressed that the choice is socialism or barbarism.

Surely he  must have been referring to a socialism not yet known nor what will be, the so-called Socialism of the 21st Century, because the other one, the socialism that wasn’t, is already completely known. He said this was the only alternative to save our culture. So if it’s about saving it, he should start by saving the productive culture of a country because right now the animals in our fields are practically in danger of extinction.

The current sugar harvest is the smaller in the history of Cuba and the lack of productivity of our land is stupefying. And looking back, at Marti, we recognize the solution when he said in a speech at Hardman Hall, NY on 10 October 1890:

“Neither childish boasting, nor empty promises, nor class hatred, nor pressures from authority, nor blind opinion, nor village politics has met our expectations, but the politics of foundation and of embrace, where terrible ignorance gives way to justice and culture, and the proud worship abides repenting the fraternity of man, from one end of the island to the other, swords and books together, together those of the mountains and the villages, hear, above the forever uprooted suspicions, the creative word, the word: ‘Brother!’”

Toward a New Constitution / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

1397149468_1ideaconstitucionA group of Cubans in Cuba and its diaspora agreed to promote a road map for a constitutional consensus. Organizations and public figures from different generations, of all ideologies, religious beliefs and interests, we believe it is good that, firstly, we agree as to the type of constitution we want to establish or take as a reference for the creation of a new constitution, in accord with our time and reality.

The managing group making this project viable consists of Rogelio Travieso Pérez, Rafael León Rodríguez, Manuel Cuesta Morúa, Fernando Palacio Mogar, Eroisis González Suárez, Veizant Voloi González, Wilfredo Vallín Almeida and Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado.

We want to escape from the vicious and corrupt circle of an elite that for decades has set the course of our country regardless of the opinion of its citizens. The constitutional road map arises also to bring down the perverse myth that was born with the ruling political model, in which Cuba is only a part of his children: extending one hand to take money from its emigrants and with the other pushing them away and separating them from an environment to which they rightfully belong. So for this reason we will work in common to seek a consensus and legal and constitutional order that emanates from citizens, from their diversity, place of residence and plurality.

Thousands of Cubans have already signed the call for a constituent assembly in Cuba and we continue to call on all our compatriots, wherever they are or reside, to join us in this effort, for arm ourselves with a new shield of civilized coexistence. In this undertaking we invite Cubans to offer their ideas about how to finally achieve a Cuba for all within in the law.

In order to promote these efforts, compatriots living abroad have created the site http://consensoconstitucional.com/ in which there is an update on this project.

We are drawing up a methodology in which we encourage Cubans interested in participating to submit papers in which they lay out, in about ten points, the reasons why they defend one or another constitutional proposal as a starting point for change in the “law of laws” in order to lead us toward the democratization of our nation.

This coming May, Cubans inside and outside of Cuba will begin to hold meetings in which we will debate ideas about this process of promoting consensus. Right now, we are working for the creating of “initiative tables” on the island and this design is just the start of a long road to justice, equity and a state of rights for all Cubans.

10 April 2014

Community of Latin America and Caribbean States / Rafael León Rodríguez

Image from http://www.adelante.cu/

The Second CELAC Summit ended in Havana this January 29th with more pain for Cuban protestors and the population than glories for the anti-democratic authorities, despite the praise received by the hosts of the for the most part satisfied and grateful visitors from Latin America and the Caribbean.

A few leaders from the hemisphere saved the dignity of democracy and in their speeches valued the human rights of all and for all. But the highest note hit in this regard was that of the Secretary General of the United Nations, his excellency Mr. Ban Ki-moon, during a press conference, in which he pointed out some details of his conversations with the patriarchs of the island. In these, he said, he referred to the ratification of the United Nations Covenants on civil and political and economic, social and cultural rights by the Cuban government, who already signed them in 2008, and invited them to advance the theme of human rights in general.

The estimable presidents, prime ministers and Heads of Delegations at the meeting forgot, apparently, that on 11 September 2001, in Lima, Peru, the representatives of their governments in those moments, signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which in its Article 3 states:

“There are essential elements of representative democracy, among others, with respect to human rights and fundamental freedoms; the access to power and its exercise and its exercise within the rule of law; the celebration of regular, free, fair elections, based on universal and secrete suffrage as an expression of the sovereignty of the people; the plural regime of political parties and organizations; and the separation and independence of the public powers.”

It is not a coincidence that the Cuban regime is the only one among the 33 that make up CELAC that doesn’t recognize the political opposition in Cuba; discriminated against those who disagree with its authoritarian practices; arbitrarily detains peaceful opponents; violates the rights of assembly and peaceful association, among many others and maintains a real totalitarian power over society. The members of CELAC call this permissibility “unity in diversity” to save the consequent ignominy.

Another intelligent and interesting figure used in the statements and in the founding texts of CELAC, to justify the status quo of some undemocratic regime participants is that of “non-interference,” which on occasion converts, somehow “respectful of the sovereignty of others” into complicity with totalitarian states. Thus, in the Proclamation of Latin America and the Caribbean as a Zone of Peace, in point 3 it points out:

“The commitment of the States of the region in strict compliance with their obligation not to intervene, directly or indirectly, in the internal affairs any other state and observe the principles of national sovereignty, equal rights and self-determination of peoples. “

Some sectors of Cuban civil society wanted to conduct a meeting where citizens of different political viewpoints would analyze the founding documents of  CELAC. This has not been possible, to date, because of the action of the political police. If the authorities of the island, as would be logical, issued the Declaration of Havana in full, so that it could become known by Cuban citizens, then we, the opponents, would have one more document to discuss and on which to rule democratically. Let no one doubt it.

1 February 2014

To the Sound of Canons / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

The new year 2014 was welcomed in Havana by the sound of canons. Twenty-one of them, so that the recent arrival would experience its first fright. In other parts of the globe, the authorities and the citizens welcomed it with fireworks, parties, hymns and songs. But here, to reaffirm that the old soldiers prefer old canons, pointed those from the La Cabaña fort, as always, at the city.

2013 left us in a December marked by the physical passing of Nelson Mandela, the South African Madiba who, after long suffering, finally rested. The official ceremony for his death coincided with the celebration of Human Rights Day. The football stadium in Johannesburg wasn’t big enough for the thousands of compatriots and representatives from all the world who went to pay a well-deserved tribute.

In heartfelt words, the secretary-general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, said there, “Mandela hated hatred. Mandela loved peace. Mandela showed a great capacity to forgive. It is everyone’s job to keep Mandela’s memory alive in our hearts.”

In Cuba this past month witnessed the unusual first non-unanimous public vote in the National Assembly. Probably responding to a script prepared in advance, but even so, it was interesting. The general-president had repeatedly referred to the need to end the formal unanimity of voting in the Assembly. But it was difficult for some deputy from his or her own free will to take the initiative. And this is because, lamentably, there still do not exist in this Assembly deputies who represent themselves.

The new labor code was approved by this legislature, giving the green light to the 20th Congress of the official Cuban Workers Center (CTC). As always, everything was approved, among which was the budget for the current year, 2014.

Now in this year, during the commemoration of the 55th anniversary of the triumph of the Revolution, celebrated in Santiago de Cuba on January 1, the general-president said in his speech “and I quote”: (…) to directly consult with the population on decisions for the development of society… “end of quote.”

So we ask ourselves: Why not consult with the people in a plebiscite about whether they prefer a multi-party system to the dictatorship of a single political party? And if, as he reaffirmed, this continues to be a revolution of the humble, for the humble and by the humble, presumably, as in al lthese years, some humble will continue being more humble than others, some equals more equal than others.

As so to begin this new year, we have the government declaration that the Revolution continues with more of the same after 55 years and, to ratify it, the police arrested several people from civil society for attempting to give toys to children on Three Kings Day.

What else could we expect after that twenty-one gun salute from the canons of yore.

7 January 2014

Humanitarian Demand / Rafael León Rodríguez

  1. In recent weeks we have heard some information in the United States media about the possibility of selling medicines produced in Cuba in that country, particularly Heberprot-P, a drug for the treatment of diabetic foot. On the other hand, the Cuban authorities continue to express themselves about the obstacles facing them in buying certain medications and medical instruments produced in the US, due to the restrictions occasioned by the politics of the US embargo on the island.
  2. There are different opinions about this issue, both for and against, dismissing the urgencies of those priorities which should be considered: the diabetics in the United States who could be treated with Heberprot-P avoiding, in some cases, dangerous amputations of their extremities, and of patients in Cuba who can’t access treatments to cure them or to improve their quality of life because some medications and specialized instruments produced in the U.S. can not be purchased by Cuba.
  3. Faced with any discussion on this issue, it is important to take into account Articles 12 and 15 of the United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the “Declaration on the Use of Scientific and Technological Progress in the Interests of Peace and for the benefit of humanity,” among other things.
  4. For all these reasons, the undersigned, Cubans and Cuban Americans, members of independent civil society and citizens in general, affirm our determination to support, from a vision of respect for human rights, the possible analysis that would permit the expansion of everything related to scientific exchanges in the areas of drug development and medical techniques. Also, the marketing of medicines and specialized instruments for these purposes, in order to meet the medical care needs of people who need to be treated in both countries.

Julio Aleaga Pesant — Independent Journalist
Hildebrando Chaviano Montes — Independent Journalist
Manuel Cuesta Morúa — Progressive Arc
Siro del Castillo Domínguez — Solidarity with Cuban Workers
Gisela Delgado Sablón — Independent Libraries
Eduardo Díaz Fleitas — Pinar del Rio Democratic Alliance
Reinaldo Escobar Casas — Independent Journalist
René Hernández Bequet — Cuban Christian Democratic Party
Rafael León Rodríguez — Cuba Democracy Project
Susana Más Iglesias — Independent Journalist
Eduardo Mesa — Emmanuel Mounier Center
Marcelino Miyares Sotolongo — Cuban Christian Democratic Party
Héctor Palacios Ruiz — Liberal Union of the Republic of Cuba
Oscar Peña — Cuban Pro Human Rights Movement
Pedro Pérez Castro — Solidarity with Cuban Workers
Rosa María Rodríguez Torrado — Cuba Democracy Project
Wilfredo Vallín Almeida — Cuban Law Association

21 November 2013

Oscar Espinosa Chepe / Rafael Leon Rodriguez


Imagen from: http://www.aktuality.sk/

I met Chepe one afternoon when we both just happened to be at the home of Elizardo Sanchez. It was the end of the decade of the ’90s of the last century, and our organization, the Cuban Democracy Project, along with others of various political stripes, were working to put together a program of economic, social and political openings, called “Common Platform.”

This, once it was completed, was sent to Cuban governemnt authorities propsing to them its implementation.

Oscar Espinosa Chepe collaborated, from his expertise as an economist, with a group called Table of Reflection of the Moderate Opposition. With measured conduct, cheerful, respectful and modest, he combined within himself the qualities that made him deserving, in the words of Cubans of old, of being called “a decent person.”

A sharp critic of the systemic blunders that afflict the so-called Cuban socialism, Chepe suffered the intolerance of the Castro regime when he was imprisoned during the Black Spring of 2003. His death, which occurred in Spain on Monday, September 23, after a long, painful and irreversible illness, deprived our nation of one of its most capable and committed sons, and for those who knew him, of a fair and cordial friend.

Rest in Peace

24 October 2013

A Platform That Honors and Involves Us / Rosa Maria Rodriguez

Christian Democrat Organization of America

My husband Rafael León Rodríguez, who is the Coordinator of the Cuban Democratic Project (Prodecu), was invited months in advance to participate in the 20th Congress of the Christian Democrat Organization of America (ODCA) held in Mexico August 23-24. It was the first time that there was a real chance to attend an event of the institution we have belonged to for more than fifteen years along with three others — two in the diaspora and one, like us, in Cuba — in which we have always been represented by good friends who live in Miami and who have attended regularly and with solidarity on our behalf.

On July 22 we initiated the process at the Mexican embassy and for this left the formal invitation sent by Senator Jorge Ocejo, president of this hemispheric organization and his personal data. From that point we started the anxious rush-rush with a great number of comings and going to the embassy with growing concern that the Cuban authorities would “pass the buck” to the obstacles in the Aztec consulate to block the trip out of exhaustion or helplessness, and they themselves would remain blameless.

From there, there were lost papers and even disparate conditions for the awarding of permission, but finally they granted it a month later, thanks the tenacity of the ODCA board and our representatives in Miami, which managed to overcome the different and several obstacles that arose. On 22 August in the morning, after great uncertainty and agitation, they put the visa in the passport and at night, almost with our “tongues hanging out” we left for Mexico.

It was just four days — two of the Congress — that let us escape a cold discourse on paper with a signature, to present ourselves there and interact with the delegations of other parties, NGOS and institutions of our American Social Christian family. Respectful and effusive handshakes, expressions of solidarity and big hugs were eloquent recognition for the work of 17 years within Prodecu Cuba, despite the political cannibalism sustained by the dictatorial Cuban government for more than fifty years.

The board of the ODCA was reelected for another term, including its executive secretary, Mr. Francisco Javier Jara — and the most notorious jump for the two Democratic Christian organizations located in Cuba that belong to this regional organization, was that as of this year we are honorary vice-presidents in this prestigious continental organization.

Now what is left to us is the journey consistent to honoring this continued recognition with a sustained and viable work in support of achieving the two dearest longings urgent for Cuba: the completion of our nation and the final democratization of our country.

17 September 2013

Of Princes and Beggers 1 / Rafael León Rodríguez

From http://www.todocoleccion.net/

My neighbor is a retired woman of the ’third age.’ Her last fixed job was at a tourist hotel on the beach. Now, despite the infirmities of old age, diabetes, and the orthopedic disorders she suffers from, she collects discarded aluminum cans on the beach try to balance her basic expenses with her income. Empty cans of soft drinks, canned beer and malts, abandoned and thrown everywhere, are the object of her search and collection for which she uses a small two-wheeled contraption and a sack of plastic fibers; she bends over, picks up the container, then places it in her sack and walks on, this is the routine of her new job.

The Raw Material Recovery Business pays eight Cuban pesos for every kilogram of aluminum, which is 72 empty cans. So to collect 24 Cuban pesos, one dollar or Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) — which is the same — she needs 216 cans, which is a very serious task for someone approaching old age. Ah! But not only that, she’s required to crush the cans in order to sell them to the raw materials place, so my neighbor, which is a stone that she has to take between both hands for lack of a better took, crushes them one by one on the balcony of her house. But what is surprising is that she is happy in her new deal, because it allows her to survive.

To work most of your useful life, providing goods and services, contributing to retirement funds, and then have these payments be symbolic, is widespread in our everyday labor market. You only hear or read about it in the media when they are talking about other countries, with regards to our own they remain silent, becoming silent accomplices, and as payment, they are the potential victims in the future. When we see old people in our environment searching the garbage cans, looking for something; when we see them selling trinkets or grocery bags in the corners, we should have the courage, all of us, to speak out and to demand attention to this injustice.

13 June 2013

Galiano Street / Rafael León Rodríguez

From: http://cubalpairo.blogspot.com/

It extends straight between Reina Street and the Havana Malecon. I remember it from my childhood with its large and polished doorways, with its beautiful display windows of clothing stores, jewelry stores, toy shops and establishments of all kinds. There were several important intersections with other streets also engaged in trade and services in the center of the city with Zanja, San José, San Rafael, Neptuno, Virtudes and San Lázaro. La Plaza del Vapor, an ancient two-story building and a block area completely dedicated to retail stores selling hats, fabrics and textiles, signaled the beginning of Galiano as a commercial artery.

After being demolished at the beginning of the Revolution, with the pretext that they were going to build a residential building, the land was turned into a park. The most famous department store in Cuba, El Encanto, occupied one of the four corners of San Rafael, which it shared with the Flogar Store, La Moda furrier and the Ten Cent store.

After a fire caused by an act of sabotage, in the month of April 1961, the land occupied by El Encanto became another park. Two hotels are located in this major thoroughfare in the capital: the Lincoln and the Deauville.

Even a Catholic church shares space along Galiano between Animas and Virtudes: the Monserrate. The America apartment building with two movie theaters, and the Fin de Siglo and Epoca stores; glassware, coffee shops, ice cream parlors, banks, in short, one of the most important shopping streets of the city of Havana.

In Havana nights it was a pleasant to walk along Galiano, looking at the storefronts or windows, as they say here, under flashes of neon signs. At Christmas, the change of seasons, or just for entertainment, strolling through along Avenida de Italia, Galiano, was a party.

After half a century of Real Socialism everything changed. The lights and glare of Galiano are gone; apathy and chaos are enthroned on their sites as in the majority of the urban landscape of the capital. Now they are finalizing a capital restoration plan for this artery of the city. Paved roads, new lighting, projects to restore the water, sewer and gas; rejuvenated facades, and resuscitation of existing commerce.

But the main thing is still missing, the soul, which gives interest and real value to the property, movable and immovable: the owners. Those who are interested in maintaining, developing and advancing their businesses. They are the very essence of the market, and so, without any capitalist merchants there is no real interest in commerce.

Time will pass and, if small and medium private enterprises are not created, truly independent of the state, the Galiano recovery project will swell the list of failed experiments. It will not be alone there, after a few decades of doing the same scale of work on other commercial streets in Havana, such as Belascoaín and Monte, and, within a few years, everything was gone again. These experiences show that real changes that are necessary, not cosmetic ones, or we will continue on the dry wheel of absurdity.

14 May 2013

Cuba 360 / Rafael Rodriguez

Civic political project “Cuba 360″

For years we have we have been getting on with the opposition movement and we have never left off giving our support, however modest, to the cause of the democratisation of Cuba. It is a constant focus maintained by all those who are involved in the destiny of our country, in spite of the multiple difficulties we have to deal with in developing our work.

It is evident to us how slow it is for our work to actually germinate as a result of the continuous boycotting by the political police, but even so we never stop fertilising and watering our seed for the good of the nation. this time we are drawing up a programme with a multidimensional architecture with the aim of achieving the intercommunication and respectful debate between Cubans and the sustained and total articulation with the civil society in general by way of the executive project “Seedbed”.

With this project we try to outline to people what is our constructive and legitimate message – like all democratic opposition tries to do – to demonstrate to them the different alternatives of hope and reconciliation which exist in and for Cuba.

One option for Cuban society is  simulation, indolence, emigration and irresponsible obedience and, as we indicate in the project, another is the ambitious objective of “transforming each subject into one who acts out his own personal and national destiny.”

Here I leave you with the link to read the promotional brochure of “Cuba 360.”

Translated by GH

1 May 2013

Satellites / Rafael Leon Rodriguez

Image from: http://alt1040.com/

Last week Ecuador placed into orbit its first satellite, named Pegasus, from the Jiuquan launch center in China. Both the design and construction of the nanosatellite were undertaken by Ecuadorian Civilian Space Agency. With a weight of 1.2 kilograms and a dimension of ten cubic centimeters,  the device will transmit images and videos in real time from outer space for educational and scientific purposes.

This step adds Ecuador to Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela and Chile to the Latin American countries that, since the late twentieth century, began getting involved in orbiting satellite technology and launching various numbers of units per country.

Cuba, which pioneered in outer space with the flight of cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo in September 1980, the first Latin American to orbit our planet, so far as we know has no satellites in operation. Spatial collaboration plans between the Soviet Union and the Caribbean island collapsed with the Berlin Wall, proof that they were more political than scientific. Now the Russians travel to Cuba as tourists, to do business and collect debts. Unfinished tasks of Cubans including recovering our freedoms and lost time and, why not, hoping to some day, to proudly put our own national satellite into orbit.

30 April 2013